As rave culture began to take hold moving into the early 1990s, downtempo electronica, or chill-out music, as it is sometimes called, originated as a calmer alternative. With DJs playing high energy sets for hours at a time, special “chill rooms” were set aside at clubs for ravers to relax and take a break from the constant bombardment of loud music and sweaty bodies. Ambient electronic music was played in these rooms as a contrast to its more frenetic counterparts, and a culture revolving around such music began to slowly emerge. Artists started to expand the boundaries of such a genre out in many different directions over the next two decades, and today we acknowledge a wide assortment of styles as falling under the label of “downtempo.” One such subgenre is trip hop, an experimental style that draws influence predominantly from ambient electronica, hip hop, R&B, jazz, and house music.
Enter Doug Appling, more commonly known by his stage name Emancipator. In 2006, he released his debut album, Soon It Will Be Cold Enough, as a trip hop producer. Among other things, this album represents this blog’s first endeavor into downtempo, chill music, and I feel assured that it will not disappoint. Emancipator maintains a consistent sound throughout the course of the fourteen tracks on Soon It Will Be Cold Enough, yet it never becomes dull. At minimum, the music can fade into the background whilst your mind is elsewhere, however at its best it can provide a remarkably thought-provoking experience – the kind that sets the stage for significant personal introspection – while relaxing the mind and allowing tranquility to seep through your body and soul.
So what constitutes the “definitive” Emancipator sound? Strikingly dynamic strings. Smooth, clean, ethereal guitar tones. Colorful piano voicings and delicate melodies. Laid-back hip hop beats, generally falling around 95 beats per minute. All of these things are elements that make up the brilliance of Emancipator’s craft. The true beauty of his music is more substantial than the mere sum of these parts, however. There is something almost spiritual about it. It is easy to be skeptical about such a bold statement, and truthfully it comes down to a matter of opinion. When I listen to this album, though, I can hear the passion on which this music was born. Although I cannot speak for Emancipator himself, I feel certain that his creation brings him immense musical and, yes, spiritual fulfillment.
Perhaps downtempo music is your cup of tea, perhaps it isn’t. Regardless, if you can resolve to set aside one hour of your day towards doing nothing but relaxing and listening to Soon It Will Be Cold Enough in its entirety, I believe that you will understand at least some of what I am describing here. Transcendental or not, this album is definitely worth a listen. It starts with “Eve,” a beautiful piece that combines the nuances of slow-rising synth pads and spacey piano lines with a more energetic breakbeat. “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough to Build Fires” brings in the first of many acoustic guitar samples, as well as introducing Emancipator’s refined vocal sampling technique. Tracks such as “Anthem” and “Lionheart” serve to astound the listener with beautiful string arrangements, while others add a bit of punch with more substantial synth bass (“Good Knight”) and guitar distortion (“Maps”).
The album transitions extremely well; it almost seems as if you are listening to one continuous song. That being said, each track has something that distinguishes it from the others and makes it unique. Although I have identified specific tracks over time as favorites for different reasons, I usually prefer to let the entire album play through on shuffle, because once I get in the mood for Emancipator, I have found it is rather difficult to get out. It is a unique musical experience to say the least, and is perfect for occasions such as a long drive home at night. But don’t take my word for it, get a copy of it as soon as you can and prepare yourself for a rich musical journey.