June 29, 2009

Harold Budd - Lovely Thunder (1986, Editions EG)

Harold Budd is one of my favorite ambient composers, most well known for his piano compositions and improvisations, such as on the classic collaborations with Brian Eno "Ambient II" and "The Pearl". He has also explored electronic ambient textures in his own melodic style on several recordings in the '80s and '90s, and "Lovely Thunder" is one that I've returned to many times. Budd recorded the pieces while working with gothic/dream-pop group Cocteau Twins, with whom he released an ethereal pop-tinged album "The Moon And The Melodies" in the same year on the influential 4AD label. The tracks are all familiar Budd territory, but unique in their instrumentation, as they were produced in the Cocteau Twin's studios and make bolder use of digital synthesizer sounds. The mid-'80s synth sound has a distinctly "dated" quality to it, but the production and tone of "Lovely Thunder" is such that the sounds have a warmth and haunting, ethereal texture that predates and assumably inspired a lot of '90s-era ambient music. While the vinyl edition featured six song-length sketches, the CD also adds an extended piece entitled "Gypsy Violin", nearly 21 minutes in length, which explores longer-form drone territory as well as orchestral textures and soloing with a very digital '80s feel. Each piece has a different emotional tone, generally exploring soft-spoken mystery, melancholy and drama. In his following album, "The White Arcades", Budd reintroduced his piano to the mix, and worked in more abstract, ambient directions along with slightly less synthetic-sounding instrumentation. Budd has released many high-quality albums over his nearly-40 year career, but I especially enjoy his work from the '80s.