This new album was released in conjunction with the We Are All Ghosts netlabel. Merx and Jacobs are two very experienced ambient/electronic musicians. For this album they came up with an interesting concept, and god knows electronic music sometimes needs that so it’s not just a soundalike bunch of synthy things sounding pretty (I am as guilty of making such music as anyone). The premise is: “reflecting Nelson Mandela’s fortitude while incarcerated on Robben Island, where partial solitude and afternoons spent breaking rocks would fail to dim his inspirational even-handedness.” Hence, a speech from Mandela himself is featured on the title track. I have to admit that I usually HATE vocal samples paired with electronic music, which has damaged my pleasure in listening to a couple of Biosphere albums. However, the somewhat hypnotic tones of Mandela’s voice, of course coupled with his inspirational words, do give this opening title track a solemn energy, driven by drums provided by Antonio de Braga.
Which brings me to the music; this isn’t “ambient” electronic, it’s more electroacoustic soundscaping married with an avant-garde sensibility. “The Same Clouds Everywhere” is pretty ambient, however, an abstract selection of woozy guitar tones and percussive tones that do indeed capture what a prisoner must feel looking out through the narrow bars of his cell at a tiny sliver of sky. “Jail Birds in the Summer Dust” is based on a fingerpicked, fuzzy guitar part for a sort of avant-shoegaze experience.
The ominous “Target” uses Rhodes-type piano tones and distant beats, along with environmental sounds to create another gauzy but tense listen, and the very ominous closer, with its scratchy manipulated guitar, “This is An Island, Here You Will Die” conjures an emotional atmosphere of dignified despair. Two remixes complete the recording.
For some reason, as I listened and tried to draw parallels, few modern comparisons came to mind for this work, except maybe for the aforementioned Biosphere; in fact, I was reminded more strongly of Franco Battiato’s highly distinctive Italian version of Krautrock on classic 1970s albums like Fetus and Pollution; a sort of free-wheeling experimentation that led to the development of modern experimental music and ambient.
This album is both a very successful electronic collection and a fitting tribute to the late inspirational leader.