Sometimes you just know something isn’t right. Sometimes, you can’t shake that nagging feeling that the thing you’ve plowed so much time, effort, and passion into, isn’t quite as it should be. Electronic trio, Cubicolor understand that feeling all too well. After readying the release of the follow-up to their acclaimed debut, Brainsugar, the trio suddenly scrapped the album entirely. It was a dramatic and brave decision, but after listening to the completed album, they realized it was no longer representative of who they were as a group.
Decamping to a boat in Amsterdam, the ensemble, consisting of Amsterdam-based producers Ariaan Olieroock and Peter Kriek, and British singer-songwriter Tim Digby-Bell, quickly started again. While we may never know what the abandoned project sounded like, its replacement, Hardly a Day, Hardly a Night sees Cubicolor continuing to explore the textured, gently evolving sonic terrain of Brainsugar in more intimate detail.
The shimmering “Prelude” opens the album, beautifully showcasing Cubicolor’s richly detailed approach to electronic music. The whole thing inches forward, gradually building to an ethereal high that leads seamlessly into “Rituals”. As soft vocal loops gently collide with languid piano notes over a shuffling house beat, Digby-Bell’s tender falsetto imbues the song with a hefty emotional punch.
Digby-Bell’s vocals form the emotive core of the album with all the layers of intricately drawn sound radiating from it. That frees the trio to map out distinctive sonic landscapes such as on “All You Needed”. Here, layer upon layer of synth lines, loops, and beats combine, but somehow, the group amplifies the space between them all, adding a real sense of depth. That approach continues with the gorgeously enigmatic “Melodies”. Quickly locking into an early morning groove, it ebbs and flows before being caught in a rhythmic tailspin that culminates in a gentle, cushioned landing. It’s the perfect score for the discoveries and revelations that come in the moments before dawn.
“Points Beyond” is all about timing and balance. Over arpeggiated synths and a steady, four on the floor beat, the tempo may not change dramatically, but the subtle changes add to its understated grace. “Now You Know” is the only survivor from their previously abandoned effort. It points to an interesting direction for them as it feels a little less polished with trap beats, more pointed synths, and stuttering rhythms.
The title track provides the album’s centerpiece. With a thumping rhythm like a heartbeat keeping pace, Digby-Bell articulates a very personal tale of loss. Thematically and musically, it’s the point where everything coalesces. Subsequently, the band offers a little space for contemplation on the plaintive piano piece “Once Around”.
The spectacular, “Wake Me Up” is a blissed-out floor-filler. With euphoric synth lines and massaged pads pushing away any dark clouds, it’s a gleaming album highlight that will be warmly washing through dance floors throughout the summer. “Airbeat” is a similarly light, airy track full of cool synths, fragmented vocal loops, and shimmering guitar notes.
“Kindling” is a little more experimental. With cavernous, slowly shifting notes, it initially feels like a three dimensional sound installation piece before being joined by a brisk beat and house chords. It’s the balance between the more overtly deep house and the more avant-garde elements that make it so compelling.
The final song “Pale Blue Dot” is the natural counterpart to the opening track “Prelude”. Whereas the later track signaled the dawn of the album, “Pale Blue Dot” is the point where the sun sets. With streams of increasingly urgent piano notes, it climaxes before rolling back into the night.
Although shaped by loss, uncertainty, and self-doubt, the songs on Cubicolor’s second album never linger in the same emotional space for long. Throughout, the band uses the music to process negative feelings before channeling them into something more positive and uplifting. Musically, their meticulously crafted soundscapes morph from plaintive electronic pieces into uplifting dance tracks in the space of a single song. Hardly a Day, Hardly a Night is a richly drawn, triumphant record and testament to the fact that sometimes you have to go with your gut and start again.