Friday, July 13, 2018

Album Review: Colors of the Ambient Sky by David Arkenstone

David Arkenstone is unquestionably one of the most important and versatile recording artists in “new age” and related genres of music – having released over 60 studio albums over three decades. Very few musicians have so profoundly mastered the plethora of styles that Arkenstone has – his musical endeavors encompassing everything from classic 80’s-style “new age” – to ambient, electronica, cinematic, neoclassical, world, pop and soundtrack music. If I were asked to name my favorite Arkenstone album, his 2010 magnum opus, Ambient World, would be in the top-running for that title. And that’s way I’m ecstatic to announce that his latest release, titled Colors of the Ambient Sky, is like Ambient World’s long-awaited sequel that I’d be yearning for, yet which I thought would never arrive. Comprised of 9 compositions spanning 47 minutes, Colors of the Ambient Sky is a stunning sonic venture into the best that ambient, downtempo and chill-trance music have to offer – all composed in Arkenstone’s unmistakably familiar style.

The spellbinding first track, “Parallel World”, opens with deep space drones before transitioning into signature Arkenstone ambient territory. A keyboard figure enters that feels equal parts Tangerine Dream and Patrick O’Hearn, followed by a bouncy chill-trance rhythm. Right away, this cut signals that Arkenstone has picked up – with ease – right where his landmark Ambient World album left off. “Red Sun” opens with sequenced bells over synth pads that soon lead into a serene meditation before a slow groove appears. There’s also a beautiful section in this piece where the rhythm disappears for a moment – hence, seemingly no one can create musical drama like Arkenstone. Although “Starlight, Starbright” may bring-to-mind a children’s nursery song, on this album, the third track that bears this title is a sensually gorgeous and moody composition, which encompasses different eras of electronic, ambient and space music. Throughout, lonely piano notes hover amid mesmerizing chords and a sexy downtempo rhythm, while a keyboard solo at the end of the piece is an exercise in beautiful restraint.

“Darkness Descending” majestically lives up to its title, as one can easily envision the stars appearing one-by-one in the encroaching night sky in tandem with the pulsating sequencer patterns that Arkenstone begins the song with. Blissfully reminiscent of the music of Carbon Based Lifeforms, this composition’s main pattern of notes never disappears, as additional layers are brought in, which are set to a hypnotic ambient-trance rhythm. Where this track has us looking upon descending darkness, the next one, “Rainbow Galaxy”, is a truly multi-colored piece of music. Here, synth figures move back-and-forth in the stereo field, as a slow groove supplies a beautiful backdrop for glittering, dance-like chords. “Blue Lightning” conveys a great mystery, as if one is contemplating the vastness of space and time. I can almost detect a touch of old-school Depeche Mode in this piece, as percolating bass brings us back to earth just in time for an instant chill-trance beat.

“Lonely Satellite” is perhaps the most visually evocative piece on the album and aptly conveys a solitary satellite floating high above earth while listening. Unlike the other tracks herein, there’s no rhythm on this free-floating composition – just beautifully drifting spaces and subtle melodic keyboards. The somewhat foreboding “Visitors” – of which its title might suggest extraterrestrial visitation – starts off with a most haunting synth pattern along with what sounds like gentle rain in the background. One of my favorites on the album, the strong element of mystery is certainly palpable in this song, as a hypnotic beat propels it into new territory. The final track, “Ascension”, begins with a classic new age choral feel – ala Constance Demby or Vangelis – before a sequenced series of notes introduces the main rhythm and melodic theme. As the title implies, it’s an uplifting song, yet nevertheless retains the mysterious mood that Arkenstone has created throughout the previous compositions. The song seemingly concludes with a musical question mark conveyed by its closing chords floating in the air, unresolved.

A brilliant sonic masterpiece from start to finish, Colors of the Ambient Sky easily places in the running for the top album of the year. Likewise, an essential traveling companion due to its addictive juxtaposition of simultaneously relaxing and rhythmic elements, I’ve found that not since the release of Enigma’s The Fall of a Rebel Angel have I listened to an album this often while driving. Not only is Colors of the Ambient Sky an absolute must-have for fans of David Arkenstone, but fans of Enigma and Carbon Based Lifeforms – as well as ambient-electronica and chill-trance in general – are especially likely to relish this album! ~Candice Michelle  

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.