Saturday, November 5, 2016

Album Review: Pacific Heights - The Stillness (2016)

Quite a few years ago, nearly a decade ago, I suppose, I heard a great track on one of those fabulous post-millennium Loop (label) compilation CDs. I can’t be sure of its title, but I can recall that the tune in question was an impressive slice of soulful electronica by an artist called Pacific Heights. I was told it was local. "Local" as in New Zealand-made, but I knew nothing of Pacific Heights, and could scarcely believe an artist this good, one from my own neighbourhood, no less, had somehow passed me by completely. Then ... tumbleweed, zilch, nada … I heard nothing more from Pacific Heights.

Until earlier this year, that is, when Pacific Heights appeared back on my radar with a brand new album called The Stillness, an equally remarkable full-length offering which has subsequently gone on to become one of my most-listened-to albums of 2016.

Had I known back in the day that Pacific Heights was the solo guise for foundation Shapeshifter and fellow Wellingtonian Devin Abrams, it would all have made so much more sense. The long sabbatical between releases being a result of Abrams’ commitment to making music with Shapeshifter, which is, of course, a veritable giant within Aotearoa’s (admittedly niche) drum’n bass scene.

I note that The Stillness is touted in some places as being a debut album, yet according to the usually-reliable Discogs, it may in fact be the fifth Pacific Heights album, if you include the 2004 “mix” CD, Borne Together, and the rarely sighted self-titled six-track mini-album of 2002. The point, I guess, is that Abrams has been around the traps for quite a while, and it might just be that The Stillness represents something of a belated coming of age for its multi-talented key protagonist. Certainly from a “solo” perspective, at least.

I say “solo”, but Abrams is the beneficiary of a little help from his friends on this release, and the album features collaborative efforts with the likes of Deanne Krieg (on three tracks), Shaan Singh (of Drax Project), Jen Turner, and Louis Baker, all serious talents in their own right.

Naturally, production comes courtesy of Abrams himself, and it is immaculate all the way through. There’s a sense that Abrams is able to craft the absolute best out of each track – most of them being a variation on soulful (if occasionally dark) electronic forms – simply because he wrote the material. There’s a certain intimacy and lightness of touch evident for the duration, whether it be his careful use of percussion, soft keys, or even the odd, slightly new-age-centric sample.

This has appealed (so far) mostly as a winter album – if there is such a thing – so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares (at the everythingsgonegreen mansion, at least) during the long hazy days of summer ahead. Whatever else happens, you can stick your mortgage on this one making the shortlist for the (highly coveted!) everythingsgonegreen New Zealand album of the year …

Highlights include the Shaan Singh collab, 'So Love', the sublime Jen Turner track, 'Drained', plus Louis Baker's contribution on 'Buried By The Burden'. All of that said, the video clip for 'Breath and Bone', featuring Deanne Krieg, is also rather terrific (see below) ...


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