Review: Nick Toone – Low Earth Orbit (released April 23, 2016)
UK’s Nick Toone is a multi-instrumentalist who’s been producing ambient and electronic music since the turn of the millennium. With modular and digital synths, guitars, monochord, handpans and pretty much anything that makes noise (as he says in his liner notes), Toone explores, on his latest album Low Earth Orbit, vast, electrifying, and deeply atmospheric realms.
Those who think ambient music is boring need to listen to Nick Toone. Far more than just a collection of drones, Toone’s music swirls and pulsates with life, each piece having its own unique vibe. It can be breathtaking and profoundly deep like the opening space voyage Frozen Hydrocarbon Seas Prelude (and it’s epic 14-minute continuation later on the album), or cheerfully playful, like Alan’s Enigma, with its quirky sequences and deep melodic bass, or the dreamily hallucinogenic Noodles, with its mischievous melodies and retro space sounds. It can even get a little bit frightening, as it does in the weird and hair-raising alien abduction piece UFradiO, but then can turn around and become emotionally plaintive, like the piano laden closing track Fish on a Bicycle. Although beatless, Toone’s music is shot through with mysterious, throbbing rhythms and elusive melodies that emerge from and then drift back into the sea of ambience, ensuring that the music is never static, always moving, like a living thing. It’s endlessly inventive and never gets boring.
For those who do love ambient music, especially the artists he cites as influences such as Scanner, Higher Intelligence Agency, Future Sound of London, Daevid Allen’s Sacred Geometry albums, 90’s Planet Dog releases, and Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Music (all of which I love), Low Earth Orbit is an atmospheric adventure, something that you can easily drift off to but just as easily be engaged into actively enjoying, which in the end, is what the best ambient music is all about.