Review Summary: Celebrating 24 years of Bella Union.
In an interview with British outlet Loud and Quiet from 2014, ex Cocteau Twins and Bella Union record label owner Simon Raymonde recalls a simple trip to New York to get an inhaler for his asthma which resulted in a complicated health check that concluded that he, at the time, should have been dead. Well, the doctors got it all very wrong because fast forward six years and the man has weathered a pandemic, made an incredible record and signed up as many artists he could fit in Bella Union’s office building.
Lost Horizons is the collaboration between Simon Raymonde and former member of Dif Juz Richie Thomas, a relationship that goes all the way back to the time when they were brothers in arms in the emblematic London label 4AD, which was home to both Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz during the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, in the case of the former. However, it’s not like the plan was set in motion at that time. In fact, both musicians had been on a 20-year hiatus when they met again in 2017 for the conception and release of Lost Horizons’ first album, Ojalá
. With newfound hope in music, strongly backed by Bella Union’s formidable roster, the two began to set the foundations for a follow up. The project suffered its first blow when Raymonde’s mother passed away, which turned Lost Horizons into a catalyst for his grief. Sixteen instrumental tracks were written in an improvisational manner and sent to a vast selection of singers and songwriters, most of them pertaining to Raymonde’s label, which were to be part of this second record.
The theme of In Quiet Moments
was set by the debacle that was 2020, the year of Covid-19. In an attempt to discern the unwavering tiny fires that still fueled every human heart around the world, Raymonde and Thomas realized that if something good had come out of the pandemic, it was that, in general, everyone had taken a step back and stopped to contemplate and reflect. It was part of the lyrics written by legendary Portland singer Ural Thomas, who stars on the title track, what set the somber but contemplative mood of the sixteen tracks that form Lost Horizons’ second collection of songs, and also what gave it the title needed to represent this idea.
It would take a considerable amount of time and space to get into each and every track of In Quiet Moments
in detail, and the highlights will very possibly differ depending on who’s at the other side of the speakers. Hence, I would like to briefly touch on most of the songs included, focusing on the ones that for one or another reason resonated with me the most, while also listing in no particular order some of the names that contributed to Lost Horizons sophomore album. As it’s expected, considering Raymonde and Thomas’ curriculum, the base of all tracks and good part of the writing has befallen on them, with Raymonde being in charge of bass, guitars and keyboards and Thomas taking care of drums and, occasionally, of keyboards and extra guitar parts. With Raymonde credited as the sole producer and Matt Colton behind the mastering, the album was recorded in Bella Union studios in East London and it was entrusted to fifteen different singers and a few additional musicians to give it the final and definitive touches that have resulted in one of the most interesting releases of 2021 so far.
The first half of the record, originally released in December last year, opens up with “Halcyon”, a slow, full-on psychedelia track fronted by Brighton’s Penelope Isles members KookieLou and Jack Wolter. Soon after, the album quickly jumps from psychedelia to the lo-fi funk of The Hempolics and Nubiya Brandon’s remarkable vocal performance in “I Woke Up With An Open Heart”. It’s a quick and risky change of pace, which feels disjointed at first, but as the record goes on, one realizes the connection between them is stronger that it seems. Two tracks in, some details start to surface: the production, which leaves a lot of air for the singers to breathe and shine, and the very subtle but delightful instrumentation of every track of this recording. One of my favorite songs, the third cut “Grey Tower”, features ex-Midlake’s Tim Smith providing one of the most moving performances of the album, which is immediately followed by “Linger”, a broody and groovy dark wave tune led by the voice of Dublin’s sensation Gemma Dunleavy.
The first half also includes features such as post punk act Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin on vocals and Paul Gregory, from Lanterns on the Lake, on guitar in “One For Regret”, Swedish singer Kavi Kwai reviving the spirit of Cocteau Twins with “Every Beat That Passed”, and The Czars’ John Grant crooning on the Lynchian “Cordelia” over a ghostly guitar arpeggio and Fiona Brice’s (Gorillaz, Placebo) strings embracing the track like a mantle of shadows.
The second half of In Quiet Moments
, is also quite tasteful, with the previously mentioned title track beautifully interpreted by Ural Thomas giving way to the performances of Scottish singer songwriter C Duncan on “Circle”, 2012 BBC Sound nominee Ren Harvieu on the cinematic “Unraveling in Slow Motion” and Laura Groves (a.k.a. Blue Roses) on one of the sweetest tracks of the album, “Blue Soul”, which also includes the guitar of Sigur Ros and Kylie Minogue session musician Petur Hallgrimsson. By the time “Flutter” plays, led by the voice of Berlin based Ballet School vocalist Rosie Blair, the mood has set in deeply. Lost Horizons’ second work is heavily driven by a melancholic feeling impossible to shake away. Piano notes vanish in the reverb while strings guide them alongside Blair’s beautiful melodies, recalling compositions by Akira Yamaoka for the Silent Hill series. One of the label’s most popular names, American dark folk diva Marissa Nadler, gets a spot on “Marie”, easily turning it into a track of her own, with Richie Thomas also delivering a masterful performance on drums. The album closes with a couple of interconnected tracks, the dream pop of “Heart of a Hummingbird”, led again by the voice of Penelope Isles, KookieLou, followed by the mournful piano that leads “This is the Weather”, which accompanies the last feature, the always incredible voice of The Innocence Mission’s very own Karen Peris.
In Quiet Moments
recalls an album that marked a generation of artists during the second half of the 80s, a project known as This Mortal Coil introduced by an album titled It'll End In Tears
, which was inspired by 4AD’s director Ivo Watts-Russell and one that Raymonde was part of as member of Cocteau Twins, alongside members of The Pixies and Dead Can Dance to name a few. After one of the worst years in modern history, Raymonde and Thomas have made possible a different but at the same time, very similar celebration. One that rejoices on Bella Union and its magnificent roster of artists, and in addition, a celebration of rebirth, of hope, and a gentle reminder that music will go through the thickest dark to find you on the other side. A healing thought, much needed after the too many quiet moments of 2020.