Rod Hamilton and Tiffany Seal, ‘Versatile Ambience’
Baltimore’s freak scene has gotten a lot freakier in the decade-and-change since Dan Deacon started parading around his glowing green skull and getting his awkward sweat on, electronically. Perhaps even deeper and weirder than Deacon and his Wham City gang is the perpetually radiating nucleus that is Ehse Records, which crash landed circa 2004 with Jad Fair associate Jason Willett’s debut LP under the Leprechaun Catering moniker. Interestingly enough, that album was co-released with Heresee Records, a label spun up by another notorious Baltimore crew: Nautical Almanac. Not coincidentally, Stewart Mostofsky — who curates Ehse — is a member of Llquid SD alongside Twig Harper (one of the founders of Nautical Almanac, who have since disbanded, their denouement occurring at the 2016 edition of the Fields Festival, which Mostofsky co-organizes) and Wham City associate Jimmy Joe Roche. Marginality and eccentricity seem to bind like-minded souls together, and it feels like the Baltimore arts scene is no exception.
The Ehse Records catalogue is stacked with interesting material and is stunningly diverse, featuring LPs released by artists as varied as prolific street musician Little Howlin’ Wolf, musicologist Ian Nagoski, Wham City alumnus Lizz King, avant-rockers Horse Lords, and the wacky dance music of Nerftoss. Adopting the cassette as the preferred carrier medium for its kooky brew, the label had a banner 2016, counting among its missives a gentle spool of magnetic material courtesy of the Baltimore-based duo of Rod Hamilton and Tiffany Seal. This pair is somewhat mysterious to me. Hamilton already has few cassettes under his belt, and Internet whisperings of a duo by the name of Avocado Happy Hour have floated across my computer screen, yet Seal appears to be debuting with this release, which is titled Versatile Ambience. That being said, their shared SoundCloud also features some of Hamilton’s older material, leading one to believe that Seal has been involved in the project all along. All things being equal, the music found on Versatile Ambience stands on its own, so we are free to rewrite history here and now.
Rod Hamilton is known somewhat for his treated idiophone stirrings (marimba, xylophone, etc.), as can be evinced in his previous recordings. With Versatile Ambience, these pillowy percussion lines are woven with Tiffany Seal’s lush keyboards and manipulated field recordings such that the listener is taken on — as the guided meditation the pair lifted for “Golden Light” urges — a “very relaxed, very peaceful journey.” It may be conjecture to state that Hamilton and Seal are fans of Steve Reich and classic new age music, but the eight pieces they present here seem to be in homage to both of these sonic waypoints. Even then, the duo add their own idiosyncratic sense of playfulness to these influences, bouncing around space and time almost unaware of any similarities therein. As such, it’s safe to say that Hamilton and Seal have created a highly palatable mélange that is truly all their own.