Review Summary: ...
Fenomenon are a gem of a band hailing from Norway, who even though they have been active on the music scene for more than a decade now, are less known around the world. After two of their songs, "Pacific Memories" and "Picturebook", have been included on the soundtrack for the 2002 PC game, Beach Life
, the band's label at that time, Nuphonic, went broke leaving them up in the air. A couple of years later the band was back on track signing with a Norwegian label, Beatservice, thus finally releasing their material to the world.
Pacific Memories: The Early Tapes
is more of a compilation of their earlier downtempo and ambient output. It was reportedly conceived as a loose soundtrack to the movie Shawshank Redemption
's last minutes (when Red is released from prison and finally decides to go to Zihuatanejo, Mexico to meet Andy on the Pacific shore), hence the album title being an allusion to one line in the script that goes: "they say that the Pacific Ocean has no memories".
Musically, Pacific Memories: The Early Tapes
is filled with many lovely, bland instrumentals, only some of them being accompanied by vocals. The album has a lot of diversity to offer, from the lounge ambient feel of "Clayton Ravine", "By Pearls And Gold" "Picturebook" and the title track, the nu jazz tinged "Awake" & "Solara", the broken beat that is "Even Stranger", to the latinesque "Romeo Avenue". There are many highlights here, but the album is meant to be listened to as a whole since it offers 65 minutes of pure bliss. From the beginning, the album tangles the listener in its web with the title track, that starts slowly with the sound of the ocean giving way to soothing acoustic guitar licks, warm synths and piano lines. The band always adds new layers or slight changes in the direction of the songs not letting them drone, thus making the album even better.
Centerpiece, "By Pearls And Gold" is undoubtedly the album's biggest highlight as well as the band's best song so far. Everything is gorgeously arranged: from the sparse, high pitched piano, to the bowed strings and the background acoustic guitar giving "By Pears And Gold" a whole new dimension. Still, the vocals are magnificent, as singer Kjetil Ingebretsen, with the help of his restrained voice, gives a nostalgic yet dreamy feel. The beauty of this song lies in its simplicity really.
Another great song is "Even Stranger" which uplifts Pacific Memories' general vibe and is also somewhat different from the rest of the track list, bearing more resemblance to the broken beat subgenre. This represents the band's direction at the time, since this album is made up mostly of older tracks. Following "Even Stranger" is "Awake", a wonderful jazzy slow burner. The deep bass creates a dense atmosphere while Kjetil gently croons over. The extended coda featuring light piano touches and soft trumpet leads give the song an eerie feel before switching to "Clayton Ravine", an even more seductive, almost lounge instrumental. Sunny acoustic guitars dominate this track showcasing the summer ambiance of the whole album at its best here. This adventure comes to an end with the aptly titled "Back At Dawn" which acts more like an ambient lullaby slowly switching everything to a sleepy mood and gradually stripping the musical layers down to some fading acoustic guitar chords. The song is a good closer to a stellar album.
These tracks make up only half of the album, the rest of them being no less interesting. It is a shame how this album is relatively unknown around the world. Fans of ambient and downtempo must give Pacific Memories: The Early Tapes
a listen immediately as this album is really, really rewarding.