Last week found me traversing through the Southwest corner of the US with 80 other musicians. As our buses swept by hours of endless desert and barren plains, I found myself constantly sinking into the dramatic swells and instrumental themes of Andy Othling's latest project, The Swiss Illness. Born out of the history of the word "nostalgia," which is rooted in Swiss doctors studying the physical and emotional ailments of traveling mercenaries, Othling's release under the moniker Lowercase Noises transports listeners into a journey of sentimental yearning.
An instrumental ambient album that sonically centers around the pedalboard of an electric guitar runs the risk of being mundane and indistinct, however, Othling utilizes recognizably unique palettes that help every moment feel fresh. Simple piano themes are emphasized by their percussive, grainy textures that conjure up images of the past. Effects such as the faint plucking of a typewriter and constant static help the repetitive pads and pure guitar tones come to life. The runtime of the album consists entirely of drawn-out soundscapes over minimalistic chord progressions, but Othling's intentional tactile choices make sure it doesn't grow old.
The Swiss Illness also features a number of refreshing surprises throughout its tracklist. The opening piece, "A Universal Weakness," seems content riding atop wavy synths for a few minutes, but it suddenly switches to a piano-based theme that is complemented by the counter-melody of an acoustic guitar. The warmth of cellos surge underneath these ideas, providing flashes of homesickness amidst the polyrhythms of the other instruments. These motifs are re-explored with greater harmony in "Evident Signs of Recovery," helping the album feel unified as it reaches its conclusion. The final track, "From: A Bitter Grief," finally arrives at the present tense with a clear-as-day, effect-less piano theme that can only be described as the aural representation of the feeling of nostalgia.
Aside from the gorgeous patterns of The Swiss Illness, the album curiously comes out of the risqué rock label BadChristian. Co-founder of the label Matt Carter recently noted in their eponymous podcast as to why they signed Lowercase Noises and what makes this album in particular so engaging: it forces you to listen. An album of atmosphere such as this one defies pop expectations and provides listeners who apply themselves to this experience with much deeper rewards.
Although there is nothing expressly Christian about an instrumental ambient album, the ebb and flow of emotion that persists throughout The Swiss Illness can certainly create a worshipful, meditative environment for listeners to dwell in. I'd recommend touring the vast landscapes of Arizona with other like-minded people on a mission to lead others in worship, but that's merely because that's where my experience with this album lead me. Regardless of when and where you listen to it, the nostalgic undercurrents of this project will ornament that moment in time permanently.
- Review date: 5/16/17, written by Mason Haynie of Jesusfreakhideout.com