While it may appear an anachronism in his catalog, fans of Bill Laswell will find City of Light an extension of ideas he has explored throughout his career. His strong interest in Eastern music and religion resulted in this 1997 collaboration with Janet Rienstra. Part sacred, spoken word, part meditative soundscape, City of Light takes as its inspiration the holy region of Banaras, India. Said to belong to Shiva, Banaras also contains the Ganges river: a place sought by Hindus for their cremation. Each song on this album contains text arranged by Rienstra and delivered by singer Lori Carson in soft, spoken words, breathy lines, and ghostly whispers. While the album concept may dissuade many listeners, religion is hardly its only dominating element. Surrounding the texts is some of the most compelling music the ambient genre has produced. The opening "Nothing" features a lengthy passage of tabla playing by Trilok Gurtu. The instruments slow construction and dissipation of dynamics and myriad of rhythms create a fascinating narrative of its own. The closing to "Kala" builds tension through the repetition of spring-like electronic tones that rise out of Carson's erie, unintelligible whispering. Laswell lends his own sparse, dub-influenced bass to "Above the Earth," playing against a buried clatter of metallic drums. Why City of Light bears Laswell's name however, is something of a mystery. He is only credited as a performer on two tracks: the album bookends, "Nothing" and "Above the Earth" (both of which he co-wrote with Carson). While he undoubtedly contributed a great deal (shaping the sound collages of Coil and Tetsu Inoue), the combined efforts on City of Light would seem to merit a collective title of its own.
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AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush