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SKY H1 - Azure (AD 93, 2021)

With a plethora of emotively driven records under her belt, Belgian producer SKY H1 makes her long anticipated LP debut on the always excellent AD93 imprint, and the results are - as expected - mesmerising, enticing and deeply moving.

Synths are great, aren't they? Just like any other musical instrument, they exist to be played, an object at the whims of the person whos fingertips are placed upon it, awaiting instinctive instructions as to how it should sound, how it should move and what kind of notes it should play. Whilst traditional instruments convey certain moods, be it as part of a band environment or within a solo space, there is a certain escapism and boundary-less feel to synthesisers, in that things which seemed out of reach suddenly feel like they are being drawn closer with every deep dive into their potential. Ever since synthesisers have become widely accessible, their presence has been felt everywhere within music, from the hallowed halls of Dub through to the pioneering sounds of Kraftrock, Ambient, Disco, Boogie, House, Techno and beyond, all of which genres remain differentials by themselves but share a commonality sonically. The synth remains understood but somewhat of a mystery, and that mystery comes from the space that exists beyond our vision, ready and waiting to be filled by a new concept that wows everyone it comes across. Some genres use synths and keys as a means of carrying melody, others as a tool for the rhythm, but there are certain producers who encapsulate the very parameters that a synth feels capable of, and within their music you see this interplay between human being and machine play out flawlessly. Electronic music has many threads, and there are a great deal of threads that concern themselves with the notion of having no vocals or very limited vocals, and thus the melody - the keys, for the most part - are required to do the heavy lifting in providing an emotional space for people to dive within. The keys provide the narrative, an audial language played out not with words but with chords, notes and tones, and in regards to creating an all encapsulating experience, it really does achieve something special. The listener can delve into not just the artist's interpretation but their own, loosing themselves amongst an enormity of layers that wash over the mind, creating a space that feels interconnected across the wavelengths. Certain producers have distinguished themselves over the years by being particularly excellent at achieving this level of serenity and bliss within their music, and as an experience its something that draws people back, time and time again, because when you are willing to go the extra mile with keys, the possibilities are endless and always intriguing.

Not only does Belgium producer SKY H1 evoke these feels and more with her wondrous key work, but she does so alongside bringing together a plethora of rhythmic styles and genres that help to bring together her deeply enriching sonic palette. Her music presents itself on multiple levels of human and emotional experience, forging a path between the spaces that we wonder into both physically and mentally, with the undercurrents speaking of a kind of shared feeling yet one that remains unknown to us. The keys that abound from her tracks are undeniable in their depth, texture and application, crafting a world that feels so believable, vivid to the max and warm to the touch, filling up the room we find ourselves in with a multi-coloured story to delve deep into and revel within. The way in which she achieves this emotive escapism doesn't occur over one plain of expressionism, instead swaying between a multitude of vibes that encompass genres like Ambient, D'n'B, Downtempo, Techno and everything inbetween, and as a sequential experience it really does serve up the goods each and every time. This duality in approach provides the listener with a multitude of windows into the soul, converging with one another at just the right moments to ensure that continuity persists across the cuts. Her music is continuously transformative, growing and shifting into many forms as the listener is provided with an opportunity to morph their own narrative into existence, inspired very much so by the ever shifting presence that exudes itself underneath. Its the whispers down a leafy autumnal track, the warm uplifts that playfully heat up the summer evening, the bite and the cosiness of a winters afternoon, no matter what context you find yourself in, SKY H1's music will be the perfect companion to making life feel that little bit more vivid and allow for certain emotions to fall into place. There is much to celebrate within her previous works, with our favourites including the intensely hypnotic and beautifully bombastic 'Fluid' EP, which landed in 2015 and introduced to us on a larger scale the emotive potential of her style; and the dynamic and engrossing 'Motion' EP, which landed a year later and further provided a growing sense of scale to her sound and its many possibilities. In all, SKY H1 has much to say through her music, and within every track conversations occur frequently between keys, pads, chords and drums, and as a listener its hard to not just fall into the compositions and become lost deep within their ambitious directional wonderings. The tracks always open up with a point to get across, and the way in which things unravel in the most revealing and tender of ways takes the breath away, our souls and hearts catered for by a multitude of carefully curated synthesiser led soundscapes. The level of care and craft she places on each track is immense, well thought out and beautifully executed, and the way that she achieves balance across the board is quite remarkable and fundamentally enjoyable to delve deep within. You get the impression that she really gives herself over to the potential of synths and their ability to create lasting visual and emotional legacies, and when you peer back through her discography that legacy is undeniably healthy and always a pleasure to look back over. A summer smile, an autumnal embrace, a winter cosy up, a reflective walk in the park, a breathless view over the city, her music remains open to all, and to any context you might find yourself in, it provides that little edge that gives everything that little bit more meaning. For sure go check out her previous works, you will not be disappointed.

And now we arrive at her latest release, her debut LP effort, 'Azure', which arrives via the always impressive AD 93 imprint. We have already seen her expand upon her broad reaching and deeply involving sound with her previous record, but here we see the scope getting widened significantly, and the results, well they really do speak for themselves. The broad reaching style morphing sound remains throughout, with each track displaying a identity but as always, SKY is able to thread together the varying atmospheres and emotional displays so brilliantly, as per usual. There's a sense of direction here that takes in all that seems possible, from the gentle moments that whisper at high volume to the euphoric uplifting segments that push you to the verge of tears, there's an enormity of human experience imprinted into this record that flows out from the record and into the world around us. Ever evolving, always involving, as LP debuts go this one is truly a statement, and will remain on our platter for a good decade to come - just so we can squeeze every single last bit of goodness from it, but something tells us this experience will never run dry. So, on that note, lets dive into this wondrous piece of music, and uncover all that lies in wait for us to pass it by.....

Up first comes ‘Labyrinth’, and this one quivers into life across the plains. The emerging palette is one of a sequence of notes that bring with them a hefty dosage of texture and frequency, as the notes move through numerous layers, dissipating energies into the environment around them. The sequence recedes for a moment before returning into our eye line in a slightly differing form, this time less sliced up and ever so slightly more solid, and this is when the notes are joined by further elements. Across the top end comes a series of ethereal notes and drones that emerge and converge within the spaces left behind, and this relationship just sings so beautifully. The two features intertwine and become one at certain moments, but as time passes by there’s some ingenious touches being made to the textures and forms of the keys, with little variations in the ground plains capturing our imaginations. The two layers move in and around the pan, occupying differing levels as a means of creating a symbiotic feel that maintains the intrigue from start to finish. The feels that exude off this one are beyond stunning, placing us in a very serene space that seems cosy yet enormous all at the same time. And that is to do with the little touches contrasted alongside the big notions - it all works the same, and works so very well indeed. What an opener. Up next comes ‘Darklite’, and this one begins with the hats and low slung keys to get things going. After a few loops through we shift into the kick section, which beautifully props up the melodic section, of which contains all the bass and melody you could ever hope for. The track quickly moves through the gears to include some lovely vocal samples and a delightful key movement that adds an enormous amount of flavour up top, and as we pass by new elements move their way into the mix, such as new flurries of notes and rhythmic features. The mixture is always utterly compelling, maintaining a hefty presence around all sides of our heads as we chug along to an infinitely dynamic composition, one that feels capable of going in any direction. SKY keeps things very controlled though and expertly moves the track into its breakdown, where we are left with a number of spaces to fall into, and as twinkling star like notes sparkle within the rhythm things start to come back into view once more, but with that sweep we move into the early morning sky, content in the feeling that we have seen it all, felt it all, and await the next cut with baited breath. ‘Topaz’ arrives next, and this begins with some sultry drums to get us moving. The mixture of textured elements with clean cut hits makes for an intriguing blend, as the spaces between the lines become blurred yet crystalline all at the same time. A low slung bass line emerges from underneath, providing a bit of ooofm to the delicate drumming movements, and after a few bars of just these elements we see a quirky key line come to the fore. This melodic element adds flavour and feeling to the ensemble, as Dub like stabs mingle in amongst the backdrop, with little sweeps adding further to this beautiful blend of sequences. There’s time to evolve yet as the track sees everything we have got to know be swept away and replaced with a series of hypnotic lines that descend from above with fever and passion. Around the half way mark the lead key line swings back into view but not quite exerting its influence on the top end just yet, instead taking time in moving in amongst the mids, only occasionally popping its head above the parapet to let us know its still chugging along. The drums then drop out to leave us with a pool of liquid emotion to dip our heads into, a spectrum of colour that feeds into our most inert desires, our most expansive wonderings, our most vulnerable yet our most expressive moments. Its all found here, in this delightful passage of music - SKY H1 at her very best.

‘Silk’ then pops up, and this one announces itself very well indeed. A single chord rings out above a simmering cymbal, almost as if it is calling out to us from across the rippling water, and as time passes by a number of tones make their presence felt, either up above or underneath the core expression. The manner of construction is intriguing, as layers slide in and out of view each time the pulse pushes through, with the vocal sample in particular adding much to the intensity on display here. A heartbeat begins to emerge that gives over much to the feelings emerging within us, and just as we couldn’t get any further on the edge of our seats, the drums come into view to guide us back from beyond the plains, and it caps off a marvellous display of dynamism and rhythm. ‘Arctis’ comes next, and this one begins with the rain. SKY is able to convey mood so expertly through her synth work, but here the rain really helps to frame the spot we find ourselves within, a misty view over a emerging landscape, either rural or urban. The rain perfectly reflects the key line that comes into view, a pure IDM progression that chimes along with plenty of little intricacies found within that do much to pull the mind in many differing directions. The call of a crow rings out across the mid section, eager to add further intrigue into the mix, and as this sample passes we move back into the dust and the background noise, fading into the backdrop as if we were daydreaming. ‘Blade’ arrives next, and this one pulls the scale in some very wide directions indeed. The sweeping etherealness that rises from the bottom to the top intersperses with sparkling key lines that run down their sides, creating these pockets of emotion for us to delve deep within. Meaning exudes from every corner, dynamic in its approach and effortlessly impactful in its delivery, its the kind of track that you want to dip your head into and look around, as pillars in the sky reside alongside vistas that last for many lifetimes. Our perceptions of form are eroded as SKY approaches the composition in the most fluid of ways, crafting dimensions that cannot be defined by convention but merely taken in as something constantly moving, feeling and searching. Its a truly remarkable composition, and one we will return to indefinitely.

‘Elysian Heights’ comes next, and this one begins with the claps and the reverb to get things going. The percussive features set the stage as melodic notions begin to slowly build upon the horizon, moving up on us at a slow burning pace which only creates a burning anticipation that leaves us starry eyed. As the pads start to find their space within the track, this is when we are hit with the rolling drums, their hard hitting nature acting alongside the initial outlay with such grace. This rhythmical introduction sets off a number of other sequences, including a lead key line, vocal sample and driving rave era pads, and the resultant blend is pretty damm remarkable indeed. The track then slides back into the night, satisfied in the journey in which it has taken us along, and oh my will we be boarding this train once again in the future. ‘Freefall’ comes next, and this one begins with the lead key line to get things going. The sequence drives from top to bottom, moving around the pan in terms of volume and placement, all the while skipping hats create a sense of pulse underneath. The kicks then drive themselves into view, creating a rhythm that is easy to fall within, a low slung progression that merges power with groove so effortlessly. The drums are so well considered here, their textured feel easy on the ear and even easier on the body, creating an attachment to the pulse that leads us down a very exciting road indeed. The additional key line that comes into view soon after fuels our journey, and as the breakdown arrives additional pads and vocal samples again demonstrate SKY’s ability to craft the most delicate of melodic outlines. The kicks slide back into view, with the vocal samples taking centre stage, but there’s still time for a few more phases to be explored. All the other melodic elements drop out to leave us with just the core elements, and this newly formed space provides plenty of room for new features to make their presence known, such as the chattering vocal sample and the other key line, both of which feature prominently in the final display of rhythmic excellence. What a groover this one is. To wrap things up, we have ‘Bird Strike’, and this one starts off with the warm fuzzy keys to get things going. The solidness of the display wraps itself around the heart, embracing it as if it was one of their own, and as time passes the display is broken up a bit by the introduction of pads. This introduction reconfigures the spread to allow for the lead key line to move in and around the pan, converging and merging from one place to the next with a real sense of purpose, as we become drawn to the points where both sequences interact. The breakdown around the half way mark provides more fuel for our journey into the pale blue hue, feeding our imaginations as we imprint our own little emotional narrative into the mix. A remarkable ending to a remarkable record, one that draws you close and never lets go, not in a vice like grip but a calming manner, a companion that smiles and encourages you to step forward into the light, and let your emotions feed through you and into the space you find yourself within. Music for looking out the window to, music to dance to, music to live for. A reflection of our own lives, but a mirror that allows you to jump in and dwell within for as long as you like. A true triumph.

Melody can transport listeners to some very exciting places, opening doors into realities that feel so close and yet so far, allowing our emotions to feed into the soundscape and let our imaginations run riot. There are many producers who operate within the boundaries between multiple threads of melodic expressionism, and SKY H1 is certainly one of these music makers who achieves an enormity through her work. Her previous records all pointed to a audial universe that felt as scaled as it did personal, with seemingly endless opportunities residing within that could come to the surface in a myriad of ways, and on her debut LP effort, everything just falls into place flawlessly. Her technical application and understanding of space is there from the off, but it is her ability to blend numerous styles together that continues to impress, with a blend of the soft with the hard struck very well indeed. Each track feels like a musical passage that chimes along to our own experiences whilst providing plenty of time for reflection and inward meditation, all the while we become ensnared in the most harmonious of melodic tones. An album to loose yourself in, over and over again.

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