An intriguing release, this, containing the kind of soft, billowy ambient that was ten-a-penny in the game a decade ago but which – you know what? – it turns out I’ve really bloody missed. The whole endeavour, from the super-limited nature of its release to the misty translucence of its physical presentation, seems purposefully designed to glide under (or above, or maybe just through) the radar, with Heavy Cloud providing suitably overcast blankets of field recording-inflected drone, ambient texture, strum and the odd dose of robotic word stew.
Heavy Cloud is Ryan Hooper, a secretly prolific artist from Cornwall, UK, who has been operating in this musical realm since at least the late noughties but whose work I’m sad to say I have only just become aware of. Memory Drift, his recent release for James McDermid‘s nascent Mailbox label, consists of music whose creation spans the best part of a decade, with some elements recorded as long ago as 2013. The most recent track, the side-spanning “Will Our Hearts Burn Forever?,” was recorded during the first UK lockdown in 2020 as a kind of reflection on the nature of nostalgia, memory and enduring hope during trying times.
The most striking track here, which drops out of the surrounding haze like a severed electrical cable, is “Future World Sprawl,” a text-to-speech poem in the style of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” that draws all manner of increasingly frantic field recordings into its sphere as the Hawking-esque voice reminisces about cold hearts and cold blood. “Siri knows the answers / we can no longer plan our days,” it babbles, as a lilting piano line struggles to rise above a cacophony of sirens, glitchy electronics and buzzing phones. In terms of style it is in no way representative of the remainder of the album, but it is an early indication of just how skilled an architect Hooper is. The fashion in which the artist builds and layers his sounds (which in this case crescendo like a sampled commercial for an obscure ’90s Microsoft product) is impressive across the release, not least in the title track and its sonic brethren on the flipside.
Both “Memory Drift” and “Will Our Hearts Burn Forever?” use meteorological sounds – rushes of air, distant rumbles of thunder – in a manner that brings to mind not clouds per se but their shadows as they dart and warp over the landscape. “Memory Drift” is open and airy, the ozone almost stinging in your nostrils. It behaves like a reflection of the robotic protagonist from “Future World Sprawl,” whose recollections are apparently beginning to fail him. “I close my eyes and remember the good times,” he says . “Oh baby, I remember… a time when the river outside the bedroom window flowed fast and clear.” Dim and slightly threatening to begin with, “Memory Drift” is slowly – almost imperceptibly – brightened as cool shafts of light begin to break through the clouds, gleaming synth tones ululating as though playing off the surface of fresh water.
“Will Our Hearts Burn Forever?” picks up similarly, adding in the sporadic chirrup of birds (something we all noticed and appreciated during the pandemic in which this track was created) and the gentle cluck of bamboo chimes. The sound is open and clear, and elevated still by the gentle arrival of piano keys. But, by the end, riding on the back of a sudden, violent guitar thrash, the entire enterprise finds itself collapsing into a tangle of fizzing, fading electronics; these memories, this music seems to suggest, are as fleeting and changeable as the elements they’ve become intertwined with, and just as susceptible to their destructive whims.
As the tape ends, and that final fierce surge passes over, you might well find your recollection of Memory Drift somewhat hazy. To call the album unmemorable is not intended as a slur; its intangibility, in fact, is in-built, purposeful and perfectly executed. To return to the start is to strive to bring the experience back, much in the same way the narrator of “Future World Sprawl” fights the noise of technology in search of his baby. And yet, somehow, the harder you try, the further away the essential truth seems to float.