Review: Darkships – Hiraeth (released March 20, 2016) and We Sit where the Sun rises (released April
Darkships is the brainchild of UK musician Jon Chinn. Chinn uses loops and found sounds to build a framework for him and other musicians to add too, creating rich, textured and quite varied psychedelic music. Hiraeth draws in part from previously released works by Darkships, while adding new parts and material to create a collection of pieces that flow together naturally, despite their eclectic nature.
The opening track, Play the Light, shifts from electronic drone to mesmeric Krautrock to drifting ambient sections, all while remaining highly listenable. To You. From Where? Is a vaguely unsettling, off-kilter electronic pop song, with a bit of an early 80’s vibe to it. Similarly, Silver Wheel capitalizes on that early 80’s atmosphere with lush organ, eccentric basslines and processed vocals. This dreamy number builds slowly into a spacey wall of noise, full of energy and ancient choirs.
Chinn seems to enjoy that slow burn as he utilizes it on a number of the songs on Hiraeth. Because of the Sun, for example, begins as a brooding, atmospheric guitar meditation and then deliberately builds over evolving rhythms before taking on a triumphant 60’s psychedelia flavour towards the end. The central piece, and standout track on the album is the mind-blowing The Weatward path, which over its 10 ½ minute length goes from a mélange of late night jazz, Tangerine Dreamish electronic sequences and Frippian guitar meanderings to a stunning spaced out freak funk jam that really tears the roof off. The title track, on the other hand, with its motorik rhythms and robotic voices has a slight bit of Kraftwerk sensibility to it, but yet is something much more complex, almost industrial in nature, without ever getting too harsh, giving it more of a space rock vibe. 242 was the number begins with some jazzy solo piano, and slowly evolves into a laidback, 70’s style jazz-rock piece with deep, spacey organ, horns and bluesy guitar squalls. The album concludes with the brief, piano based reflection, set to the sound of rolling waves.
While listening to Hiraeth, I was often reminded of some of the eclectic works of 80’s artists like Bill Nelson, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian, but with an added influence from 70’s jazz and Krautrock. The eclectic nature of the album is not a detriment but an amazing strength. How Chinn manages to make all this work together is nothing short of breathtaking, making Hiraeth must listening for fans of any of the kinds of music mentioned here in the review.
We Sit where the Sun rises comprises two 22+ minute long tracks, stitched together from shorter tracks on two earlier Darkships albums, Phase 1 and Phase 2, with additional sections of found sounds to tie it all together. The idea, I think, was that by removing gaps between individual songs and presenting it in this continuous manner, it would be a much more deeply immersive headphone experience. And that is something where it succeeds at admirably.
Chinn has created two vast landscapes full of life and sound, a psychoacoustic world blended with psychedelic jazz, funk, bluesy rock, tribal percussion, electronic Krautrock and ambient elements for a total sonic experience quite like no other. Many of the sections are taken from live studio jams, so they have a loose and organic feel and flow so naturally into one another, that if I had not known there was editing involved, I surely would have thought it had always been one continuous piece of music. It flows as if it was, feeling natural in its ups and downs, in its faster and slower moments, and its build to a conclusion that feels refreshing and satisfying. It may all sound very experimental from the way I’ve described it, and in a sense it is, but it is also very accessible. It strikes a nice balance between cerebral sonic territory and just an easy and pleasurable listening experience.
With the headphones on, in a dark room, it’s easy to get totally lost in this music, because it creates its own world that the mind has no trouble at all filling with visual images, from rushing cityscapes to leisurely oceanside amblings; from strolls through fields of ancient standing stones to climbs up the sides of mighty mountains, this brilliant music can conjure up almost anything or any place your mind wants to take you.