Album Review: Lost Horizons – Ojala (Bella Union)

Hopeful return

Lost Horizons is a collaboration between two movers and shakers of the eighties and nineties, Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas, the former was bass player in the Cocteau Twins and their forerunner This Mortal Coil, the latter is a drummer who toured with The Jesus and Mary Chain and has worked with Moose, Felt and the Cocteau Twins. So the two have history, the most significant piece of which being that Raymonde, who is also a piano player and guitarist, has not worked in the music biz for nearly twenty years. It seems that Thomas managed to get Raymonde into an east London studio just to collaborate and improvise with no real plans to do much more than recapture the joy of making music together. But Raymonde added bass, guitar and electronics to the mixes at home and, clearly inspired, booked a second session to turn the improvisations into songs. A session that was heavily influenced by the death of David Bowie, but both artists used the sadness and loss that they both felt to empower the work which has a subtle melancholy running through it. The final stage was to find singers who would suit the songs, and they found a surprising amount with Tim Smith of Midlake, Cameron Neal from Horse Thief alongside Liela Moss (The Duke Spirit) and four singers who Raymonde had recently discovered: Beth Cannon, Hilang Child, Gemma Dunleavy and Phil McDonnell.

The 15 tracks on Ojalá (Spanish for hopefully/God willing) run to 70 minutes, so it’s clear that Raymonde and Thomas found a lot to explore in that first reunion. The vibe varies considerably with singers and arrangement, the majority of tracks feature guitar, bass and drums with electronics burbling in the background but others are piano led. The last number Stampede has Hazel Wilde of Lanterns on the Lake’s voice with minimal effects save a doubling up that produces an uncanny harmony at the beginning. She’s backed by a natural sounding piano with delicious decay and the only example of Thomas’ brass skills on the album in the form of a lone trumpet. It’s very different to the preceding song Winter’s Approaching where Marissa Nadler sounds positively ethereal and the reverb is turned up to 11 on both voice and piano.

The mix of voices gives the album plenty of variety, at one extreme you have Ghostpoet summoning up the spirit of Tricky on album highlight Reckless with its constant refrain: “I’m living in a reckless kind of way/And I can’t breathe to make sense of it”; moody seems the word here. Tide has Phil McDonnell conjuring the ghost of Bowie to an uncanny degree, while Frenzy, Fear is empowered by the soft voice of Hilang Child. It’s a gentle song about control that’s nicely arranged with just piano and bass.

The sound on this album is underpinned by some weighty bass lines and a slightly shut in, dark feel. It’s not overly compressed however and the recording is good and clean with diversity provided by changes in balance between voices and instruments. Ojalá does indeed offer hope, not least for an artist who clearly has a lot more to offer, I ‘hope’ it’s not his last.

Jason Kennedy
@EditorTheEar

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