Review of Glass Album by Illum Sphere

Despite his début album making Contact's top picks of 2014, Sphere-head Ryan Hunn remains something less than a household name. Sure, there have been lesser career accolades than getting a CM gong on his CV so far - stuff like being chosen to deliver DJ sets for Radiohead - but surely we reasoned our thumbs up for Ghosts of Then And Now should've sprinkled it's magic over the Illum Sphere brand, only for it to fall short of the normal commercial turbo our good taste normally applies.

Illum Sphere Glass Album

We take this kind of thing seriously and on Glass, so does he, consciously jettisoning the multi-modal style of its predecessor in favour of something more orthodox and set in a narrower context: where before there was a blindfolded sense of mystery about what came next, the Mancunian producer has chosen a slightly blanker, more austere canvas this time round.

Hunn has described this scaling back as giving his music a "Different pace and energy" but the reality is something more prosaic; where before his default was to break into an established vibe by almost ejecting it from the room, now he relies on immersion and more subtle changes of tone. The result is a Europhile bonfire of grooves, led by Fall Into Water's moody dream/mare scape, itself a maze of both straight ahead techno and hypnotic washes, the two layers welded into one sinuous amalgam.

Similarly to Boards of Canada's Tomorrow's Harvest, the influences here are darker, in places more malign: on Wounded the analogue synths and creeping sense of pursuit are echoes of the schlock-horror soundtracks of John Carpenter, whilst closer Paradise similarly wells up with latent bygone sci-fi imagery, an mp5 from a distant planet.

If this journey is deliberately less tactile than before, Hunn is perceptive enough to fulfil at least some quiet memories, especially on the elegant noir of Red Glass, its rawness and naivety a throwback and forward to and from a simpler time. In other places the vibe is more locked in and overwhelming, as with Fuel The Fire's insistent travelogue loops, but Glass' signature moment Thousand Yard Stare takes this hypnosis one phase on: at nearly nine minutes it's his most expansive piece to date, pivoting around a morphed piano loop and then worked over by bursts of white noise and sheet metal beats, it's unforgiving and vulnerable in the same moment, a work that doesn't really know how good it is.

Artists frequently find themselves as the sole arbiters of what they need to convey by their music: where before Illum Sphere was about pleasing all of the people some of the time, Glass is a record which offers neither compromise nor relief. It may redefine its creator as more of a purist than initially perceived, but that single mindedness has created a new depth and tension just as worthy of exploration - and perhaps now has furnished him with the chance of winning a different kind of award.

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