Review of Ghosts of Then And Now Album by Illum Sphere

Readers won't be surprised to learn that Illum Sphere is not the artist's real name (it's actually Ryan Hunn), but this odd choice of handle - even by electronic music standards - hasn't affected his gradual rise to prominence. Proving that not being a household name counts for little in prestige terms, the Mancunian DJ/producer/promoter has remixed for the XX and spun the tunes for Radiohead, along with releasing stuff on a plethora of to-be-heard-on labels such as Tectonic, Young Turks and, finally, Ninja Tune.

Illum Sphere Ghosts of Then And Now Album

Over the years, Hunn/Sphere has become known for eclectic mixes that hop from genre to genre like a pollen hunting bee, and 'Ghosts of Then And Now' follows a similarly restless path, never really concerned with establishing a discernible groove. Investing in broken beats and the occasional foray into the periphery of dubstep aside, his best work here is where he's joined by singing collaborators. When this happens, the abstraction is merely rough edges, so 'Love Theme From Forgiveness' (with vocals from Shadowbox) is that kind of 22nd century jazz created all too eloquently by Flying Lotus, whilst 'At Night' - with Mai Nestor - is gorgeously lucid sounding drum & bass and closer 'Embryonic' (Shadowbox again) expertly denuded R&B.

This might sound like a whistle-stop tour of every form of electronic creative expression in the last 20 years, but, broadly speaking, that's because this is what you get. Alone with just his laptop, Hunn is just as inventive, 'Sleeprunner' morphing between bleeps and soulful keys, whilst 'It'll Be Over Soon' trades  familiar low slung beats with glitchy, polymorphic beats. The jaded might say that much of this has been the way of the slightly wonky crew for the last few years, but some trace elements aside, the Sphere ethos is about creating a meaner tune than the rest. This invention is realised on the album's title track, on which the subdued and the extrovert nestle together with insistent bass and vintage sounding organ melodies overlapping to convey an almost Caribbean vibe. A retro feel, and one further built on by 'Near The End'; a Miles Davies type fugue which is brave simply enough to be tried, almost no matter what it ends up being.

This is of course no longer a field occupied by a few people who never leave their flats during the hours of daylight but, as Jon Hopkins proved last year, it's quite possible for protagonists to cross over into the fringes of the real world. 'Ghosts Of The And Now' shows that Ryan Hunn has the breadth of vision to manage this, if slots on 'Jonathan Ross' are what he wants. For now, you imagine the bright lights and constant rain of Greater Manchester are probably still more than enough.

Andy Peterson



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