Alex Smalley (Olan Mill) has always had a flair for modern composition, although his productions have typically landed just within the border of ambient. On this release, he transcends his former tonal limitations by adding an array of organic instruments: woodwind, piano, pipe organ, violin. The icing on the cake is the addition of a left field component: opera. Soprano Patricia Boynton is the highlight of Home, her wordless vocals responsible for the mesmerizng shift in tone.
Before one gets to this shift, one experiences a more seismic shift. The opening ninety seconds of Home are so drastic that one may pop the disc out to see if it’s the right one. Cracks, slams, steps and echoes tumble, trip, and land in a pile of white noise before the strings descend like a cotton blanket. Although the passage has no relative elsewhere on the album, it serves as an announcement: this is not what you expect. The only drawback of this drift into drone is that the listener wants more of it. Soon enough, the instruments come marching in, one by one, along with Boynton. The mood turns from agitated to calm, and the surroundings feel more like home.
Home is where these sounds were recorded, with the possible exception of the moored boat at the beginning of “Isla Del Sol”. (It’s a safe bet to say that Smalley does not have a dock in his living room.) It’s fun to think of the children in “Carnavale Du Sucre” as running through the foyer in the middle of a recording session or playing just outside an open window. These little touches add a kind texture to the already-peaceful set. Smalley’s guitar is in fine form throughout, content to take a back seat to the expanded roster. But whenever Boynton sings, the emotion rises. Her contribution is more in line with Future Sound of London’s “My Kingdom” than Tosca, but that’s what’s required here: the voice not as lyric but as lead instrument. If the first ninety seconds are the press of the outer world, with all its concerns and worries, the remainder of Home is the open hearth, the simmering incense, the friends by the fire, shoes off, cups full. (Richard Allen)