Pacific Heights – Self titled (Warners)

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Solo, Devon Abrams has never been one to bring the noise.  At least not with the urgent energy that defined his previous gig with beloved d’n’b heroes Shapeshifter. On his last album, The Stillness, he concentrated on delivering music that was tense and atmospheric.  This time, inspired by a disturbing dream of isolation and abandonment, he’s increased the intensity and even introduced a little melodrama into the mix.

This is Abrams’ third album, under his Pacific Heights moniker.  2016’sThe Stillness paid homage to his musical past, particularly the darker elements of drum’n’bass roots, while also allowing some freedom to explore more the more ethereal elements of progressive electronica. This new album does the same,  but this time, as a fully formed soundtrack.

Like all great movie music, it sets the scene early on.  The opener, The Greystone, begins with a purpose, a repeating piano riff that builds over the first 20-30 seconds into a high note that acts as a metronome, counting the beat and setting the pace.  It’s beautifully cinematic, reminding me of Michael Nyman’s work for The Piano.  You can hear the rain, the imposing bush, maybe the rolling surf.

The repetitive piano chords follow a theme that will repeat in future numbers like Lost in A Dream, which is delivered deliciously by newcomer Neil MacLeod.  Another theme that repeats is the ‘Pacific’ feel, hidden in the opening salvo of that and other songs.  Remember the opening chords of 808 State’s Pacific State?   It’s kind of like that.  That’s intentional.

Apparently, the album was inspired by a very intense, visceral dream Abrams had, in which he dreamed he was a young working-class man who sails to the Pacific to escape his grimy 19th-century environment.

The early songs also have sirens and industrial grunge to help set the scene.  But then the mood sharply turns with the single The End is in Sight, featuring Joe Dukie’s (Fat Freddy’s Drop) soft-tinged vocals. Whilst he’s sweet, the tone in ominous.  Dark clouds roll in like war-frigates through the mist.  A storm is coming. There’s always a storm within Abrams, it seems. The ebb and flow of The Stillness was a testament to that. The tune builds very dramatically and throws us off the ship at the end of the song, and the next stage is about survival at sea.

Then our hero is washed up on the shores of an isolated island, devoid of humanity, grieving any possibility of returning to your family.  This is best summed up on the number Frozen Tear, again sung by Macleod.  It opens with a heavenly choir, perhaps halocin angels.  The harmonies are spine-tingling and offset the castaway’s plea for human contact where none is possible.  This is the theme that dominates the bulk of the album. Four years of living alone, going through all the stages of this internal storm.

The final stages of this tale should have a sense of closure, but Abrams decides to leaves it all open.  The final lyric in the closer My Dear Love Part 2 : “Is it better to tie these rocks and stones to my bones and sink, than be alone?” HIs thinking. Is that after four years of living in solitude without any human touch, without any human interaction, a desperate reach out – is that too much for a human soul to endure?

This album demands multiple listens.  Some songs have obvious themes, others mix modern metaphors and time honoured story telling.  There’s a smoky, almost menacing vibe to many of the tracks. The music moved from dreamy to coiled and tense, like a tightly wound spring ready to explode with flaring electric surges of white noise and dense beats.

Listen over and over.  Immerse in this pool of audio pleasure.

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