“I wrote and recorded the album in my studio at home, with all the strangeness of the Covid-19 pandemic going on outside. As a result, it became something completely different for me: this weird, self-contained dream-state album.” This is what former Japan, Porcupine Tree and H Band keyboard player Richard Barbieri said after the release of his new album Under A Spell. His fourth solo album after his debut Things Burried (2005),Stranger Inside (2008) and Planets + Persona (2017, see review).
The album's title Under A Spell perfectly encapsulates the haunting world Richard has created. Also Barbieri's willingness to constantly redefine his own musical boundaries are more evident than ever on this album. Meaning that this time around he is doing everything on his own except for the use of the vocal samples of Marillion frontman Steve Hogarth and Swedish singer Lisen Rylander Love. With his room full of keys, synthesizers and electronics to record the new compositions leading to a predominantly dark and introspective record that is both desolate and serene in colour. Don't expect a dark ambient album which minimalist composers such as Morton Feldman, John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich or Terry Riley are releasing. Because the sound on this album remains too earthy and balanced for that.
Under A Spell again has everything that makes Barbieri a wonderfully interesting composer and musician. A musician who always seeks adventure in new sounds and builds compositions around them without getting bogged down in predictability for a single moment. His electronic feeling also always sounds human: you can feel the warmth and emotions that Richard weaves into his playing. The nine compositions on this album again show music that is difficult to place in a particular time and that is difficult to divide into a box. Some people even might hate what they hear. Others will describe it as pure heavenly music. Well to be honest I think it is a bit in between both of them. The album has fascinatingly beautiful musical landscapes where acoustic sounds sound just as familiar and warm as electronic ones and where blooded beats enhance the sound spectrum as well.
At the same time as the exuberantly expanding title track with which the album opens, we hear a musician who fortunately has not lost any of his stubbornness and whimsy and who completely draws his own musical plan. With tracks like Clockwork, A Star Light, Sleep Will Find You and the wonderful Darkness Will Find You, Barbieri pulls himself away from the gloomy outside world into a dreamlike world in which it is fascinating to stay. With tracks like the overwhelming Serpentine, Flare 2 and Sketch 6 he continues a bit heavier thanks to the up lifting rhythm beats. Impressively layered and rich in colour and atmosphere. Album closing track Lucid again has that dreamlike atmosphere that comes in just as warming through the voice samples of Rylander-Love and beautiful Fender Rhodes parts in the middle of the track.
A groundbreaking album is Under A Spell of course not. Not in his whole oeuvre or in the electronic music scene. But it has to be said that the nine pieces contain a profound and self-aware sound palette that we hardly hear on any other releases nowadays. Barbieri managed to surprise me again and again on his own strength with compositions that have surprising timbres and instrumentations. The album is in many ways an overwhelming listening experience.
Maybe Under A Spell is a wonderfully unexpected Barbieri masterstroke. Who knows. Only the future will tell! Without doubt the musician released into his own studio, in isolation from the world outside, a one of a kind album. He created his own world in which no musical boundaries are established. Enjoy or hate it!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2021