Bing & Ruth bridge classical music's baroque showmanship and the heady sheepishness of ambient drone, riffing dizzily on the incompatibility between the two. At once structured and shapeless, the New York City ensemble's third album, No Home of the Mind, is their strongest rendering of this incongruous and warped style. In the album's most dazzling moments, which arrive cautiously amid arduous slabs of buildup, founding pianist David Moore constructs a swirling, hypnotic dialogue between forms of voiceless music.
Bing & Ruth's sound features woodwinds that bend emotively, piano playing by turns unsteady and chaotic, and open-ended synth beds that crawl and echo. No Home of the Mind's lead single, “Starwood Choker,” tumbles into its opening piano line like an acrobat regaining his or her balance, dancing between flashes of near-grace—when braying strings and piano briefly come into alignment—and passages of sudden, bass-heavy dropout. The graceful parts are quick and hurried, while the low notes are given time to wax and wane, as if Bing & Ruth find less merit (and less humanity) in imitating showmanship than thoroughly exploring a sound.
“Starwood Choker” thus moves at two speeds, a conscious arrangement in Moore's negotiation between different centuries and styles of music. Similarly, the languid orchestration of “Flat Line/Peak Colour” rolls like the breath of a sleeping beast, while the song's piano tones jostle vigorously. This mix of fast and slow—and the restless, pensive atmosphere that results from jubilant arpeggios pushing up against creeping undertones—has a surreal magnetism. “Is Drop” also has an aura of discovery: Though it's the album's most brooding, growling piece, Moore extracts an uplifting crescendo at its end—a finale that retains its implausibility even after several listens.
The majesty of Bing & Ruth's No Home of the Mind may lie in how often you feel like the only one listening.
Elsewhere, Bing & Ruth's sonic vernacular is less enigmatic. At the center of “Form Takes” is a glistening motif that evokes prog rock, “As Much As Possible” is a slow waltz, and “What Ash It Flow Up” combines the delicate grace notes of golden-age jazz records with the rhythmic piano of modern classicists like Nils Frahm. There are still reverberations and layers of noise keeping these cues from being instantly accessible, further evidence of Moore's process but also a distraction from his most intuitively melodic and eerie ideas.
If No Home of the Mind sometimes falters, it's from this commitment to concept: Like an old church redesigned as luxury apartments, the album's constant juxtaposition of chamber music and New Age minimalism can be forced and fatiguing. But its audaciousness is undisputable, never succumbing to the predictable. The group's propensity for bold contrast mirrors the culture and construction of New York City. Where classical music tries to transcend the experience of city life and ambient music to sink beneath it, Bing & Ruth openly reflect on and confront urban machinery: No Home of the Mind reconciles their city's grotesque noise with its instances of beauty.
The album has a modern charm, and simultaneously evokes both centuries-old musical traditions and new schools of thought. The cavernous underbelly of “Chonchos,” on which Moore's bottomless piano and a rumbling cello wrestle into lower and lower octaves, suggests a vision of Bing & Ruth playing a complex, patient piece in an increasingly deserted theater—less performance than experimental jam session. As such, the majesty of No Home of the Mind may lie in how often you feel like the only one listening.