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CD REVIEW: Paul Headon - The Middle Distance
By Alex Jasperse - 03/04/2007 - 12:35 AM EST

Artist: Paul Headon
Album: The Middle Distance [2001]
Label: Independent
Website: http://www.emanationsinsound.com
Genre: Ambient
Production/Musicianship Grade: 7.5/10
Songwriting Skills: 6/10
Performance Skill: 5.5/10
CD Review:

Can old be new? Can the new use the old and still be considered authentic? How do we determine an idea’s validity if it’s been used before? Consider modern furniture based on designs from the late 1960s, films stylistically imitating the glamour of the 1920s and the sounds of the 1980s being reworked into pop music. Does the new need the old, then?

Paul Headon’s, The Middle Distance, is a collection of evocative and dreamlike ambient soundscapes. Obviously inspired by many of the key ambient figures of the late 1970s, the futuristic and synthesized flow of the album spreads widely, meandering aimlessly in the depths of imitation. Whether deliberate or not, Headon has put himself in a position where inevitable comparisons are drawn between his works and many of his past (and current) counterparts.

Back to our question: is it ok for something to be deliberately retro, yet still be considered authentic? It depends. By recreating an idea as exactly as its inspiration, an artist drastically limits the appeal factor. If you were to walk into a furniture store and see a couch that had not been stylistically modified since the 1960s, bore the same texture and colours of the era, and was more of a collectors item than anything else, would it still appeal to you? Or would you gravitate towards a modern interpretation of a classic design? Interpretation signifies evolution, the search for incorporating something new, based on something old. Limiting creative expression to emulating something that’s been done, doesn’t show originality. It is this dilemma that makes The Middle Distance very difficult to judge.

There are a number of things that stand in the way of making this a highly enjoyable album. It is a regression of listening – an immediately obvious throwback to the emerging ambient dreamscapes that surfaced in the late 1970s and mid-1980s. Unlike his counterparts who strove to push the boundaries (and in doing so opened up many new musical avenues to explore), Headon has ignored these paths and deliberately taken two steps backwards. By doing this, it forces a comparison to be drawn between his works and groups like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, which immediately discredit his artistic originality and arrangement skills. Granted, there are some surprisingly emotive and affecting synthesizer washes – like the track “The Middle Distance” – but the extensive repetition of sustained keyboards effects looses its novelty factor relatively quickly.

Most of the album showcases Headon’s love of a ‘big’ sound, however, it does not reach its full potential. There are too many moments during which the artist eludes at what his tracks could be, yet it never quite gels due to the sonic limitations it puts on itself. Tracks like “My Invocation” and “Mount Warning Suite” lack direction, lumbering through long sustained passages with minimal overdubs and distinguishable textures. Although it projects a peaceful facade, upon re-listen, its synthetically bland emotionalism and lack of experimentalism demands an overhaul.

What has made the evolution of ambient music so fascinating is its never-ending quest for exploring the sonic realms. The indication of talent is here, but tracks like “Up!!” and “From My Vantage” are the only showcase songs. Emotionally engaging and technically superb, their invitingly honest trance-like grooves shine with potential. But again, by limiting himself to using the same synth effects over and over, Headon has replaced meditative listening with the merely monotonous.

So are there any innovative soundscapes that’ll take listeners beyond the limits of their imagination for a small, infinitesimal fare? Is Headon’s release able to push past the limits of imagination and accommodate multiple levels listening? Doubtful. It may be a nice addition to anyone’s library who shares a passion for early synthesized soundscapes, however, because of The Middle Distance’s musical retrogression and adherence to a well-worn sound, it makes too much of the record a playground for criticism.




The Verdict: 6.3/10

For more information, please contact Paul at pheadon@tpg.com.au




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