reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
James Vella returns with a companion piece to his 2020 album as A Lily, Sleep Through The Storm. Where that record was about loneliness and coming to terms with the challenges of the modern world, Nocturne Thunder is built as a more celebratory affair, dancing in the face of adversity. Its five tracks are linked, lasting around 25 minutes in all.
What’s the music like?
Ambient, but active at the same time. Vella’s music is full of primary musical colour, the dappled textures dancing on the surface as the opening track, Like Rising Smoke, takes shape. Its stately bass progression is offset by the figures up above which circle like birds in the half light. There are no drums, but still movement aplenty.
The mid and lower ranges take over for Unnatural Animals, which pulses with movement, driving forward more obviously even though still operating without the influence of a kick drum. This sonorous section promises deeper blues and more nocturnal activity, whereas To Seek Ecstasy In The Dawn brings us to the first light itself. The music gains a deeper and more obvious warmth, shimmering again in the heat haze.
Balafon Heart is an imperious sequence, beautifully judged as a slow bass and gradually shifting treble operate together, before Like A Hymn picks up momentum, light on its feet as we seem to take to the air. Consonant harmonic loops bounce off each other in Vella’s working.
The songs were built live by Vella, and it shows in their instinctive execution. His ear for structure is just right, knowing when to make the most of a mood and when to switch forwards to the next.
Does it all work?
It does. Ideally Nocturne Thunder should be experienced in one sitting, as it is effectively a short DJ set by one person on a bank of synthesizers. It is a descriptive and involving whole.
Is it recommended?
Yes – warmly so. If you have not yet heard Sleep Through The Storm then you should rectify that immediately, and by contrast if you are already familiar with Vella’s work then you will lap this one up too.
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