Review: Rameses III
Artist: Ramses III
Album: Matanuska/Honey Rose EP
Label: Music Fellowship/Important
Dr. Leary may have originally introduced the concept of "set and setting" in regards to psychoactive indulgence, but the advice holds relevance far past its psychedelic roots. For the highest level of personal reward in any given situation, both the individual's specific mindframe (the "set") and the surrounding physical environment ("setting") must operate in a certain state of harmony. Such a successful marriage takes precedent in the elegant folk drones of London-based trio Rameses III. The groups glistening soundscapes of guitar and keyboard splendor work to fuse the individual pleasantly within the natural environment, away from big city bustle and floating somewhere between sun-drenched fields and shaded habitations.
The recent output of Spencer Grady (also a regular Dusted contributor), Steve Lewis and Daniel Freeman focuses on squeezing as much beauty out of a given setting as possible. Matanuska, their first proper full-length (released in 2006 along with their acclaimed collaboration with the North Sea), is dominated by images of a towering forest densely populated with ancient trees - inspired by the beams of sunlight that managed to penetrate the overgrowth. The first chords of the album's opener, "Before the Rains Fall (For Ed Cooke)," creep out of rumbling thunder, incorporating the natural sound into a tug-of-war of light and darkness, reconciling the two with grace. Each guitar pluck, each keyboard addition, each ghostly vocal is approached with a contemplated gentility, restraining the swells and constructing a musical pillow of shifting harmony. The drones come in deep pulses, augmented by ever-present bird-calls that place the listener in the cultivated sylvan scene. Fragile harmonies grow steadily into malleable matter and sink slowly into the background as the tones take shape, simply existing as a meaningful and meaningless part of everything.
The setting for the groups latest EP is a film set, appropriately enough. Honey Rose serves as the soundtrack to Jon Spiras short film "Suityman," images from which don the albums cover, placing the music in a golden field of tall weeds and slow-motion breezes. A repeating guitar theme unifies the album's six tracks, popping in and out through three different incarnations over the course of a fleeting 23-minutes. The overall brevity of the pieces is the major downside to Honey Rose, which would benefit from some time to expand and settle into the sonic introductions. But given its function as a short film soundtrack, the more concise approach taken here can be forgiven. The sparkling tones within provide a fitting backdrop for peaceful isolation and a glimpse of lazy nirvana achieved among swaying cattails.
It is the groups emphasis on allowing the music to weave itself into the surrounding atmosphere that succeeds the most. Set and setting combine, guitar resonance blends with thoughts, and, for a moment, the seam between physical and non-physical becomes too small to see. Or even matter at all. I'm sure Leary would approve.