Ochre: A Midsummer Nice Dream

Chris Leary made his Ochre debut with the Sound System Bangers vol. 1 EP on the Repeat Music imprint in 2003 and recently contributed to Toytronic's Everything Is Green collection; his hour-long debut A Midsummer Nice Dream now appears, an album chock full of crisp chiseled beats and unabashedly sweet melodies. Ochre's sound favours lush moods and restraint over excessive density and abrasive edits, with the general result melodic downtempo IDM that's delicate, pretty, and inoffensive, unfashionably innocent and free of cynicism—imagine an Isan-Autechre hybrid atmospherically enriched with modest flavourings of Boards of Canada.

With its glistening keyboard melodies, fractured beats, and Aphex bouncing ball effects, the pensive “Low Grav Freefall (mix)” provides a representative indication of Ochre's style. As pretty as they might be, Leary veers dangerously close to new Age territory with “Brancaster Coast ” and “Eleven,” while the equally sedate title track closes the album in stately, dream-like manner. Naming a track “REM Sleep Research” is a risky move, but the song is undeniably pretty, almost oriental sounding in its more meditative moments. Admittedly, some degree of sameness gradually sets in, such that one longs for some break from the prevailing lushness and calm. When “Drink Malk” finally pushes the album into a more uptempo realm, it sounds positively manic; still, while its staccato beats and synths work up an initial steamy froth, the track eventually settles into a familiar state of glistening reserve. The penultimate “Summer Lusk” suggests the promise of a more aggressive direction when Leary adds a hint of hip-hop to its otherwise reserved beats.

Listening to Ochre's album and its affinity for Isan-like atmospheres, I'm reminded of Ilkae's Bovine Rearrangement which collects remixes produced by guest artists like Machine Drum and Helios of tracks from Ilkae's Pistachio Island debut. When Isan's remix appears, the group's indelible sonic signature immediately springs forth, distinguishing it from its surrounding brethren. As pretty and well-crafted as it is, A Midsummer Nice Dream lacks a similarly indelible quality.

December 2004