Jesse Somfay – Levamentum [Aqua Regia] (Tipping Hand, 2016)


Having disappeared for five years or so to explore more experimental electronic music horizons under his Borealis alias, Jesse Somfay is finally back producing music under his own name. But that exploratory period has left its mark and bridged some gaps and his latest effort, Levamentum, finds itself in distinctly new and untrodden ground for a Somfay release; whilst it fundamentally clings to his Ambient Techno roots, we find ourselves awash in a veritable storm of genre blending brilliance that spans from IDM to even Witch House vibes at points.

Somewhat fortunately perhaps we’re eased into proceedings, with the earlier tracks softening the blow of the increasingly experimental and off-kilter music to come. “Scorpia Rose” and behemothic pre-release single “Chorona” fall as a pair, sharing the same idiosyncratic synth riffs; the former is the album opener, reestablishing our connection to Somfay in its dialtone bleepings before it passes through into shifting, molten synth patches. It’s grandiose and imbibed with a sparkling Vangelis vibe, triumphant and rather pleased with itself, migrating into its more crystallised sibling and its similarly magisterial, faintly smug, croonings, passing through soaring digital vistas with luxurious ease.

Followup “Supernatural Flirt”  lives up to its namesake and feels distinctly Somfay in its bright, syncopated synths and bassier undercurrent drivers, a brief but deeply sexy distorted guitar solo in its heart imparting an unusual but so necessary sensuality as it descends into a pool of gooey, glimmering drones to emotional satisfaction. The disappearance of bombast is taken back up slowly in “Andromeida”, a rework of an early (and rare) Borealis piece “Eyes Blue Within Blue”, this older piece stripped down to its Burial-esque heady percussion, warbling black vocal lines and searing synth vistas, turned from a gigantic bleak beast into this densely beautiful starfield evocation we’re now left with.

After the impossibly gorgeous mid-album “Lily”, lost in retro-grandeur and Vangelis synth croons that impart a richly romantic but not simpering air, we begin to slowly fall into the more alternative second half. “Typha” sounds like it could have come straight out of Aphex Twin’s Syro, with deep flanging synths and shuffling percussive lines advancing in outwardly janky but smooth migrations, whilst “Atalanta” and its radio bending miasmas turn to Witch House territory in huge, lo-fi beats. Still, it feels characteristically Somfay somehow, even under this new guise and layers of distortion, finding its way through strangeness to new electronic realms.

After the unassuming “Kasseipeia” and “Magenta” couplet, the former bringing darkling skittering hi-hats & echoic xylophones, and the latter harpsichord-esque sustained synth tones filled with a curious wist, we find ourselves flung into pacey and aggressive IDM in penultimate aggressor “GNX”. Cyclically impressing, it buries the listeners in kaleidoscopic blackness, lost in a blur of oppressive electronic layers and obfuscating processing. It’s not what you’d expect out here but in some ways it makes total sense, this final blast of experimentality being purged from the system but also telling us quite definitively that old Somfay is gone and this new and bolder frontier lies ahead.

Thankfully our efforts don’t go unrewarded and closer “Vermeer” quenches “GNX”‘s ferocity, closing the record on lush, languid strokes, elongate expressions cruising out of the mix like the afterglow of a supernova, our minds gently settled down after burn out.

Former listeners of Borealis’s material will probably not be surprised with what they find here, especially since in many ways this feels like a continuation of his final material there with the Kallionyma EP, but it doesn’t feel quite so out there, it feels a little more foundational and back to his roots again, even if in some places that’s only in a few hints of beat structure. But it’s that precious naivety and general, hand-wavey lightness and optimism that makes it feel like Somfay is back proper, injecting a peculiar sense of warmth to even the darkest of proceedings as he sets us out on an emotionally convolute and kaleidoscopic journey. Entertaining, energetic and exciting at almost every moment, even after a dozen listens.