It could be argued that Quiet Letters' exceptionally polished blend of pop phrasing, ethereal electronics, Eastern flavours and neoclassical strings was bound to get noticed thanks to its surface attractions alone. Yet such fine craft is matched by composing and songwriting of genuine humanity and tenderness.

artist:
Bliss

country of origin:
Denmark

style(s):
Ambient pop, world beat, ethno-ambient

decades active:
00's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Quiet Letters (2003, Music For Dreams)
  • No One Built This Moment (2009, Music For Dreams)
  • So Many Of Us (2013, Nordic Music Society)

Reviewed by Mike G

2003's best ambient pop album was Quiet Letters, the international debut of Bliss. In truth it's actually a compilation album drawn from number of obscure past releases. The band, revolving around core members Marc-George Andersen and Steffen Aaskoven, is nominally Danish even though its four members variously hail from Denmark, Sweden and West Africa.

It could be argued that Quiet Letters' exceptionally polished blend of pop phrasing, ethereal electronics, Eastern flavours and neoclassical strings was bound to get noticed thanks to its surface attractions alone. Yet such fine craft is matched by composing and songwriting of genuine humanity and tenderness. This is also an album full of space. It is a testament to the band's arranging skills that no matter how many different instruments they play - piano, accordion, guitars, tribal drums, synth drones - there is still space everywhere in their music.

The guest female vocalists like Sophie Barker (from UK ambient popsters Zero 7) have voices as pure and crystal clear as a mountain stream. One of many vocal highlights is the almost-jazzy torch song "Right Here", a track of remarkable stillness that features little more than voice and a tentative electric piano. The more optimistic "Kissing" is the album's sweetest moment and simply a very good pop song. The instrumentals and part-instrumentals are every bit the equal of the songs. They are fully-released both musically and emotionally and blessed on occasion with the spine-tingling vocals of the African-born member Salvador Embalo. "Duniya" is full of longing and loneliness, while the 11-minute "Manvantara" is a downright catchy nod to Latin house with African trimmings.

Skipping the so-so TV soundtrack They Made History (2005) there's a six-year gap separating Quiet Letters and its belated follow-up No One Built This Moment (2009) which, perhaps surprisingly, is almost as good. The band's special sense of space is intact, filled out with exotic instrumental colourings and fine performances by singers Sophie Barker and newcomer Lisbeth Scott. The only stumble is an ill-fitting guest spot from Boy George on "American Heart" whose deep, slightly out-of-tune vocal is at odds with Bliss's delicate arrangement.

Bliss' next album So Many Of Us (2013) is superb - and a real surprise. Instead of taking the easier road with more song-orientated fare, they deliver a starkly beautiful set of mostly instrumental or wordless vocal tracks, inspired by the desert spaces and mountain landscapes of North Africa. The sense of space that was so evident on Quiet Letters is even bigger here, the music more spare and yet more complex, the melodies more angular and unfamiliar. Andersen and Aaskoven bring this new sonic world to life with some of their best arrangements and sound design to date, but even so, the album takes many repeated listens to fully appreciate its elemental power. So Many Of Us is a risky and welcome left turn for a band that was so steeped in ambient pop songs, and a hopeful sign of more wonders to still to come.

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