Refractions of Sound by Ian C. Bouras and Dion Abraham
2019 was a banner year for experimental artists around the planet, with some of the most prolific content we’ve heard in a generation making its way out of the woodwork and into the public lexicon for the very first time. Among the more intriguing releases to come across my desk in the month of December was none other than Refractions of Sound, a record featuring collaborators Ian C. Bouras and Dion Abraham that acted as the musical equivalent of a page-turning novel to close out my year. Refractions of Sound is an admittedly spacey, psychedelic-tinged instrumental wonder, but it’s also one of the few LPs to debut at the year’s end that I would deem required listening for indie buffs everywhere.
Though the direction of “Soundscape,” “Extemporization,” “Improvisation” and “Concoction” is never easy for us for us to figure out (even in the midst of being swept away by any one of the aforementioned tracks), there’s nothing particularly scattered or unfocused about the music that we discover in between the start and finish of this album. Despite a lot of surrealism in the subtext of seemingly every note that slides into view here, Bouras goes out of his way to keep things aligned on a certain aesthetical trajectory that makes everything feel wholly connected in one way or another.
It would be really interesting to know how much of the material on Refractions of Sound was meticulously designed before Bouras and Dion Abraham first got together in the studio and how much of it was born out of a freeform improvisational jam session that no musician – regardless of their talent – could have possibly orchestrated beforehand. There’s as much of a tempered conservatism to tracks like “Ad-Lib” and “Creation” as there is a liberal postmodernity to “Invention” and “Wrinkle,” which is a rare combination to find within the same tracklist for sure.
As far as production quality is concerned in Refractions of Sound, the detailed intricacies in all of the music here are never muddied by some halfhearted attempt at making hybridity where there needn’t be any (which is something that I have unfortunately encountered quite a bit on the left side of the dial lately). Nothing is so plasticized or overdone that the tonality of the music sounds forced or computer-generated – which it may well have been – and when considering just how frequently records like this one actually do sound that way, this offering from Bouras and Abraham is certainly nothing for legit fans to scoff at.
Though this was my first time sitting down with this record, I don’t believe that it will be my last time reviewing an Ian C. Bouras album at all. Together with Dion Abraham, he produces the kind of soundscape-driven, atmospheric LP that finds some middle ground between the drone of post-rock and the gaze of neo-psychedelia and ambient music, and in 2020, I can see the record’s cornerstone compositions getting a second life thanks to the attention the pair had been attracting towards the end of the 2010s. I’m definitely game for more from these two, and I doubt I’m the only critic saying as much right now.