It’s been ten years since we featured Umber on our site, although according to Bandcamp we’ve only missed one album. Alex Steward has come back strong in 2023, and remains as positive as ever. The title itself is so encouraging that it’s a surprise to learn it was taken from The Shining, but certain track titles (“It Is Going to Be Okay,” “Sanctuary”) extend the feeling of encouragement, even before the music is played. The give and take between hope and despair is a reflection of the artist’s work in palliative care, as he writes, “the album is about finding hope in the smallest actions, something that can often be overlooked or discarded in a world that doesn’t always make a lot of sense.” The album’s release on the cusp of spring seems perfectly timed.
Umber continues to utilize a variety of tones; we placed his first release in Ambient and his second in Post-Rock. The gorgeous piano work might have landed the new set in Modern Composition, but the beats convinced us to place it in Electronic. As a result, the album is accessible enough to have a wide appeal; “When the West With Evening Glows” sounds like a club hit, a modern-day Chicane. This being said, the timbre is less important than the tone. The album celebrates humble, fleeting moments by personifying such moments; each track leaves a soft impression as part of a greater whole. “It Is Going To Be Okay” soothes through steady beats and repeated guitar phrases, while “Sun House Chant,” the album’s brightest piece, is decorated with glints of chime tones, sparkling like rays refracted through prism pendants.
A touch of melancholy seeps into the closing track, “The Last Perfect Day.” At first, one thinks of Alex’s patients in palliative care, reminiscing. But there’s no need to think that the last perfect day will never be matched; it’s the last perfect day for now. The more one considers the title, the more a different reading arises: we never know when our last perfect day might arrive, which amplifies the meaning of every day. Might we dwell on a pretty good thing until the epiphany becomes more than a moment, but a mindset? (Richard Allen)