Norm Chambers needs no introduction in these pages. Soft Profile is his new label (Norm having a label is such great news) and Spectrum Garden is one hell of a way to start. In recent years, Chambers music has drifted away from the more pop-infused hues of Panabrite and into headier, more angular zones. His masterpiece, Facets, was machine music with a soft edge; modulations and synthetic percussion woven into an almost paranoid matrix of soft circuits and arrhythmic bliss. Spectrum Garden rides a similar rail, but finds accents of lush pads, subtle arpeggiations, and a layer of hiss and crackle adding organic undercurrents.
There are two separate movements on Spectrum Garden. A series of short, pointed tracks lead up to the 30-minute epic “Neuropathy Suite.” Everything points to the massive end game, but there is so much life in tunes like the racing “Hypoesthesia” and contemplative and alien “Fold.” Each step along the elliptical path unlocks a new element that adds to Spectrum Garden’s immense detail and richness. Chambers has always had an uncanny ability to craft tangled, precise webs where nothing seems out-of-place or superfluous. Every note, every blip is where it’s supposed to be.
Still, once the opening beats of “Neuropathy Suite” jump in, there’s an immediate sense that the real journey is just beginning. Skittering beats scatter the melancholic pads and disembodied voices into a nervous electronic ether. Interrupted by pensive, skyward synths there are brief moments of hope interlaced with the anxious push that keeps creeping in. Something about this whole piece screams of warm distant memories and dreams being marred by an uncertain, sometimes terrifying future.
Chambers music has always been evocative, but none of his other work has this same emotional heft. I am overwhelmed by it in the best possible way. In a year where fear and uncertainty have been constant themes, Spectrum Garden utilizes those themes in deeply satisfying ways. I have been in a place lately where certain music and art has been an impetus for reflection and making an effort to not hide from whatever emotions I’m feeling, and Spectrum Garden taps into that on a holistic level that can’t be missed. Norm Chambers has been one of my favorite artists for the past decade plus and if this album is any indication, he’s nowhere close to done. Highest recommendation.