A Hole in the Fence, Walt McClements’ forthcoming debut album for Chicago label American Dreams, takes after a number of recent records channeling the buzzing textures of the organ to create ambient and drone music. But with one important difference: McClements plays the accordion, an instrument most frequently encountered in the context of norteño, polka, Balkan music, and other regional styles. While the accordion is rarely heard in ambient music, the hand-held keyboard instrument is related to the harmonium and pump organ; it works according to the same principle, pushing air across small strips of vibrating metal, called reeds. On “Thresholds (through a hole in the fence),” the Los Angeles musician makes the most of the instrument’s microtonal possibilities, drawing out long held chords into shimmering expanses reminiscent of Kali Malone, Tim Hecker, or Áine O’Dwyer.
It’s unclear just how McClements is creating these sounds—whether he is using electronic processing, or perhaps layering multiple recordings, to accentuate colliding overtones. The mood is at once serene and lightly electrifying; a sense of nervous energy drives a sequence of blippy, staccato tones that suggest Morse code. Perhaps that resemblance is not accidental: The song’s title refers to McClements’ history hopping trains—in this case, the “threshold” where the train rider ducks furtively from the street into the netherworld of the train yards. It’s a subculture of word-of-mouth information, wisdom scrawled on walls—codes to be deciphered, at least for those who know how to decrypt them. For the rest of us, “Thresholds (through a hole in the fence)” is a moving journey, an invitation to be carried on waves of sound to an unfamiliar destination.