The Wonder Years 1995-97 Epic House

In a break from norm, I’ve been replaying my old house music mixes on my work commutes….

‘Epic House’, is the ‘self-indulgent’, ‘overblown’ genre that had the dance music press up in arms back in the mid 90s. It is true, that this genre was the dance music equivalent of prog-rock. Long winding intros, a smattering of beats then breaking down into an apparent infinite time. I can remember looking around dance floors during a synth break, laying eyes on a sea of faces wondering if the sound system had packed in, or was it the faintest hum of a rumbling baseline or drumroll (remember them?) that would sometime, very much later work, its way into earshot. These tunes often didn’t breakdown once, but multiple times. Purveyors of long tunes Blue Amazon, created a suite of epics such as ‘No Other Love’ & ‘And Then The Rain Falls’ which almost spent as much time in the breakdown as they did in its 4/4 state.  Mixing became a little lazy, as DJs started putting intros and outros together, meaning less thought went into the mix, but also yet more time was spent in the breakdown. More vacant stares.

It may sound as if I’m a critic of the genre, on the contrary. For me this was a happy time in dance music, excluding the early renaissance parties at the Que Club and Bakers, this was probably my happiest. I still smile thinking of Sasha’s 12 Nights Of Summer in Leeds and the set Sasha & Digweed played at the Phoenix Festival in 1997. Whilst my friends were out watching David Bowie, I consumed the full 5.5 hours of that event, curiously finished with the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. The Renaissance stately home bash at Allerton Hall was another ‘epic’ evening. Nigel Dawson et al. playing beautiful sweeping house only to be interrupted by Paul Oakenfold peddling the same stuff he’s still playing today (he is as I’ve listened to his Live at Stonehenge Mix). Finally, BT produced the monumental ‘Ima’ which included, for me, one of the greatest records ever made – ‘Divinity’. If ever there was a journey in a record, that was it. Ima also included ‘Loving You More’ (Sasha played 2 mixes of this, at over 20 mins, regularly during 1995). Good times!

I fully understand the rose tinted spectacle angle on this but what can you do? The mix I put together all those years ago, still put a smile on my face when I heard it the other week. Here it is. I hope you like.

Cocoon – You’ve Arrived

It’s been a good musical start to 2019: Umber and Billow Observatory were particularly strong releases, as was the immense Verve by Sebastian Plano. However, it was CocoonYou’ve Arrived that peaked my attention initially. What a rich and varied tapestry that it weaves. Taking in, ambient, modern classical, and even a bit of dub techno.

Cocoon, the solo project of Clair Obscur kingpin Christophe Demarthe, is his fourth album on Optical Sound. There is a pulse that underpins this album. Sometimes it veers off into beautiful ambience, other times something altogether more industrial. However, it all works, and all seems to fit together.

Bader is a slightly misleading opening. It promises something completely different than what follows. The album changes style into keys led piece, helpfully title Piano. The initially childlike/later industrial Romantic Distorsion with filtered vocals, first introduces the pulse. A Cure is a banger, pitched that up and it could be played on the more discerning dance floors. On Cab, all the influences come to bear, the childlike nature, the ambience and the pulse. Cindy & Bahn shows the dark and light in equal measures. Instant Valhalla is ambient techno, where echos and reverb predominate. Voyage, sits somewhere bang in the middle of a horror or Sci-Fi movie. Peace 3Mn reminds me a lot of the sound Sasha used on the original Northern Exposure back in the mid 90s. See, I told you it’s all different.

The title track You’ve Arrived is a dark epic. A sedentary pulse provides a structure to the synth. A slow march to the album finale Maos. which is another industrial banger. The album actually closes with Vinyl, which is roughly 3 seconds of static when a needle hits a record.

On the whole, this is not my usual bag but the variety of styles has enough to satisfy a wide variety of musical pallets. Highly recommended.

Sebastian Plano – Verve

Sebastian Plano is an Argentinian composer and musician. In recent years, he teamed up with Ben Lukas Boysen to create, the epic Everything; a 4hr Playstation game soundtrack which was my album of the year in 2017. The release of Verve has not been a straightforward story. 5 years or so ago, his computer and a couple of hard drives, were stolen from his car. Content lost included his latest EP, but also the album that could’ve/would’ve been Verve. Therefore, the painstaking process of attempting to recreate (from memory) the ‘lost’ album began. This was clearly a thankless task and nigh on impossible to do. However, to his credit, what emerged was Verve, if possible an improvement on the lost album?

From the brooding opening of Abeyance, it is soon after that the keys are introduced which is the mainstay and focus of Sebastian Planos’ work. Every piece sounds familiar, an extension of the previous one. The first true standout moment is the title track Verve which again, sounds familiar if you love this genre. My personal highlight is Purples. This is a beautiful swirling piece. I’m watching the sunrise over the hills as Purples is playing. Looking to the left, the pink glow on the snow covered hills, how poetic. Purples can provide a soundtrack to both the start or the end of the day in equal measures. To this point, it is the best tune I’ve heard in 2019. One Step Slower is another that catches the attention. This builds and builds delivering an epic finale. I’d read someone describe Verve a ‘plinky plonk’ music. I guess it is, but considering how many standout tunes there are, this is really good plinky plonk. Exta introduces the strings. A further level of depth to this album. Extrema continues where the previous track left off, more strings, more keys. Volant, almost feels like a lullaby, but a dark one if such a thing exists. The album is closed by the 7 minute Chiaroscuro. Another that builds, eventually fading out, bringing the album to a close, perfectly.

I love this album. The tunes feel simple but you know they’re not. It’s almost a mathematical equation for me: Keys + Strings = Joy. Verve is an early contender for album of 2019.

Helios – Veriditas

I was getting a little concerned. Each of the last 4 years have produced an album that I’ve been obsessed with, played almost daily, often daily. Mogwai, AWVFTS, Max Richter, and last year Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano with Everything. August was nearly over and there had been albums i’d liked, liked a lot, but no de facto album.

August 31st saw the release of Veriditas by Keith Keniff, aka Helios. The aforementioned albums, from the last 4 years, all tell a story. They either soundtrack a movie, a sleep pattern, a game or are just sequenced to perfection as with ‘Atomos’. Veriditas, in my mind, isn’t a story, with no narrative as such, but is a wonderful collection of highly emotive music, delivered in a variety of styles. Incidentally, it has been a great year for Keith Kenniff as he was also responsible for Occasus via his Goldmund project. However, that is for another day.

From first listen it was clear Veriditas was special. From the opening tones of Seeming the listener is wrapped in a warm blanket of ambience. By track 4, the amazing Eventually, the listener is immersed in sheer beauty. In fact, tracks 3 (Dreams) and 4 alone make this album worth owning. Eventually evokes time gone by and then the horns emerge towards the middle of the piece and take it in a different direction completely to a swirling synth of an ending. Dreams produces tears and smiles in equal measure. The power of beautifully considered keys.

It is difficult to speak in detail about specific tracks on Veriditas as I am way too ignorant on the tools used to do them justice. What can be said is there is a beauty I haven’t heard on many albums this year. Even the darkness of North Wind isn’t overly oppressive. The guitar work on Upward Beside the Gate accompanied by a haunting backdrop displays another side of ambience, showing a master at work. Silverlight, is warm with the main section drifting in an out. Additional layers keeping the listener in the moment. This is music for sleep however, i’ve often found myself engaging with the music at night rather than drifting along with it.

Veriditas is music for night time made at night. Take a bow Keith Kenniff, thanks for making 2018 all the better.

Listen on Spotify:

Kathryn Joseph – Perth Theatre, 17/09/18

I went to the gig having listened toFrom When I Wake the Want Is a handful of times but not knowing Kathryn Joseph the performer particularly well. I’ve loved getting to know the album and the chance to hear it performed in its entirety, in my hometown was a must.

If you never heard Kathryn Joseph she has a very distinctive vocal. Slight vocal tremors are present and my wife reckons her sound sits somewhere between Kate Bush and Bjork, which seems pretty accurate. There is a child like quality to her voice which is very endearing as well as very effective, especially live.

The sound of wind (?) plays as the audience fills up and settles, eventually forming the intro to album opener ‘IIII’. Kathryn walks on stage, doesn’t look at the audience, sits down at her piano stool, adjusts her amazingly theatrical dress, whispers just about audibly, From when I wake…..’ and begins. Initially facing away from the audience, she is reflected in the mirrors that surround her carefully considered and highly effective stage setup. When the title track begins she turns to perform directly towards the audience. Her face partially illuminated, it is one of the many memorable moments created during this performance.

What follows is as near a perfect replication of the album as possible. Musically and vocally perfectly aligned. There are a couple of moments where the sound of wind (or some other background sound) returns to form a bridge between tracks, the album is 45 mins long but the performance was 1hr after all. During one bridge Kathryn gets up, takes a couple of sips of wine whilst facing away from the audience, puts the glass back in its holder, sits down and continues her spellbinding piano and vocal work. During the second bridge she turns some of the mirrors round so they now produce light rather than reflections. It’s all very theatrical, but adds to the spectacle. Again, she has a couple of sips of wine, sits down and continues.

The hour absolutely breezes by and before you know it, Kathryn is smiling and mouthing a ‘thank you’ to her now standing and applauding audience before she swiftly disappears off stage. A wonderfully confident performance of one of my favourite albums of 2018. My personal highlight was ‘Weight’, ‘The weight we were, the weight we are, all of my heart broken, black and blood lines…‘ This runs into the emotional closer, ‘^^’, which continues to play in my head on the journey home.

Thanks to Kathryn and Horsecross for bringing that performance to Perth. The other #mondaynightthing sessions have got a lot to live up to.

Jaykits Vol. 13

The 13th annual Jaykits mix. Some old, some new, always ambient. I hope you enjoy.

Intro: Summer Sunrise Field Recording

1.    ‘At Last (Becalming the Storm)’ – DJ Healer

2.    ‘Reflector’ – Warmth

3.    ‘Embarking Shadows’ – Ian Hawgood & Giulio Aldinucci

4.    ‘Radiant’ – Halftribe

5.    ‘Gone’ – DJ Healer

6.    ‘Long May It Sustain’ – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

7.    ‘Embrace’ – Stray Theories

8.    ‘A Season In Waters’ – From the Mouth of the Sun

9.    ‘Ég heyrði allt án þess að hlusta (A Winged Victory For The Sullen Rework)’ – Johann Johannson

10.  ‘I Knew It Then and I Know It Now’ – Tone Color

11.  ‘As You Know’ – Goldmund

12.  ‘We Were There’ – Federico Albanese

13.  ‘Fundamental Values’ – Nils Frahm

14.  ‘Feel First Life’ – Jon Hopkins

15.  ‘Sisamaat’ – Nanook of the North

From the Mouth of the Sun – Sleep Stations EP

It’s been a few years since I first heard Woven Tide by From the Mouth of the Sun. It was one of these albums that blew me away immediately and has continued to. There were so many different styles on the album, but all ultimately creating lush ambience. I can still remember the day I was listening to the album on a hot summers day, laying in my hammock. At the start of this summer, Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist, released their latest project – Sleep Stations EP. Cue, much excitement at Jaykits HQ. Over the course of the last 2 months this EP has had, pretty much, daily outings. There were epic moments on Woven Tide that aren’t present on Sleep Stations. It is a more mournful affair, but no less emotive. It’s an EP, so it’s short by definition. However, the evocative nature of the work isn’t diluted by this fact.

The guitar intro of About the Birth of Stars is soon enveloped by the violin and synths. It is very reminiscent of Opening track of A Winged Victory for the Sullen for their soundtrack for the French movie Iris. Almost whimsical, it soon moves into the strings that pepper the EP. The mournful Reaching When Nothing Is There evokes memories of a time gone by. The stars theme continues (we have the birth, life and death of stars on the EP), ‘..life’, curiously is the track with the least ‘life’ on the EP. It’s minimal and gentle and serves as a bridge to the title track. Sleep Stations is a drone with floating strings emerging halfway through, disappearing and reappearing, keeping the listener in the moment. This piece particularly brings a dreamlike texture to the EP. About the Death of the Stars is a string led piece of melancholia with the piano playing second fiddle. In an album of limited ‘moments’ this is easily the peak. EP closer – A Place We Cannot See – brings the keys to the fore. Whilst not exactly upbeat, it ends the EP on a less sombre note.

From the Mouth of the Stars continue to release beautiful material. If you want an intro to the act, Sleep Stations is as good a place as any. I would however, strongly suggest tracking down Woven Tide as it’s quite something.

It’s been a good summer of music.

Listen on Spotify:

Stray Theories – All That Was Lost

Stray Theories, aka Micah Templeton-Wolfe, creates emotion through music. Even Though We Sleep was a favourite of mine back in 2012 (I used the title track to close Jaykits Volume 7). As a collective body of work, it was short but perfectly formed. The follow up, Those Who Remain, was strong but sadly, it was five years ago. There’s was a 6 track EP in 2014, We Never Left, and a smattering of remixes and collaborative releases since. Therefore, a new album was greatly received.

All That Was Lost contains all the key elements that underpinned the emotive quality of the first 2 albums. Opener, How Long, sets the scene for what’s to follow. A pulse/a beat, sits just beneath the surface with the keys providing the heart. Challenge floats my own proverbial boat and is most reminiscent of Even Though We Sleep. It breaks down around the 3 and a half minute mark into a darker film-score style. Night State evokes thoughts of the dark hours, almost breaking out into a tribal rhythm but thankfully never actually doing so. Leave and, particularly, Begin are pure emotion and would soundtrack any sunset. Embrace builds and threatens to kick off but ultimately winds down despite the temptation and expectation. All Our Tears, with its’ keys and strings, leads into album closer Us. Us is the most electronic piece on the album and is similar to the work of Hammock and Good Weather For An Airstrike but without the crescendos those artists produce. To be honest, every time I listen to All That Was Lost I hear something new to love, something different that catches the attention. The sign of an album that will have longevity.

Micah has a skill, he draws the listener into his world through relativity short pieces (short for the ambient genre that is – who says ambient music needs to be long and drawn out to fully immerse the listener?) Here is a feeling of space created in a small area. It’s lush, it’s full, it’s warm, often understated but always beautifully produced. Sitting here on a train to work, looking out at an overcast view of our capital, I find All That Was Lost an ideal accompaniment. It’s good to have Micah back, don’t be a stranger now.

Buy on Bandcamp:

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2144550205/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Listen on Spotify:

Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Jon Hopkins was an important part of my transition from house music lover to ambient head. Contact Note and Opalescent were 2 of the albums I played religiously. His Art of Chill compilation (try finding a reasonably priced copy of that!) was also a wonderful late-night mix. Move forward a few years and Insides started a move towards more electronic compositions, whilst still nodding towards his previous releases. Immunity was far more club based and this was echoed by his Essential Mix for Radio 1. The Asleep Versions EP that came with Immunity appeased lovers of ambience. So, for his latest release Singularity there was an expectation of something more grounded in 4/4 beats. This is partly true.

To use an old football analogy, this is a game of 2 halves. The first half of Singularity contains some ‘bangers’, for example Everything Connected. From Track 5 onwards the album has a totally different, more downbeat feel. I think it was Uncut magazine that thought the album fizzled out a bit after track 4. For me, it was the complete opposite. I was waiting for that change.

The title track and album opener would’ve made a great first tune during the epic house days of the late 90s. A long synth, a rising breakbeat and bang, it kicks off around the 4-minute mark. Emerald Rush was one of the tracks showcased in advance of the full album release. A gentle start, this time building to a more mid-paced 4/4 affair. Ot is similar in style to youAND:THEMACHNIES, which is no bad thing. Neon Pattern Drum has a stuttering intro before the pattern set by the first 2 tracks continues. It paves the way for peak time Everything Connected, which is a monster. A 10-min dancefloor epic finally winding down around the 9-minute mark. This is the track that Immunity promised. It’s big.

The album then pivots and the Jon Hopkins I love resurfaces. Feel first Life is a lush piano led piece then eventually incorporates a choir. It would sit comfortably on the annual Café Del Mar summer compilations. It was such a welcome reprieve. COSM is Hopkins in Contact Note/Opalescent times. Echo Dissolves is a Nils Frahm-esque piano piece who’s key is its’ simplicity. The backdrop to the track builds on occasion, but never boils over. Luminous beings lifts the tempo to that of the first half of the album but it has the feel of winding down through its’ melodies. Like when the DJ has peaked and it’s time to bring the situation to a close. After 7 minutes, there is a textbook Jon Hopkins break before the 4/4 resurfaces. Album closer Recovery is aptly named. Light keys bring Singularity to a close in a perfect way.

It’s not that the more upbeat half of this album isn’t good, it’s just that I am older now. I rarely listen to dance music and when I hear it now it sounds alien to me. The first half of the album, I would’ve loved even 10 years ago but now I struggle with. Jon Hopkins is still a great producer and Singularity is still a great album. It’s just that, in my life, there is a time and place for this rather than anytime, any place.

Warmth – Parallel

I love Warmth, there I’ve said it. You know what you’re getting with Warmth before you listen to it. Warmth is Valencia based sound smith Agustín Mena and also aptly named as that’s exactly the feeling engendered by the 3 releases to date. Previous releases Home and Essay set the groundwork, Parallel, the 3rd album, is not exactly a radical departure. It is perhaps, ever so slightly darker in tone but still inherently Warmth: minimal, atmospheric, repetitive, dreamlike soundscapes. That’s a collection of adjectives that epitomises what I love about the ambient genre. Incidentally, Essay Revisited is also worth checking out as there are some cracking remixes on the album, whilst still maintaining the vibe of the original. With Parallel there is a formula at play – moody 2-3 chords drawn out with a supporting synth. It is simple repetition and it works perfectly. I should qualify, that a ‘formula’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is actually one of the key strengths of this release.

Album opener Reflector is a beautiful wash of warm sounds with waves crashing in the background. Receiver is similar with a slight shift in mood. The title track is possibly the darkest moment on the album. I say darkest but I really mean a little less light. The tone is ever so slightly deeper but it is almost imperceptible.

To say the album piggybacks across styles is perhaps pushing it a bit but there are subtle changes in the feel from the darker opening. The track Spherule reminds me of certain tracks in Aphex Twins Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. The key is simplicity and why alter what works? Concave and Convex are so similar that they just blend into each other without attention being brought to this fact (as the titles suggest). With Concave, the crashing waves are back – an ambient stalwart.

Album closer, Saros, is the only track that differs much from its predecessor. The only difference is through the addition of, what I believe, is a field based recording (of what I don’t know). Again, it is very subtle and does not have any impact on the overall feel of Parallel. It does stand out, but ever so slightly.

This is a music for sleep album if ever there was one. No surprises, no downsides, just sheer tranquillity. Beautiful stuff.

Buy Warmth – Parallel: