Album Review: Kyle Bobby Dunn - From Here to Eternity
How do you follow up something as audacious as a triple album, which spanned over two hours in its running time?
If you’re Kyle Bobby Dunn, you wait five years, and then release a quadruple album that runs close to three hours.
Spread across 18 tracks total, some a concise two minutes, with others expanding out to nearly a half hour, Dunn’s seventh full-length LP, From Here to Eternity, is many things—it’s ambitious; it’s as inviting as it is intimidating; there are times when its beauty is utterly devastating and there are times when the feelings of tension and ominous dread it conjures are almost indescribable.
There are moments when it manages to be all of those things at the same time.
Dunn, from Montreal, has been releasing glacially paced ambient music for over a decade now, growing in focus and confidence as an artist with each subsequent effort. Arriving just a year after his split 12”with like minded performer Wayne Robert Thomas, From Here to Eternity is a culmination of Dunn’s maturation and evolution as an ambient composer—you wouldn’t be wrong to call it his definitive statement as an artist; it’s a bold and extremely challenging collection that never ceases to compel the listener.
The first thing you hear on From Here to Eternity, on the album’s lengthy opening piece, “Preludium Aeterna,” is the sound of an icy, distant piano. If you’ve followed Dunn’s career at all, you’ll know that his primary means of composing is through the guitar—mostly making the guitar sound like anything but a guitar, running it through a seemingly endless array of effects, pulling long, cascading waves out of it. One of the things that makes From Here to Eternity such a milestone for Dunn at this point in his vocation is its very long list of collaborators—I mean, I’ve seen a shorter list of featured artists on rap records before. 10 of the album’s 18 tracks include contributions from guest performers—whether providing instrumentation, or what is credited in the liner notes as ‘additional processing,’ the inclusion of other ambient and experimental artists is something that allows Dunn’s sound and aesthetic to expand beyond its usual scope.
The list of collaborators is a bit of a who’s who from the experimental music community, including Wayne Robert Thomas, Scott Morgan, who performs under the name loscil, and Thomas Meluch, who regularly releases music through the moniker Benoit Pioulard—and with whom Dunn had previously worked with on the one-off album Perils, released in 2015.
As you can imagine, an album of this size and scope is a lot to take in, and take on—there are moments throughout, too, like the aforementioned opening piece, “Preludium Aeterna” that almost become too much—like, these compositions (I hesitate to call anything on here a ‘song’ in the traditional sense of the word) are capable of evoking way too much emotion out of a listener who isn’t prepared; and even if you think you are prepared, one of these may just do you in when you aren’t expecting it. Whether he realizes it or not, whether it was intentional or not, Dunn has buried something much larger, and something viscerally powerful, throughout the record.
“Preludium Aeterna” is 12 minutes long, as it nears the two-minute mark, you can hear Dunn’s long, oscillating drones begin to slowly (and I mean slowly) fade in to the background of the very deliberately plunked out piano progression from Isaac Helsen; eventually the two sounds pass each other like ships in the night, and as the piece continues to unfold, which it does with a delicate precision, the unrelenting wave of drones eventually take you over—it continues, and this wall of sound that Dunn has sculpted becomes just too much as it washes over you again and again.
This kind of ‘overcome’ feeling continues on the dizzying, kaleidoscopic ringing and reverberating of “Infinite Escalators,” which features additional processing from Meluch, as well as on the slow, mournful tumbles of “Years Later Theme,” another long form piece, running nearly 13 minutes.
As From Here to Eternity reveals itself, Dunn obviously has enough time throughout to begin steering the record in and out of the kind of somber and bittersweet sounding droning pieces that he does so well, and that I am so fond of—despite its title, “Happiness and Momentum” is the record’s first shift into darker territory, as a very low, ominous ripple bubbles—but never boils over—while ghostly whooshing sounds float in, out, and around the atmosphere created.
And later, in the record’s second half, he crashes it head first into the even more menacing on the ironically titled “Dead Calm (Southcentre Sweet),” a piece that begins with a slightly reserved, but still unsettling rumble, and eventually concludes with a six minute build up of distortion and dissonance.
From Here to Eternity is more or less structured around two specific compositions: its centerpiece, which also happens to be the album’s longest, and the album’s final, cacophonic, and cathartic moment. The former, “September and Her Sudden Drones,” is over 23 minutes long, but it’s executed with such grace and patience that you never look at your watch and ask, “How long has this been playing for?” And you can say that about the record as a whole—a three-hour album of ambient droning is a lot to ask of somebody—even somebody who loves this kind of music. From Here to Eternity, more than likely, took patience to create, so it very obviously takes a lot of patience to listen to it, and understand the pace with which it operates.
“September and Her Sudden Drones” is fashioned around the idea of tension and release—it grows at a snail’s pace, so subtle sometimes that you can’t really tell how much progress is being made while Dunn continues pulling the waves of tones and sounds through your headphones. It takes a while, yes, but it does eventually reach a point of climax (you’ll be able to tell when) before it quickly finds resolution.
At 18 minutes, the album’s closing track, “Eternity, The Stars, and You,” is an experience within itself—it opens as an ethereal glissade of swirling echoes, but at around seven minutes in, there isn’t so much an exact moment when you can detect the shift in tone—it’s very, very gradual, as very unsettling, borderline horrific sounds begin to take everything over. That eventually gives way to something less menacing, but far noisier, and throughout this whole journey, Dunn never shows any sign of letting things get away from him, though there are points where you feel like it may, as he brings it all to a sudden close, and the sounds just evaporate into silence.
There are countless standout moments throughout From Here to Eternity, but the pieces I think are the most impactful are two shorter compositions that arriving sounding like nothing Dunn has really ever arranged in the past; and in fact, they both have an entirely different feeling than a bulk of the rest of the record.
The first is one of the record’s shortest pieces—“Triple Axel on Cremazie,” a piece features haunting, mournful piano contributions from Michael Vincent Waller, tinkling out through heavy reverb while Dunn’s equally as mournful waves of sound float around it. There’s something about the way this track starts, too, that makes it one that almost instantly will grab your attention—it’s produced and executed in such a way that it sounds as if it’s coming to us from another world entirely.
“Boul. Gouin,” arriving near the halfway mark of the record, is similar in its command of tone and atmosphere—both pieces have a terribly pensive and reserved quality to them, but “Boul. Gouin,” for some reason (that I can’t even really put into words) is far more emotional of a listen, and is probably one of the most somber, introspective, and gorgeous pieces on the record.
Slated for a May release, From Here to Eternity was made available (digitally speaking) roughly two months ahead of schedule, while the label responsible for distributing it, Past Inside The Present, was waiting for the myriad physical editions of it to be ready for shipping. Now that it exists in the world, some reviews have started to come in—the write up on Brainwashed indirectly compared it to the most recent effort from Will Long’s Celer project—Xièxie, an ambitious double album built around the idea of ‘everything moving faster than we can control,’ full of lengthy, hypnotic, haunting drone compositions.
The review states that Long and Dunn are figures that both have a predilection for the difficulties one faces in making ‘each new batch of elegantly blurred, slow-motion dreamscapes seem different and distinct from previous batches, especially when working with a very constrained, minimal palette.’ To an extent, I agree—there are some quintessential Kyle Bobby Dunn moments throughout From Here to Eternity; and in agreeing, I also disagree—I mean, that’s exactly what you want in an ambient record like this.
That’s exactly what you’d want from a quadruple album from Dunn—yes it is far more expansive than his 2014 effort, Kyle Bobby Dunn and The Infinite Sadness, but he has a specific sound and style, and I wouldn’t want that much of a departure; he finds ways to still be imaginative and thought provoking with the aforementioned minimal palette, but still makes it seem familiar upon your initial listen.
There is an idea—not an erroneous one, but one I don’t always subscribe to, that ambient and experimental music needs to be continually moving forward. Throughout From Here to Eternity, there is forward motion, but it is extraordinarily subtle. It’s the kind of album that is more concerned with the idea of enveloping and circling the listener. This record, without a doubt, will swallow you whole every time you listen.
From Here to Eternity is a lot—it’s a lot to ask of a listener to have the patience to sit with something three hours long; even if you break it up into smaller sections, it is still an endeavor because this is the kind of record that requires your attention. It’s not something you toss on in the background; this requires concentration, and it demands that you open yourself up to whatever emotions it is going to pull out of you.
Breathtaking for both its beauty, as well as the kind of emotional toll it takes on you, From Here to Eternity is a remarkable, captivating thing—more of an immersive experience rather than just four pieces of vinyl or mp3s on a computer.