Dreamscapes echoing to infinity

8/10

Summary

Brett Adams – Black Clouds In Stereo (Rattle)

GARY STEEL falls in love with a surprising album of evocative dreamscapes from a musician famed for his more rootsy work in The Bads.

For reasons I won’t go into I got way behind on my album reviewing duties this year, and when I finally hear an album like this it pains me that I’ve missed the opportunity to wax (hopefully) eloquent about it while it was fresh in the shops (or wherever people buy recordings these days). To put it plainly, Black Clouds In Stereo is an album that transports you away from your comfy chair into a dreamscape that enraptures and enriches from the moment the mechanism is activated.

 

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This solo project from Brett Adams (also of The Bads and formerly the UK-based The Julie Dolphin, both collaborations with partner Dianne Swann) is unlike anything he’s released before, and I can only guess that the opportunity to release it on Rattle gave his creativity the wings he needed to realise something this singular.

Where both Swann and Adams are clearly innately talented songwriters (check out Dianne’s scrumptious solo debut War On Peace Of Mind) Brett has chosen to explore the palette of an instrumentalist on his debut.

The only way I can explain my reaction to these 10 gorgeous pieces is to mention them in the same hallowed, timeless space as Fleetwood Mac’s (Peter Green version) ‘Albatross’ or as a performed corollary to the evocative electronica of Boards Of Canada.

The audible canvas is almost invariably painted with practically edible clusters of mellow guitar melody – sometimes echoing into infinity – deeply melancholy-sounding, Mellotron-like keyboard drift and nicely crisp drum machines. Sometimes there’s a mere wisp of vocal or voice. And that’s pretty much it. Sometimes the guitar sounds more or less processed than others, and occasionally he gets to rock out just a little on that guitar, but one of the album’s great strengths is its consistency, which gives it a kind of sonic and aesthetic integrity.

I guess if you did put vocals on these songs you’d suddenly see a connection between Adams’ new work and The Julie Dolphin in the ‘90s, whose work was a kind of progenitor of the dream-pop craze of the early 2000s. From there, you could trace a line back to The Cocteau Twins in the ‘80s, but by comparison, their sound was often cluttered and often too-reliant on the technology of the time. Experience has given Adams a clear vision, and an eye for clarity of sound in space and where everything should fit.

I’ve purposefully steered away from reading anything about the album but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Black Clouds In Stereo is partially the product of the enforced isolation of the long Auckland Covid lockdown of 2021. It has the kind of isolationist sadness one might expect from someone domiciled in a house by a wild beach looking out at the seagulls struggling with the elements. I love it, and you might too.

 

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