Ishq may be in hibernation for now, but under different aliases UK composer/producer Matt Hillier remains as prolific and creative as ever.
Fans of psyambient maestros Ishq (Matt Hillier & Jacqueline Kersley) might remember Matt’s announcement at the end of 2017 that he was putting Ishq to sleep so he could focus on other projects.
No need to be disappointed, because his “other projects” are already numerous and diverse and it’s been that way for the last two decades. You’ll find his many solo and collaborative aliases listed exhaustively in his profile at Discogs. So enormous is his body of work that even among the biggest fans there would be few – perhaps even none – who have heard everything he’s done. So to make it a bit easier for you here are two outstanding examples of his non-Ishq work from the past 12 months.
First up is Ishqamatics’ epic Elements release from the newly minted Fantasy Enhancing label – an 8 CD box set or 51-track download – and it’s a marvel.
Elements collects all the albums Matt Hillier has done under the Ishqamatics alias with fellow UK artist Anthony Lee Norris aka Metamatics. We get the already-released Earthbound (2013), Spacebound (2013) and Waterbound (2014), and two new albums Firebound (2018) and Airbound (2018). The last three also come with companion remixes, some of which are among the high points of the collection.
Generally, Ishqamatics releases show Matt Hillier’s more kinetic side, rarely heard on Ishq’s classic releases and rather underappreciated me thinks. Considered together, the 5 albums fall under the all-encompassing tag of ‘electronica’ and show the duo’s mastery of many of the genre’s downtempo strains: beatless, wide-eyed arpeggiated psychedelia; expansive cosmic drones; luscious dub grooves; dark cinematic dramas; and particularly the bleeps, buzzes and machine beats of IDM (intelligent dance music) in various modes from abstract jazzy strangeness to spine-tingling harmonies.
Inevitably for a collection as large as this one, there are flat spots here and there, and some of the more angular and dissonant IDM beats are not really to my taste. But the mountains of good stuff on Elements put any minor gripes to rest. The soaring up-down melody from Earthbound’s driving “Piano Cruxia” – its haunting phrase also echoed on parts of the beatless Spacebound – is one of the most euphoric things I’ve heard in electronic downtempo. Earthbound’s chugging, cinematic title track is another stunner, rising up and up with menacing power like some behemoth ascending from the deep. On the dubby and luscious Waterbound the highlights are mostly the remixes such as “Blue Light” (Aquarius mix) which sounds like the greatest track that early 90’s Orb never got around to making. Much of Firebound is pretty freaking strange: lots of abstract beat science and what sounds like some nods to the more experimental end of Detroit techno. My favourite in the set is probably Airbound, a slice of melodic IDM perfection with some jaw-droppingly lovely progressions, among the best takes I’ve heard on the style since the 1990’s. It you loved last year’s Echoes of Science album by Ambidextrous then I can confidently predict that Airbound will blow your tiny mind.
The release of Elements brings to an end the Ishqamatics project. While Matt and Lee have also collaborated under other names, for me this is their crowning achievement to date as a duo.
The other album is Light and Space. This is a solo release and the first under Matt’s new alias i7x.
Light and Space is completely beatless and consistently more meditative than his Ishqamatics material. The album’s more classically “ambient” sensibilities have quite a bit in common with Ishq’s signature love letters to the natural world, even though I wouldn’t necessarily ping it as an Ishq release if I heard it not knowing who it was. Even on first hearing I was blissfully lost in its reverie of sonic clouds, drones, bells, lovely pinging ambience and glistening melodic sequences. It’s a strange kind of environmental music where the slightly-off titles – “Flowt”, “Streem”, “Dhusk” – are perfect reflections of the gently surreal scenery.
I can hear Jacqueline Kersley’s mysterious siren vocals on one track, otherwise l’m unsure of the extent of her involvement here. At any rate, the album is fresh, beautiful and beguiling and a must for the more adventurous Ishq fan.
Update: since this review was posted, the i7x alias has been dropped and the album is now credited to Ishq.
- Ishq – the essential albums reviewed
- Painting the Invisible Landscape: an interview with Ishq (June , 2014)
- This Is Ishq – 90 minute mix by Mike G