THE PATIENCE FADER
Labradford's Mark Nelson sounds effortless on his latest slow-burn set of Satie-esque "romantic minimalism", highlighting yet again why he's completely out on his own. Influenced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois' smudged half-speed Americana, Nelson is at the peak of his powers with this delicately windswept set of desert ambience and candlelight blues.
Nobody else does it quite like Mark Nelson. 'The Patience Factor' was written thru isolation in 2020, and might be the most restrained suite of solo compositions he's assembled so far in his lengthy career. There's no hesitation or overwork in his notes - like Neil Young's 'Dead Man' soundtrack, it sounds as if Nelson is playing along to visuals, improvising fluidly as desolate, widescreen landscapes pan across his field of vision. Unlike many of his previous albums there are no drums on 'The Patience Factor', and Nelson's voice is also absent this time around. But this just adds to the music's subtle, sensitive drama; Nelson doesn't need embellishments - he's carving moods from desert cliff faces.
Nelson has been coolly developing this sound for decades. When he helped Labradford play foil to post-rock's deluge of quiet-loud hardcore posturing, he was admirably out of step with the popular flow, and when he struck out solo with his eponymous Pan American debut in 1997, it felt as if he was reshaping downtempo trends without a care for consensus. Thankfully he's a few paces left of popular ambient trends now too, so when he uses reverb, radio static or tape fuzz, nothing sounds as if it's been caught in the snowball of post-Netflix nostalgia - it's just another color in his palette. The shimmering tremolo on 'Outskirts, Dreamlit' feels as if it shares spiritual kinship with Harold Budd and the Cocteau Twins, while 'The North Line' sounds like Loren Mazzacane Connors, or John Fahey pitched down to a crawl.
Assisted by the most delicate synth warbles and tape delay slapbacks we've heard in a minute, 'Harmony Conversion' is the closest Nelson gets to the Chicago post-rock sound. It's almost like hearing someone play Americana-corrupted riffs from Tortoise's "TNT" while a Cluster album buzzes from a transistor radio nearby. The mood it evokes makes us rethink the entire canon - its influences, its development, and its latter-day back-and-forth with ambient music. 'The Patience Factor' is as well-realized and narrative driven as Cormac McCarthy's dust-addled later-period novels, it's a reflection on memory, history, and musical myth making that reveals deeper facets with every subsequent listen.