This month, I have three strong instrumental albums to discuss. At one point or another, I was planning to review all three individually, but just found that I didn’t have much to say about them. Still, they deserve your attention. Read on to find out about Avalon, Dim Lights, and Nerissa Schwarz.
Avalon is a project that has been around for many years, since at least 2002, I think. It is a collaboration, at least currently, of musicians Diane Arkenstone and David Arkenstone (whom I’ve discussed in the past). Their new album is called Between Earth and Sky, and I find it enchanting.
Between Earth and Sky is an instrumental album, yes, but it features choirs and voices as part of the music. I would describe it as medieval fantasy music with touches of cinematic and folk. If you like, for instance, the Lord of the Rings scores, you will love this. This isn’t as epic in scope, I would say, but it is certainly just as whimsical, magical, and captivating.
That’s exactly how I feel while listening to it: captivated. This is a truly gorgeous album full of gushing choral melodies, luscious piano and strings, and an air of peace and tranquility. I recommend listening to “The Crystal Shores” and “If a Heart Could Speak” to get the general idea. I love how the former is more fantastical and nostalgic, whereas the latter is cautious, elegant, and expressive. The album as a whole hits both of those strides, and it does so with fervor. Other favorites are the epic “A Queen Reborn” for its cinematic qualities, “Heaven Unveiled” for its gentle nature, and the arresting “Snows of Avalon” for its mysterious vibes. I highly recommend this album.
Dim Lights instantly grabbed my attention with its gorgeous cover art. The project is a side gig for musician Ville Pallonen, better known as V-Khaoz and usually found in the black metal scene. Dim Lights, though, is nothing like that. The album is called Starspire, and it is certainly inspirational.
Starspire is an ambient album, pure and simple. There are all sorts of sounds, textures, and feelings present in the way each of the five tracks is formed, but you won’t hear direct melody much. This album is definitely evocative, though, rendering pictures of various places and experiences in our minds. I hesitate even to call this an electronic album, though it technically is, simply for how abstractly much of it flows. This is also what I would call “long form” ambient because most of the tracks are lengthy, around 10 minutes or so. It takes its time to emerge from the mist, so to speak, with each and every feeling it conveys.
This is a great first ambient work from an artist who typically plays the exact opposite. My favorite tracks are “Synthetic Hanging Gardens”, a flourishing sort of piece with electronic edge; “Breathing Glass Towers”, a jazzy and spacey track with hints of awe and height; and “Frozen Dawn”, a serene and glassy piece with extreme subtlety and a glowing aura. All of the tracks are great in their own ways, though. If you like ambient—and I mean really, really like ambient—you will love this.
This Nerissa Schwarz album is definitely my favorite of these three. You may recognize Nerissa from the sadly now-defunct band Frequency Drift, where she handled the electric harp, mellotron, and synth aspects of their sound. She has released her sophomore solo record now, called New Eyes for Laika, and it contains much of what I loved about her Frequency Drift contributions.
This album has a very appealing sound for me. It is eerie and beautiful, maybe with a side of sinister and macabre. There are hints of John Carpenter and that sort of colorful, gorgeous horror vibe, though the theme of this album is self-aware artificial intelligence. I would even say that fans of video game scores might find a home here. The music is at times abstract and in other moments flowing and direct. There is always a hair-raising vibe, but that is not always the focus. Hints of golden nostalgia, future hopes, and unnerving presence filter throughout the record, and I would say that Japanese culture and music is a definite influence.
I would say that the album has two halves. The first half is definitely more poignant, spiritual, and shadowy. The moment-to-moment, spine-chilling theme flows deftly and effectively here through songs like “Making Plans in the Dark” or “On Blackout Avenue”. The second half is more pleasant and even joyous at times, though in a nervous way. There are more keys in this half, and more cinema; and rich, colorful vibes find themselves in works like “Raised Like a Daughter” and “Making Plans for Departure”. In fact, that last track is a stunning closer that is so beautiful in how it portrays urgency and hope. I love that song, and I love the whole album. I think I will definitely be revisiting it often.
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