Ciaran Byrne: Nine Lives Causeway

Nine Lives Causeway, Irish producer Ciaran Byrne's follow-up to 2007's Galtrim debut album, is a bit old fashioned in its embrace of lush IDM and old-school ambient electronica but that's not necessarily a bad thing. That the territory seems less heavily populated these days is at least one reason why Byrne's material is so palatable. Another reason is that, while he loads his tracks with ample detail, they're never so overloaded that they become oppressive or overbearing. In addition, an individual track retains a distinct identity but retains interest by constantly changing shape throughout its running time. Like the ideal guest, Byrne also knows not to overstay his welcome and does exactly that by keeping the album to a lean thirty-eight-minute length.

Admittedly, there's also a downside. No matter how Byrne feels about Boards of Canada comparisons (the heavy influence of BoC, Cylob, and AFX is acknowledged at Byrne's MySpace page), it's impossible not to think of the group when a track like “Moving Sungold” is not only titled in classic BoC manner but sonically evokes the group's sound too in its dreamy mix of organ tones, languidly flowing beats, and sunlit synth tonalities. Having said that, there's also no discounting Byrne's skill in assembling the track's elements into a cohesive composition that holds one's attention for its full six minutes. “Dustbeam” likewise features glistening synth sounds that can't help but invite reference to the celebrated Warp duo's work, while the hazy keyboard melodies, voice samples, and downtempo hip-hop beats of “Ode to Able Sail” could slip surreptitiously onto The Campfire Headphase without anyone batting an eye. Elsewhere, “Catriona's Liquid Hourglass” brings an uptempo charge to the proceedings—a shame it's only two minutes long—while “Blue Gaze” provides a stately epilogue. A “solution” to Byrne's dilemma presents itself when, eight songs in, “Axiom” largely shakes off the BoC comparisons with a breezy excursion into tight synth-pop funk that sounds like nothing else but Byrne alone. He might be wise to regard “Axiom” as a referential template when the time arrives for album number three.

September 2008