Review: James Heather – Stories From Far Away On Piano (Vinyl Edition)

james heather

We take a look at James Heather’s debut record Stories From Far Away On Piano as it gets its first vinyl release.

Contemporary pianist James Heather is jumping on the vinyl bandwagon, and who could blame him? It will get this relatively new musician a broader audience to listen to his music and join the legion of growing fans. Being handpicked by Laura Marling to support her at her Brit Awards/War Child gig was another big help to get his name out there, but now he appears to be standing on his own, thanks to the wonderful songs and format of his debut record Stories From Far Away On Piano.

Having received a second-hand piano from a family friend when he was 9, James has over the years carved out his own sound. With obvious influences from some of his self-confessed favourite composers, such as fellow contemporary artist Max Richter, Heather’s sound can be seen as quiet and contemplative piano pieces, but also an emotional simmering underneath that feels like it can burst forth at any moment. Empire Sounds lulls you in with James’ sweet and sad tones and shows of the concept of the record perfectly. Heather sites many political and media disaster influences in his music, such as the hijacking of a facebook account of an executed female activist in Syria, or the undiscovered remains of a disappeared Malaysia Airlines jet in the Indian ocean. Once you know this, tracks like Empire Sounds make more sense to you as you listen to the sombre tones and relate them back to upsetting news stories.

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Last Minute Change of Heart’s gentle movement of pace and structure is testament to the artist’s creative skill in keeping the track interesting, yet emotional, whereas Teardrop Tattoo is an album highlight and one of the most catchy tracks on the record. It ebbs and flows as if on a tide pulling you evermore forward. As the track moves on the complexity gets bolder and shows off James’ knack of creating beauty where others would fail. His talent is obvious in the way he effortlessly glides through the tracks portraying a rawness but solidarity, that fits with in well with the theme of world news

The only track that breaks away from this is Pathos. It still sticks to the themes of viewpoint, opinion and perspective, as Heather mentions himself, but feels like a track designed to appeal directly to the listener rather than what’s going on the world over. With it’s slightly darker tone, maybe Heather wanted to confront the listener which, in itself, provokes an empathetic response.

The black and white album art by Suki features layers of indian ink bled into newspaper print, repeatedly scanned and treated to interpret recirculation of information. It creates a strong and stark image, and even encapsulates 9 dots which relate to the latitude and longitude where each news story came from that Heather writes about within the music. A clever idea that not only gives the music a concept, but the album cover as well. The vinyl copy of the record is transcendent, and due to its solo piano nature, you really get to hear the full sound of the instrument as the needle plays its way through the grooves. Full and warm, this directly correlates to the overall sombre tones that lead to a beautiful listen on the vinyl format.

Stories From Far Away on Piano can best be described as piano thinking music. James has a knack for taking an idea or story and retelling the story in his own way through his instrument. Perspective, mortality and empathy are three of the strong messages throughout the record, and he manages to portray them with ease and fluidity throughout. James Heather is a man already near the top of his game, and it bodes well for the future of the artist.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Tove Styrke – Sway

Tove-Styrke

Swedish pop starlett Tove Styrke returns with new album Sway, but is she ready to wow the world?

Tove’s pop sound has changed and mutated over the years, and it finally feels like she’s honed in on something that suits her. From her roots competing on tv show Swedish Idol, to recently supporting Lorde and now about to tour Europe with Katy Perry, it’s no wonder people are starting to take notice and sit up with eager anticipation. Tove is a hard worker and the rewards are definitely paying off, and she’s finally able to show off all that graft and commitment shown with new record Sway.

The first thing you notice is how tailored the record is. It feels like every beat, every instrument, every vocal has been listened to with extra care to make sure it fits in perfectly with everything that’s built up around it. It’s not just the mixing, its the overall sound of the record that feels especially polished. The album-titled opener Sway kicks in with a catchy synth-pop riff as Tove provides floaty vocals to set the pace. She pours her heart out with lyrics of questioning and self-doubt, tying it all together with cleverly situated backing music and lively drums.

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Say My Name starts off with simple synths accompanied by Tove’s voice alone; it lets her show off her distinct ‘singy/talky’ style that she got down to a tee, and sparkles the listener with witty one liners to push the track along: ‘wear it out like a sweater that you love’. In contrast, Mistakes good use of tightly layered vocals manages to bring the track to life as the melody and wordplay chug along at a steady beat. Tove makes great use of drops and breaks once again before rising the track up and belting out the chorus like a phoenix from the flames.

On A Level shows yet another side to Tove’s skills. Layered vocals form an Imogen Heap-esque sound (if you haven’t heard it check out Hide and Seek) that really suit the artist’s range, while the overly-polished track once again delivers the ambience thats majestic, it has that ‘something’ that every pop song searches for to reach the top amidst the saturated pop market. Not bad for a song in the deep-cuts of the record.

Sway is a success and Tove’s best work to date. Mixing with the big names has definitely paid off and the attention to detail that shines through on the record is impressive. Tove is an artist in her prime, and touring with Katy Perry is bound to bring her a bunch of new fans that the artist fully deserves.

Score: 5/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: The Undertones – Singles 1978 – 1983

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The Undertones celebrate 40 years since the release of classic single ‘Teenage Kicks with a 13 single vinyl box set release for record store day.

With record store day impending, vinyl fans will soon be queing outside their local record stores, waiting for a chance to spend their hard-earned cash on many a reissue, rarity, new artist or even… a Dr Who spoken-word record. Record Store Day is more popular now than it’s ever been, and with this growing interest, the releases are getting bigger and better. And what better band than the punk/pop legends The Undertones to lead the way this year?

The Undertones, like many bands, can thank English DJ, John Peel for giving them the exposure they needed through his wonderful radio show. This allowed the band to really take off and share with the world their full on pop-punk loveliness. Where would we be without the three-chord wonder of Teenage Kicks, the thrashing warm beats of Here Comes the Summer, or the thumping raucousness of Jimmy Jimmy? And although this box set features all these beautiful tracks, for people not so familiar with their other stuff, it’s a chance to hear the progression of a band to their more soul and Motown vibe of 4th album The Sin of Pride.

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Teenage Kicks is obviously first and foremost with no introduction needed – the raw emotion and angst-ridden energy makes it one of the finest punk songs ever, and John Peel’s favourite song to boot. My Perfect Cousin is an often forgotten slice of excellence; written during the summer of 1979 and inspired by an actual cousin of one of the band members, it’s lightness and ability to get your foot tapping as you listen to a day in the life of a late 70s teenager means it’s up there with the best. As the singles head through the years, the songs become more crafted and well-toned. Some may say the raw power was lost, but like any band, it’s just a natural progression in musicianship. Chain Love from The Sin of Pride is testament to this, with its warbling vocals, harmonica opening and focus on melody rather than raucous guitars. It’s more fine-tuned and layered than previous tracks, and an underestimated classic.

The box set itself is well worth a queuing session at your local record store for RSD 2018. All 13 7” singles  are housed in a rigid card slipcase, with each vinyl in its own paper sleeve and featuring the original artwork. On top of this they’ve thrown in an additional poster with photos, notes and track comments by bassist Michael Bradley. The music itself has been cut from original analogue tape transfers, making the sound warm, crisp and really bringing out the low-end. Perfect for summers day listening and joining in with the youth revolt sound.

Record Store Day for me is about reminding everyone what vinyl is about and why we love it. This box set performs that duty admirably; it’s a beautiful box set, features beautiful music, and reminds everyone about a beautiful band.

By Jamie Parmenter

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Album Review: Ty – A Work Of Heart

ty

We take a look at the new gatefold vinyl release from hip hop artist Ty, as he returns with his 5th longplayer, A Work Of Heart.

Ty hasn’t released an album since 2010’s Special Kind of Fool, but by the way A Work of Heart has been put together, it shows he hasn’t lost his touch. Being produced and predominantly written by Ty, it shows a crisp and bouncy audiophile production that is testament to change and progression.

The record is littered with Ty’s usual wit and wordplay, and as the title suggests, he really did put himself into this record as an open book. Eyes Open invites listeners in as a hypnotic double-time roller with Ty’s distinctive vocals spread over snaps and a gentle piano riff that drives the track on. One minute he’s rhyming ‘Phoenix’ with ‘double helix’, the next he’s name-dropping ‘the cow that jumped over the moon’; you can’t really find these turns of quintessential Britishness anywhere else, and it gives a real placement of roots and personality into the song, and the album, as a whole.

Somehow Somewhere Someway’s chilled out vibes backed with unique chorus sections wouldn’t feel out of place on Outkast’s classic record Speakerboxx, with plentiful hip hop energy that builds up to a message around keeping faith in yourself; ‘I’ve got my own way of thinking, that’s my ultimate goal’. Other past influences continue with 90s hip hop definitely a cornerstone of the record, but Ty still managing to keep it sounding up-to-date and fresh. As The Smoke Clears features a gentle backing track that Warren G would have been happy to use, spread over a thick layer of story-laden words that gets darker as the track progresses.

ty a work of heart

The record can not only be playful, bus shows a more intense side, as Ty shows on the melancholy Marathon. It gives a glimpse inside anxiety and depression which are as culturally significant today as they have ever been, with a message of pushing on, not just from a personal perspective, but universally. More 90s influence can be seen here, with similarities to Faithless, but with more of the dark tones and in-depth story-telling making it unique to Ty, as he sings out ‘sometimes when I wake up, I don’t wish to carry on’.

The vinyl release comes on a beautiful gatefold that hits home hard. The Album cover is dark and artistic, featuring Ty falling back in a wooden chair amongst hearts being thrown out of his chest on spikes. It definitely conveys how the music was written and what to expect from this deeply personal record. The sound on vinyl itself definitely raises the bar, with low-end pleasantly subtle and vocals managing to cut through where necessary to perfection. Keep a listen out for track Marathon, which works really well on the format and comes alive as the clarinet plays wistfully against Ty’s powerful but tender words.

A work of Heart is a mix of the unique, the clever, the vulnerable and the dark. It flits from idea to idea with a charm that doesn’t pigeon-hole it to one style, and makes it a better album for it. Ty’s break has given him a lot to think about, and it’s apparent on this record. A strong and welcome comeback.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Black Flower – Intermediate State

black flower

We take a look at the new 10” record from Black Flower; a dreamy, psychedelic delight created between albums.

Having released their critically acclaimed second album Artifacts in 2017, Belgium’s Black Flower didn’t just sit back and rest on their Laurels. Like all good musicians addicted to their trade, they wanted to release more music as soon as possible.

Inspired by artists such as ‘father of Ehtiojazz’, Mulatu Astatke, sax giant Getatchew Mekurya and bossman Fela Kuti, Black Flower manage to carve out grooves where others wouldn’t find them, and Intermediate State is testament to this skill. The band draw inspiration from Salvador Dali’s creative dreaming ritual; he used to enter a deep sleep while holding scissors (nice and safe…), and when the scissors were dropped, this would wake him up. Dali would then paint using the inspiration from his dreams. This influence has allowed the band to create 4 tracks of dreamy substance that have all their usual signature sounds , and accompanied by a riveting playfulness that drives the record along.

Opener Almaz starts off slow and sultry, as simple bass patters over drawn-out hammond organ and jazz drums, before the bass takes centre stage with the sax stepping in to clean things up. The band are gently egging each other on here to make an interesting piece of music full of dream-like wonder, skill and dexterity.

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Maqam Tizita Saba sees the drums of Simon Segers kept simple, but with lightning bouts of insanity that draw you out of the hypnotic music and back into the real world at various places. You’re then gently coerced back into the lumbering wonderland as the music caresses you deep into your own mind. The upper structure allows for a flow of innocence, and the peaceful elements work perfectly throughout.

Side B sees The Good Side Of Bad’s addictively funky bass drive the song forward from the start, amidst a host of sounds and instruments filling out the track to bring it to life. The stops and breaks add depth and character, allowing the track to completely change its output, gradually slowing down into 60s psychedelica, feeling like being lost in a world where nothing makes sense.

The record finishes with the dark sounding Fly High Oh My, which almost uses elements and melodies of drone metal as a template to provide a strong, energy propelling high to climax the musician’s journey into dreamland, and waking up just as Dali’s scissors hit the ground.

Interesting, crazy, and hypnotizing, Intermediate State is a powerful release that is best listened to with your eyes closed and your mind open. It draws on each member’s ability to get lost in their own world, and bring it all back together in 4 really fascinating pieces of music. Well worth a listen.

Score 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Dub Syndicate – The Pounding System

DubSyndicate

We take a look at the band’s early dub showcase record The Pounding System to see if it’s stood the test of time on its recent Vinyl re-release.

Long perceived to be a cornerstone of maverick British producer Adrian Sherwood’s pioneering output with his Dub Syndicate crew, The Pounding System (Ambience In Dub) has received a welcome re-release on heavyweight, high quality vinyl as part of a lively, four-LP re-issue programme from his groundbreaking On-U Sound imprint.

Originally recorded in 1982, this set charts the evolution of the eclectic, London-based collective away from the label’s preceding outfit Creation Rebel and establishes leader Sherwood’s idiosyncratic, progressive and inventive take on dub reggae.

The Pounding System was recorded in a spontaneous flurry, due to the label’s financial difficulties, yet this urgency supplies much of its embryonic, ramshackle charm. Many of On-U Sound’s trademarks permeate this stripped-down recording – loping rhythms, cavernous bass, a sprinkling of whooshing electronic effects, the judicious use of delicious reverb – along with sly and irreverent nods to the work of Scientist in both style and track titles.

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The late Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott had yet to join the crew and later recordings would showcase a more expansive, layered and collaborative approach, but the album emerges in its own right as a compelling, ambitious and intoxicating forum for the outre, experimental tendencies of Sherwood’s production style: the fizzing, psychedelic abstractions on Crucial Tony Tries To Rescue the Space Invaders work a treat and can even be viewed as a precursor to Andrew Weatherall’s work with Primal Scream a decade later, for instance.

Whilst the initial draw here is the adventurous, textural hum of Sherwood’s mixing-desk funhouse pyrotechnics, a simmering elegance is derived from constituent, organic features of the mix: the aforementioned Crucial Tony’s warmly melodic bass vamping, Mr Flesh’s congenial sax interjections or African Head Charge’s clanking percussion contribute as much as the sonic sorcerer’s disembodied mangling and joyous reconfiguring.

Dub Syndicate and On-U Sound would go on to explore a plethora of vivid sound clashes, but the dubs assembled here still sound fresh as a daisy.

By Michael Sumsion

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Review: Mista Savona Presents – Havana Meets Kingston

cuban-reggae

Mista Savona returns on production duties for this impressive and unique hotbed of talent drawing on the best sounds straight out of Cuba and Jamaica.

So close, but so different in terms of culture, politics and society is one way to look at Cuba and Jamaica. And yet it’s these differences, and the fact they’re close neighbours, that make this collaboration work so well. Both countries are passionately linked to music and it took the inspired work of Mista Savona at the helm to meld these musical worlds together into something appealing and special, and altogether new and exciting.

Recorded at Havana’s famed Egrem studios in Cuba over the course of eight days, the music features a myriad of artists on top of their game; the rivalry, brotherhood, and artistic similarities seems to bring out the best in all involved. Carnival, featuring Solis and Randy Valentine, peaks and struts its way around a reggae soul with Cuban undertones, gently caressing out its voice of unity: “Welcome to Havana town, Cuba and Jamaica link up people gather round”. It manages to be both unifying but individual in a way that showcases both countries’ styles, and is easy to see why this track was picked to be the poster child of the record.

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Featuring vocals in Spanish, English and Jamaican, the record creates a hotbed of unity and togetherness with no one influence standing out amongst the rest. Candela pops with hip-hop beats before trumpet kick in to a distinctly Cuban sound, then switches things up by seamlessly slipping into a reggae wonderland of strong vocal work and Jamaican vibes, before switching back again. The movements are completed with such skill and dexterity it really doesn’t feel out of place at all, and the use of both the traditional and contemporary gives the whole sound a timeless feel.

Elsewhere on the record, you find tracks that are specifically devoted to one style of music over the other, but if you dig deep you still have sly undertones from either Cuba or Jamaica working in the background. Heart of a Lion is a strong effort on the reggae front with fantastic vocal work by Brenda Naverette breaking up the track beautifully, whereas La Siitiera ‘s laid back but equally impressive piano and Cuban vocals screams Havana, even if it has a subtle reggae beat underneath.

Mista Savona Presents – Havana Meets Kingston is a beautiful record. Throwing up surprises and thrills throughout, it’s a real hotbed of creativity and a true masterpiece of collaboration. Being one of the first ever album partnerships between Jamaican and Cuban Musicians, I’m already eagerly anticipating future efforts taking place to carry on this new and fantastic genre.

Score: 5/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Vinyl Review: Alison Moyet Reissues – Alf/Raindancing/Hoodoo/Essex

AlisonMoyet

Coming into prominence at the beginning of the eighties, Alison Moyet knows what makes a good hit, knows how to write a good tune and, most of all, knows how to change with the times. Her four records from the 80s and 90s have been rereleased on 180g heavyweight vinyl, and they have never sounded so good.

Alison Moyet is probably better known for her solo career now rather than half of the pop duo Yazoo that kick started her career. It’s a journey of transformation listening to her first four albums back to back, where you can physically hear the change in time, skill and sound throughout the artist’s life. Starting off with Alf, we have that raw 80s sound accompanied by young innocence and lust for life. This in no more apparent than in track All Cried Out. Possibly Alison’s most well recognised song, the track’s stellar chorus takes you back to a time of mismatching clothes, heavy make-up, and everyone not giving a shit. The extended intro builds into a crescendo of melody, with Alison’s voice full of exuberance and youth; it’s sultry, driven and empowering. Track Invisible enters ballad territory where you can almost see the rain dripping down the window as Alison sings ‘I feel I’ve been had and I’m boiling mad, still I can’t live without you’.

Album Raindancing sees the singer experimenting and allowing other people into her musical world by adding’ a lovely cover of Fly Joy’s Weak in the Prescence of Beauty and co-writing Is This Love? With Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. This shows growth in the singer’s work, able to draw on the influence of others instead of wanting to create something completely of her own, and this really comes through in the music. The latter track’s steady synths break through into a fun chorus as Alison uses her vocals to duck and weave through the melody, allowing her to show off the ranges and skills she’s learned since her first record.

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3rd album Hoodoo is a different kettle of fish altogether. With a more rocky/indie sound through out, it wears the early nineties tag front and centre. This time Alison adapts to her surroundings and draws influence from the scene rather than specific artists. It Won’t Be Long features more accent on the singer’s vocals, darker lyrics and a more constant direction than previous work, making for a tight and twisting track that performs admirably. Wishing You Were Here with its acoustic guitar and gently brushed drums sit perfectly as Alison croons through a tale of love, loss and sorrow.

 

The last of the remasters brings us to 1994’s Essex. Some say this album is marred with controversy over the battle for the sound of the record between Moyet and her record company resulting in bitterness between the two, and the singer feeling aggrieved. But whatever the truth behind this is, the fact is that there are still some well-crafted tracks on the album. Whispering Your Name has Alison filling her voice with raw emotion as verses build into a chorus out of nowhere with the song effortlessly flitting from idea to idea, whereas Dorothy sticks with an Irish sound, but with added sultry tones and flourishes of effervescence.

On vinyl, these albums have really come into their own. A lot of records from the eighties were beginning to be produced on cheaper vinyl that transported into a decrease in sound quality, so it’s a pleasure to hear these records on heavyweight 180g vinyl. The warm tones in the synths are really noticed in the early work, whereas on the 90s albums, its Alison’s voice that really shines and plays centre stage. The artwork also acts as a timeline in photography trends, as we see Alison strike 80s poses against filtering light or rain-drenched windows early on versus the indie poses and a simple stamp motif on Hoodoo and Essex.

Alison Moyet is a sign of the times, and the time has treated her records well. She wears her sound on her sleeve throughout, and although the music stays firmly in the decades from where it was created, they remain good listening for nostalgia, discovery or a place to find the beginnings of ideas.

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Album Review: Matti Bye – This Forgotten Land

matti-bye

We take a look at Swedish Composer Matti Bye’s new record This Forgotten Land, and with it are thrown into a contemporary world of wordless story telling and emotional fulfilment.

Matti Bye has been part of the Swedish music industry for a long time, and it’s no wonder he’s starting to break into the mainstream. Beginning his career with silent movies, he gained the freedom to move the music where he wanted it to go, which helped develop his unique style and sound. This Forgotten Land pulls together all the best parts of Matti’s stellar career into a deeply atmospheric record that uses silence as much as its prolonged and drawn out sounds.

Opener Melt gives you a taste for what’s to come with its muffled tones, dystopian backgrounds and slow sense of a burning foreboding. Comparing to Chopin’s most tranquil of pieces would be a good start, but Matti manages to breath life into the track and helps the track become it’s own personality altogether. Absence, with its creak of piano and almost sullen tango-like quality, gives the listener a twinge of apprehension as you’re dragged along into its addictive and sultry tones.

Galloping Waves is an album highlight for its sheer audacity to manage to feel both disconcerting but pleasant at the same time. There are not many pieces of music that can portray both these emotions in unison, and it’s actually refreshing to hear a track that not only tries to pull your mind in two directions, but succeeds in doing so.

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Loneliness of Earth sounds like Pink Floyd gone classical with its long-winded background drones driving the track on, whereas Cascading Sun is beautiful and serene piece. Its charisma brings a story to the surface without words, leading the listener to visualise their own way through the tracks sombre and sad, but all encompassing forest of sound.

Listening on Vinyl, the record is given a true character with warm, sultry tones, that are especially brought out on tracks with accompanying background tones. This gives the music a fullness that would be missed on other formats. The artwork with it’s flowing vapours of gold on a black background give the minimalistic feel of simplicity but depth, with which can be drawn direct comparison’s with the artists tone he’s searching for on this record.

Matti Bye is a unique artist who can create beautiful music where others would fail. This Forgotten land is a testament to his talent of painting wonderful pictures with music, and drawing in the audience in a way where they won’t want to let go.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Album Review: Turtle – Human

turtle

We take a look at Turtle’s newest record on vinyl, and with it comes all the inspiration and guile you’d expect from this powerful artist.

Jon Cooper, the Glaswegian producer and sound sorcerer known as Turtle, first sprang to attention in electronic music circles in 2014 and 2015 with two warmly received EPs that found the middle ground between glistening ambience and elegiac shuffles, inspiring comparisons with such luminaries as Jon Hopkins and Thom Yorke.

Turtle’s sure-footed debut long-player, Human, sees the mercurial sound-scaper toning down his Hopkins-like swells and assimilating his influences rather than flaunting them like favourite band stickers on a school satchel. His meticulously prepared sound beds trace a distinctly cinematic and introspective path through ethereal, Sigur Ros-inflected shoegaze, post-rock, trip-hop and music-box textures. As disparate as it is gloriously tasteful, this record eschews robo-precision and continuity for atmospheric effects and woozy, fluttering mutations, all executed with widescreen production values and a mildly eerie moodiness.

A fug of glazed, weightless gracefulness permeates the opening Time, a gorgeous slice of scorched ambience worthy of Julianna Barwick or Jonsi & Alex; here less is more and the listener is ushered in and out with all the tenderness of waves lapping in the ocean. It is a stunning way to begin proceedings, an invitation to dream and be beguiled. The similarly exquisite Fabric builds from its beat-less cloud of voices towards a loping, tropical pulse, familiar yet steeped in mystery.

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Blood Type boasts the wispy vocals of Eliza Shaddad, who imbues the mid-paced electronic ballad with a sense of hushed intimacy. Air channels the sepulchral mist of a post-rock instrumental alongside the wistful breakbeats of Cinematic Orchestra, whilst Solar nods towards the early-hours foreboding of Johnny Jewel’s Chromatics project with its elegantly realised Italo-disco dread. Meanwhile, Elephant and Limbic whirr and crackle with the shrillness of machine-crafted, stream-lined club fare. The Rivers twinkles and smoulders with an orchestral majesty, all intoxicating strings and shadowy corners.

None of these tunes dissolve into a blur of archetypal background listening; Turtle is always searching for inspiration in the most unexpected places. Cooper delights in stitching together a crepuscular musical splash in a delightfully homespun fashion; the overall aura is never self-indulgent, radiating a keening, future-pop bliss.

Score: 4/5

By Michael Sumsion

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