In Summer‘s affectations could, in other hands, sound a little too zeitgeisty. Everything is smeared in reverb and the guitars somehow managing to sound somewhere between a shoegaze haze and the kind of synths you’d expect to hear in some post-Drive soundtrack 80s aping. It seems engineered to fit into a summer where Stranger Things’s prime-Spielberg era nostalgia has everyone wanting to be soaked in signifiers of that overly sentimentalised decade. But you know you’re in good hands once you look at Cantu-Ledesma’s pedigree: he’s been around the block, building an impressive back catalogue of releases with post-rockers Tarantel and in collaboration with the likes of Grouper, Barn Owl and Oneohtrix Point Never amongst many others. Even if it does sound so very now he’s got as good a claim as any to say, “hey, I’ve been here for ages, what took you so long?”
Besides, there’s a certain Distintigration Loops-esque eroded quality to In Summer that elevates the nostalgia on offer from cheap sepia filter to something more profound. Love Refrain has the uncanny air of The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, with that records damaged memories of early 20th century dancehalls replaced with imagined discos of the 80s. At various points throughout the five tracks there are squeaks and skips that sound like a tape getting snarled and jumping forward. Like a VHS-esque filter over digital film they don’t have any right being there other than for the sake of sentimentality, but there’s no denying the effect they have on those of us of an age to remember respooling cassettes with fondness.
There seems to be a tendency for ambient/drone/electronica artists to go maximal at the moment, to induce some kind of sensory overload in the listener, and the pattern is often followed here. Delicious, corrosive static seems to be the order of the day. And why wouldn’t it be? We’re a generation or three having to deal with everything all the time. Even our little echo chambers can’t keep out the noise from outside. If you don’t feel overwhelmed you’re probably not paying attention. But there’s incredible detail somewhere amidst the bustle – the descending noises at the end of Love Refrain that sound like falling fireworks petering out ion the night sky are romantic enough to justify the title. If you strain hard enough to hear them amid the maelstrom.
When In Summer it’s at it’s quietest it’s no less effective. On Little Dear Isle some nature recordings compete with the burbling noise and strange tones that seem to shimmer in the wind. It’s like a sheen of technology over a bucolic scene, like a phone screen with a Pokemon battle going on over a summer’s day in the park. Reality is already augmented enough without the need for little imaginary monsters running around the place. But if games are your bag then you’ll love Blue Nudes (I-IV), which comes across like the Hotline Miami soundtrack refracted as seen through rain smears on a windshield.
Cantu-Ledesma describes In Summer as being like simple photographs of people and places he wants to remember. But whether intended or not with it’s deteriorated pretense it feels more like the unreliability of memory writ large. Memories and their meaning twist and contort as they’re seen through the ever growing prism of time, until they’re completely unrecognisable. And if that weren’t enough our memories have to compete with representations of the era we’re remembering in cinema and on television. The reality of our past intermingles with an imagined age, of a collective delusion each generation has about the decade they grew up in. We get nostalgic for something that never existed, yearning to return to a past that we never experienced. In Summer captures that unreality and unreliability in it’s glistening tones like bugs trapped in amber.
It ends with a Prelude, fittingly enough. A woman’s voice appears and is cut off, a dog pants, and a lonely, lost, distorted piano plays us out. And then it’s gone. In mundane terms it’s a small step forward from the already impressive A Year with 13 Moons from last year. It’s Cocteu Twins, it’s My Bloody Valentine, it’s Fennesz, it’s Basinski. In emotional terms it’s a noisey, boisterous, wistful, ecstatic, melancholy burst of nostalgia for a time you didn’t know, weren’t in, that never existed. It’s the exquisite longing for something that no one ever gets and has ever had. For 5 blissful tracks the possibility and the hopelessness exist as one and everything feels about as right as it can.