These descriptors at first seem at odds with one another. They’re polar opposites – one bold and intense, the other gentle and ethereal. They pull on you from two separate angles with equal intensity.
But, Heavy Color also happens to be the name of the Toledo-based duo composed of Ben Cohen and Sam Woldenberg. Soft Light is the title of their fourth and latest album, released last month. Once you immerse yourself in the journey of this record, you may realize those two warring phrases give you a taste of the breadth, depth, and contradictions of the experience you just had.
Some albums start with a punch in the face; others extend a guiding hand. Soft Light starts by hitting you with what can only be described as a tractor beam. The title track begins by slowly enveloping you in deep, pulsing bass and alien, chittering synth. It’s an experience that’s as physical as it is aural, leaving you feeling like you’re being transported to another planet or plane of experience. Two minutes or so later, you are dropped into a fantastic groove, with the drums settling into an easy backbeat and shimmering vibraphone leaping into the texture. The alien landscape is still there, nibbling on the edges, but it’s no longer propelling you forward. This is a place to settle into, to spend some time in.
In this way, the title track introduces you to the world of Soft Light perfectly. Make no mistake, this album is going to sound very different from what most – myself included – are used to listening to. Heavy Color describes the album as a “recombination of 60’s spiritual jazz, meditations in pattern-based music, instrumental hip hop,” and it spends much of its time basking in stasis, avoiding the kinds of structures and drive that most people think of when they think about music. But, engage with it on its own terms, allow it to carry you into its sweeping soundscapes, and it reveals itself as something truly captivating.
Another album highlight is “Infinite Pyramids,” which begins with a marimba pattern that wouldn’t be out of place in the works of minimalist composers Steve Reich or Philip Glass. As with much of the album, it then slowly evolves, grabbing onto a virtuosic jazz saxophone solo as it passes by, before giving way to a sparse, electronic pattern that swallows the sax up – though not quite whole, as the latter fights desperately to be heard for the duration of the track. Then it’s all gone as quickly as it came. The marimba returns to close the track, with only a soft, tense electronic drum beat to remind you of the journey you’ve just taken.
With Soft Light, Heavy Color has given us something that’s not as much a collection of songs as it is a series of vignettes, each with its own twists and turns, motion and stasis – windows into worlds well worth exploring, if only for a few minutes at a time.
Soft Light was released as a digital download and limited-edition CD by Curious Music.
Other recent projects for Heavy Color include an original score for the film Invisible Hand, a documentary about the Rights of Nature Movement, produced by actor Mark Ruffalo (2020); an original score for Eli, a Dog in Prison, a documentary about three men in prison who train a Labrador puppy to be a guide dog (2021); and scores to Vanquish the Void and Interior Weather (2021-2022), two in a series of collaborations with visual artist Hasseb Ahmed.
Learn more about Heavy Color at heavycolorheavycolor.com.