Serotonin Ashram , Carty's 1999 release, is quite different from 1998's The Living. This album has much more variety, ranging from "chill" or "drone" ambient, to medium-fast rhythms, to beat-driven pieces along the lines of European synth-rock. It begins with the eleven-minute "Follow Your Bliss" which in its modal melodies, optimistic harmonies and swaying rhythm has become one of my favorite electronic tracks of the past few years. In fact, if I had heard this album earlier, I would have named it as one of my top ambient albums of 1999, and in retrospective, I will include it in the list.
Carty continues to add nature sounds as a background, though unlike the previous album these are overshadowed by louder music. I especially like the sound of distant thunder (real? synthesized?) in track 2, "The Periphery," and track 4, "Medicine Quest." In track 5, "Extended Stillness," Carty travels a bit into Roach territory, with rattles and shakers, low chanting sounds, and "floating" electronic chords. But the sound is still Carty's, thanks to his harmonic choices which are quite different from those of the Tucson veteran. Carty ends the album with a sparkling Euro-rock piece that moves right along until it fades into a silicon dawn.
Robert Carty is more than just an ambient soundsmith, he is a composer, who knows how to vary pace, texture, and structure, and who is not afraid to unify an entire album by bringing back motifs from earlier tracks in the later pieces. So much ambient seems aimless, with little or no design behind it, which is why I enjoy the thinking behind Carty's music as much as I do his natural sound samples and clear harmonies. The cleverly titled "Serotonin Ashram" is an ambient achievement that deserves lots of listening.
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