This, the final release from n5MD for 2018 is a 5 year work in progress from Australian Alex Gillet aka Boy is Fiction and US artist Chris Schafer from Lights Out Asia, who is credited under his new solo moniker Ghosts of Tyto Alba. Tyto Alba is the common Barn Owl which is interestingly found in both artists countries.
“A Single Beam of Light” is the new album from Australian musician Boy is Fiction, but this is not just a Boy is Fiction album as it staunchly features Milwaukee’s Chris Schafer from Lights Out Asia on vocal, guitar and synth duties under his new solo moniker Ghosts of Tyto Alba. The album took over 5 years to complete due to the vast distances the duo live from one another. It was then mixed and mastered in Oakland by n5MD label owner Mike Cadoo (Gridlock, Bitcrush). This album has a lot to live up to due to the fact that it has some serious electronic and post-rock lineage behind it.And it does not disappoint. Forwardly propulsive beats weave around winding piano motifs, dusty synth washes and steadfast bass work. All with vocals by Chris Schafer. For fans of these projects, this is not only a simple pacification of their collective styles, but an excellent new chapter in their newly combined existences. A beautiful musical surprise that we believe you never saw coming.”
“Home” what sounds like a swirling collection of sounds announcing a new day, gently eases listeners into this new collaborative project. There is a lushness and that unmistakable n5MD melody from the get go. The ambience is fluid and floating, with the synth lines providing a both melody and rhythmic touches. Random beats scatter about before a darker underbelly starts to surface with a slight menace, which is a nice juxtaposition to the melody that permeates through the piece. In a way the track somewhat lulls the listener in as the directions the album takes is not fully indicative of this track.
“Breathe” after the relatively subdued opener, “Breathe” is a propulsive bead and beat driven affair with lush Synths and vocal heavy influences. More designed for the dance floor than chin rubbing appreciation, the cohesiveness of the track is that more impressive due to the distance between collaborators. Having come to both artists with out the knowledge of their respective works or any expectations, I can listen with open ears and mind. Musically it is pure driving electro pop with electronic and ambient Influences that exudes confidence and joy.
“Skylight” pulling back from the previous track, the duo set about creating moods over which layered vocals rest upon. Schafer has almost Falsetto vocals which in a way are a musical instrument. As for the music itself, it’s a blend of ambient and electronic motifs with a crystalline piano line running through the core. The pace to the track is controlled and relaxed, with an equal space given to the constituent parts so as not one is dominant, resulting in almost complete track. I only say this as, for me, coming after “Breathe” it feels like it is missing something to propel it forward.
“Vientiane” contains some of character that worked in “Breathe” this piece, this track is led by piano and beats. Musically there is a nice balance of ambience/electronics/modern classical and dare I say it, pop stylings. The beats tumble and skitter, the vocals are ethereal, the ambience lush and uplifting, the piano emotive and they come all together with a very slight fractured and dirty feel to the track.
“Dissolve” a piano driven affair with lush warm pads of ambience, distorted beats and submerged vocals, the track had a drifting quality about it. Elements come and go, but there is a consistency to the piece that feels like, to use a travel analogy, that you are essentially moving in a straight line with slight variations in the territory and movement within the journey. I would love to know exactly what Schafer is singing about as it sounds deeply personal. The track is one that you need to revisit to extract more from it than you will get from the first listen.
“Aerial” found dialogue (or possibly recorded dialogue courtesy of Kelly Hempel or Sarah Richardson) joins the electronics and piano that feature in this moody and somewhat cinematic piece – for some reason I visualize it as the soundtrack to a scene at night with a person driving on the lookout for someone. A multi layered piece that features tribal-ish drumming and vocals that could fly away in the breeze. The use of recorded dialog add a bit of mystery to the track. Its nor the type of track that can be easily pigeonholed, but has a feeling of the recent past about it, a kind of timelessness which is caused by the whole track rather than just individual components.
“Want” long hanging ambience, shuffling propulsive beats, beds of Synths that run the gammet of squelchy through to lush, piano and bass lines are at times pushing the vocals forward. The dance floor feel has returned and so has the innocence, joy and exuberance which you get the feeling is the duo’s strong point. They seem to have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to elevating emotion within their music. It’s an example of a track where each instrument and element are in line with each other and they share the same intent and end result.
“Dream” a moodier electronic fare with a down tempo feel. The recorded dialog, piano, ambience and beats are all there as they mostly have been throughout the album. However, in this particular track their intention is quite different. Musically it feels inward looking. That light joyousness of before has moved to a reflective state. It is not just the piano that leads this musical feeling, the electronics with their darker hues, add the feelings the track conjures up. This is also demonstrated vocally by Schafer when he sings “Can we go back to where it all starts?” It is interesting how the duo can use their music containing largely the same instrumentation that over the course had become so familiar, but then tip it on its head over so slightly to explore a different side and theme to the other tracks.
As mentioned at the top of this review, this is the final 2018 release from n5MD. Of the ten full length albums and two Ep’s they have put out, all have had their own character. This release is no exception. Melody is central to n5MD and it comes in spades through this release, but it doesn’t sound like any of the rest if the class of ’18, It holds its own. If you are looking for music that comes with electronic and ambient influences with a flair for cerebral pop smithery then you will like “A Single Beam of Light”. The album is released on CD/Digital on December 7.