Review Summary: Sweeping, lush future garage that falls just inches short of the quality Phaeleh is so clearly capable of.
So close to classic status that classic can tell how long it's been since Fallen Light
The only thing holding this album back is a slight identity crisis - it feels like Fallen Light
doesn't really know whether it wants to be an album for the clubs or an album for the crash afterwards. Sonically, it's right in the middle of the great British tradition of post-club music - from Massive to Burial - and yet it plays like the people it's intended for are DJs, not a wider listening audience. Each track is structured to allow it to be mixed into another, with each element coming into view one by one and then boiling down again. On many tracks that's not really a problem for most of us, but when it makes "Delusions" seven minutes long, or "Losing You" and "Mantra" six, it means the whole thing starts to drag a little bit.
That's a real shame, because musically, this is fantastic - easily the best future garage release I've heard all year, and a real rival to big hitters like Burial, Joy Orbison, and FaltyDL (in fact, it's so much better than Joy Orbison that his place on that list looks a little silly). Just listen to the blissed-out majesty of the title track - that's a song-of-the-year contender, and one that crucially doesn't sound like the work of any other producer, too. "Breathe in Air", which features the vocals of Soundmouse (as does "Afterglow"), isn't far off that standard. Individually, each of these tracks (with the possible exception of the excursions into traditional dub in the album's mid-section) would stand out on a mixtape amongst other artists, and if you're a DJ, that's really all you can ask for.
And yet, as a home listener, it can feel like the album isn't quite doing enough to keep you interested. It cries out for just one thing - one perfectly judged dynamic shift, one earth-shattering bassline, one unforgettable melody, one classic dance rhythm, one heart-wrenching vocal - to drive the whole thing onto the next level. If "Fallen Light" was anywhere else on the album, that may well have been enough, but as a suffix to the other 12 songs it can't affect what happens before it in any meaningful way. And that is a real shame, because it just needs that little something extra to push it from 'great' to 'special', and as tantalisingly close as that is, it doesn't come.
But there is an implicit, back-handed compliment hidden in all of this; the only reason you'd ever complain about an album not being a classic is because it's so agonisingly close that you can barely believe it doesn't get there. And Fallen Light
is agonisingly, heartbreakingly close - it really is a fantastic album, but it's one that leaves you wondering about how much better it could be. Phaeleh definitely sounds like an artist on the up, though, and it would not be a surprise at all if his next album was an improvement on this. If and when that happens, we'll have to start questioning Burial's current status as the undisputed king of this subgenre.