Despite the resounding clarity of its soundscapes and artistic vision, there's an odd haze that surrounds the music of Skyler Skjelset's latest LP. Enveloped by misty vocal layers and the soft swells of meticulously perfected instrumentation, Back In Heaven deserves to be unravelled; finding meaning within the arresting scenes of Skjelset's enviable craft.
Somewhere in vague proximity to the ambiences of a Beach House or Deerhunter record, this latest project wonderfully bridges the gap between compelling songwriting and audio spectacle, overwhelming listeners with a cascade of luscious production, time and time again. Discovering excitement in surprising chord progressions, densely layered music-making and a constantly compelling collection of sounds, there are too many standout moments packed tightly into Back In Heaven's to properly give credit to just within a single article. From the blasts of percussion closing out 'Sevens', through the mosaic-like opening to 'Sunflower' and into the soft rock pulses of 'V C', it is incredibly obvious to appreciate Skyler Skjelset as a musician capable of constructing something entirely unique.
The album is an exceptional success. Arriving as 46 minutes of an atmospheric ebb and flow, with each new song Back In Heaven furnishes itself with a seemingly neverending supply of soft sounds and provoking artistic directions. Particular credit must be directed towards Trevor Spencer (recording, mixing) and Christopher Colbert (mastering) for their roles in the realisation of Skjelset's project, as drums, horns and background voices fade in and out of focus, the album sits in this weird un-reality: dreamlike and dense, but incredibly easy to listen to. It is somehow both enchanting, yet disconcerting. It is immensely pleasant to listen to, but feels as though it always has something up its sleeve with an air of almost menacing mystery in its layered production.
Back In Heaven floats. It moves effortlessly from one idea to the next, but truly this album would not be able to navigate its cloudy waters without the anchoring tether that is Skjelset's own voice. Despite being responsible for each of this album's melodies, something really interesting happens when listening to songs like the excellent 'HK Iris' or the wonderful opener 'Cobalt'. In all of the echo-drenched oceans that the album occupies, it is so satisfying to hear that with the so-called 'lead' vocal melody, that Skjelset's voice happily melts, becoming a methodically melodically precise extension of the soundscape rather than an alien voice sat above it all.
It wouldn't be fair to label this LP an 'ambient' record, nor shoehorn it into a 'drone/dream pop' genre. Instead, it exists somewhere in the half spaces - carving out a place for itself in 2020 as an essential listen with a particularly distinct sound. It builds space like a Brian Eno effort, but fashions songs out of its foggy depths that are incredibly rewarding to dive into, regardless of my inability to understand its (brief) forays into Japanese lyricism.
In my eyes, this is certainly Skjelset's best record to date. It's the best album that emerged from August, and it could well be one of the best albums of the year.
- 8.7 -
'Cobalt', 'HK Iris', 'V C'
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford.