Followers of my career with Black Metal & Brews (as well as my occasional contributions to the might Hammer Smashed Sound) know that I’m fascinated with ambient music and tape loops. Aside from legends like William Basinski, some of the earliest stuff I heard in this general corner of sonic experimentation was from Houston-based ambient fanatic Tanner Garza. His body of work under his known name is impressive enough, but when one takes into account his work with groups like the legendary Black Leather Jesus, promising noise duo Vision Stains, or even the pop-culture fascinated outsider noise of Uncle Meat, it’s obvious that Garza’s passion for the fringes of experimental music is something that he carries into everything he does. With his newest album, Regret, out now from Heavy Psych, it’s time we take a look and see what he’s been occupying himself with lately.
With this tape, Garza displays a desire to break free from anything resembling self-imitation. While past releases have been far more textured and dynamic than one might expect for ambient music, Regret is an album with a natural sense of motion that often seems absent from the genre. Even with his prior releases, Garza has not extensively tread such expansive territory as he does on these three tracks. Opener “Washes Over Me” has to be one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in ages and is absolutely certain to make a few new fans on its own. What starts as one constant set of waves turns into something resembling a subterranean orchestra. It brings to mind some of the more bombastic choral moments from the original soundtrack to Super Metroid from Super Nintendo with tones that sound neither like any human voice nor conventional instrument. As the layers build, it’s neither ominous nor soothing, which creates a certain tension that keeps the listener’s interest even in the most repetitive moments of the song. Each note is worth clinging to, and the album only gets better from here. With “Longing,” we see a brief foray into a more minimalist approach. The light rumble around the edges of each shimmering note adds a light sense of distortion. The balance of beauty and its fragility here is truly compelling and makes for a relatively short yet engaging listen.
Where Regret really shows it strength, however, is on the closing track, “With a Heavy Heart.” With an eighteen minute run time, this song conjures images of a world swept clean of humanity in a way that is equal parts desolation and tranquility. The hum and ebb of each note as it shifts downwards into the distance is gripping. The song does rely heavily on repetition, but it drives home a sentiment that wouldn’t be conveyed quite as well in a shorter time. The cascading emptiness Garza creates here may be subtler than the other tracks on this album, but as a serious fan of his work I find this to be broader and more adventurous. The first two songs will hook you in, but especially with headphones or a powerful sound system, the final song will be what sits deep in your soul long after the tape has stopped playing. Does it leave you empty or do you feel you’ve learned something? The effects will vary for each of us, but the tape certainly carries more weight than any run of the mill ambient.