Erik Honoré - Heliographs [Hubro Music - 2014]Eclectic Norweigen musician Erik Honoré has been active for a long time now, beginning in the early 90's as part of a band called Velvet Belly. In the past 15 years, he's released a number of recordings that blur the line between experimental jazz, modern classical and art ambient music.
From the moment one presses play, "Heliographs" is a mysterious and haunting universe, full of frighteningly vivid possibility. For the most part, it is a collage of fluid, bubbling synthesizer ambience with a dissonance and delirious, uneasy air recalling 20th century atonal classical music like Alban Berg. Instrumental playing of various kinds is cleverly wound in and out of the smooth, droning texture, adding a bit of freeform jazz flavor.
The French group Lightwave produced a similarly intense and immediate form of soundscape. Luminous pads combine with a faint trickle of water; the air seems charged with glowing particles. This is a soundtrack to those moments in life where the supernatural seemed to loom inexplicably near. Recalling the strangeness of dreams, this is a bright and vital well of ideas that seems to simply exist, rather than to have been created.
Not content to create another album of common ambient drift, Honoré moves beyond gentle currents of synth into subtle field recordings and even understated, detail oriented songwriting. The 3rd piece "Sanctuary" is a duet for hushed, pure-toned bells and nearly whispered female vocals. Fans of Bjork's "Vespertine" should be pleased; this is even more solitary, quiet and domestic.
After that, we get some gorgeous, lushly layered ambient house in a track called "Pioneer Trail". The muffled kick drum is faded into a subtle reminder of the dance music it came from, allowing the lovely texture and soft tonality of the many melodic loops to come through, fashioned from strings, flutes and synthesizers, and coated in soothing arctic reverberation. With this track, we aren't far from the world of Biosphere.
The shorter "Red Cafe" confounds expectations yet again, an eerie brood emphasizing string bass and weeping violin. It has a bit of vintage Romantic period flair, with a lonely, yearning tone. "Last Chance Gas & Water" is eerie in a wholly other sense, the emptiest piece on the album, thinning out to total desolation apart from soft wind and muted bass pulsations. It's not unlike looking into a pitch black horizon, far from the city where there's no artificial light, feeling acute disconnection from the human world. This track comes at the perfect moment on the album; each piece is like a movement to the story, it's a very well structured piece of work.
The many musicians whose work is present on this album are to be applauded for cooperating masterfully; their playing blends, intermingles, and seems to disappear into the whole, which moves as one entity. It's difficult to tell, at any given point, how many individuals are involved in creating the sound, or whether the sounds are electronic or acoustic in origin.
The album ends beautifully with a more somber, urgent rendition of "Sanctuary", which, as the album's only vocal tune, could be said to be the album's main theme, with its thoughtfully complex, meandering melody. The chord progression of the album's final two minutes could bring me to tears. Honoré knows exactly when to bring the music into grounded, conventional musicality for dramatic effect.
Inhabiting a much different world than the moog filled, krautrock derived albums I've grown used to heaing from the Hubro label, Erik Honoré's "Heliographs" might be the best of them all. Honoré waits no time pining over bygone eras, instead organizing this balanced suite out of all of his favorite things. The sophisticated beauty of art ambient, freeform jazz, and electronic downtempo are perfectly represented, and "Heliographs" transcends even these influences with its emotive narrative arc. Highly recommendedJosh Landry