Thursday, April 22, 2021
Arts + Culture Music Christina Chatfield's 'Sutro': ambient, but not for the micro-dosing...

Christina Chatfield’s ‘Sutro’: ambient, but not for the micro-dosing set

Local electronic ace takes a turn for deep pastel textures and droney sound-worlds, absent trendy dread.


“Luna” the lead track from local electronic wiz Christina Chatfields’ long awaited debut album Sutro, gives off visions of ancient warriors from preceding times, fashioned in wooden battlefield attire, mirroring one another, illuminated in the moonlight, executing some type of primordial ritual. Think less Renaissance Faire, more Hobbit, Game of Thrones, Middle Earth type steeze. Somewhere in history where the comntemporary pulse of life is diminished a bit. 

With tiny woodblock percussion acting like gentle talking wind, and a high-tension dirge remaining pronounced from start to finish, these boggy, phantom narrows announce Chatfield’s ambient long-player of a project with steely reserve. Matter of fact the last time 48hills spoke with her in December, she was coming off the high of having her Ascent/Descent EP being the first release from the Oakland-based As You Like It imprint. Roping in big names like Tin Man and noncompliant for the remixes, the record was an immediate hit.

Because of Chatfield’s affiliation with AYLI—she’s been a resident of the label’s associated party forever—it’s SF tradition to go out of your way and hear her play in that once-every-three-month rotation. Surrounded by keyboards and wires, she’s one of the few who really digs in to present something new, since she keeps her live gigs “sparse” through the year.

Quar-times had left an impression on her creative process: “Personally, I’ve noticed that my own music has slowed down a lot—I mean that literally. I’ve been writing music at a slower tempo because that’s usually the kind of music I listen to when I’m at home. And, well, I’m home a lot these days,” she told us.

Eight-song, 66-minute ambient cavort Sutro makes great use of buffered voices, pastel melodic textures and droney sound-worlds that seduce. Woozy daydreams actually get these slow-rolling environs to stimulate thought, not detract. Chatfield, keeps the discord rooted in atmospherics. No hi-hat or snare release, rarely moving into the upper BPMs.

Tracks like “Sutro” and “Drin” move with that  “at play in the fields of the Gods” vitality. Big 808s, slow as tree trunks, but hitting like Tyson. Chatfield’s uncanny touch, short-circuiting techno, electro, dub wisdom here and there, along with applying that shoegaze expanse and downtempo panache. Listen, the Swiss Army knife is open and working in ways others never discover. Her fastidious approach to ambient opens up new pathways, other frequenices.

I was surprised, relieved actually, to find no John Carpenter-type dread in the project. It’s become a thing with ambient related projects. On 11-minute standout track “Reeds,” there are lingering seconds of “malaise” at the outset. But methodically, with great didgeridoo verve. (I strongly doubt she used one on this, but you get my point.) A bass line emerges from the cave, with thunk rhythmic girth and subtle keyboard coloring. 

Chatfield makes ambient music for the non micro-dosing set, and I’m really OK with that.

You can pick up Sutro here.

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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