Essential albums: Mick Chillage

The 20-minute "Approaching Antares" is one of the greatest spacemusic pieces you'll hear from any artist, in any era. It's a thing of wonder: a sustained single chord slowly expanding to enormous proportions, overlaid with mysterious looping phrases that have a weirdly Arabic flavour.

Mick Chillage

country of origin:

Ambient techno/trance, spacemusic, environmental, cinematic, dub, IDM

years active (in ambient):
2000's - 2010's

essential releases:

  • Tales From The Igloo (2009, Psychonavigation)
  • FAXology (2011, Fax Records)
  • Reverie (2014, txt recordings)
  • Saudade (2014, Carpe Sonum)
  • Distant Light (2014, Databloem)
  • (M)odes (2016, Carpe Sonum)
  • Paths (2016, Databloem)

as Autumn of Communion:

  • Autumn of Communion 2 (2013, Anodize)
  • Autumn of Communion 3 (2013, txt recordings)
  • Polydeuces (2016, txt recordings)

Reviewed by Mike G

Starting with his 2009 debut, Mick Chillage's (real name Michael Gainford) sophisticated sounds have made him one of greats of modern underground ambient. The Dublin-based artist and radio broadcaster fully embraced the genre after two decades of honing his craft with miscellaneous electronica and multiple styles of electronic dance.

Solo releases

His superb first two releases are both retro but in very different ways. Tales From The Igloo (2009) is charming 90's-style ambient techno with lots IDM beats and bleeps. Detroit-flavoured gems like "Melting Emotions" and "Northern Lights" seem to be distillations of early Warp Records-style ambient tech but with warmer wrappings.

In contrast, FAXology (2011) dives into deeper psychedelic ambient. It's an epic tribute to the pioneering new school-ambient sounds of Germany's Fax Records and its signature artist Pete Namlook (1960-2012) who actually released the album on his own label. Crucially, it's not derivative despite some strong echoes of the sources that inspired it. The centrepiece is the 20-minute "Approaching Antares", one of the greatest spacemusic pieces you'll hear from any artist, in any era. It's a thing of wonder: a sustained single chord slowly expanding to enormous proportions, overlaid with mysterious looping phrases that have a weirdly Arabic flavour. Subtle arpeggios bubble up occasionally across the rest of FAXology but the album's surfaces are generally much more subdued than Chillage's debut. This is the release that marks him as an ambient composer and sound designer of note, and it's a harbinger of wonders to come.

Since FAXology he's been highly prolific as both a solo artist and as a collaborator as part of the duo Autumn of Communion; following are some of his best albums under both guises.

Reverie (2014) is a gorgeous example of uncluttered, Eno-esque understatement, forged with drones and sighing pads alongside some piano, electric piano and flute. His repertoire also continues to expand beyond FAXology's ambient dance DNA. The elegant, cinematic progressions of "At Dusk" and "For Those We Lost", for example, hint at no ambient dance lineage at all, having more in common with old-school ambient artisans like Bruno Sanfilipo or Steve Roach.

From the same year is Saudade (2014). This is pure synthetic music, yet rendered in an effortlessly organic way, as if it was carved from the very glaciers and mountains and landscapes that seem to have inspired it. The opener "Over Ingia" segues between moody landscaped sighs and bleepy loveliness, with some complex, jazz-like harmonies hidden beneath its airy cloak. "Northscape" is a perfect piece of layered, swelling, slow pulsing landscape music, more Brian Eno than Brian Eno. Of the album's three 12-minute plus epics, the best of them is "Solitude". It starts with slow-breathing washes of sound from which eventually emerges a sequence of rising chords and a beautiful arpeggio, all gently aching with a profound, bittersweet melancholy.

That any artist could release three of his best albums in a single year is pretty astonishing but Distant Light (2014) completes a trilogy of outstanding releases. This one veers back into melodic ambient beats with tremendous style. Unlike Igloo, the 90's retro IDM flavour is less overt; there's something fresh and very 21st century about its gleaming percussive grooves and clean textures. This is midtempo electronic chillout of the highest standard.

Two other albums are highly recommended. (M)odes (2016) draws from the same panoramic world as Saudade. Dark-edged but usually harmonic, it's submersive, contemplative and very deep. Paths (2016) is kind of a Beatles' White Album in the Mick Chillage canon. This sprawling double-length release covers almost every style he's every dabbled in and then some, and despite its lack of overall coherence it's still studded with gems. The beat-based cuts span distopian future techno ("Acid Shape") to Balearic bleepy, loveliness ("Extended Summer"). The deeper ambient tracks orbit a 53 minute behemoth called "Three Years", a pulsing beatless wonder with sci-fi undertones that moves through five or six distinct phases. The track's distinctive cosmic textures coupled gently euphoric harmonies have surprising echoes classic 80's American West Coast ambient like Michael Stearns, an element rarely heard in music by UK artists even in 2016. Paths treads many roads and covers at least some of them brilliantly; that's more than enough to recommend such an ambitious release.

Autumn of Communion

Mick Chillage's most significant collaboration in the ambient and downtempo sphere has been as one half of Autumn Of Communion, co-founded in 2012 with UK artist Anthony Lee Norris. The duo has been prolific, creative and restless; never one stay in one place for long. If there is a common thread across their many albums, it's once again a love of the music of late Pete Namlook and his label Fax Records. But it's not really necessary to have a particular affection for either source to appreciate AOC's sounds.

Newcomers are directed to three AOC albums.

Following a fairly solid debut, Autumn Of Communion 2 (2013) is where the collaboration really gels for the first time. Gritty tech textures and atonal sound collages sit happily alongside soft-edge bleepy lullabies and swelling, extended, spaced-out harmonies. Particularly notable is "Goodbye PK", a poignant and beautiful piece of slow techno that says farewell to the late Namlook. Autumn Of Communion 3 (2013) opts for beatless cosmic landscapes and is a very fine example of 21st century spacemusic in its gentler guise. The superb Polydeuces (2016) is duo's heavier take on spacemusic. Some of the album's best moments come not from an airy sparseness - a quality common in the spacemusic realm - but from a surprising heaviness. The stunning “Tectonics” is a case in point; massive, densely layered and powerful, it's dark harmonies are skilfully built with epic descending chords and carried along by thundering poly-rhythms.

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