Umber – Sunshine Young (2013)

Despite what I say, there’s always an album that I regret not hearing sooner. It’s inevitable, really, that I’m bound to find albums from the year passed that I love and wished I’d heard earlier in the year so that they could have made it onto the list.  I tend not to worry about it, but since Umber’s debut came out all the way back in April, I feel a little ashamed that I hadn’t heard it sooner.

Sunshine Young casts a warm, Post-Rock meets Ambient look at the world not too far removed from the work of Helios and their album last year Moiety. These delicate little affairs always catch me off guard and I knew instantly this would be a great album right from the opener, the title track. Soft drone laps assist the distant workings and rattlings of city life, thumps and voices squirreling away in the background, before taking off true to its Post Rock roots with a more driven but rather simplistic and naive outlook, cruising easily through the whirling hustle and bustle in a protective blanket of youthfulness. It’s chased up by further field recordings early on in “All The Ships”, the chirruping of birds these oases of calm nature within the drab urban sprawl. Much of the track is devoted to keeping this peaceful, secluded atmosphere alive with gentle drones, eventually tumbling into guitar lead melodies  with subtle violin hints towards the end.

“Through Rocks & Fog” is something of a more uncomfortable and more unsettling movement, with electronic scrapings and rustlings permeating the dense backfield whilst the fore is dominated by quivering and thrumming drones. There’s little movement through the fog other than the creaks and cracks and we become uncertain as to what we’ll find ahead, what life has in store for us once we pass through these golden days of youth. But there is a blissful reprieve in one of my favourite tracks perhaps of this year in the stunning “The Warm Calm”. Whilst it makes no allusions to the fact that the future could potentially be a dark and unknown place, it soothes our uneasy minds following the wavering, oscillating electronic with vast swathes of thick, suppressant drones and careful, pandering violin strings. It’s a soft voice of calm logic to ease our restless minds and it just keeps on growing and making sure that every last ounce of self-doubt has been permeated by this nepenthe.

“Gött Mos” wants us to move away from these clearly distressing conversation topics and embrace the fun side of life again with more easygoing blankets of glacial drone accompanied by field recordings of far off and heavily muted children’s voices shouting and laughing and playing. A heavy current of luminous guitar drone forms the gripping core of the track at first, before it goes “All The Ships” on us and slips back into its Post Rock mindset and ekes out some acoustic instrumentation in the latter half, those hazy memories of our childhood replaced by a more mature and somewhat wistful reality. It slips naturally into closely titled “Sunshine Youth” but unlike the title track it has a blearier feel, the melodies more steeped in reverb and slower than before. Everything just sounds increasingly more distant and nostalgic, the years racking up and the gulf separating childhood and adult life growing with each moment. What we would give to go back and relish those innocent moments again.

Finally closer Öpik-Oort is introduced to lead us out on the closing recordings of the previous track. It’s curious that the closing track be named after the cloud of comets that enshrouds our Solar System, it seems like such an odd choice, but when we consider what it is, the exiled remains of our Sun’s distant youth, the leftovers of stellar birth, it fits into place nicely. Its overlapping violin and drone work in tandem to create a largely syncopated sound that holds onto the fragments of our childhood, pushing them to the fringes of our minds but also where we occasionally get visitors and fleeting memories flung in as pulses of activity.

This is a really beautiful little 30 minute release; there’s seems to be something of a push lately to condense content and meaning into nice, bitesized packages and this album seems to be another one. It shares our feelings on the value of childhood through maturity, the desperation we seek to cling onto those easier and more naive times, but the importance of ultimately letting go and reminiscing only when it’s needed. Heart-warming.