Mokhov: Future Hope
Sun Sea Sky Productions

Northcape: Glasshouse
Sun Sea Sky Productions

The artists responsible for these latest releases from Charleston, Illinois-based Sun Sea Sky Productions cite Boards of Canada as a kindred musical spirit yet Mokhov's and Northcape's styles—at least insofar as they're presented on Future Hope and Glasshouse, respectively—couldn't be fundamentally more different. Oh, sure, there are commonalities, digital production methodology and a strongly rooted electronic sound among them, but Northcape's EP is a classic example of melodic ambient-electronica whereas Mokhov's full-length is something far less familiar: an energized set of tracks that suggests the work of a hard-grooving live trio.

Alastair Brown's been developing his Northcape sound for a number of years now. Currently residing in Warwickshire, the largely self-taught British artist made his first appearance on Sun Sea Sky Productions in 2010 with the album Captured From Static and followed it up three years later with Exploration and Ascent. Though Glasshouse, his new half-hour EP, won't win any prizes for originality, there's no denying the quality of the material's craft, and it certainly lives up to Brown's self-professed aims for the Northcape project: to vividly translate impressions inspired by nature, science, and personal experience into an abstract yet unfussy sound form that's warm, evocative, and melodic and whose downtempo ambient-electronic presentation conveys feelings of melancholy and optimism in equal measure.

An old-school analogue vibe infuses the six, keyboards-heavy tracks, all of them languorous and aromatic in the extreme. Ulrich Schnauss is also referenced as an influence, and certainly one can easily hear similarities between the artists' respective styles in the EP's title track, a pastoral reverie whose melodies glimmer and sparkle in the spirit of classic IDM; memorable, too, is the closing setting, “Green Wave,” for the stateliness of its synthesizer-heavy presentation. Beats occasionally surface during the half-hour trip, though never pitched so aggressively that the overall laid-back feel of the release is compromised. In fashioning the EP, Brown drew for inspiration from a tropical greenhouse near his home, which might help account for the low-key and intimate nature of the material on offer.

Speaking of influences, it's telling that Russia-born and US-raised Oleg Mokhov also namechecks Four Tet; certainly his fourth full-length, Future Hope, while hardly aping the boldly experimental style Kieran Hebden's been pursuing in his recent work, exudes an effervescent high energy characteristic of a typical Four Tet track production. More precisely, Mokhov's laptop-generated tracks create the impression of a live keyboards-bass-and-drums outfit, and one where the rhythm section's profile matches the keyboard player's. The producer, in short, manages to very convincingly evoke the evenly distributed interactions between three live musicians, with the forty-minute set stylistically focusing more on funk than ambient electronica.

The opening title track sets the scene for what comes after by pairing swinging synthesizer patterns with a low-riding bottom end, the bassist here and elsewhere serving up a delicious array of syncopated lines and the drummer digging into equally funky grooves. Whether Mokhov has experience playing the physical instruments or not, he brings informed sensibilities to the material in such a way that suggests he very well might. The drum patterns match ones a physical drummer would play on the tracks, and the same could be said for the bass lines, too. With grooving tracks such as “Love Gravity” and “Hope Shimmer” on offer, he makes it easy for the listener to visualize a live trio busting out radiant jams on a sweltering UK festival stage in mid-July.

Needless to say, the album's ten infectious tracks are body-moving to a far greater degree than the norm for albums categorized within the electronica genre—for evidence, proceed directly to “Soul Breeze,” which Mokhov powers with a breezy bounce and jump (and two especially tasty drum breaks). Interestingly, the greater source of pleasure in listening to the album derives less from the keyboard's contributions than the rhythm section's. Interesting, too, is the fact that, while Mokhov could have opted to work a number of other instrument sounds into the ten tracks, he chose to limit their arrangements to keyboards, bass, and drums only, a move presumably adopted to strengthen the live trio illusion.

July 2014