reviewThe Milk Factory
Daniel Thomas Freeman is one third of experimental ambient folk outfit Rameses III,
which have been operating since the early 2000s. The trio, hailing from London, have
published a number of releases on Firefly, Digitalis, Important Records or Type, and
played alongside such ambient acts as Stars Of The Lid, Murcof or Rothko. He now
steps up for his first solo record, The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself, a very personal
document of his battle with depression and subsequent recovery.
Recorded over a six year period, during which Freeman found himself in the grip of serious depression,
the album is split into three distinct sections, the first focusing on the lowest darkest points
in his life, the second documenting his journey back from the abyss, while the third sees him
returning to a more peaceful and stable state of mind. Expectedly, the first two tracks, Dark
House Walk and Staring Into Black Water, are dense and sticky sonic compositions built from
treated field recordings and stark electronic textures, which are developed into bleak drones
and soundscapes. On the former, Freeman uses a recording of Westminster Cathedral bells
captured from one of the building's surrounding streets, but these are so intensely processed
that they become simple components in the densely layered sonic magma which constitutes
the backdrop of the piece. The latter, clocking at just over twenty five minutes, is an
even bleaker piece based around a slow evolutive drone upon which are placed various
noises, textures and, in the second half, distant ethereal vocal components which all
adds to the oppressing characteristic of the piece.
With the title track, Freeman breaks into very different grounds. Some of the earlier
oppressive atmospherics are still occasionally present here, but the tone changes
drastically from the onset. A curtain of tiny percussive particles is placed at the
forefront, behind which a gentle muffled melody comes in and out of focus, revealing a
much lighter touch. This shift in the mood is further developed on The Might Of Angels.
While once again centred around a dense drone, the piece appears to be slowly pulled up
to the surface as layers of violin loops become more potent and the drone eventually
disintegrate, but it feels as if things deteriorate again on The Devil Would Steal Your
Joy as a cluster of slightly distorted pulsating electronics and processed vocals takes
shape, but, cutting right through, the rich tones of a dulcimer offer a glimmer of hope.
With the last two pieces, Freeman reaches yet another stage in his deeply introspective
journey. Dedicated to his late mother, Elegy And Rapture (For Margaret) sees him layer
violin loops again, but here, fragments of melody continuously take shape and vanish as
loops appear to go in and out of sync, until a distorted drone signals the end of the
piece. The album concludes with Staring Into The Light, a response to the opening piece
and a testament of Freeman's journey. The mood is here much more serene, with Freeman
bringing in soft vocal textures and delicate keyboard touches to the fore, letting them
hang delicately over a wonderfully smooth, warm and rounded drone structure.
Despite its dark origins and extremely personal nature, The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself
is a truly inspiring, and inspired, record, which manages to keep its audience totally
captivated and, crucially, completely part of the experience. Daniel Thomas Freeman
achieves an incredibly fine balance between pathos and hope, gloom and light, and is
careful never to let any of these take predominance over the others. With his debut
solo record, Freeman has, quite simply, delivered one of the very best records this
year is likely to produce.
Monday 19 September 2011