Comments and reviews ....
Earlier this year, I was lucky to
catch Xan Alexander’s first solo performance at one of the Awakenings
at Burton on Trent. Stepping out from the Omega Syndicate, Xan got to show
us a different side to his
usual sequencing role by delivering a beguiling set combining melody,
rhythm and atmospherics in
equal portions. Now, if you weren’t lucky to be there, fear not; this
latest CD contains the music from
that gig. That’s not to say that “Quantum Waves” is just a live
recording of that concert, it’s not.
Xan has managed to create an hour of music which is a hybrid of studio and
live. A mix which, if done
really well, works to create a seamless piece (like “Ricochet”) but
can equally end up sounding like 2
recordings nailed badly together. I’m very pleased to say that this CD
is very much the former – pieces
flow into each other and I couldn’t spot the join but for those of you
who want to know, the CD notes help.
The opening track, “I”, sets the mood for Quantum Waves, a down-tempo
piece based around some
very subtle percussion which put me immediately in mind of “Drawn from
Life” by Eno and Schwalm.
The next track, “II”, begins with chimes immediately summoning up
spirit of “Exit” and making way
for one of the rhythmic highs of the release with the sequence carrying
the whole thing along, gradually
building the tension, a Xan Alexander speciality, before strings and a
melodic lead combined with
effects provide the release needed before we reach the next track.
“III” (spot the trend) replaces the
sequence and rhythm with drifting atmospherics and choirs evoking
“2/1” from “Music for Airports”.
A distant piano underpins growing layers of noise, a coming storm which
builds up and “IV” sees it
joined by chimes which repeat in clusters as the noise drifts away before
it has chance to swamp
the soundscape. “V”, I mean, “Wave” (sorry, got carried away
there) sees the return of the noise,
which serves to highlight the melancholic theme played on ‘tron flute.
More FX and echoes join
the soundscape before a Michael Brook-like percussion adds some movement
to the mix with
the resulting music sounding like from Gandalf’s finest, on “The
Universal Play”. “Particle” sees
the percussion replaced with a syncopated pattern of raindrops and the
noises of the previous
track replaced by a searching brass motif answered by the next track,
“Duality” which sees the
return of the uptemponess of “II”, the rhythm is joined by a ‘tron
melody and carries though until
it’s overtaken by the sound of breaking waves to fade.
Every album has to finish and “Agents of Chaos” brings this album to a
close and it is a perfect
finisher; Xan goes into full-on Tim Blake mode as a high tempo uplifting
sequence is joined by
driving percussion and soaring lead which manages to hang on as the track
makes some tricky
key changes before a breathy lead sees this rollercoaster of a track come
to its inevitable (and
“Quantum Waves”, like all good music takes you on a journey though an
hour of rhythm, melody
and atmosphere spread across 8 movements. If you don’t currently own any
of Xan’s recordings,
shame on you and now is a good time to start with this release, his
strongest to date. If, however,
you already know how good Xan’s music can be, this is a worthwhile
addition to the rest you
It's been some time since I was so impressed with an album on first listen that I had to put it straight
back on, but Quantum Waves, the latest by Xan Alexander, fell into that category. A vibrant, amorphous
soundscape of synths and sounds over an hour, the album doesn't stick to one style; instead, it carefully
mixes together various approaches into a wonderfully cohesive hour of moody, throughtful electronic music.
The first four pieces are simply titled I-IV, and form the more traditionally ambient of the album's two halves.
I opens the record with some light percussion and a beautiful, haunting piano melody. Every sound is crisp
and the mood is sombre, but not heavy going. II follows in a similar mood, but taking a very different approach,
with Berlin school sequences floating in, and some atmospheric chords, with some subtle lead lines driving
the piece forward. There is a suggestion of late '70s Tangerine Dream, but the piece is more laid back and
thoughtful, less reminiscent of a journey through space and more a pensive moment on a chilly evening.
III and IV are the most traditionally ambient pieces on the album, III's subdued piano and choir sounds
calling to mind the work of Brian Eno, IV's sparkling, twinkling sounds adding a bright, cheery touch to
the drone-like backing sounds and hushed white noise washes.
The second half of the album openers with Wave, a piece which, over its ten minutes, expertly draws
together old and new strains of ambient music. A soft, rattling effect loops over, suggesting insects
chirping on a warm summers evening, while the white noise returns alongside light, tribal percussion
and evocative pads. On top of this comes a beautiful melody from a mellotron flute, the whole piece
drawing to mind some exotic, distant location. This then flows into my favourite piece on the album,
Particle, which draws in more contemporary sounds with its light clicking rhythm and vibrant synths.
Two contrasting melodies add a bittersweet touch to the piece, but the final mood is very much uplifting,
and the piece draws to a close after a beautiful six minutes with some crashing waves which lead
straight into Duality. Here the traditional sound of the melloton flute returns, once again joined by a
tapestry of synth ambience. A bright, melody arpeggio carries the piece forward with deep, warm bass
in a thoroughly joyous manner. Agents of Chaos heralds the album's close with some urgency, a bright,
fast paced sequence appearing, this time with a deeper, darker feel to it than the earlier II. Tasteful
percussion joins the piece and we launch head first into a series of increasingly soaring lead sections
and key changes. It's an exhilerating end to an otherwise subdued album, but at no point does the
track feel crude or out place; rather, this feels like the destination the album has been journeying
towards. Eventually, things wind down until left with the album's final stark chords reverberating away
into the void and, sadly, we re-emerge once again in the real world.
Combining sounds old and new, upbeat and introspective, the album's masterstroke is how well it all
flows together, providing a marvellously evocative and impressively visual soundscape from start to finish.
Quantum Waves comes highly recommended to all fans of intelligent electronic music, with enough heart
and analogue warmth for fans of the traditional end of ambient and Berlin School, but a clean, modern
sound which will appeal to fans of more contemporary styles. That this is coupled with truly outstanding
composition over the eight beautiful pieces makes the album even more impressive. Quantum Waves
is comfortably one of the best albums of the year, and among the best records of any genre I have heard
all year - old or new, and, if its play count so far is anything to go by, will probably wind up becoming an
all-time favourite of mine. Fantastic stuff.