Milton Cross – Light in the West

Milton Cross - Light In The West

Milton Cross delivers instrumental ambience brimming with subtle power on his new album, Light in the West.  Although it’s an eclectic blend of instruments and muted noises, his music follows a defined thread to the last, using consistent recording techniques, sound selections, tones and timbres that breed some kindred feelings and atmospheres. The result is a warm and haunting success.

Cross, from the band Tarantel, is a classically trained violinist. He plays with artistry here, never indulging. Light in the West layers tracks of violin over flinty acoustic guitars and organic drones leaked from a harmonium. Those instruments are mixed with earthy ambient sounds of muffled life on Cross’ intimate home recordings. Some compositions discover fascinating timbres, tones, and soft oddities. Instruments and ambience channel quasi-Eastern arrangements into warm atmospheres that encourage the imagination to sing along.

Light in the West struggles briefly around the half way mark as the initial charms weather, but Cross’ focus pays off. The nearly 12 minute opener, “It’s Been Almost a Year”, is a prime example of that focus. A violin eases into the album, trailing leads over a glowing drone. After the 5 minute mark, the violin gains agility, finding brief moments of dissonance as its pulse quickens, eventually achieving a furious vibrato. With fast bow work, the dissonance fades back into melody before melting into the drone nearly 10 minutes in.

A fuzzy treble chimes from an acoustic guitar on “Mull It Over From the Midwest”. The recording’s intimacy allows the scrapes and rattles of the strings to work with the reedy distortion. The chords cut between dissonant and open chords wrapped in echo and reverb. “Leaves Do Not Have Meaning” shows the album’s more experimental leanings by risking an ambience that sounds vaguely like walking through a forest with a hidden microphone capturing the muffled sound of loose earth crunching beneath your feet. Such ambience is a motif on Light in the West, making for some dark but inviting sounds.

“First There Came a Letter From a Tree” features more acoustic strumming under the roomy crackle of a needle having reached the end of a vinyl record. Harmonium and violin emerge, and sound like a recording played backwards. Again, Cross achieves some compelling sonics. “Light In the West Where It Will Always Be Morning” is perhaps the album’s most subtle track. The acoustic guitar, drone, and ambience sound so subdued, like a frayed and faded streamer from last year’s parade, left still wagging in the breeze.

At a time when the indie elite are conquering the mainstream by revitalizing the best of pop music’s past, Light in the West is a breath of fresh autumn air. This album invites the ears, but eludes judgment. If you like ambient music or are looking for something different, give it a try.