Best Albums of 2019: Fantasy Enhancing

Currents of Space (Fantasy Enhancing)
A Constant State Of Flow (Fantasy Enhancing)
Understanding Holy Ghosts (2013, reissue on Fantasy Enhancing)

Fantasy Enhancing is one several fabulous new labels recently birthed by the respected – and apparently inexhaustible – Brit electronic producer/composer Lee Norris, his other current ventures including Neotantra (deep ambient) and Intellitronic Bubble (IDM and electro). This one is releasing sounds by others and occasionally himself that are often – though not always – oriented towards constellation Namlook, building on and branching out from that influential German’s multiverse of electronic sounds rooted in the golden age of 90’s ambient dance music.

Urban Meditation’s double-length Currents of Space could not be more epic. It’s a monster of a cosmic tech album where the chugging, arpeggiated riffs are gutsy and visceral, the melodies diving and weaving around in glorious trancedelic space. Composer Charles Urban shows he has both the tunes and the production smarts across 16 tracks ranging from dark-edged beatless docking manoeuvres to euphoric midtempo chuggers. This is sparkling psychedelic machine music. Peak moment: about two thirds into “Jetstream” when the gradual, relentless build-up suddenly plateaus and locks in with a new 2nd melody line, the two of them meshed to perfection like the best of Schmoelling-era Tangerine Dream.

A Constant State of Flow by Si Matthews (UK) and newcomer Sven Kössler (Germany) mines fairly similar downtempo territory to Urban Meditation’s album and it’s every bit as great. The duo revels in intricate layers of exotic textures and dreamy machine melodies including those squiggly and buzzy 90’s synths, and the sound design is clear and deep. Some of the grooves here are absolutely thumping, especially the chunky tribal stomp of “Gezeitenwechsel” which may lead to extreme head nodding. The more restrained “Entering Atlantis” has an awesome sense of latent power, it’s dark harmonic progression rising towards some unknown point and never quite reaching it. Both these artists also released good solo albums in 2019 but this one is really special, beyond the sum of its parts, featuring some for most sophisticated ambient tech you’ll hear anywhere right now. 

Also from Fantasy Enhancing is a reissue of the obscure Understanding Holy Ghosts (2013) by the duo Moss Garden and it’s completely different from the Namlook-inspired ambient dance flavours of the other two. This is one of Lee Norris’ aliases, this time with Macedonian musician Dimitar Dodovski. On one level it’s an often gorgeous collection of hazy, pastoral ambient melodies. That would be enough, but a closer listen reveals weird and wonderful detail. “Overlooking Oceans” samples what sounds like the 1-2 click-clack sound of a train track as a kind of counterpoint its cloud of swirling synths. There’s also a surprising dub element, almost unrecognisable. “Ritual Solitaire” is the most striking example, with any trace of drums and bassline removed and only ghosts of a rhythmic pulse remaining in dusty fragments of tones and noise.

Best Albums of 2019 Reviews Index

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