Album review: Various artists – ‘Home – Volume One curated by Ali Tillett’: a beautifully tessellated, warming set of old-skool chillout

The Breakdown

Just take a look at that name, resonant and simple: Home. I dunno how the 2020s are working out for you so far, but as decades go it hasn't been ... an absolute blast. So maybe that's the point; what we have here is a beautiful musical hearth to get warm by, to repair and consolidate and find some grounding. We could pretty much all do with that, right?

Y’KNOW, it’s not just the people out front – the bands, the writers, the DJs – who know a thing or three about music; there’s plenty of people quietly working away behind the scenes who have incredible appreciation and knowledge of the sounds we fall for, too.

One such gent is Ali Tillett, who’s deep in the mechanics of the industry, performing an essential role you might not think about so much when you’re busy getting your sonic rocks off. He runs Warm, the booking agency which represents, among others, such twin-deck wizards as Horse Meat Disco, Hot Chip (in their DJ incarnation), and Luke Una, co-founder of Manchester’s legendary monthly basement party, The Electric Chair. Ali does good work, unsung work, makes the music happen.

Of course, coughing in China, the world upends, there’s really not too many DJ sets being booked from early 2020. Like so many, and like the artists he books for, Ali found his musical machinations fully on hold. But a creative outlet was needed; so Ali took it upon himself to bring together his passion for music, nature and art.

Thus, Warm presents a deep chill compilation called Home; it’s intended, we’re informed, as “a soundtrack for when we pause, take a breath, and use our senses to explore the magic of the world on our doorsteps.” OK, sounds good. And Ali has flxed his address book and brought in exclusives from some pretty gilt-edged names: Kirk Degiorgio, Mia Doi Todd, Ewan Pearson and Richard Norris among them. Oh, and Gary Moore. (No, not that Gary Moore – but rather, field recording expert Gary Moore, who works for the BBC’s Springwatch who went out into the Dorset landscape to capture the sound of nature living, unadorned).

Thus the album, and we’ll talk the vinyl incarnation here if you’ll allow, comes themed across its four sides: Harbour/Estuary, Heathland/Moorland, Woodland/Forest, and Beach/Cliffs.

Furthermore the cover art comes courtesy a former resident of the land of the apple cake, Gareth Fuller; it’s his painting, “Purbeck”, which you can see up above there and which gives a visual doorway into the record.

Ali sums up his experience of lockdown and his journey towards this compilation: “The pandemic has enabled me to take a step back and reflect on the environment that encompasses us day to day.

“With those multiple pause buttons on life that were lockdowns, the real beauty of nature and the soundscape around us came to the forefront and shone through as daily life stopped.”

Ali Tillett (left) and Gary Moore, photographed by Micky Browne

After the first field recording inducts us, it falls to Natural Calamity to kick the album proper off, as it were; the Japanese downbeatz purveyors whose 1998 album Peach Head was a real cognoscenti cult hit in the record shops of Manchester back in the day – the sort of record that did what it did effortlessly well, blending retrotronics and chillout and easy in a way similar to The Gentle People; and regarding which people would squeeze your elbow and whisper conspiratorially “Oh, have you got it yet?”. “Have You Seen The Sun Today”, the track presented here, is full of that glimmering optimism, the post-E potential, which seems so sadly lacking, currently. It pulls back the curtains with gusto and lets it all flood in with halcyon, wordless vocals and just-so acoustic guitar mellowness.

Paqua, who flourished around 2014, when their only album to date was released, contribute the evening glow of “Escondido” in an exclusive instrumental take: it’s a meshing of acoustic guitar bliss and Seventies’ funk synth textures with a proggy soundtrack feel. The captured sound of avocets leads us toward Coyote‘s “The Fade”: very luscious it is too, in a proper old skool ambient way, a calm, declamatory guru drifting through the bongos and horns, somnolent shoegaze guitar out back. God, it makes me yearn for a world in which Ultramarine and The Irresistible Force are still king.

Greymatter & GOLDSLANG‘s “Black Turns To Blue” is a taut and (relatively) fronting up nugget of piano-jazz sampledelia complete with some pretty shimmer and a finger-poppin’ swing, while Crack’d Man‘s “Between The Mist And The Sun” is a rapturous drone haze, coming on as if Robin Guthrie had decided to really – no, like really – bliss out; this latter turning the corner from the more maritime-themed side A and into a more moorland situation for side B, which side also delights with British techno legend Kirk Degiorgio presents As One‘s “Orwell Rising”, a track also wondrously stretched and morphing and dronesome delish – I’m guessing it’s the Suffolk river he’s written a paean to, rather than the author; Turtle‘s “Heathland Haze” keeps the amniotic vibe going; Brainchild‘s “Beyond Because” actually breaks ranks towards a more Herbie Hancock piano flow, circa Maiden Voyage, say.

Side C leads us into the woods, wherein the first artist we encounter is The Grid legend Richard Norris; “Warm Hunger”: swirling, exhaling analog grandeur, which pulls together the piano and the drone strands from the previous side and makes shapes towards Harold Budd. Fug‘s “From Little Seeds We Grow” is so very much that kind of beachside chillout which you may have adored Zero 7, Groove Armada and the like for, and offers the first lyric vocal so far; it’s Nineties-lovely. Nothing new, nothing at all, but Jesus: weren’t they better times? The side’s wrapped by Bobby Lee & Mia Doi Todd, whose “Walking With Trees” brings West Coast stoned majesty. Hey, we gots the video for this one down at the end there; go luxuriate.

We’re back by the sea on the concluding quarter, wherein World of Apples, which one of many nom-de-musiques of producer Ewan Pearson, drops the glittering snowball of “Bluemull Sound”; it’s astonishingly pretty in a slightly saccharine, old-skool ambient heartbreaker way, but could pretty much hold its own with Global Communications’ 76:14, which is really saying something. Zurich’s Pablo Color gets together with HOVE, and they keep it absolutely halcyon on “LICHT”, repeating, glitchy textures spiralling off the synth washes and rises – it’s simple but you don’t need to fix it when it’s this sonically appetising. It falls to German electronica purveyors Âme to close the comp out, which they do with sonorous, textural aplomb on “Doldrums”, herein appearing for the first time on vinyl, if that be a thing for you. It has that Berlin cleanliness and – actually – sounds quite futuristic in much of its company here.

And there’s an overarching point – and it isn’t really intended as a criticism, more a musical observation; a lovely record it is, but also a record which, for the most part, seems to look back not just to the Nineties but to the minimalist ambient originators of the Seventies for its mood board. It’s Rising High; it’s also Windham Hill. But just take a look at that name, resonant and simple: Home. I dunno how the 2020s are working out for you so far, but as decades go it hasn’t been … an absolute blast. So maybe that’s the point; what we have here is a beautiful musical hearth to get warm by, to repair and consolidate and find some grounding. We could pretty much all do with that, right?

Ali used his knowledge and his little black book to flex together a Back To Mine-style compilation with a deep purpose, one to look after you in these times; it’s like a cool mixtape you might knock together for a friend or a new lover, but committed to vinyl. Pretty damn cool.

Various Artists – Home – Volume One curated by Ali Tillett will be released by RE:WARM digitally, on CD and on gatefold CD on December 3rd; you can order your copy right now, over at Bandcamp.

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