Restless beats. Smouldering atmosphere. The hum and screech of traffic. Everything about Life Is Now evokes a lonesome walk through a frenzied urban landscape, and is doubtless best enjoyed while doing exactly that on a crisp winter night – in the midst of life yet divorced from it by a protective musical blanket.
ACL extends a long-overdue welcome to Mikael Delta, a Greek composer and producer now in his third decade of making electronic-based music. Originally a member of Stereo Nova, a pioneering electronic band in the 1990s, Delta quickly gained equal recognition as a soloist, and has been releasing albums under his name since 1994. Life Is Now bespeaks a man accomplished and comfortable, effortlessly fusing an array of genres including ambient, electronic, dub, glitch and even hints of composition. This latter element is brought by the addition on some tracks of cello and metallophone, atop the LP’s foundation of piano, synth and percussion.
‘Electronic composition goes hand in hand with neo-romantic style through ambient paths’
That line in the promotional material hints at the roving nature of the music. With most of the 11 tracks under four minutes and ghosting between mood and genre – from the glitchy, almost post-rock ambience of “How Easy Is To Fly” to the euphoric trance of “The Strongest Light” – the LP exhibits a restlessness that persists even through its more languid moments. Delta’s prominent use of fractured beats bolsters this sense of constant movement, keeping the wanderer away from rest or contemplation. The title track is one such moment – a short piece in which a mournful bowed cello swoons around reflective piano chords, while a dub-infused plucked cello cavorts with a sketchy beat, diverting the mood from sentimental.
It is an intricately constructed album, with details to admire throughout. Early on, the piano and cello duet in “Rising Cities” attempt to soothe, but layers of droning synth and humming traffic interfere – until, at three-and-a-half minutes, they abruptly end with a clatter, leaving the live instruments to express their morose dialogue uninterrupted for 15 seconds. A precious snatch of peace among the bustle of the city. Album centerpiece “With My Whole Being” ends with a three-note descending ostinato that builds, increasingly anguished, over a piano refrain. Eventually, a groove kicks in, reversed cymbals start to multiply, and a metallophone enters. Delta has morphed the album’s most cinematic passage into a completely unexpected fusion, perfectly encapsulating how he veers off well-trodden compositional paths.
The relentlessness of city life can cause perennial distraction for a reflective soul. After the euphoria of “The Strongest Light”, the final two tracks present a quieter finale, as the nighttime wayfarer wanders away from bright lights and intoxicating sights. The music’s temperature appropriately drops in the Frahm-esque “Snowing in Berlin”, before the spacious ambience of “Never Had This Feeling Before” finally offers that moment for reflection.
Life is now. From those words you might infer a sense of urgency or epiphany – the lonesome wanderer questioning why he or she is observing rather than joining. But this sense has faded by the record’s close. Life Is Now instead conveys an artist seeking to reassure. We don’t all join in; some stand on the edge, maybe turn their observations into music. This is your life – just be comfortable with it and, in the words of author Mohammed Hanif, turn your loneliness into solitude. (Chris Redfearn)
Pingback: ACL 2015: Top Ten Ambient | a closer listen