Explaining why one Celer album is significantly better than another is no simple task, as Will Long is generally an extremely consistent artist who has released a huge volume of warmly lovely, loop-based ambient drone albums. Consequently, it is dangerously easy to take his artistry for granted, as a casual listener would not be crazy for finding a lot of Celer’s oeuvre relatively interchangeable. From my perspective, however, Celer can be viewed as Long’s tireless and Romantic quest to conjure up fragments of melody so achingly sublime that they can be looped into infinity. In that regard, Long has rarely come closer to realizing that dream than he does on Future Predictions. These four lengthy compositions capture Long at the absolute peak of his powers, resulting in the rarest of achievements: a 2+ hour album that leaves me wanting more and regularly inspires me to start it all over again as soon as it ends.
One aspect of Will Long’s artistry that I have always appreciated is his ability to evoke the sense that there is a deep undercurrent of emotion, mystery, and meaning lurking within his work, which is a trick that very few other ambient artists are able to pull off. It certainly does not hurt that Long is also a fitfully brilliant minimalist composer, but there is definitely something larger and more compelling than that happening with this project: Long has amassed a vast body of work that feels like a bittersweetly beautiful, impressionistic, and ever-expanding palace of memories. As befits a release as ambitious as a 4-CD boxed set, Future Predictions is an especially poignant and enigmatic example of that unusually intimate and diaristic approach to art, as Long accompanies the music with a small booklet of poetic writings, travel photos, and some enticingly cryptic other images of elusive meaning (a black and white photo of a forest fire at night, a picture from an early 20th century Antarctic expedition, a grainy image of the Dead Sea). The song titles deepen the mystery still further, as they make reference to cities in Sumatra and Lebanon. Presumably, all have some ties to Long’s own travels and personal memories, but that is not made explicit nor should it be considered a given: Long is certainly welcome to craft any poetic fictions he wants while straining to express the ineffable. In fact, all of the accompanying texts and image might be a fiction, as Long describes Future Predictions as “a meditation on future events” and a sort of inversion of 2018’s backwards-looking Memory Repetitions retrospective. Still, I would be very surprised if Future Predictions was not largely inspired by real past loves and snatches of beautiful memories. This is a Celer album after all.
Notably, there are allegedly some field recordings buried throughout the album, but they are far too well concealed to provide any further illumination (though I would be very impressed if they were field recordings from the future). In fact, just about all of the source sounds have been blurred and processed into floating, billowing unrecognizability on Future Predictions, as Long’s layers of loops mostly resemble an orchestral recording that has been dissolved and stretched into abstraction. For what its worth, my favorite pieces are the two bookends, though the gulf between them and the other pieces is not a large one. Moreover, all four pieces are unified by their similar structure and tone. Long made a conscious decision to avoid any overt “long-term structural development” within these pieces, so all of them begin and end with the same rich tapestry of collaged motifs in place. The result of that approach is that each piece feels like a sustained dream state that lazily churns with deep drones and swooning, sensuously intertwining, soft-focus melodies. Like a lot of Celer albums, these pieces evoke a mass of thick, slow-moving clouds broken by vibrant streaks of light, but the majestic ascending melodies of a piece like “Merita” suggest the beginnings of a brilliant sunrise as well. In fact, only the more simmering and brooding “No Sleep in Medan” lingers in melancholy, as the remaining three pieces transcend wistful meditation to take a brighter, more hopeful tone. In the wrong hands, such a tone would likely lead in a saccharine direction, but Long has the lightness of touch and intuitive grasp of dynamics and contrast needed to make it work. The closing “Qaraoun” is an especially lovely example of that mastery, as its gorgeous ascending melody has a hallucinatory, shimmering texture that feels like it is echoing around a vast cathedral leaving a trail of quivering, ghostly afterimages in its wake.
The only arguable caveat with Future Predictions is that it is essentially just four elegantly crafted and layered loops allowed to unfold in floating stasis for roughly half an hour each. That will likely drive some people mad, as there truly is no noticeable development within each piece. I have a hard time relating to such a grievance though, as I would be just as happy if this album were just one of those four repeating motifs extended for two hours. Long’s brilliance as a composer lies in the juxtapositions and in the details, so I see no reason for any further transformation to occur when the initial theme is already gorgeous, immersive, and hypnotically meditative. I only find myself wishing something new would happen when I do not find the central motif fully absorbing on its own, which is why I was so fond of the prominent field recordings on Xièxie: they made good songs more rich, more textured, and more interesting. A piece like “Qaraoun,” on the other hand, is simple, perfect, and fully realized right from the start so no further embellishment is needed or desired. In fact, that statement applies to just about everything here. I cannot pretend to have a comprehensive recall of Celer’s entire catalog, but I cannot think of any other albums that are this consistently strong from start to finish. As I have said about William Basinski in the past, it might seem deceptively easy or lazy to compose a piece from just a few endlessly repeating notes, but achieving the balance of rhythm, small-scale dynamics, and shifting harmonies necessary to cast a sustained and beautiful spell requires an enormous amount of skill and patience. As with Basinski’s best work, Future Predictions makes that process seem effortless and organic, but that is precisely because Long is a master illusionist able to produce a distillation so lovely that no traces of the intricate, meticulously shaped scaffolding remain.