After numerous singles and EPs over the past few years, the new album from Apta has finally arrived. This is a good time for the release, as Barry Smethurst has been moving in a more electronic direction of late; only one of his older tracks is included. Those interested in his trajectory from post-rock/ambient artist to electronic artist are directed to his Bandcamp page, where this progress can be traced. Some things haven’t changed: a kind, uplifting timbre and an embrace of peaceful beats. “Breath” and “We Survived the Storm” are perhaps the most representative of the earlier period, which contains enough music to form an album of its own. (Perhaps a bonus collection for those who purchase Sparks and Sines?) But over the last few singles, Apta has left behind the sound of The American Dollar, and now sounds a little like Yaz. The second half of January 2013’s “Heard” is a prime example, as the sub-textures play games with the major melodies across a backdrop of elusive beats and beeps. By August’s Swept EP, the conversion was nearly complete; the title track is included here.
A happy blend of keyboard, synth and beats, “Swept” dips in the center for a ballad-like break, relying on ensuing track to perk up again like a worker after an afternoon tea. “Cluster” sounds like a calliope in motion, fathers basking in their children’s’ joy. All five of the opening tracks occupy this territory, sun-dappled and smiling. Sparks and Sines is also one of the cleanest, clearest albums one will ever hear, its immaculate mastering one of its best features.
The ghost of post-rock pops up in the second half of the album. In “Shone Like Shields”, a submerged guitar whispers behind a light curtain of computerized tones, while the first half of “A Drop” is pure ambience, broken only with the entrance of bell tones. Newcomers may be impressed at the variety on display, but those familiar with Apta’s work may have preferred more consistency in tone, as “Jump In” or “Heard” might have been better candidates for inclusion. Credit the artist for not being single-minded; it’s probably a better long-term decision. The album ends again in upbeat fashion, as “Close” is the opposite of “Swept”, starting off slowly before riding a double-time phase to the finale. We hope that Smethurst will continue in this direction; there’s plenty of ambient post-rock around, but the world can never have too much happy music. (Richard Allen)