Mark Van Hoen

The Revenant Diary

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Mark Van Hoen's 2012 release finds the musician continuing in a new phase of activity following his Brooklyn move four years previously, showing that his ear for combining disparate elements into a distinct whole remains not only intact but perhaps newly thriving. With the at once easygoing and still threatening stomp of "Look into My Eyes" as an opener, vocal swirls both enticing and unearthly as precise bass and fuzzy ambient sound carve out the songs' corners, The Revenant Diary, as implicitly indicated by its title, thrives on its sense of so much of the sonic advances of past decades reenergized once more. It can be the throb and echo of dub, the ease of ambient music in its many forms, the romanticist chill of '90s avant-garde techno, an almost classical sense of tension and release -- the twisted string sounds of "Garabndl X" being a prime example -- but the end result lies not only in the combination but how carefully Van Hoen causes individual elements to almost exalt everything else in the mix. "No Distance" is almost a generational update in its way, as a classic '70s space rock synth loop bubbles around echoed tones at once vast and empty and, in turn, rhythmic and compelling. Even something as apparently simple as "Don't Look Back," sampled voices calling the title phrase set against a slow crawl of an arrangement, becomes a vibrant, constantly shifting listen, Van Hoen dropping elements in and out as a steady, hushed melody of a few notes loops in the background. "Where Were You" similarly uses a title phrase/arrangement contrast, only in this case for uniformly moody unease, the vocals a ghost and the complex rhythms soundtracking a float through an empty space. It's a marvelous portrayal of being forlorn, no matter in what state.

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