Aquarelle returns with old ambient soaks and new dynamic tricks on 'Leave Corners'

Ryan Potts, aka Aquarelle.

Ryan Potts, aka Aquarelle. Photo courtesy of Discogs.

Ryan Potts started his career as a swimmer, but he’s evolved into a more of a stirrer.

While the St. Paul-based musician’s 2006 debut recording under the name Aquarelle, the effervescent Of Memory and Momentum, felt mesmerizingly slight, the ambient rue would thicken on the LPs that followed. Strings, guitars, bells, and other elements flowed into his work: 2009’s Slow Circles evoking hazy daydreams, 2011’s Sung in Broken Symmetry taking on a harsher, shoegaze-y cast, 2013’s August Undone courting classical. Even as Potts’ compositional proficiency has deepened, his great themes – dislocation, drift, a certain sense of timelessness – have remained constant.

Leave Corners, the first Aquarelle LP in four years, doesn’t shy away from these touchstones, straddling that familiar yet welcome line between compassion and disintegration. The gorgeous “Intervals” weds waves of pointillist guitar and oceanic drones. Initially suggesting an orchestra warming up, the two-part epic “Open Absences” eventually gives way multiple metamorphoses: a distorted din punctuated by a tense, skeletal melody, then a sinewy, corkscrewing shimmer, then a drift towards a winding, crystalline outro. This, in essence, is evolved, prime time Aquarelle – a series of vigorously relaxing consciousness-rinses.

Elsewhere on Leave Corners, Potts eyes fresh, fascinating terrain. “Brass Logic” positions gently galloping xylophones front and center; they’re at first nudged and nuzzled by dour strings, then upstaged, briefly, by a crush of compressed guitar distortion. “The Horse Has Run,” meanwhile, is all null, quavering pressure, a seesawing reverb that never lands, but gives birth to a tremulously beautiful violin motif.