James Krivchenia, “A New Found Relaxation”
A New Found Relaxation
So much of Big Thief’s music feels intrinsically linked to nature. Their last two albums from 2019 are testaments to this—U.F.O.F. was bucolic and ethereal while Two Hands captured the essence of the rough, arid terrain where it was recorded. The band’s drummer, James Krivchenia, carries a similar environmental enthusiasm into his solo music; albeit with an unreal quality.
Krivchenia’s latest solo album, his experimental take on the sometimes-hokey subgenre of soothing “spa radio” music, has one foot firmly in the sounds of nature. The album has an obsession with aquatic tones, from water dripping sounds filtered through Tim Hecker–like feedback on “Loveless But Not Joyless” to the enveloping crash of a waterfall on “Touched By an Angel.” The album’s other foot, naturally, rests in the artificial. The music is assembled from sampled ASMR meditations, field recordings, dusty muzak and languorous ambient tunes—in short, internet ephemera culled from the edges, frequently consigned to our subconscious. You could call it vaporwave or plunderphonics. Krivchenia calls it A New Found Relaxation.
Relaxation’s wind tunnel echoes and garbled sci-fi frequencies evoke sample-heavy ambient projects like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica. That was an album that also plundered audio junkyards to assemble something otherworldly and beautiful. However, Krivchenia straddles the line between natural and artificial zones more evenly. The second song, “In My Own Image,” opens with space-time warping sounds and gradiates into distant, nature documentary reed whistles. It’s hypnotic and evocative tone-setting: nostalgia melded with the uncanny. On “Touched By an Angel,” this dichotomy is perhaps its most stark. A wall of ethereal sound is interrupted by what sounds like screeches from an alien, nearly curdling a dream into a nightmare. The track’s ending is one of the most striking on the album: melodic shimmers and rippling static cradle to the earth like a feather.
The album’s truncated song lengths are its biggest hurdle to listener immersion, however. Most tracks hover around one and a half to three minutes and not one exceeds four. The auditory environments Relaxation materializes are frequently gorgeous and mystifying, but they evaporate just as quickly as they appear. Krivchenia sometimes experiments past his usual audio world-building, such as a brief footwork beat spurt on “Legendary Liquids,” but these rarely amount to more than concept sketches. Still, even with A New Found Relaxation’s touristic approach to its sonic vistas, it’s an experiment of uncommon and chilling elegance. Soak in it.