Have you ever witnessed a band perform a familiar song as if they were reciting the alphabet? Like they could be miming to their own record and no one in the audience would know the difference? Drag, right? Well, don’t judge such musicians too harshly: transforming a rigidly fixed composition into the kind of a spontaneous creative act we expect from the most intrepid jazz and improv groups is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing any performing band. This is because doing so takes ability, imagination, and nerve; the path from the fixity of song to on-the-spot musical invention is perilous and, as a result, rarely traversed.
Ama Divers is a trio from North Carolina who uses this very path as the foundation on which it builds its stirring, hypnotic music. Composed atop a chassis of field recordings and rendered with all the fussiness of a gasoline-drenched Lee Perry throwing the I Ching, the lush, moody Shadow Seeking Sun, the band’s first official full-length album, brims with nuance, power, and heart.
The group--Brian Haran (organ, synth, sampler, guitar, live dub treatments, recording, mixing), Chris Girard (guitars) and Renee Mendoza Haran (field recordings, bass, clarinet, voice)—has been kicking around for a few years, performing sporadically and releasing a limited-run cassette of smart, dubwise etherea. On Shadow Seeking Sun, the band’s songs move into even sharper focus, built atop field recordings Renee captured on her phone during long work-related travels away from her family.
After dutifully collecting the sounds of wherever she happened to be at both dawn and dusk of each day, Renee then sent these aural snapshots to her family back home, often in lieu of the traditional text-messaged I-miss-yous, quick phone calls, and rushed, impersonal emails. Husband Brian, upon receiving these recordings, took to the band’s home studio and began remixing them. Sometimes this meant building textures and atmospheres around his wife’s iPhone captures; other times, Brian looped them, turning the natural rhythms of Renee’s journey into hypnotic almost-beats: cricket songs in place of snapping snare drums, the sound of a car driving over a pothole filling the role of a kick drum’s deep thud.
It is within this cauldron that Brian, Renee, and guitarist Chris Girard create their meditative naturalist-kosmische, all mixed live and in real time by Brian, adding a strong improvisational element to Chris’ inventive, sculptural guitar playing and Renee’s haunting melodies. Textures alternately disintegrate and build around the actions of the group, creating a sort of closed circuit in which all sounds are constantly reacting and responding to each other.
One of the more prominent of these sounds is the airy, luminous and entrancing voice of Renee Mendoza Haran. Far from the mush-mouthed “vocals as another instrument” cop-out of numberless zzzinematic snore-jockeys, her vivid, spellbinding vocals provide the band’s emotional core.
The group’s textural range is equally magnificent. Occasionally sounding like a lost 4AD album produced by the Wackies, or Hugo Largo’s “Turtle Song” stretched to a blissful shoegaze Shangri-la, the band’s keen ear for coloristic detail never falters. A clean, broad, and transparent-sounding recording magnifies and further enhances the magnificent, subtle interplay and unusual rhythms that propel the songs.
Though the band does not attempt to obscure its influences (the band’s home studio is called Garaaji, for goodness sakes), these influences are never conspicuous, utilized more as points of entry than as blueprints. By utilizing indeterminacy and using their songs to draw attention to the very act of their creation, Ama Divers create a singular, experiential, and deeply personal music unlike any you’ve ever heard.
- James Jackson Toth
There are limited copies of the vinyl release available from the artists here: amadivers.bandcamp.com