2CD, Faith Strange, 2009
“To the Last Man / Index of Dreaming” is the debut 2CD release from Mike Fazio – the man behind Orchestramaxfieldparrish – in the guise of ÆRA. Packaged in a mini-gatefold sleeve, the first 50 copies also come with a bonus three-inch CD with the track “Pæan No.1 – Paradise Syndrome”, exclusive to this disc. Themed around memories and dreams respectively, the two discs pick up on themes from Fazio’s Orchestramaxfieldparrish neo-classical ambient project, with an emphasis on the droning, textural electronic elements of his music.
Released under the name Orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA, this album is very much more electronic than the “The Silent Breath of Emptiness” and focuses more on the synthetic side of Fazio’s music. Probably best considered as two single musical pieces split into convenient sections, “To the Last Man” is a meditative, ambient musical journey that is both tranquil and possesses an air of weightlessly floating deep in space, whilst at the same time has a subtler hint of something more sinister coming in and out of earshot as if lurking just out of sight. Added to this and present throughout is the miniscule chatter of digital insects busily running around nearby. As the sound builds, rolls and drifts around the soundscape, occasional bursts of urgent sound heighten the mood and increase anxiety levels to indicate everything might not be as it seems. Adding a different kind of urgency to “Ennoae” are the mechanical qualities of traditional drum sounds that bring a lighter, manual, rhythmic mood to the music. Switching between drifting ambience and dark edgy atmospheric drones, “To the Last Man” covers a range of moods and emotions. Particularly ominous and edgy is “Endaemonum”, with its low droning background, eerie, almost choral, quality and creeping orchestral tones. Elsewhere the music undulates and radiates in a gentler soothing manner, but not without short dark interludes. Sometimes quite grand – “Out of Many, One” for example – Fazio’s ability to create wide spacious neo-classical soundscapes lends itself well to the feeling of floating deep in space, not quite knowing what is actually lurking out there.
Of the two discs, “Index of Dreaming” is the more radiant and ethereal-sounding. Maintaining that same spacious drifting-in-space feeling as “To the Last Man”, “Index of Dreaming” is more tranquil and calmer, floating along languidly with its opening track “1/1”. Flooding the senses with bright, shining, sparkly cascades of glittering ambient sound, the twelve-minute “2/1” is wonderfully serene, yet conceals a darker side deep in the flowing layers of drifting sound. It is not until the closing minutes of the track that this darker side starts to show through, coming to the forefront with dark rumbling drones. Fazio’s work is interesting; it contains wonderfully serene textual ambience whilst at the same time exhibiting deep ominous drones and darker atmospheres that come in and out of earshot, subtly lurking in the shadows and only appearing from time to time. “1/2”, for example, contains male choral harmonies mixed with both dark distorted tones and atmospheres in a sort of dark ambient take on a classic horror movie soundtrack. The theme continues, but builds slightly in intensity and sinister intent, this time focussing on more feminine voices. The subtleties are there; slight changes in tone, volume and distortion all contribute to the overall mood and feeling of the tracks on the second disc.
Fitting the themes of memories and dreams very well, the first disc is the more varied, perhaps indicating the mixed emotions that can be associated with memories of various types. The second disc is calmer, which fits with the image of deep sleep and the tranquil state that induces dreaming. Whilst predominantly ambient, both discs exhibit short spells of more immediacy and anxiety, appropriate for the differing moods and emotions that can be associated with memories or dreams alike.
— Paul Lloyd