Aires – Fantasma

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Label: Bad Panda Records

I was a big, big fan of the self-titled release by Portuguese artist Aires, as well as his other split and collaborative releases in the interim prior to now. Each has possessed a different character and sense of life; but on his latest EP, Fantasma, what Aires offers instead is something more reminiscent of the cold, hollow desolation of death. And whilst it may be sonically sparse at times, it is far from empty, packed with layer upon layer of texture and depth. As befits a record with such a title, there is something deeply haunting about Fantasma, with the EP conjuring up a ghost that hauntingly lingers long after the music has stopped.

The opening track, “Fantasma I”, is the most abrasive of the three, opening as it does with heavy, deeply unsettling waves and drones, with damaged voices buried beneath, as if trying to come up for air or safety but never quite making it far enough. There is a warmth to what is on offer, but it is far from welcoming, speaking instead of danger and warning. This changes around the 4:25 mark, when a heavily distorted, almost mechanical voice comes to the fore, words lost in their own sounds, and a calmer, almost gentle wave replaces the more ominous tones that came before. Following such a period of oppression and dread, the closing minutes feel like some revelation that places everything in order, making the world and life finally make sense; there is still something unsettling about it, but more profoundly so, as if the answer found only led to more questions.

Middle track “Fantasma II” is the shortest of the three, at 3:45, and functions almost as a bridge between the opener and closer. There is a certain sense of movement about it, not so much in the physical sense, but from one state of being or mindset to another – from calm to anxious, content to empty, alive to dead. Something close to a melody rises above the other-worldly sounds that comprise the body of the track, lending it a sense of grace that touches upon the divine.

By contrast, closer “Fantasma III” is remarkably desolate and dark, spacious in the most terrible way possible; but do not think that this means it is empty. Rather, with its sparse tones and ambient, wavering drones, it is full of the sorrow of what has been lost, and the horror of what could cause such desolation. This is dark ambient in an almost existential sense, not so much cinematic in the sense of empty cities, but in the sense of empty souls. And yet, there is something hugely captivating about it, with the atmosphere being one that holds the listener’s attention captive, swallowing them up in the world it wishes to create. As uncomfortable as it can be, by the end of Fantasma it is possible to have maybe not overcome the ghosts and spirits that it summons, but certainly to have made peace with and accepted them. Haunting and other-worldly though it may be, it is not something to be feared, and – as with previous releases by Aires – I heavily recommend Fantasma.

Fantasma can be streamed and downloaded via Bandcamp.

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