Out There

360 Business/360 Bypass

Welcome aboard flight 360 Business/360 Bypass, the second full-length, low-pulse release from Pan-American, also known as Mark Nelson. This six-song, hour-long collection of songs is a rhythmic trip with traces of everything from bossa nova to dub bass to downtempo beats to warm synths and narcoleptic guitars. It makes sense, because Nelson -- the only permanent member of Pan-American -- is also in sonic-texture-loving Labradford, similarly highly lauded in underground ambient circles. The recurrent soundscapes of both groups are usually too esoteric to attract a large audience; a casual listener more concerned with traditional songwriting than with the subtle arrangements of this "furniture music" will probably be put off a few minutes into 360 Business/360 Bypass. Labradford and Pan-American are part of a music scene that is often accurately criticized as being overindulgent dreck, upgraded new age, or simply draggy and extraneous. For Pan-American, however, this isn't always the case.

Joining Pan-American this round are Alan Sparkhaw and his wife Mimi Parker from the coma-pop band Low, and cornetist Rob Mazurek, best known for his work with Tortoise and Gastr del Sol. With their help, Nelson has created a set of songs that feels singular instead of plural; the first track's passing into the final one during the disc's 60-minute release goes almost without notice. Each track possesses its own chemistry but blissfully gets lost in the multilayered mix along the way. Yet there's a tension below the surface that keeps the listener intrigued: a quiet, haunting insistence beneath the warm frequencies. But after 30 minutes of listening to the under-dub drumbeat overlaid with serene melodica meanderings, it's easy to still feel engulfed in track one without realizing the record is half through.

The surprises on this record wink at you and replace previous grooves that are easy to cling to. Completely spaced-out listens give way to thinking that one bouncing note, carried throughout a song, like in "Double Rail," is, like, so right on. But the second you step away from the vaporous melodies, it'll take a few seconds to fully believe in them again as you had only seconds before. At the songs' most intense moments, it's easy to see them being fit into a stylized moment of a film, right before the lead character gets either murdered or fucked -- or both. The vocals are scant, and when they do appear, it's a whispered droning that hazily blends into the gauzy background of cornets and Miles Davis-influenced horn solos. Of course, with Pan-American, everything is in the background.

Holly Jefferson


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