Lost Horizons - Ojala

by Steve Rhodes Rating:9 Release Date:2017-11-03
Lost Horizons - Ojala
Lost Horizons - Ojala

Since the break-up of the Cocteau Twins in 1997, former bassist Simon Raymonde can't exactly be accused of taking a step back. As label boss of Bella Union, he has been responsible for introducing audiences in the UK to artists such as Lift To Experience, John Grant, Explosions In The Sky, Fleet Foxes and Laura Veirs, amongst a whole host of other acts. He has also released a solo album and collaborated with Nanaco and more recently Stephanie Dosen in the excellent duo Snowbird. His latest musical venture Lost Horizons is a collaboration with saxophonist and percussionist Richard Thomas, from 80s 4AD labelmates and friends Dif Juz, who replaced Simon for the Cocteau Twins album Victorialand when he was working with This Mortal Coil.

Lost Horizons' first release Ojala is a rather epic record, featuring a whole host of guest singers, largely pooled from his label's artists, the tracks of which are connected enough for the record to gel successfully together as a whole, with a general feel that Simon is reinventing This Mortal Coil for the 21st Century Bella Union generation.

A synth undertow reminiscent of Spiritualized greets opener 'Bones', as piano and spacious guitars with a hint of a Spanish feel or even Chris Rea pops in an out of the track. Beth Cannon's sultry vocals, like a latter day Cyndi Lauper or a lower-end Kate Bush dominate the track, with pure rock adrenalin in the verse at times, but it's in the chorus that the magic truly happens, upping the range and syncing superbly with the dreamier backing.

The Innocence Mission's Karen Peris guests on 'The Places We've Been', a poppier number, with organ, a busy rumbling bass and shimmered and delayed guitar riffs that Disco Inferno regularly perfected, providing the backing for Karen's charming and enlightening vocals that touch on Mum or Stina Nordenstam in texture or delivery.

'Amber Sky' is another delight, with piano and keys battling each other, with an bass venturing on dub as chugging and repetitive guitars are buried in the background. With an atmospheric hint of State Of Independence or an introspective James Bond theme tune in the verse, that opens out in a wonderfully soaring chorus, Sophie Viemose's vocal just entwines perfectly with the mood of the track, touching on Rose Elinor Dougal's recent solo work.

'Asphyxia' feels more spiritual, as buried and echoed guitars haunt the background and piano and politely guitars sit back, as busier percussion and throbbing bass push the song forward. Gemma Dunleavy's vocals are soulful and direct, but still distant enough to allow the instrumentation room to breathe, with a lovely change of key and rising direction in the chorus, adding depth to tinges of Middle-Eastern influences towards the centre of the track. Gemma makes a second appearance with 'Give Your Heart Away', a busy, mid-west piano-heavy track, with frenetic bass and percussion that taps along at a rapid pace, Gemma's strong vocals feel akin to PJ Harvey or Tori Amos in their purpose and forcefulness, resulting in a powerful song that leans slightly to the American Mid-West.

'Reckless' takes a more introspective turn, with big sorrowful piano chords leading the way, similar to Simon's work with Snowbird, as Ghostpoet's deep-toned vocal appear, like the Range and in a Nick Cave story-telling style as piano, bass and drums pilot the song around Ghostpoet's hypnotic and expressive tones.

Keeping firmly in the Bella Union camp is the appearance of Midlake's Tim Smith on the glorious 'She Led Me Anyway'. Opening with haunting synth sounds echoing around the track, a melancholic acoustic guitar and Tim's double-tracked vocals appear in a plaintive but touching delivery. There is a touch of Clannad in its Gaelic mysticism as sorrowful strings add depth and clarity to the track. Beautiful and bewitching, it drifts into Ambient Folk territory, especially in its delightful outro.

Brand new Bella Union signing Hilang Child, aka Ed Riman, appears on 'Frenzy Fear' adding his fragile and dexterous vocal talents, that hint at a male counterpart to Joni Mitchell or a stripped-back Fleet Foxes, to a spacious piano, with the highlights being the beautifully hummed backing. A very delicate but a comforting and warm track.

Changing the pace 'The Tide' ups the tempo but still maintains touches of melancholy, as Phil McDonnell's vocals seem a mix of Gordon Sharp with a touch of Stuart Staples. As guitars and keys chime and the drumming is scattered and busy, the track takes on theatrical stances with a quick vocal delivery and dramatic instrument changes throughout, taking us down and interesting and versatile path.

Perhaps the strongest track on the album 'I Saw The Days Go By' opens with Mogwai-esque guitar shimmers, as polite drums and a slabbed bass appear, however it is dominated by the wonderful Marissa Nadler, whose vocals touch on Sharon Van Etten or Mazzy Star, but remain firmly unique in their torch-lit delivery, are simultaneously full of sorrow and tinged with optimism. The instrumentation is a perfect accompaniment for Marissa's vocals, resulting in a beautifully moody and touching track that Lanterns On The Lake or Still Corners would love to honour.

'Score The Sky' sets its heart firmly to the far-east, as oriental notes provide melody and a bass appears at the forefront, providing a Japan-esque backing for Liela Moss's sultry vocals. An adventurous and deeply melodic track that takes a more conventional turn as a subtle mellotron and woven guitar notes appear.

With links to Midlake, Cameron Neil of Horse Thief provides vocals to the rousing 'Life Inside A Paradox. With Scary Monsters-era Bowie-esque bass and percussion leading the way, guitar chimes ripple out as a dirtier guitar provides backing to Cameron's rasping country-tinged vocals, feeling like a kindred spirit to Edinburgh's Broken Records.

The second appearance of Hilang Child on 'The Engine' provides another major highlight to the album, as fuzzed guitars and a high-end bass, similar to Glasgow's Fukuyama or Ganger, lead the way into an infectious track that nods to Bedhead or American Analog Set. Ed's vocals are higher-toned, occasionally double-tracked, with a touch of falsetto, as Richie Thomas' drumming takes an almost-jazz locale. The song builds effortlessly as Ed's echoes vocals are used as an instrument as the instrumentation encircles, building up to the edge of a crescendo, without tipping into it.

Closing the record are two largely unaccompanied pieces of vocals and piano, which neatly bring the album to a fitting finale. 'Winter's Approaching' is spacious and beautiful, simple and haunting, with Marissa Nadler's vocals sending a shiver down the spine, even more so with the late appearance of strings joining in at the end of the track. Likewise 'Stampede' leaves Hazel Wilde's emotional vocals the carry the weight of the track, with acres of space between the piano and vocal notes, with only the intermittent appearance of a brass instrument to break the concentration.

The use of a large number of different guests can often upset the cohesion and balance of an album, but there are no worries here. Ojala is a beautiful, conceptual record that flows seamlessly from track to track, plucking delicately at the senses, but with enough differentiation for each song to make their mark.

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