Big name connections are a double-edged sword; the associations can increase one’s success, or cause one to be judged by comparison. The future of Illuminine will rise or fall on what one makes of these connections, as they are front and foremost in the press release: a debut album recorded in Sigur Rós’ studio with their sound engineer, mastered by Francesco Donadello (A Winged Victory for the Sullen).
The conundrum is clear. On the plus side, Kevin Imbrechts (Illuminine) now has everyone’s attention. On the minus side, our readers have already placed high expectations on an album that can’t possibly live up to them. After all, it’s not like a new artist is going to go into Sigur Rós’ studio and record a better album than Sigur Rós; the most one can hope for is that it will appeal to the same fans. And as it turns out, the second connection is more indicative of the sound, which favors piano, guitar and live strings accompanied by light electronics. To no one’s surprise, a glockenspiel is present as well.
We’ll turn now to the good news, which is that the lead single “Dualisms” is an exemplary short piece, a distillation of the artist’s sound that includes a brief yet memorable five-note repeating string motif. The piano takes over at the end of the track, introducing a bit more in the way of melody. Extra credit goes to Lara Gasparotto and Liyo Gong for a sharp, lovely and intriguing video (seen below). This is a wonderful way to launch the project, professional in every way. It’s also the best track on the album, but that’s okay; every album has a best track, and it’s usually the first to be released.
The less apparent the main instruments, the more the project borders on the ambient. The stronger tracks are those in which the piano and strings hold center court instead of the guitar. (Not that there’s anything wrong with guitar; it’s just that ambient guitar is rarely distinctive.) After its rousing start, Illuminine takes a while to return to this sound. But “Ardency”, lodged in the middle of the album, sneaks up on the listener with an extremely sedate first half followed by a second half surge. At 2:17, the violins enter the frame, dragging a horn section in their wake. And then at 3:34, an uncertain piano – the first notes that are less than smooth – along with fractured brass. The track is made more effective by the fact that it flips the script on all that precedes it. The dark “Elegy” that follows is even better, a seemingly simple piece that rolls in like a storm front. The sun is fully obscured in the deep bass note that concludes “Lumen Reign”. This is the direction in which we hope Illuminine will head. Connections can only go so far; at a certain point, one must establish one’s own sound. There’s enough here to indicate that one day comparisons will no longer be needed. (Richard Allen)