Skip to main content

Review: Take A Deep Breath by A Better Life

Despite the cultural significance it has for those of us in the UK, I've never actually dived too deeply into chillout music before. The style was pioneered at the great London nightclub Heaven, and dance music institution Ministry Of Sound have been upholding the chillout genre for the best part of two decades now. When house music was at it's peak of commercial popularity in the UK, chillout was there alongside as it's relaxing, spaced-out partner. Whilst I can't profess to being an expert in chillout, I am familiar enough with the style and it's roots in ambient house, as well as it's relationship to downtempo and trip-hop, to find Take A Deep Breath, the debut album from A Better Life, an incredibly intriguing and creative project.

My experience with these sounds is often as a constituent part to some exploration of native music, jazz-fusion or spoken word, but A Better Life take quite a pure approach to chillout. The UK collective are led by songwriter and producer Phil Daniels, who is joined by instrumentalists Andrew Richardson, Alan Henery and Andrew Ryder-Richardson, producer Bryn Wulff-John, and vocal collaborators Pete Rawcliffe and Herica And The Wolf. Across the eight tracks on Take A Deep Breath the collective craft a delicate and sublime soundscape that is absorbing in exactly the way chillout music should be.

The album kicks off with Mono Heart, which builds up from a minimal beginning into a highly atmospheric concoction of layered synths, melancholy guitars, rolling percussion and dramatic vocal riffs. It's a perfect way to set the ambience and style of the album. The second track The Thrill Of Freedom has a more typical structure to it, with the extraordinary lead vocals from Pete Rawcliffe leading us through the subtle waves of piano and synths. There's a captivating rhythm section too, with the organic bass sitting nicely in time with the shuffling electronic beat.

Dreaming Of The Beach sees the group delve into some field recordings, utilising a sample of slowly crashing waves, children laughing and seagulls calling before the track kicks off into the most addictive hook on the album. Herica And The Wolf provides a sensational vocal performance, full of an emotion that breaks through the beautiful melodies and reverberating beats with perfect balance. Souda Bay puts the guitar at the forefront, with two duelling Mediterranean fingerpicking style guitars providing a lovely dynamic to the ambience that surrounds them.


Fuego focusses in on the Iberian influence, featuring an elegant spoken word piece given in Spanish by Herica And The Wolf that overlays some slow droning synths and subtle but highly evocative notes of guitar and percussion. It gives way to a sombre trumpet in the final movement, slowly drifting through the ether into a calming finale. Against The Breeze once again sees a passionate vocal performance from Herica And The Wolf, this time against a backdrop of bitter-sweet piano melodies. The track builds up in intensity with impeccable craft, gently introducing new ambient elements that seem to swirl weightlessly beneath the vocal.

A Moment Of Nothing has a relatively hefty percussive element to start, and brings in some middle-eastern influences in the fluttering vocal runs and pulsating bass lines. As it goes on, an ethereal quality start to develop as all the parts seem to flow together effortlessly. It's a lovely counterpoint to the energetic title track that closes out the album; despite the foot-tapping beats, the spoken word vocal seems to come from a meditation instruction. As this final track builds up, the energy that has threaded it's way through the whole album starts to transform into something almost transcendental in nature.

Take A Deep Breath is a delightfully hypnotic album that brings a depth of unique influence to the classic chillout sound. The vocals are stunning in every track, even when they are used simply as an atmospheric device, and the balance of free-form instrumental ambience and structured song-writing is superb. A Better Life can be extremely proud of what they have created here, because the more I listen to it the more I get the feeling that Take A Deep Breath is a simply outstanding record.


Take A Deep Breath will be released on 1st May 2021. You can find out more about A Better Life, including music and social media links, on their official website.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Penny Lane by Jeff Lake and Cellophane Flowers

Like most kids growing up with a keen interest in music, I went through my phase of adoring The Beatles, and although my phase didn't go on long enough for me to fully explore the depths of their music, it did implant me with a lifelong appreciation for them. For me personally though it wasn't their musical experimentation and forward-thinking production styles that gripped me as it did for so many, but simply the quality and veracity of their song-writing, and as such I always preferred The Beatles more overtly pop output. Most of this can be found in their early singles and albums, but there are also a good number of tracks from their later output that hit the mark. One of my favourite Beatles tracks, and one that is not often at the forefront of cover albums, is Penny Lane, a highly celebrated non-album single from the Sergeant Pepper era that is a perfect summation of the Lennon-McCartney song-writing dynamic. Hearing a tribute album that puts the track front and centre was

Review: Sorry by Pepe Dadon feat. DreamBoy DZY

When I hear a track like Sorry, by New York City newcomer Pepe Dadon, my instant reaction is to be filled with both relief and refreshment. Although it can be argued that production and flows have become too similar in the last few years, I personally find that the main cause of homogeny in modern hip-hop comes from the lyrical content. The same tiresome lines about the vast quantities of sex one's having, drugs one's taking, or money one's earning made sense during the glitzy bling era of rap. But now, when the production styles tend to be drawn from very deep atmospheric soundscapes, this over-the-top braggadocio often comes across as lazy lyricism. Sorry, however, is a wonderfully emotive tale of overcoming hardship, offering apologies to those who might have suffered along the way while finding solace in success. There is never an ounce of arrogance coming out of this track, in fact there is a lot of humility on show, and even when it does delve into those more typical

Review: Ghost In Town by Mel Maryns

It's fair to say that youth is something that's rarely held back pop musicians in the past, but it's often accompanied by an element of antipathy from those who fear overly controlled pop music and doubt that younger artists can genuinely be pushing pop music forward without significant assistance and manufacturing. The likes of Kate Bush, Taylor Swift and most recently Billie Eilish have been some of the biggest exceptions, and with the latter's global dominance on the back of genuinely forward thinking music there has been a refreshing new narrative. At just 17 years old, Irish singer-songwriter Mel Maryns is looking to follow in their footsteps, but rather than futuristic pop she takes on a old-school rock sensibility and combines it with a modern energy. Having begun her career busking on the streets of Dublin and Cork, her single Ghost In Town describes the isolation, frustration and contemplation of performing for a transient audience. It's an intriguing tune