ALBUM REVIEW: Romare – ‘Home’: fashioning broken beat into a cerebral confection

HE’S been around a bit, has Archie Fairhurst, the artiste who releases cerebral and multifaceted grooves for Ninja Tune as Romare.

It’s an overused trope, but Archie really has: he spent his childhood travelling constantly with his family as his parents moved around the world for work, before finally settling in the UK. All that multiplicity of culture seeped in, you can tell. 

He’s also been more than happy to globetrot in support of his music, playing a reported 150 gigs in the two-year span leading up to the great viral paralysis of all that’s culturally great and good.

Today he releases his third full-length outing for groove genii Ninja Tune, the home of so much that’s been great in the past 25 years of leftfield British breaks.

And this new one, rejoicing in the purity of a greyscale collage sleeve by Archie himself (there is a graphic key, here: Archie says “each cut-out resembles an artist or group sampled in the album”), he settles, after all that travel, at Home.  He’s escaped the occasional madness of London for the tranquillity of a new family out in the countryside, allowing him room to both contemplate, hear himself, and construct a studio of his own to work within.

There’s a thematic shift too, from the amorous concerns of Love Songs: Part Two, his very fine 2016 set, poised at it was, with plenty of groove in its legs and illuminating soundscaping in its soul. The set is a return to the self, he says, to explore spirituality, identity and belonging, “something I’ve been searching for more since becoming a father”.

So we return Home, to the hearthside, where “Gone” makes a very strong opening address. It sways in, hollow-textured broken beat giving way to a repeating African melody that lends a Pharoanic elegance. Sequencers chatter and mutter away before the sudden, crisp bass depth of a piano picks up a counter-melody, all graced with a little vocal soul trill. Just when you think you have the full measure of Romare’s intent, it shifts out into crisp and deep electro, fully intent on ushering your body up. My

“Dreams” is built from high electro shimmer, all heat haze and spangle, a breathy vocal deep underneath and woodblocks skipping lightly above. A more retro coda gives retro synths a space to squelch and splash through the rhythmic space. It’s so simple-seeming, yet it hooks you deep and makes you want to lift that needle back time and again.

“The River” is an album highlight, and one which we took a look at a little while back, here. (We’ve brought the YouTube incarnation of the track over; find it below the spilled ink). 

We said then, and have no reason to disagree with ourselves now – that way madness beckons – that “A rolling broken beat steps forth, announces a swaying Afro groove … a piano figure seems to pin the deep, oceangoing roll of the break, force it to take a new rhythmic shape; a little bassy snippet hints at 70s’ funk. The beat shifts again, gets more insistent. There’ll be cool jazz flute. There’ll be wah-wah pedals … low-temperature, layered sexiness.”

“Deliverance” swings over towards labelmates The Cinematic Orchestra a little way; piano and organ shimmer intertwine. It’s uplifting, just a tiny bit mournful. That guitar has classic film noir twang. There’s discorporeal gospel in the pocket, bringing a sweetness. This is something written into the Romare coding, as Archie notes: “For me, the sweet point in music is when happy and sad come together. When they meet in the middle, that’s what I try to create.”

“High” fashions itself into existence on this beautiful panning fizz. I want to hear this coming off a vinyl deck with tremendous bass response. It unfolds into a spacious, chattering cool-groove; you can’t help but move, though it’s at a summer-heat bpm. There’s dubbiness coming through off that occasional organ vamp. It plays with house piano, vocal sample drones, deep electro squelch. Appetising.

“You See” is almost early trance – no, not that – trance when it was good, not just landfill that could practically write itself. Off-kilter sounds swoop and pitch-bend through microtones, there’s an alto voice and touches of gamelan percussion pinging away as that one pulsing note breathes and sustains. There’s bags of reverb and echo to lend the depth of an impromptu rave in a grand hall somewhere, grand old warm acoustics singing through. Just when you think it’s explored its melodic script, it breaks down and reifies as a whole other thing, heavier on the deep groove, taking on an almost Japan feel (by which I mean David Sylvian rather than the nation).

At ten minutes, “Heaven” is perhaps the anchor on which Home finds haven. The beat skips, the piano motif slurs in the oddest way, manipulated, maybe from an old ska side – it has that feel, that tonality –  finds itself another keyboard counterpoint, begins its slow flow up through your hands into you shoulders, down your central nervous system. There’s cheeky little kickdrum fills comin’ on all first-album Orbital, biting through and dropping once more. Again, to overuse a term, it’s epic, but not in that god-so-boring let’s lift it higher and higher way … like the good bros Hartnoll, it has a measure of just how far to let it go before bringing it back; how far to let a groove settle before setting it free. It’s somehow very goddam British in the very best way. It would go down a bloody storm in a summer field at that hour when shadows lengthen. Vocal samples call and respond, and it’s a “Halcyon On And On” for a nation mired in confusion of summer 2020, that needs all the cultural uplift it can lay its hands on.

…it all comes home on, well … the title track. We’re back at the flat, still enough energy for a little shuffle. And “Home” is pretty much folktronica: there’s the deep wheeze of what sounds, at source, as an accordion; a twelve-string guitar, reportedly his dad’s; it falls somewhere near the King Creosote-Jon Hopkins collaboration, or Pause-era Four Tet. It’s what we need to reconnect with the simple, grounded pleasures, after the ecstatic rush of “Heaven”. Come home easy, and … rest.

There’s a lot here. There’s a lot of great and interesting music around this year, people off fusing all kinds of elements into new shapes. The breaks and textures of Home are beguiling, often entrancing, always intelligent, layered, and it really, perhaps more than Love Songs: Part Two, is pulling hard on the somatic: the need to move, to groove.

Forget your frontal lobes awhile; give ‘em a rest. It’s been a hard few months of thought and fraught decision. Be distracted by sound layered and hook-filled. And make sure next summer you’re in a field, near dusk, when the DJ drops “Heaven”.

Romare’s Home will be released by Ninja Tune tomorrow, July 31st, on mp3, WAV, CD and vinyl formats. To get yours, visit the Ninja Tune shop here.

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