CD Review: Able Thought’s serene In Limbo

sereneLocal one-man band Able Thought brings a dose of tranquility to the Providence music scene with his latest album, serene In Limbo. People like Andrew Bird and Kishi Bashi have made looping an art form and removed the need for a backing band to produce a full sound. Able Thought uses a loop pedal — I’m assuming — to create his own brand of atmospheric, low-fi folk.

What’s striking on first-listen is the use of a nylon string classical guitar as a specific choice. Where folk musicians usually swear by the metal strings, Able Thought embraces the nylon, giving serene In Limbo a signature sound. The guitar playing sounds like a mix of fingerstyle and traditional picking that works well, especially in songs like “In Limbo” and “Places.”

But the ambient quality that attracts people to this kind of music has a way of mashing the songs together and making it hard to differentiate one from the next. The level of manipulation makes me wonder if they’d be recognizable played with no effects. To be fair, this gripe is more of a comment on the musical style; I have been accused of not being able to enjoy “chill” music, but many artists these days seem to be drowning themselves in ever-increasing levels of reverb.

Maybe the best way to describe the sound is by simply recalling the name of the album. You feel like you’re floating in limbo in some echo-y, open forest. With tons of reverb. Much of the lyrical content also works to give the album a detached feeling, like in “From Space:”  “Breathe, breathe quickly, the air around us sings / fall, fall with me, to the ground and to our knees/ this world seems so empty, compared to what this means.” The abstract language, though sometimes hard to hear over all of the studio tinkering, falls into place with the trance-like sounds.

For me, serene In Limbo (along with Able Thought’s influences Bon Iver and Youth Lagoon) is something you’ve really got to be in the mood for. But when you want to relax and avoid the 2-4 backbeat of whatever’s hot, sometimes it’s nice to listen to something that isn’t loaded with hooks. And even though the album didn’t blow me away, it’s pretty impressive that this guy can probably recreate all this live without much trouble.

You can pick up Able Thought’s serene In Limbo locally. Or check out the band’s website.