July Skies is another of those Make Mine Music
acts that i like so much. Specifically, July Skies is the solo
project of Antony Harding, who also is a member of the band
Avrocar. This is apparently the second July Skies album, although
the only other music I have heard from July Skies was on Flow,
the Make Mine Music sampler that was released in early 2004.
I liked the two tunes July Skies did on that comp: The Days
We Played, which was good pop, and Royal Observer Corps
Amongst the Norfolk Dunes which was a Boards
of Canada-style keyboard drone.
The English Cold takes those two sonic styles
-- mellow drone and pop -- and combines them with some nice
ambient guitarwork a la Lanterna
or Robin Guthrie. It makes
for a nice flow to the album with the ambient pieces lulling
you along until you are stirred into full consciousness of the
music by either a pop tune or a nice drone. This mix works for
me, and i find The English Cold to be relaxing
yet not boring.
The ambient tracks are particularly well done, and his tone
is interesting. Harding is neither as optimistic in playing
tone as Henry Frayne (Lanterna),
nor as introspective as Robin
Guthrie. Instead, his music reminds me more of that of Yellow6
-- it is meditative, not just introspective. That is, the ambient
guitarwork exists for its own sake, for the sake of the sound,
not as an exploration of the fingering style of the guitarist.
This is a subtle difference, and one that might not be noticeable
to most casual listeners. However, those who listen to a lot
of this genre will know what i am talking about. And i hope
that statement doesn't come across as elitist or anything; i
just do not know if what i am describing will translate to those
who are not really into the genre. This does not mean that i
think that others will not enjoy this album as much as i do.
On the contrary, i feel that there are many different layers
of listening, and all of them are equally valid.
Moving right along, if there is one weak point to the album, i must say it is the vocals. Harding's singing style is drawn out and breathy, and it doesn't work equally well on all tunes. For example, the hushed vocals of The English Cold work well over the echoed guitarwork of that song, and the same is true of the slightly more poppy August Country Fires. However, the voice does not work so well on Lost Airmen, where it is accompanied by a drone so minimal that it is barely there.
That said, let me talk about the three stand out tracks on the album.
The first of these is East Anglian Skies. A sample of rain, or maybe wind, starts this tune off, and then it is slowly joined by a subtle keyboardy ambience. The ambience grows, and eventually you can tell that the sounds were made with a guitar. However, the notes are long and heavily distorted. The song has a sort of Blade Runner soundtrack tone to it: it is dreamy and eerie all at once. This is that type of abstract sci-fi music that i love, and it is cool and weird.
Waiting To Land is probably my favorite track on the disc, as it references the mellow electronica of Royal Observer Corps Amongst the Norfolk Dunes. This is a lovely little tune wherein the drone is joined by some burbling keys, subtle bass hits, and a stuttering drum machine. Very nicely done.
Finally, the album wraps up with Faded Generation. This song features a low drone that almost sounds like it comes from one of those giant pipe organs, combined with some subtle vocals. It ends the album on a real quiet, calmed note.
Overall, i think that The English Cold is a fine example of the analog ambient genre. If you have enjoyed any of the artists i referenced in this review, then you might want to give July Skies a chance.