The second album from Las Vegas-based musician David Mauk is quite simply one of the best albums I have ever heard. Every piece of music on this collection of ambient electronica is stunning, exotic, exquisite, and stirring. This is one of those CDs that are perfect from beginning to end. In fact, I was hard pressed to discern any real favorites (although I do have a few). But even if I want to hear certain tracks, I just let the CD play continuously. It’s just that good. If you listen to this in the car, you won’t want your commute to end before the album does.
The music has a cinematic feel to it, which is not surprising considering both that Mauk composes the music for National Geographic’s international museum tours and that each of the fourteen tracks on the CD is inspired by the work of twentieth-century American artist Edward Hopper. The latter is underscored by the accompanying DVD, which features five music videos that comprise public domain film footage from Hopper’s era. However, you don’t need to see the videos to appreciate the visual sweep of the music, which at times recalls the film music of composers James Horner and Michael Kamen, among others. In fact, the CD stands on its own as a soundtrack to a movie that exists in the listener’s imagination. The whole time I was listening to this album, I kept thinking, “This guy should be scoring major Hollywood movies.”
When I say Mauk’s music sounds like a movie score, I don’t necessarily mean a purely orchestral score in the traditional sense. Yes, there are elements of traditional orchestral sounds in his music, but there are also elements of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and Jan Hammer, all of whom are well known for their film and television soundtracks as well. Mauk also compares favorably to fellow independent musicians Michael Stribling and David Wahler. I would even go so far as to say I hear a hint of jazz giants Miles Davis and Herb Alpert in one of the tracks.
While the CD is brimming with the ethereal and otherworldly synthesizer textures that are characteristic of New Age, what makes the music here really memorable is Mauk’s keen sense of melody, especially when he plays piano tones. Mauk is a tight, concise composer whose mastery of hooks is impeccable. He also has an ear for dynamic percussive grooves.
When the first waves of sound reached my ears, I was instantly “swell-bound.” With Ground Swell, Mauk casts a spell that lasts long after the final note fades away. This is truly must-hear listening.