Ishmael Ensemble – Tunnels / First Light
- Severn Songs
- EU - Original
Following last year’s evolution from solo Ishmael to the expanded Ensemble, the Severn Songs series marks the most full-bodied and ambitious project yet from Pete Cunningham. Arriving quickly after a bold introductory release imbued with the spirit of new beginnings–– which drew airplay and approval from the likes of Dan Snaith, Antal and Gilles Peterson––the follow-up sees Cunningham slip into a nostalgic haze. Here, he throws back to his formative years in Bristol’s late 2000s scene but cast through a prism of jazzwise electronica; surely the furthest apple of influence to fall from the Hessle-Hotflush tree.
‘Tunnels’ begins with a flurry of drums before being enveloped by sub bass pressure, like stepping directly into a basement club in full flow. As the track climaxes, saxophones sweep the air like green-spoked lasers overhead, creating a contrast of pinpoint clarity against the background atmosphere. Though sonically well outside Bristol’s dubstep legacy, it accurately portrays the smudged perception of a peak time rave.
On the flip, we find the more introverted 'First Light', wherein the group downshift from the buzz of a bustling room to the hum of one’s head as dawn breaks. It is a moment of spacious solitude shared only, as Cunningham pictures it, with “swans fighting over polystyrene chip boxes” in the canal below.
Never one to miss a beat in either sense of the phrase, Cunningham has once again littered canny references to compliment the reverential music. The sleeve art captures birds through an obscured lens, nodding to the river Avon and overall milieu that inspired “First Light”; and for native Bristolians especially, the A-side will evoke a fertile period, full of vital music, communal escapism, and the maze of basements and tunnels where it blossomed. Overall, Cunningham’s ability to thread this thematic needle gives a descriptive tenor to the group’s wordless sound, elevating the music at once to something more personal and more resonant – and leaving soon-to-be-answered questions about where Severn Songs will flow to next.
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