Album review: Matt Robertson – ‘Enveleau’: analogue grandeur, ambience and acid

The Breakdown

If old-skool British acid and ambient techno floats your boat, and let's face it, it's such a halcyon era for the genre, mostly never bettered; get yourself Enveleau. Maybe only the redoubtable Mr Hopkins is operating with this deliciousness in the field.

GROWING up listening to a mixture of Jean-Michel Jarre and Jimmy Smith, Matt Robertson certainly had a good early primer in the weirder beauties of music; big-screen synthesiser worlds, the grooviest, cinematic organ jazz (you mean you haven’ heard Jimmy Smith’s The Cat?)

Matt studied at the University of Surrey and matriculated into the arcane world of the recording studio, learning how to both fix and build his own synths – a strong skill for a budding electronica explorer. He’s worked as musical director for Björk, Cinematic Orchestra, Arca, and Anohni; so there’s some skills and appreciation of dynamics. There’s also work for Bat For Lashes and Anoushka Shankar on his considerable CV.

As a player, with an enviable collection of vintage, modern and DIY synths, you can hear his work on film scores including Steve Jobs, for Daniel Pemberton; and The Hunt and American Assassin for Steven Price. He recently scored the excoriating documentary The New Corporation – The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel.

Based these days in Canada, Matt is set to add to his personal canon, a slowly evolving discography that begins in 2011’s Forecast (take a listen to “After”, delicious and modular), since when he’s added the digital-only In Echelon in 2016 and 2018’s Entology (take a dive into the eeriness of “Domino”), both with big, big, scopes, sweeping and gorgeously designed soundscapes, à la Jon Hopkins. The new album’s called Enveleau, it’s the business we’re about here today, and it’s out at the end of the month.

“I love how the sonics of some records immediately put the listener in a comfortable space – just from the sound of an opening chord, you can be placed in a space and time,” he says.

“I am trying to achieve something similar to this on Enveleau, really concentrating on what the sounds make you feel, as a separate thing to what the harmony and the pitch make you feel.

“I’ve used a lot of different recordings I made outside, including natural textures wrapped into the drum sounds. It gives the record a sense of place.

“Enveleau is a word I am taking to mean a sense of envelopment in your surroundings, and trying to take some comfort in that. In a sense, gratitude. The name also has a lot to do with water and how it flows along the easiest path.

“2020 was a really challenging year for everyone. I think I found a sense of ease by concentrating on my family and getting outside if I could.

“The cover is a photo of an area near where I live, and it really captures a sense of the stillness that I have been trying to find within the past year.”

Matt Robertson, photographed by Annie Forest

“Enoughness” is our point of entry, suggesting a satiation with things, whether good or bad; it’s be nice to be replete with some of the good stuff, wouldn’t it, after a year of this. Which is neat, cos the gradual, landscape-mournful shimmer of “Enoughness” falls very much into the positive side of the balance sheet. It has pylon hum, the mournful grace of that dominant melody picking up resonance, a second string of polyphony, grandeur. We’re easily halfway in before an organic, crackling roll of percussion, tumbling quietly over itself, brings formality to a propulsion that was already inherent. A tune for wide, rocky rivers and woods, this. A breath of fresh air.

“Enveleau”, the term of Matt’s conceptual envelopment, proceeds with a similar sweep, a juddering base tone, part woodwind, part wind blowing through hagstones, its clicking, echoing percussion a Basic Channel nuance deep in the track’s subterranea; it has that detached observational beauty of the best ambient techno. It’s not wholly alien, but it is other; a little removed from the everyday, but empathetic too.

“Bees” ups the pace, still woody and modular, but it has both feet pointing at a loose turn around the floor; maybe backlit in a forest clearing, ideally. It has that lazy, jazz-inflected swing you maybe last delighted in on Jon Hopkins’ “Open Eye Signal”. It’s equally potent for a soiree shuffle, come such a time on these shores, throwing insouciant, used-to-neck-gurners-me shapes with remembered joy.

“Syntropic” is chill (in both senses, actually), stripped down, alien; it’s got a little motif in an offbeat scale a la Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, strange microbending notes that hint at some off-world cultural hymn. As that sparse alien riff rouses and interjects, it’s so gradually swathed in warmer retrotronic chords, bringing to the mind’s eye vistas and tinted cloudscapes. Can I maybe drop Sven Vath here as a reference? At ten-minutes plus, turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. It continually morphs its dynamic, and it’s very lovely.

With a dancefloor swinger and a deep-dive ambient track recently behind us in the listening experience, “Kalimba” hangs its hook on a Philip Glass-like circular brass trill, a simple four-note bass that mutates and metastisizes with a thrillingly acid tone sweep; distorts, ignites, crescendos; drops us over the peak into the next valley, a much busier, almost deep house kinda place, where the rhythm pitter-patters, trips, resets, swings an appreciative arm, hand patterning from the wrist. It’s all a little bit Future Sound of London or Deep Forest, and these are entirely noble ambitions. The deeper, blissful end of Nineties’ techno kicked into a new century. Later, the chattering bass once again flames into acid tonality, raises a little involuntary snarl of satisfaction. Whohoah, yes.

“Post Truth” keeps it nice and crunchy, medium-hard, bass snapping at your ankles, urging you on with patterning electro in the mid-ground, echoing deep and fuzzing out. This fucker needs volume and it’ll tickle your early-Aphex lovin’ glands marvellously.

“Old Lens” is a more sombre affair, patinated and cracked with time; a yearning, trilling top line unfolds with a retrofuturist folksiness across a breaking ocean shore of gentle chords. We’re coming down; but easy, so easy, as “Want” is there to swaddle us as we fall, a proper gemstone nugget of ambient electronica, beautiful in its simplicity, simply beautiful.

A very adept sound designer he is, we can take it as read; I can’t wait to hear this pumping through speakers freakishly loud, bobbing in the spatial effects and the pure sonics.

If old-skool British acid and ambient techno floats your boat, and let’s face it, it’s such a halcyon era for the genre, mostly never bettered; get yourself Enveleau. Maybe only the redoubtable Mr Hopkins is operating with this retrotronic acid grandeur and deliciousness in the field.

Matt Robertson’s Enveleau will be released by Subtempo digitally and on vinyl on April 30th; you can order yours from the label over at Bandcamp, now.

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1 Comment

  1. […] sounds. Talking about Enveleau by Matt Robertson – and the review I bumped into is this one here. It says enought so that I don’t have to add anything else than that the review describes to […]

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