Pictures From The Sky
21:16 min • Self Release, Bandcamp / iTunes • August 2, 2013
Little Bastard reviews
I love discovering new music, and for a while Bandcamp has been my favourite resource for new artists and new sounds, cultivating them in a way that HMV and iTunes never have. In a world where dance music is saturated by Ibiza anthems and now most commonly rap, exciting new dance music is becoming a rare occurrence. Whilst the music scene is full of fads that are rapidly burning out as fast as they were catapulted into our ears (first electro house, then dubstep and now speed garage) it’s hard to find any sincerity in a lot of current dance music – even EDM itself has now become a term that is being widely used amongst the once unlikely. The revolution started for me with Dublin based dance act Ghosts, whose EP Judge was one of the best things I heard last year, and Pictures From The Sky, the debut EP from Welsh ambient musician Stokeley, which ripped the flag out of their hands and is carrying it as one of the most promising pieces of work I’ve heard so far this year.
The post rock swell of opener ‘Easy I’ envelops me, drawing me in with its beguiling distortion, synths and drums, before exploding into its full Mogwai-esque guitar gloriousness. A yearning simplistic vocal sails over the top of the ambient hazy rock, making the track sit somewhere between fully fledged song and instrumental. Building and falling with ease, it’s the perfect introduction to what is to follow.
‘The South’ was the first thing I heard from this EP when Stokeley premiered it on his Soundcloud a few months ago, and it’s difficult for me to take off repeat. It has a beautiful serenity to it, from its gorgeous trip hop beat to a bass-line so good it almost has a lullaby quality. As Stokeley sings of escaping to,
Where the land ends –
Everything about the instrumentation and the vocal remind me of the calm of the sea, the occasional frenetic drum roll drags us deeper into the tranquility of the water. The best excuse for a pop song here, it’s the track I’ve had on repeat, and the one I keep coming back to. The simplicity of the song makes it feel almost effortless, and the refrain has burrowed into my subconscious.
Third track ‘Resign’, selected by Bandcamp to be featured in their weekly playlist, takes the superb song craft on display in ‘The South’ and throws it over an expansive soundscape that almost feels heavy in comparison to what’s gone before it. Bringing up the tempo, and driving towards us with dance synths, distorted guitars and pounding drums, it washes over me like James Lavelle getting in to bed with Pink Floyd, which can never be a bad thing.
‘Oasis’ hits me like I’m hearing dance gods Orbital for the first time, only through the ears of the Disclosure generation. All dub beats and plaintive wordless vocals, it’s refreshingly different to the strong ambient and post rock feel of the previous tracks, but there’s still a strong enough sense of style for it to remain linear. The lo-fi electronica of closing track ‘The Nature Of Conversation’ glides us subtly back to the ambient, Stokeley’s voice melting in to the superb instrumentation, and soaring properly for the first time over the whole EP.
If I have a gripe, it’s the confidence with which the vocals are delivered. Stokeley has a naturally mournful voice, somewhere between a pop Thom Yorke and a folk Billy Corgan, and if only there was more confidence underneath the voice, this EP would be a tremendous debut! As it stands, it’s a stunningly produced collection of tracks that displays better command of melody and songwriting than anything that James Blake was doing this early in this career. What’s also refreshing, is that there’s an air of mystery surrounding Stokeley himself. The promotional shots for the album are grainy black & white, and only show us Stokeley’s face in part (if indeed it’s his face at all), obscuring his eyes and allowing his music to provide a window to his soul instead. No doubt many people in his current home town of Cheltenham already know Stokeley’s identity, but if this debut release is anything to go by, by this time next year he will have a much wider audience, if he wants it. Till then, I can’t wait to see where he goes next.