Keith Richie – Skylines – Album Review
You might be surprised to hear it…but there are actually quite a few ways that I enjoy waking up in the morning. For instance…I got up today thinking there was a strong chance it was Thursday, only to eventually discover it’s actually Sunday – and I like that…I don’t want that to change. I also like getting up to a morning full of NO computer issues…and if you’ve read any of our recent chronicles then you know I’m certainly overdue for one. A good morning requires a good night’s sleep as well…and I haven’t had one of those since the computer system went wonky earlier this week; last night (really, this morning at 4am) there was a breakthrough…and I felt confident that when I returned this morning I’d be starting it all up exactly where I left off rather than spending another day with computer installations and endless updates.
But JUST IN CASE…because computers and I don’t tend to get along so well even despite my daily dependent use of them…I kept one trick up my sleeve to keep me calm today. There’s another way that I love to get up in the morning too, it’s just a little more rare is all; but sometimes you see a name of an artist or a band pop into the ol’ inbox here that you KNOW will deliver the goods. So I did that…as a treat to myself…I waited on putting out the new Keith Richie album until this morning – I knew that if computer problems or stress were a possibility that he’d deliver the right way to get around it all through his music. We’ve reviewed him in the past…and his ambient style has always found a way to connect to me and really resonate right inside my very core.
And wouldn’t you know it…no computer issues…the sun is shining…I even had a HOT cup of coffee in my hand and a large grin on my face as I started up Keith’s new record called Skylines today – this is my perfect morning. Thank you Keith!
Right away, “Seattle Walk” immediately impresses…and all of these reasons I’ve loved Keith’s music in the past come flooding back to me instantly. “Seattle Walk” is such a beautiful, gorgeously-composed piece of melodic-electro that you can’t help but get sucked into the pure fantastic of its atmosphere. Very much like something you’d hear right at the beginning of an album by The Album Leaf – I love the steady pulsing shots of keys and piano sounds echoing throughout this track. Maybe a couple of bass notes or tones I questioned slightly during the middle of the track when the bass-lines become more pronounced…but nothing that would remotely stop me from listening to this opening album-gem. More than a positive start for Richie’s new record here…albeit almost a more ‘energetic’ one than perhaps I was expecting from our typically laid-back ambient friend.
With “City Of Angels” Keith found his way back to the impression I had of where his music might go from when last we heard from him. A slow-burning, mysterious sounding composition, “City Of Angels” grinds along at a steady-pace throughout, but stays incredibly captivating throughout from moment one to its very end. I loved the added…hmmm…I don’t even know what you’d call it…it happens at the very beginning of the track and I’m not sure it ever leaves…it sounds like live electricity, coming from a cord or electric-box… Don’t take that as a sign of a bad recording – quite the opposite; Richie’s a master at production and keeps every sound you’ll hear important, sharp & clear through the mix – this is a genius addition to the atmosphere of the track and another creative avenue he’s chosen to go down to take his experimental ideas and soundscapes into. I think it worked…it really added to the experience of listening to the post-punk-inspired sound of “City Of Angels” – the whole track almost sounded like an extended intro to a song that could be on The Cure’s Disintegration.
Bass-redemption comes through “Windy City” as Richie takes these worldwide Skylines to the edge of what you’d almost dare call Ambient-Funk. The swirling atmosphere of the synth-strings and light percussion works well throughout, but it’s definitely the bass that shines bright on “Windy City.” The change in this track is a subtle one but happens quickly; and just like the weather itself, the song seems to pick up and begin to envelop the atmosphere entirely as it progresses through. He’s done well to represent the sounds of the Skylines that have inspired these tunes; just like “Windy City” has that subtle-layer of Chicago gusting in its subtext, so too does “Lost In Beijing” take you to another place entirely with its eastern-tinged sound. “Lost In Beijing” aims for much more hypnotic-terrain than the rest of the album up until this point and heads towards the more aggressive-side of what you’d consider ambient-music. Really awesome job on the separation of sounds and crystal-clear production once again – “Lost In Beijing” is another shining example of everything happening perfectly on Richie’s side of the studio-boards.
“Manhattan Nights” is certainly an ambitious track. At nearly eleven and a half-minutes long, this is one huge composition that truly dominates the midsection of the album overall. On the one hand…I can appreciate that what ties this album together more than most anything else is its overall theme and representation of different atmospheres inspired by these incredible Skylines…and on the other I can hear that maybe the flow of the album comes to a bit of a halt here in the middle on “Manhattan Nights.” Hear me out – cause first of all, I do love the track for what it’s worth…I think this album’s middle tune is a massive adventure that shimmers and shines brilliantly throughout the first seven-minutes as it builds/breaks the depth of the atmosphere and readies itself for what’s still to come. With the general energy of this record having been a little more present than the beginning two-thirds of this middle-cut, dialing it all back for seven-plus minutes can be a bit of a gamble to say the least…but Richie pulls this one off by the end and brings the entire track to extraordinary heights by the end of “Manhattan Nights.” Electro-synth & beats crawl into the music around seven & a half-minutes in, along with using soft horn sounds and exceptional bass – “Manhattan Nights” catches onto a truly authentic magic and moment in time…and if you were to ask me, that’s always worth eleven-plus minutes of ANY day of the week…regardless of whether you think your Sunday is really a Thursday, or not.
I really get sucked into the layers and depth though…and when Richie combines sounds like he does as innovatively and textured as he does on “Sun In Central Park” I can’t help but love his music more and more. Ambient music is generally thought of as music that is ‘far away’ – but this is the kind of music I want to get right up and close to; the way Richie has threaded each of these elements into the mix is nothing short of genius to listen to and completely satisfying to this audiophile’s earholes, yessir they are. “Sun In Central Park” is also another track I felt really fit into that post-punk atmosphere that Richie does so well, another song that I felt could easily have been an instrumental track The Cure would have been proud to have written. There’s a massive amount of expression and emotion in Keith’s music…quantities large enough to certainly be admired…”Sun In Central Park” is wonderfully captivating. Think of something like…”Parks” by Four Tet…it’s kind of in that area and ballpark, just more moody like The Cure’s music and sound and not as bright & sunny as Four Tet…there…that should give you half an idea of what it sounds like. You kidding me? Don’t take my word for ANYTHING…ever. LISTEN TO THE MUSIC!
Keith Richie audibly proves that ambient music doesn’t have to be distant – it can pull you right in and captivate you just as powerfully as any other genre when it’s done right. And doing it RIGHT…is what this man is clearly all about. “Seven Hills” is another wicked masterpiece…another hypnotic-journey where his instincts and talent for writing clearly shine through once again. The percussion is simply outstanding…the placement, the subtle range of sounds…it’s brilliant in “Seven Hills” and definitely the star of the show for myself personally…there is much, much more to grab onto and more than likely capture your attention before you’ll likely notice just how much they’ve been adding to the song all along. Really brilliant stuff here…he’s using a vocal-synth sound that adds so much into the melody, mystery and landscape of “Seven Hills” and it sounds flawlessly placed, note for note, like someone actually sang it alongside the music – amazing.
If anything, I thought “Big Dreams” might have needed the most help of all the tracks on Skylines, despite being one of my favorite ideas on the entire record. It’s a lot-heavy in the low-end here…but in addition to that, the smoothness you normally get from Richie on the bass seems to have been swapped out for something that sounds plonky…PLONKY Richie! You know I love ya brother…but I gotta call it like I hear it…and there’s something slightly amiss here on one of your best ideas…so I’m calling for the remix! The piano-lines are GOLDEN…the melody is JAW-DROPPING…and in my opinion, this whole thing NEEDS to come together, perfectly. Potentially bringing the bass down in the mix of “Big Dreams” might mask the plodding-nature of the bass-notes…but I don’t think there’s any shame in saying I know Richie is more than capable of laying that same line back down with real passion and feel to bring out the full atmosphere, fully-realized. The line itself is a good one…it’s just missing his signature smoothness…and that extraordinary piano melody nearly makes up for it all, every time I listen to “Big Dreams.”
“Goodbye Dubai” and goodbye to us all as Richie heads into the final track on Skylines. This album has really been a wonderful journey and another solid addition to his catalog – and this last song really takes on a great combination of emotions and styles as it brings the album to a close. Closer to how the album began than any other on the record – “Goodbye Dubai” takes the songs full-circle and brings the entire experience to a proper, decisive closing that flat-out makes SENSE. Bringing it all back to the layered textures and depths he creates so incredibly well, mixed with the dusty, dusky atmospheres his music finds incredible success with – “Goodbye Dubai” is another highlight at the end and a showcase of the many things that Richie does perfectly. Skylines has been another incredibly solid record from this ambient-innovator – Keith Richie remains a name I know I’ll continue to look forward to seeing in that inbox and on my playlists here, every time I see it.
Find out more about Keith Richie from his main page at: http://music.krichie.com/ – not only does this dude completely rule and make amazing music – he’s also got a beard that NEARLY rivals my own! Respect!