Art Rock

Houston's Tanner Garza Creates a 4-Hour Ambient Classic

Tanner Garza makes music for people who prefer a contemplative state versus a frenetic environment, using the vocabulary of some of his favorite ambient-music predecessors: Brian Eno, William Basinski and Harold Budd. Clearly, his approach to crafting minimalistic vignettes appears basic: a bass guitar, 4-track recorder, and a multitude of bass effects. However, each piece he crafts transcends traditional composing methods. Live, there are points where Garza, after playing the bass and creating his real-time loops, puts the bass down and plays his pedals. 50-plus recordings later, his music continues to evolve.

His latest recording, Always, came during a time of deep transition. Just this past month, Garza became a proud father, and the extraordinary feelings generated in becoming a father can create both joy and anxiety. One thing is for certain. Each track contains a tremendous amount of warmth wrapped in disquiet.

The album’s opening track, “It’s Not So Simple,” crescendos from contemplative quiet to remarkable bursts of noise that bloom like a flower resisting the necessary light. Clocking in at 17:19, the track permits the listener to remain fixed in place, listening to each passing tone, or to dwell within their own thoughts. “That Slow Sunshine” tries to recreate a person watching the night give way to day. The light motif shifts to dark during “Goblins,” projecting foreboding feelings. The simple use of delay during the loops creates a haunting vocal reminiscent of '80s industrial synth-work, but you won’t find any synths used in the making of this album.

Ambient music must create moments to be mistaken for boredom. Tracks like “Six Glasses” and “Takes You There” remove you from yourself and draw you out to connect with the moment. They draw you away from the past, and pull you away from the future. The songs prompt the listeners to remember that they exist in the here and now. Fast-food pop recordings dash in and out, but these tracks stay with the listener during the experience. As with tripping on mushrooms, you just go where they take you.

In the "Netflix and Chill" age, who has time for 22-minute compositions? If music like Garza’s is viewed this way, then his music is not for you. It challenges the listener to wait, to reflect, to wander, to fidget, to retreat, to accelerate and above all to listen. For example, the surrealistic “Giraffes on Horseback Salad” induces a dream-like state. For 38 minutes, the song’s minimalistic structure plays at the speed of a forgotten daydream. Between the loops and phrases lie thoughts that limp in out of our consciousness. Like Charlie Parker once said about bebop’s pejorative label, “It’s about looking for the pretty notes…” Here, too, is about finding the pretty notes and letting them occupy the time so many quantify.

Therein lies the challenge. Do you have it within you to listen to nearly four hours of music? Or, can Garza’s music be treated like book to be read at its own pace? In either case, this is Garza’s finest work to date, and he finds the pretty notes in ways he has not done so before. 

Download Tanner Garza's ambient masterpiece at this link.
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Stephan Wyatt