Bliss - Quiet Letters [Music For Dreams / VME - 2004]The Danish Bliss is one of those bands that never really got out of the boundaries of their own country, despite an excellent debut album, appearances on well known compilations and a soundtrack of a famous TV series. Hopefully, this will change with their new album, Quiet Letters.
Bliss was formed in 1995 by Steffen Aaskoven and Marc-George Andersen, who after a long search for African vocalist met Salvador “Tchando” Embalo. Tchando was a member of the Fulani tribe in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, and grew up within a Mandinka area of this country, combining the two cultures in his music and singing. The fourth member of Bliss is Alexandra Hamnede from Sweden, and she’s the one bringing the female vocals, together with guest singer Sophie Barker of Zero 7 fame, the band which released a superb album this year as well. The debut album was a big hit in the native Denmark, but Afterlife never crossed the border. Still, tracks from this album appeared on big chill-out compilations such as Buddha Bars Ravin, Lenny Ibazzare and several others, and Bliss’ music has also been featured on the popular TV series Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). Quiet Letters was already released in October 2003 in Denmark, but now this CD will also seek its buyers throughout the rest of the world.
The multi-cultural aspect of the band members shines through in the music. Mystic ambient-like compositions, often with a classical touch are combined with light African percussion sounds. The mystic voices of Tchando, Alexandra and Sophie in the distance makes this feel like a soundtrack, and Morricone is a name that instantly comes to mind. This all gives the album an ethnic atmosphere. The relaxing beats make this album more than just ambient-like, and give Quiet Letters a trip-hop direction. Massive Attack is therefore another act that comes to mind when comparing Bliss, without being imitative, since most of the percussion consists of serene African drumming.
The first song is an instant introduction to the rest of the album; soft and melancholic violins and strings, in fits and starts filled up with a little piano and light percussion, plus a small but present role for the accordion. Already with the second track we’ve already a tour de force as Sophie Barker takes the microphone on Breathe. The ambient music and trippy beats are wisely kept in the background to let her captivating voice do the job. This is also the case with Right There and Don’t Look Back. Quiet Letters contains five tracks from the debut album Afterlife (which is in no way inferior to the new work) and on these we can hear Tchando and home-singer Alexandra. A lot seemingly African percussion sounds and subtle ambient passages dominate the face of these tracks, and Alexandra is certainly not worse than Sophie. However, Tchando is putting on a real display here with his mystic and enchanting singing, and magnificent drumming. Dunia and Wish You Were Here are the highlights here. The track Manvantara is one to mention as well. Building up to and almost danceable ambient track in eleven minutes thanks to the drumming-arts of Tchando, a trumpet and a piano caress the ears, ending again in silence-like. In slightly more than an hour, the listener gets spoiled with delicious dream-music.
Bliss has created an album which only works when in the mood for it. Nevertheless, when the rural sounds come from your speakers or headphone (the latter is recommended), Quiet Letters will sound like a soft rippling stream, instantaneously putting a spell on you. The multi-cultural influences are certainly not unique, but still special and that is exactly what Quiet Letters is.Justin Faase