CharlestheFirst The Ascent cover art

CharlestheFirst combines nature and music to create the journey that is his second full-length album, The Ascent!

Charles Elias Ingalls, more commonly known as left-field bass music producer CharlestheFirst, released his second full-length album, The Ascent last week. Over the last several years, the Lake Tahoe-based producer has steadily cemented his position as a pioneer of modern bass music.

Much of CharlestheFirst’s discography is embellished with found sound and other foley that add natural texture and ambiance to his pieces. The Ascent is no exception. The manipulation of all this ear candy in conjunction with fluid basslines, ethereal pads, and soft plucks create a very compelling soundscape. The SoundCloud genre tag is “storytelling,” which is fitting; like its title implies, the album is a journey.

While each track is capable of standing on its own, the album really shines when listened through in full.

CharlestheFirst takes conventions of bass music and flips them on their heads, delivering bass-centric tracks that seldom compromise melodic interest. The album showcases creative integrity that a lot of bass music leaves to be desired.

The emphasis placed on nature and its inherent adventure is a salient characteristic of the album. It’s beautiful and humbling, unpredictable and mysterious.

The 11-track album runs just under 38 minutes, with no individual track that’s longer than five minutes. That being said, there is a lot of atmosphere and movement packed into these songs, so I’m going to walk through the album and some of its highlights.

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The Ascent further develops CharlestheFirst’s signature sound in a new sonic environment.

There are a few themes I notice that span the entire album. There’s a balance of beauty and aggression that works almost as a portrayal of the unpredictability of being lost in the wild. From a sound design perspective, it’s a wonder to me that CharlestheFirst is able to take such seemingly industrial sounds and place them somewhere far from the city.

This excerpt from CharlestheFirst’s bandcamp sets the tone of the album well:

“A veil of clouds separated the summit from base camp. I took one last look at the valley below, and we began the ascent into uncharted terrain.”

Our first step into the album is “Crossing the Threshold”.

The scene is set quickly, we’re greeted by natural ambiance, softly pumping chords, glitchy texture, and elements fluttering about, building a bed for the rest of the track to sit on. The hi-hats arrive, introducing tension that is relieved when the “drop” kicks in. The track comes to life here.

The best way I can describe much of the sound design here is controlled chaos. There is a lot going on sonically, but everything gels nicely and feels in place. There is a balance between the movement of the bass and the melody that persists through the section. I love the combination of mildly aggressive sounds over the calming backdrop of the whole composition.

The lowkey verse, written and performed by hawk., complements the track well as part of the introduction for the album.

CharlestheFirst brings us some four-on-the-floor groove in “Breathe”.

Subdued glitchy rhythms set up the track. Pads slowly develop and culminate to the 4-on-the-floor drop section. What I appreciate about this song is that it’s more substantial than a driving beat and some sub bass. The supporting elements of the drop are equally as valuable to the soundscape as the more prominent ones. It seems that the way each element contributes to the environment of the album has been taken into a lot of consideration.

Things get a little dirtier in tracks like “Won’t Always Be” and “Balance”.

One of the dirtier tracks on the album, “Won’t Always Be” weaves in and out of moving basslines and enchanting plucks that work together effortlessly. I love the feeling that the melody that closes out this song creates.

I can’t tell if “Won’t Always Be” and “Balance” are bangers or introspective jams. I appreciate these tracks, along with many others on the album, because they really lie somewhere between. I also appreciate how CharlestheFirst creates and incorporates these basses that have this “hollow” quality to them, reminiscent of common bass house sound design.

The title track of the album, “The Ascent”, take us up the mountain.

The title track of the album starts on a hopeful note. It’s expansive and airy, similar to an open mountain range. Vocal layers add to the epic atmosphere that ebbs and flows over the course of the song. The album art works in tandem with this track, too. When I hear it, it’s more or less what I imagine.

The least conventional tracks on the album are “Unseen” and “South Face”.

“Unseen” is one of the more minimal tracks of the album. Lots of delayed-out percussive hits and deep wubs to guide you through this heater. Bubbles, plucks, and cracks fade us into “South Face”, the track with the least conventional rhythmic pattern of the album. The two-step rhythms are driving and dance around the haunting lullaby-esque melody.

The album ends with a bang on “In Pieces”. 

We’re brought into a chilled out beat, and the overlay is an interview that leads into the beat dropping. The song evolves and disintegrates into the most interesting part of the song near the 2:25 mark. In clear CharlestheFirst style, the switch up takes you into a full-on dub drop that abruptly ends “The Ascent”.

CharlestheFirst continues to push the boundaries of his sound and this album is proof. 

Listening through entirely, it could be easy to lose track of where one song ends and the other begins. This isn’t due to redundancy. Rather, CharlestheFirst successfully crafted a seamless album that reaches peaks (pun intended) and traverses valleys, bringing novelty to each track while also telling a cohesive story.

Check out the full album, and catch him on a tour stop near you this spring!

CharlestheFirst, The Ascent, album cover

The Ascent – Tracklist:

  1. Crossing the Threshold
  2. Breathe
  3. Won’t Always Be
  4. Balance
  5. The Ascent
  6. Nightfall
  7. Into the Abyss
  8. Unseen
  9. South Face
  10. See You Again
  11. In Pieces

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