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When I reviewed then Chicago-based, now Raleigh, NC-residing multi-instrumentalist Derrick Stembridge’s 2010 fifth LP Lifesounds in issue 68, I called his music “calming and mind-expanding.” That assessment hasn’t changed on his ninth album as the one-man DiS, despite his dispensing with the “intricate, pulsating, and ear-tickling beats” that adorned Lifesounds (as well as previous LPs like his last one, 2014’s Desire). In describing Artificial, the ever-evolving, prolific Stembridge says, “This album goes back to the roots of the project for me. Pure ambient.” But the absence of percussive elements is in no way a detriment. On each of Artificial’s 13 one-word-titled compositions, Stembridge stacks on layer after layer of sensual sounds that subtly shift and take on new shapes. In doing so, he seemingly swells the depth and breadth of your home’s (and headphone’s) listening dimensions to limitless levels.
Look no further than on Artificial’s first two tracks. The ethereal, expansive opener “Empty” is so palliative and peaceful, it’s like experiencing a life-changing, spiritual awakening, as the heavens emerge and engulf you in an effervescent light. And the transcendent “Takeaway” is akin to being adrift on the most serene of seas, alone in your thoughts, as succoring, stratospheric synths soothe your soul and stretch your imagination. The rest of the album stimulates similar sensations. Wheezy and wafting walls of keyboards replicate a swirling desert sandstorm and a lightly chugging locomotive on “Descent,” and a majestic, dew-filled morning scene on “Falling.” And on “Surface,” the sedate yet shimmering guitars will make you feel like you’re floating weightlessly through an endless solar system in a comforting space capsule. Each of the above would make ideal white noise for irritable insomniacs.
Elsewhere, the alternately murky and metallic rumble of the title track recalls a lonely journey on an eerie, evacuated submarine as it ambles along the ocean floor. Continuing along that water-inspired theme, the burbling, carbonated pulsations and tones that trickle through “Origin” and “Across” are like being immersed, cocoon-like, in a revitalizing hot spring or swimming pool. It’s only on the scraping, snorting “Emotion” and the steely, strident “Stay,” each bringing to mind the creaky clamor of a desolate dungeon, that the album turns portentous and pessimistic. But those ill-boding interruptions are alleviated by the consoling closer “Soulless,” which is so full of splendor and solace, it could put the most tense, time-strapped trader on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange at ease. Turn out the lights, turn up Artificial, and watch your stresses sail out the window. (labilerecords.com, driftinginsilence.com)
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