Music

Illum Sphere: Ghost of Then and Now

Ninja Tune finally delivers an album worthy of the label's long history of jazzy, smokey, and head-bopping beats.


Illum Sphere

Ghosts of Then and Now

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2014-02-11
UK Release Date: 2014-02-10
Amazon
iTunes

Listening to Ryan Hunn's debut full-length as Illum Sphere I can't help but nod my head in recognition of the many recognizable influences spawning from the iconic Ninja Tune label. I would even claim that Ghosts of Then and Now is the definitive Ninja Tune album, sprinkled with the aesthetic notes of the label's founders, Jonathan More and Matt Black, collectively known as Coldcut, as well as works by Bonobo, the Cinematic Orchestra, Skalpel and the like. As I'm listening to the album, "Near the End" appears to be the most exemplary of the pieces befitting that style. I hope to say all this in a very positive light. After all, I've been a huge fan of the label, consuming pretty much every single release since its creation in the' 90s, and Illum Sphere is a very welcome rebound.

In 2010 the label celebrated its 20th anniversary with a massive box set titled Ninja Tune XX, and seemed to be somewhat quiet afterwards, with a few remixes and EPs. Two years later, Ninja Tune returned with its familiar roster of quintessential artists, such as Yppah, Amon Tobin and Blockhead, only to amaze us even further with the signing of Eskmo, FaltyDL and Machinedrum, artists all put on the world stage by Planet Mu. Was this the new and morphing Ninja Tune, luring away musicians advancing in juke, dubstep, and bass music spearheaded by Mike Paradinas' archetypal imprint, or was this simply the new sound of Ninja Tune? Whatever the answer may be to that burning question, with Illum Sphere the UK label reassures its audience that its staple "ninja-tunesque" sound is here to stay, and Hunn may just be the man to resurrect its glamour and allure.

Ghosts of Then And Now is not limited by a particular genre, but it does hold a certain air of an overall encompassing style. Although the album's cover suggests a somewhat dark and noir-fi journey (I first thought of music by Demdike Stare and Raime), the musical progression is often surprisingly light, jazzy and upbeat. The release opens up with quiet shuffles, vinyl crackle and subtle piano notes, only to evolve into cinematic loops à la Harmonic 33's Extraordinary People with a light drumming hand of Shigeto. The album features a few female vocals and samples courtesy of Bonnie Baxter (aka Shadowbox), who's also credited with writing three out of thirteen tracks (there's an extra "Hand Shadows" piece available only on the Japanese edition, put out by Beat). Hunn cleverly weaves in elements of footwork, spacey synths, and progressive bass music to compose a seductive and smokey groove, ripe with lush and savory appeal.

Although Ghosts of Then and Now is Hunn's first proper studio album, he did appear on a handful of eclectic imprints with EPs since 2009. See his debut single from 2009, Long Live the Plan, as well as 2011's Dreamstealin' / Blood Music and 2012's Birthday / h808er. Give the album a single spin, and you'll be coming back again and again, especially if you're a fan of Ninja Tune. Also recommended if you like Thievery Corporation, Submotion Orchestra, and the Emancipator. It's great to see one of my favorite labels furnishing a durable platform for today's electronic music pioneers, and Illum Sphere is clearly one of them.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.