You can listen to Landing's music and get lost in the gentle tug-of-war between the weightlessness of ambient textures and the added gravity of pulse and meter; between the arresting sound of a drone and how it shape-shifts into a chord (or, for that matter, how a chord gradually turns into a progression); between the improvisational quality of a certain texture and its eventual transformation into a composed pop song.
You can marvel at how expertly Landing navigates between those contrasts — a testament, perhaps, to the band's skill in the studio, and maybe also to its own stubborn persistence — or you can just bliss out, let the surface of the music wash over you, and not ask any more from it than to be beautiful and ecstatic.
Aaron Snow formed Landing as a basement recording project in 1998 (he wanted to make music suitable for falling asleep). He soon recruited his wife, Adrienne, to sing, and also asked two friends from Utah, Daron Gardner and Dick Baldwin, to join. Baldwin, who wrote a lot of the band's early songs, left in 2005, and was replaced by Pete Baumann (not the Tangerine Dream member), who stayed only a few years. The Snows called it quits in 2007, when Adrienne gave birth to a daughter.
The band later reformed with Gardner as a trio, and now, with John Miller (Titles, Mountain Movers) on drums, the four-member New Haven band has located a new gear; "Body Diffuser," an EP released in August, is a measured study of stacked delays and layered tones, stretched across three long, wordless tracks. "Complekt," a new full-length album (coming soon), adds dreamy chamber pop and blistering space-rock.
Early on, the common ground was atmosphere.
"Daron, Dick and I all had pretty different influences," Aaron Snow says. "Dick came from post-rock, and Daron came from Tar and Shellac and a lot of heavier stuff, but we all shared a love of atmospheric stuff as well... What we always tried to do was to have the atmosphere be the most important thing, but then not be afraid to branch out, to try anything we felt like trying."
Landing's new music, meanwhile, is "like we settled back into ourselves," now says. "It sounds more like us, like we're not necessarily trying to branch off that hard right now."
On "Complekt," musical ideas are introduced, explored and allowed to drift off. There's a patchwork quality to "Thither," where string pads, throbbing synths and clean, tremolo guitars give way to slow-moving vocal pop. On "Grow," a 10-minute composition, the synths peak early, then drop a half-step in pitch (with a period of lovely, dissonant overlap) into a new section, before closing (again) with Adrienne Snow's vocals over a narcotic groove.
"Complekt" settles into other modes: the prog-rock of the title track, which trades off sections of 4/4 and 9/8; the organic, instrumental jamminess of "Weft"; the full-throated drone and slow-build groove of "Shifts." "Clouds II," the most conventional track on "Complekt" (and maybe also the prettiest), presents much of what you've heard — Adrienne's near-whispered vocals, a straight-ahead, minimalist beat from Miller and (of course) stacked guitars and synths — all packaged within a recognizable pop-song form.
"Complekt" and "Body Diffuser" were recorded in Miller's basement. Snow follows certain self-imposed guidelines in the studio: Don't go overboard on the reverb. Perform the delays and ambient effects live, in the room. For "Body Diffuser," he ran a synth through various effects, created loops, and then started improvising with them.
"I like to use the improvisation as a jumping off point," Snow says, "to make songs and to start layering on top of them. ... [Improvisation] is really important to what we do, but it's not interesting to me to leave it at that: I always want to edit it. I want to overdub. I want to see what can come out of it."
All the guitars are recorded "wet" — with the delays and reverbs already present, not added.
"If they're going to sound washed out, I want to record them that way," Snow says. "I think you can kind of hear it. I want it to sound like it's coming from a room instead of some big hall. Maybe I don't accomplish that, but it makes sense in my head."
Completing a piece of music, in an age of limitless tracks, Snow says, can be difficult. "It was a lot easier up until we switched to computers, because we were limited to eight tracks on a reel-to-reel. There was only so much you could bounce around, the bass, the guitar."
With atmospheric, studio-based music, it's often difficult for Snow to figure out what to play live.
"We would have to cut out a lot," Snow says, "especially in the early days. We'd strip them down. Now we can get away with more with loop pedals, and we're better musicians, too."
The point of Landing, Snow adds, was always to make the best records possible, without worrying too much about live performance.
"If we started thinking about what we could play live, it would limit us too much," Snow says. "Recording was our priority, and if something worked live, that was a bonus."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play is a new column profiling the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.