Listening to Sofie Birch’s music may be like mendacity susceptible on a grassy hilltop, watching clouds drift throughout a cerulean summer time sky. The boundaries between tones are porous; nothing retains its form for lengthy. A held chord may flip inside out; an icy arpeggio may soften into liquid; distant birdsong may harden into shiny, clear chimes. If at any given time you pause to think about the panorama arrayed earlier than you, it’s possible you’ll vaguely notice that it’s not the identical because it was the final time you checked, but end up at pains to clarify what’s completely different, or why.
Many of the Danish composer’s work over the previous 5 years has fallen towards the gentlest finish of the ambient spectrum. Throughout a handful of albums, each solo and in collaboration, Birch has experimented with ASMR, collaged subject recordings from her travels into an “audio postcard,” and improvised on a country-house piano at dawn, inadvertently capturing the clucking of hens within the background. Like its predecessors, Holotropica is marked by a way of horizontal drift. However the place earlier than it was straightforward to think about Birch’s music as one thing naturally occurring, rising unbidden from the interaction of the weather, Holotropica is extra song-like, elaborate, and labored over. It’s the most intricate and impressive music she has launched.
That is nonetheless ambient music, however the place a lot of Birch’s earlier work was loosely minimalist, Holotropica thrums with element. Her chords have thickened and grown extra complicated; they modulate in new methods, taking up richly iridescent hues. Her use of acoustic devices in locations evokes the fluid traces and timbres of Nala Sinephro’s 2021 album House 1.8. On the opening “Observatory,” Nana Pi’s saxophone tentatively seeks out a melody, then falls right into a swaying lockstep with a muted synth bass determine. On “Hypnogogia,” clarinet offers solution to a gradual, pumping pulse, like half-speed dub techno, which falls away to disclose Dolphin Midwives’ harp, glistening like a dewy spiderweb.
What Birch carries over from earlier recordings are her instincts for shape-shifting evolution and lateral sprawl. Take “Humidity”: The title is nicely chosen, because the chords counsel the fecund scent of tropical flowers in bloom. It begins, as so many of those tracks do, with mushy, shimmering chords, then blossoms right into a lilting arpeggio. Shakers and birdsong flesh out the margins, whereas a ghostly trace of saxophone offers solution to rhythmic bleats and, lastly, freeform squeals. The place most ambient music maintains a gentle burble, “Humidity” crests to an unlimited climax that cuts off with violent abruptness. It is a uncommon second of drama for a musician sometimes given to understatement. “Tide Rose” is subtler however simply as mutable. It emerges from a matrix of deeply reassuring cyclical pulses—foghorn peals, chirping frogs, the echo of an alarm clock ringing from the opposite facet of a dream—however an oddly timed arpeggio tilts the axis of this imaginary world, throwing all the things gently out of whack and depositing you at a degree removed from the one the place you started.