For a record that deploys so many signifiers of mellowness – undulating guitar lines, minimal piano motifs, shimmery reverb, no drums – Braeyden Jae’s Fog Mirror really isn’t relaxing at all. In the same way that Liz Harris’s Grouper wraps forlorn vocals and ghostly, reverberant piano chords around a centre that’s simultaneously ice-cold and absent, Jae’s dense layers of echo-laden guitar pack snow around a central core that seems to dissipate into air even as you look for it. Fog Mirror’s six tracks are an inversion of the blistering hot sensuality of classic-era shoegaze – all those moans and groans and feedback in Loveless, which, despite its title was pretty darned sexy really – flipping that intoxicated chiaroscuro into a chilly anomie, its washes of saturated sound and fragmentary melodies like floating in an ice bath while zonked on purple drank.
Braeyden Jae is the alias of Salt Lake City-based Braden McKenna. According to his Discogs page, McKenna been active in this alias only since 2014 (he also runs the Heavy Mess label), but, nevertheless, Fog Mirror is accomplished stuff. Tracks like More Washed Feeler are in no hurry to get anywhere, Jae patiently ladling on the white-noise fuzz and muffled, melancholy guitar figures until he reaches a kind of singularity, the half-heard melodies warping into the maelstrom in a scouring wash of sound. It’s like listening to whale song in an ice storm. But whereas other ambient-ish performers do their utmost to set up emotional touch points with the listener – check out Benoit Pioulard’s glorious nostalgic glow for an example of maximum feels – Jae ups the alienation. It’s anything but cathartic, and that’s what makes it interesting. The full-spectrum white out and niggling piano repetitions of Two Mirrors Looking melancholy into howls of self-pity. There’s neither progression nor any build into some kind of false resolution, either here or elsewhere (although the track does have a nice clanging coda). By the end of the epic Fogged Placer, which brings the album to a yowling finish, we’re back in the place we’ve always been. Are we the same, or perhaps different for having been through this experience? Who knows. Are we any closer? Could be.