“What Remains” by Steve Roach

One of the ambient maestro’s finest compositions in a long time… and that’s saying something.

With a career spanning forty years, Steve Roach is one of ambient music’s elder statesmen. He’s also one of the genre’s more prolific artists, with ten releases so far in 2022 alone (according to Discogs.com). His latest full-length, What Remains, could almost be considered a “greatest hits” collection, as Roach explores the various genres that he’s dabbled in over the years (e.g., Berlin School, tribal ambient). The title track, however, delves into the sonic space for which Roach is probably best known: deep wells of sound and pure atmospheric drift.

Many of the sonic elements and approaches that Roach has used over the years can be heard here, so in that sense, “What Remains” breaks no new ground. However, the song possesses a sense of peace and calmness, of depth and solemnity, that’s far more interesting and captivating than anything merely “ground-breaking.” There’s one moment in particular, around the song’s mid-point, where Roach’s synthesizers spiral upward together in a way that envisions a vast cathedral suffused with light, a place that’s as sacred as it is otherworldly.

After so many years, Roach has no need to prove anything to anyone. Instead, he’s at that point in his career where he can simply explore whatever sounds intrigue and inspire him. As he puts it in the album’s notes, “There are no boundaries around what I do. I venture to the place I feel in my imagination or discover while creating the music; it is how it wants to unfold. I desire to keep pushing further and deeper into places that are connected to what I’ve done while also pushing me into new worlds to explore.”

If the result of such exploration is a composition like “What Remains,” then I can’t help but think that Roach is only just getting started even after forty years, and that there’s still a lot of great music to come.

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