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Sam Mallet
Wetlands Dustin Krcatovich , December 11th, 2019 10:13

In the music of the late Mauritian-Australian composer Sam Mallett, Dustin Krcatovich hears an ambient, synth-led sound just made for these times

Twenty or so years ago, most crate digger types wouldn't have known what to do with late Mauritian/Australian composer Sam Mallet. Though his most overt influences – Jon Hassell, Arvo Pärt, Eno – are considered pretty unimpeachable now, the distinctly 1980s synth sounds found on his self-released cassettes and CDs were long unfashionable enough to drive many otherwise-adventurous trawlers away. Mallet did a great deal of composing for experimental theatre and film (his most broadly known cultural contribution is the soundtrack to the original Wilfred series), but his music caused nary a stir otherwise. In 2019, though, the music on Wetlands, compiled from Mallet's extensive archive of 1980s-90s work, makes perfect sense, and is prime for reconsideration.

This is not to say that it was ahead of its time, exactly, but rather that the sounds Mallet generated back then have benefited from time's recontextualisation. Modern listeners will understand and appreciate Wetlands from a wholly different vantage point; a decade of vaporwave, Xanax-hued synthpop, and the fetishisation of 1980s film soundtracks have primed us all for the diaphanous synth washes, tinny drum machines, and loping repetitions that define Mallet's sound. Tracks with titles like '40 Day Desert Voodoo' and 'Skateboard Terrains' sound so distinctly now, you'd be forgiven for concluding they were recent Constellation Tatsu or Not Not Fun releases on a blindfold test.

There's variety, too. Excursions into moody jazz textures like 'Amber' conjure that other genre-ignorer, Angelo Badalamenti; percussion-heavy tracks like 'Tropics' recall James Horner's (wildly underrated) soundtrack for Commando. Whether these dramatic tonal shifts were in response to requested commissions or Mallet's own flights of fancy is immaterial: presented as they are here, they reflect a restless and imaginative creative spirit.

Mallet left this plane in 2014. That's a shame for humane reasons, of course, but also career ones: in a world where Suzanne Ciani, Laurie Spiegel, and Alan Howarth are finally seen as conquering musical heroes, the kind of music presented on Wetlands suggests that Mallet might have just missed his big moment.