Quick Review: “When You Take Off Your Shoes”, by Nathan Shubert

The musical recipe developed by the Canadian musician Nathan Shubert is relatively simple but certainly effective. We have sketches of melancholic melodies or simple loops of notes played on a prepared piano, a background layer consisting of field recordings and other noises, and, more sporadically, delicate touches of strings and clarinet. Basically, it’s the typical structure of every modern electroacoustic song. Despite that, however, the album When You Take Off Your Shoes still manages to stand out from the mass of singles, EPs and LPs that are released on every week.

“When You Take Off Your Shoes “, album trailer

There are many different aspects that I enjoyed of this record. The first thing that impressed me has been the overall sense of delicacy and moderation that distinguishes the music composed by Shubert. There are no moments of particular tension or exciting progressions. On the contrary, the music of When You Take Off Your Shoes is always discrete, somehow peaceful, but at the same time without never becoming excessively flat or monotonous. Another good feature of the LP is that it’s possible to appreciate quite a relevant diversity among the various pieces of the album, which gives a certain dynamism to the listening experience.

From a thematic point of view, the compositions of this LP aim to represent the relationship between the universal sound of an instrument such as the piano, and the contemporary environment that surrounds it. This is the conceptual meaning of the field recordingsm, the subtle noises and the samples that we find in most of the pieces. These, to be honest, are balanced so well that they are never excessive or too much distracting.


Stylistically, Shubert’s music is clearly inspired by authors such as Nils Frahm and Chilly Gonzales, but still maintaining its own uniqueness.

My overall rating for this album is 6.5/10. This may be the perfect background for many different moments of your day: it will never require all of your attention but it will provide you with an elegant and absolutely enjoyable atmosphere.

Among the favourite songs I can mention the title track When You Take Off Your Shoes, but also A Beacon A Pulse and the delicate Lappeenranta.


The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.


Songs from Subert’s new album are now featured in many of the playlists I’m curating on Spotify: you can find them in The ELECTROACOUSTIC Radar (best of electro-acoustic music in 2019) but also in SOUNDSCAPES (best of Ambient music) and TRANQUILLITY (the 100 best modern classical, ambient and electroacoustic songs of the last few years). Enjoy!


END OF THE YEAR CHARTS: BEST OF MEDITATIVE AND MODERN CLASSICAL MUSIC

As is typical in the field of meditative and modern classical music, the albums that we have listened this year ranged through extremely heterogeneous genres and approaches: electronic ambient music, sophisticated chamber ensembles, ballet scores, minimal piano pieces. In all these works, however, we have found the same dedication and attention for the perfect sounds, the most suggestive melodies and the most exciting soundscapes.

This chart provides a personal suggestion of the best works that were released this year and I tried to cover all the sub-genres of this vast sector of modern music. Interestingly, you’ll find here both established figures in modern classical music and new artists that managed to find their own way to distinguish themselves from the existing mass of low quality atmospheric and minimalistic albums.

To better represent the current status of meditative and modern classical music, I’ve also prepared a special compilation, in the form of a mixtape, which collects the best songs released this year by the artists that have been included in the Top Ten chart.


 

Number 10

ASYNC by Ryuichi Sakamoto

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO - Async - 800x800

Async, the latest release by legendary Japanese pianist and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, was one of the most awaited albums of the year as the artist’s first original album since 2009’s Out Of Noise and also his first since after recovering from throat cancer.

According to the release notes which were anticipated before the publication of the album, this new work represents a score for a non existing movie by soviet filmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, while at the same time taking inspiration from “everyday objects, sculpture, and nature”.

The 14 tracks of this album result quite heterogeneous in their structure, with the common element that holds them together being a sense of instability that perhaps derives from the experiences lived by the artist during the conception of this work. Personally I have appreciated the few melodic moments of the album more than the atmospheric / conceptual ones, and probably a greater balance between these two sides of Sakamoto’s music would have guaranteed a greater level of enjoyability to the whole work. 


 

Number 9

ENDLESS by Tale of Us

TALE OF US - Endless - 800x800

Endless is a dark and minimalistic album released on last May for Deutsche Grammophon by the Italian duo Tales of Us . The record marks a steady turn in the career of these two electronic artists, who actually gained interest and popularity as  techno-house DJs. Their new work, on the contrary, is based on relaxing ambient soundscapes, slow beats and sweeping strings.

Taken in its entirety, this disc reveals some missteps that highlight the need of the duo to acquire a greater level of confidence with this genre.  Some pieces sof the album, just to make an example, appear more as a display of electronic skills than the genuine expression of musical emotions. Other songs, on the contrary, are decidedly more challenging and exciting, and elevate the music of these young musicians to the peaks of meditative music.

As a side note, the album has been also used for the production of a second disc of remixes curated by other artists of electronic music. As often happens in these cases, however, the level of the remix album is much lower than the original album.


 

Number 8

THE IMPERFECT SEA by Penguin Cafe

PENGUIN CAFE - The Imperfect Sea - 800x800.jpg

The Imperfect Sea is the third and latest work by Penguin Cafe, which is the musical ensemble created by English composer Arthur Jeffes as an ideal continuation of his father’s project, i.e. Simon Jeffe’s avant-pop band Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Arthur Jeffes’ new group today comprises more than 10 musicians, they play delicate and expressive tracks that combine multiple influences, from flok to minimalism, but always supported by beautiful and sophisticated melodies.

One of the most interesting features of the album is the ability of these artists to generate a constant feeling of restlessness that remains suspended in the air without ever exploding in drama, like a big black cloud that appears on the horizon but remains distant, a threat that doesn’t turn into a storm but that traces gloomy shadows in a clear day. This is particulary evident in two of the best songs of the LP: Wheels Within Wheels, which is an incredible cover of a Simian Mobile Disco’s song where beats are beautifully replaced with gentle layers of strings and delicate piano cycles, and Cantorum, which is probably one of the best modern classical songs of the year, with droney strings and a yearning melody on top.


 

Number 7

CLEAR LANGUAGE by Balmorhea

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The most interesting aspect about Clear Language, which is the new work by Balmorhea, is how each one of the songs in the album seems to tell a different story. The ten tracks of the album are in fact characterized by an incredible variety of sounds and atmospheres, and to some extent this is the result of the five years that have passed since the previous album that was released by American ensemble. For sure this work was not completed in a rush. On the contrary, the record seems to sum up, one after the other, many different moments of inspiration that the various artists have experienced in the last years.

The music of Balmorhea is placed in the ideal point of intersection between the post-rock of the last phase of Mogwai and the ambient and meditative sounds of Ólafur Arnalds. We find in fact the delicate melodies and rarefied sounds that are typical of meditative music but with the nice and intriguing insertion of bass and guitar. The resulting mix is really enjoyable and also quite original, and the way the songs are structured bring your attention to the beauty of the sounds which are produced by the individual instruments more than the harmonies resulting from the work of the ensemble. And in fact, although Balmorhea consists of a sextet of musicians, it is quite rare to have more than two or three instruments playing together in the same part of the song.

In summary, Clear Language is an extremely interesting work from an ensemble that has already produced valuable albums since their formation twelve years ago. And year after year, the range of sounds and atmospheres created by the group has further increased in scope and depth.


 

Number 6

NUIT BLANCHE by Tarkovsky Quartet

TARKOVSKY QUARTET - Nuit Blanche - 800x800

Tarkovsky Quartet is a modern classical and chamber music ensemble featuring pianist François Couturier (who actually created the quartet), cellist Anja Lecher, saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. All the music composed by Courtiers and his fellow musicians is inspired by the great Soviet filmmaker, who gave the name to the ensemble; Nuit Blanche, in particular, is the fourth chapter of a conceptual and Tarkovsky’s related quadrilogy which commenced in 2010 with Couturier’s solo piano session Un jour si blanc.

Among the albums that were included in this Top Ten chart, Nuit Blanche is definitely the one closer to the world of classical music. And it is also one of the more complex to be fully appreciated due to the fact that melodic and thus more accessible songs are alternated with expressive but more dissonant pieces.

Taken as a whole, Nuit Blanche remains in any case one of the most beautiful and expressive albums we heard this year, never ordinary and also played very well by these skilled musicians. The four instruments seem to chase each other throughout the entire album, sometimes they merge into a single melodic line but very often they travel on parallel roads.


 

Number 5

IN THE DARK WOODS by Akira Kosemura

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Japanese composer Akira Koseumura has recently reached the important milestone of 10 years of well-regarded career in modern classical music. In such time he has achieved a respected position in the music scene because of his ability to mesh together minimal tunes played on the piano with field recordings, other acoustic instruments and also electronic soundscapes. Kosemura’s music has always been extremely delicate, some call it “sparse”, and according to many more suitable for a musical background rather than made for deep and concentrated listening. Personally, I’ve always appreciated his style, which represents for me a magical way to flee into a serene world, free from all those complications and problems of our everyday life

Kosemura’s last album, In The Dark Woods, maintains all the typical features of his music and it contains a beautiful collection of intimate and delicate pieces, most of them playing aroung a few simple piano tunes. The LP is focused on the concept of finding comfort in the darkness and it is maybe one of the most introspective works the Japanes arthist made so far.


 

Number 4

ALL TOGETHER AGAIN by Peter Broderick

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All Together Again is the new solo record from American composer Peter Broderick. The LP collects in a single place all the works he was commissioned to write during his first decade of career. The interesting thing about this album is that despite being a collection of pieces conceived for different purposes and in different moments, they all manifest the same musical sensibility and the charm that have become distinctive features of the style of Broderick’s production. From a musical point of view, his music belongs to that category of compositions where nothing is excessive: every note, every chord every beat, every layer of music is there because the song couldn’t stand without. This is music stripped of any redundancy. Soundscapes and delicate melodies that are perfect to accompany the movements of your thoughts.

One of the most particular pieces of the LP is A Ride On The Bosphorus, an epic 17-minutes long piece that was commissioned for an art project.


 

Number 3

ICHIRU by Daigo Hanada

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Daigo Hanada is a young and talented Japanese pianist and composer, born in Tokyo but based in Berlin. Hanada released on last February a little masterpiece, named Ichiru, where he plays delicate and minimalistic melodies on a simple upright piano. The album contains a collection of relatively short but deeply captivating piano moments (intimate vignettes), which collectively show how sometimes the simplicity of arrangement and the immediacy of the melodies may generate an immediate connection between the author and the listener.

This is definitely one of the most lovely albums we heard in 2017.


 

Number 2

PREHENSION by Joep Beving

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The story of Joep Beving testifies the impact that social media and modern streaming services may have on the success (and sometimes the failure) of a new artists. This Dutch musician recorded some of the original piano tunes that he used to play for his family, distributed them online, and eventually sparked a stratospheric interest from hundreds of thousands of Spotify subscribers. At that point, contended by a number of record companies, he released this year a second record, Prehension, which confirmed the class and talent of the artist.

The style of Joep Beving follows the successful stream of modern classical and contemplative piano music, but just because of the fact that this genres begins to be definitely inflated, to emerge from the mass becomes even more difficult. The short compositions collected in Prehension reach the magical point of equilibrium where accessibility of the melodies matches with class and style. All the musical attributes of Bevings’ compositions float in that delicate balance between minimalism and delicacy where every additional element would make the sounds redudant, but anything less than that would compromise pleasure and smoothness of the songs.


 

Number 1

THREE WORLDS, MUSIC FROM WOOLF WORKS by Max Richter

MAX RICHTER - three worlds - 800x800

Three Worlds Music From Woolf Works is Max Richter’s eightheth album and it’s mostly consisting of the music score that the British musician composed for the ballet Woolf Works in collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor. Compared to the major works from Richter, this album somehow abandons the post-minimalist of his last releases to embrace a neoclassical style which is much closer to Richter’s early works. Interspersed with the larger orchestral moments we still find, however, a few synthetic inserts which give the music an estranged and pleasantly artificial atmosphere.

Following the same structure of the original ballet, the album is divided into three main sections, each one corresponding to a different work from Virgina Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Every section has its own atmosphere and Richter adopted a different style for each one of these musical acts. The first section of the album is the more conventional with respect to Richter’s past production, while we assist to a relatively greater experimentation in the second and third acts, where there is also an increased presence of contaminations with other musical genres.

This is a must-have disc for all Richter’s fan but, more in general, for all music lovers. It represents a perfect fusion between creativity, depth of sound and enjoyability.


 

Guerino presents: BOUNCING ATOMS, Special Selections in Electronic Music, Volume 02 / Lounge and Ambient Electronic (07/2017)

I’m happy to present you a new chapter in the BOUNCING ATOMS mixtape series, which is dedicated to the world of electronic music. These are special selections of the best new songs and are composed in order to present, on each release, a specific sub-genre of electronic music. The first volume was dedicated to Vintage & Electro Swing, this one is dedicated to Lounge, Downtempo and Ambient Electronic.

The mixtape features songs taken from the recent works of Mr Jukes (the former frontman of the Bombay Bicycle Club), Hugo Kant, Hidden Orchestra and Bonobo.

Enjoy this selection of tracks selected and mixed by Guerino and follow the blog for future updates.

 

The previous issue of the BOUNCING ATOMS mixtape series may be accessed here, it’s dedicated to Vintage & Electro Swing:

 

Mid-Year Verdicts: TOP TEN ELECTRONIC ALBUMS IN 2017

I’m starting with this post the selection of the best albums of the first half of the year 2017.  First entry is dedicated to Electronic Music. As you may expect the chart is going to include many different styles ans sub-genres, reflecting the thousand faces of this musical genre. We will find below a few elegant musicians playing with delicated electronic effects alongside with artists of noise or maniacs of the experimentation. In all cases, however, the albums that have found their position in the list have something special and unique, it may be musical innovation or the perfection in songwriting. Ten albums, ten great artists or bands, ten different ways to convey passion and emotions through electronic tools.

 

#1) Shikantaza by Chinese Man

(Trip Hop, Funk, Dub, Hip Hop, Reggae and Jazz)

Since the first moment I played this album on last February, I realized that this was going to be a long-term companion throughout the year. Now that we have arrived at mid-year, it’s no surprise that Shikantaza, the last release by the electronic collective Chinese Man, is at the top of the Electronic Chart.

5 years after their first album Racing with the Sun, Chinese Man is back with a new opus, Shikantaza, composed between Marseille, Mumbay and their secret nest in the french countryside. Shikantaza is an invitation to let go, to capture the moment, a personal path to enlightenment. (Chinese Man Records)

With this album, the French trip-hop-influenced rap collective has realized a woderful and perfectly balanced mix of funky, groove, hip-hop and many other fragements of musical genres and ethnic references. The are a few songs that stand out for their brilliance and creativity, but at the end it is the average level of all the tracks which leave us speechless. Shikantaza is an album made to be listened and listened again, this is one of those albums that you can easily play in the background during your day for hours and hours and never get tired of listening to it. But sometimes you will find yourself turning up the volume and dancing alone like a fool, captured by one of the many vintage rhythms that punctuate the entire disc.

 

#2) The Assassination of Julius Caesar by Ulver

(Synth Pop, New Wave, EDM)

It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective that is nowadays approaching 25 years of activity. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they have initiated an incredible and ambitious exploration of other musical genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. This year, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is experimenting with synthpop and EDM. The result is brilliant, as if the four Norwegians were long-term and celebrated artists of this genre, and not the neophytes of this type of music as they are in reality.

Those familiar with this stubborn pack of wolves from Oslo will not be surprised that they also this time round are shifting shape. Never afraid of challenging or redefining current musical conventions, Ulver has now enacted what they are calling “their pop album”. You don’t have to worry about vexing radio humdrum or pastel ear candy though – Talk Talk and Music Machine are pop music as good as any in the universe of Ulver. A universe where “pop” is more a mark of distinction, denoting immediacy and possible body movement (House of Mithology)

The album manages to combine an incredible fluidity of sounds with a unique and truly elegant musical elegance, something that’s really challenging and not easy to achieve with electronic music. The quality of the LP is very high, on all aspects, and that’s basically one of the entries in this music chart which surprised me the most

 

#3) Savage Sinusoid by Igorrr

(Breakcore, Experimental, Baroquecore, Death Metal)

I was expecting this album for ages. And when it arrived, it delivered. Igorrr is a unique project, led by one of those musical innovators who appear once every generation. And the last album produced by Gautier Serre and his supporting musicians, Savage Sinusoid, is simply a masterpiece of experimentation and electronic madness.

On this record, electronic manipulations, accordion, saxophone, sitar, harpsichord, mandolin and strings sit comfortably alongside ruthless blastbeats, chunky riffs, death grunts and soaring operatic vocals – and as chaotic as this might sometimes seem, there is no lack of heart behind everything thundering from the speakers. (Igorrr.com)

There is no way to properly capture Igorrr’s sound and style by just words, the best you can do if you’re not familiar with the production from these crazy Frenchmen is to visit their bandcamp page and start exploring their rich discography. If this is not your first encounter with the band you already know what to expect with Savage Sinusoid. There is however some evolution with the previous works, in particular for what concern the level of experimentation they do with the basic elements of the songs. In the early works of their discography you could see that the starting point of the song (whether it was an harpsichord sonata by Scarlatti or a popular Balkan dance) was just the beginning of an exploratory journey that could eventually lead to something really different. In their last album, the amount of experimentation seems a little bit reduced and the original baselines are more present throughout each of the songs, giving even more diversity to the different tracks of the album.

From a technical point of view, the album is “sample free“, meaning that everything you listen in the album has been played or generated for the purpose of the disc. You really need to see the “making of” videos on YouTube to understand how Igorrr play and record their songs. Alternatively, the official video for the song Cheval gives an hint on their unique style.

In summary… this is not music for everyone: it requires mental opening, curiosity and sense of wonder to go beyond the chaos. I like it a lot, I’m listening to this album almost uninterruptedly since the first day I got it. And it’s not excluded that in the coming months we will find it even in higher rankings of this chart.

 

#4) The Burning Spider by Parov Stelar

(Electro Swing, Downtempo, Dance Pop)

Parov Stelar is the stage name for Marcus Füreder, an Austrian musician, producer and DJ which gained some popularity in the electronics industry as one of the pioneers of “electronic-swing”. In his productions he mixes with great skill disparate elements from house music, dance and even some fragments of jazz. It’s worth saying that Parov Stelar is Austria’s most successful international artist and won 7 Amadeus Austrian Music Awards. His unique sound, his specific approach to music production and the unorthodox combination of musical genres soon made him the star of an uprising scene.

In the last years he released a number of good and captivating albums, almost one every year. The album he published in 2017 is named The Burning Spider and it is another great collection of enjoyable and variegated electro-swing tracks together with more conventional dance-pop tracks.

 

#5) Soiree Deluxe by Tape Five

(Electro Swing, Dance)

This year we see a clear resurgence of the electro-swing and it is not by chance that we have in this chart, one after the other, two worthy representatives of this musical genre. German collective Tape Five claim to be the co-inventors of the electro-swing and Soiree Deluxe is the 6th studio album of the project.

Beyond the bold statements from the band, it is beyond doubt that these guys have found the perfect recipe to mix together virbant electronic beats with swing jazz, bossa nova, reggae and other multiple influences. The album is a collection of refreshing tracks that are enriched with marvellous performance from very skilled musicians (mostly horn sections and singers). A special positive characteristic of the album is the high number of very good tracks that you will find inside. Very rarely I find myself liking so many tracks from a single work, and this is one of these few cases.

 

#6) Migration by Bonobo

(Downtempo, Chill Out, Ambient Electronic)

Migration, the sixth electronic album in the career of British DJ Simon Greenby (a.k.a. Bonobo), was the first electronic album this year to be awarded in this blog as Best Album of the Month. This is in fact a work that is immediately appreciated for its class and elegance, and its value is confirmed with time after repeated listening.

Probably today Bonobo is one of the best artists in the downtempo sub-genre, his works are emotive, passionate, intricate but delicate, with a special attention to every detail. And it’s a real pleasure to get lost within the intriguing musical harmonies that permeate the work-

All told, Migration is an impressive improvement over The North Borders (Bonobo’s previous album), and easily the most listenable record of Bonobo’s fifteen-plus year career. It’s a record with equal appeal for electronic music fans and general listeners, something you could put on anywhere. Essentially, it recasts downtempo as a genre with more potential than party music on the Bosphorus. (Pitchfork)

 

#7) World Eater by Blanck Mass

(Experimental, Drone Music, Noise)

Blank Mass is the electronic solo project by the English DJ and producer Benjamin John Power, who is mainly known for being one of the two founders of the experimental duo Fuck Buttons (where he plays together with Andrew Hung). World Eater is the new album released by Blank Mass, and the third of its discography (there are actually a number of other releases as EPs and soundtracks).

For those who are familiar with the earlier work by this artist, both solo and with Fuck Buttons, you know what to expect: a sonic attack with mesmeric repetitions and industrial inserts.  And this record, in fact, is no exception. The album contains seven interesting tracks that move between noise and experimentation, all seasoned with a good dose of sonic violence.

A particular aspect of this album is that BJP tried to work with a limited set of electronic tools, trying to focus the development of the songs with a small number of effects. And the result is very interesting and enjoyable to listen.

“As an exercise in better understanding myself musically, I found myself using an increasingly restricted palette during the World Eater creative process. Evoking these intense emotions using minimal components really put me outside of my comfort zone and was unlike the process I am used to. Feeling exposed shone a new light on this particular snapshot. I feel enriched for doing so”. (Benjamin John Power on Bandcamp)

 

#8) What If by Hauschka

(Avant Garde, Prepared Piano)

At the 8th place in the chart there is another album that was really hard to classify. It’s included in the electronic category beacause of a greater assonance with the genre: actually there are electronic elements within the songs but also many other things. To define What If, the recent work by Hauschka, as a simple electronic album is therefore a limitation and it could be also misleading for some listeners.

German pianist Volker Bertelmann, who’s the man behind the stage name Huschhka, is mostly known for his compositions for prepared piano, i.e. a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects on or between the strings (in this case scraps of aluminum, ping-pong balls and other household items). On his new album, which is the eighth of his career, Hauschka plays the prepared piano in combination of other keyboards instruments such as a Yamaha’s high-tech player piano and a 1970s-vintage Roland analog synthesizer, and such a blending of new and old Technologies is used by the artist to generate singular but enjoyable pieces of modern music. The real peculiarity of this author is that he transforms the piano into a mechanical instrument, a source of sounds which are at times delicate and sometimes disturbing. The result is a combination of multiple layers of minimal and introspective music which manage to evoke different and sometimes contrasting feelings.

Likely to prove one of 2017’s most original albums, while at the same time inspiring questions about the very nature of the world we inhabit, What If redefines the very notion of piano music in a dramatic and exceptional fashion. It stands as a rebuttal to those who lazily seek to shoehorn Hauschka’s work into the so-called, uncomfortably broad ‘new classical’ category, and instead underlines his status as a unique and invaluable artist. (Bandcamp)

 

#9) Ti Amo by Phoenix

(Synth Pop)

Ti Amo, the new album by French synth-pop masters Phoenix, is a controversial album.

One one side this is an happy journey into a dreamilized version of Italian summers, with all the elements that you may associate with that idea: love, desire, food, beaches, and disco nights. And it’s a real fun to be captured by the catchy and cheerful motives of some of the songs of the album (as the title track, which is maybe the best track of the work). On the other side, however, this romanticised version of Italy is probably a concept a bit too weak to sustain an entire disk and what really remains in many of the tracks of the album is just an over-sweet layering of synthesizers with curious Italian terms quoted here and there.

If you take the funny part of it, this is an enjoyable electronic pop album without too many pretenses of seriousness. If instead we focus on the conceptual element of the album, the result is probably below expectations.

 

#10) Out Of Time by Hugo Kant

(Trip Hop, Downtempo)

We conclude this mid-year chart with Out Of Time, the third work by trip-hop artist and multi-instrumentalist Hugo Kant. The album hosts a number of very good and delicate songs that may be the perfect background for reflection and meditation, and the record also succeeds in the difficult task of telling us something new about a genre that absolutely needs some innovation.

Another valuable element of this album is the use made by the author of numerous jazz and cinemaitc influences. Nothing completely original, of course, but the blend that has been developed by the artist from Marseilles is definitely interesting and he managed to stand out from the average level of the downtempo albums which I heard in recent times.