On his celebrated 2018 release, Nothing Is Still, British producer Leon Vynehall invited the listener into a world gone by. Capturing the experience of his grandparents as they tried to build a new life for themselves in America, it was a singular masterwork. A grand concept in theory but one full of nuance and subtlety. Technically astounding, Vyenhall wove together a rich tapestry of complementary sounds from smooth jazz to echoing chamber music, from dub wubs to narcoleptic ambient synths – all while satisfying a very personal purpose.
New album Rare, Forever finds Vynehall addressing the here and now. It’s Vynehall trying to orientate himself both artistically and personally and discovering a world of possibilities. That leads to a fragmented, complicated, unfixed place that takes the more conventional aspects of dance music and the wildly avant-garde and encourages them to lock lips in a euphoric embrace.
The opener “Ecce! Ego!” acts as a bridge between Nothing Is Still and this album. Familiar, lush string flourishes call the listener back to that world before dropping away as if suddenly subsumed by something altogether darker. A throbbing beat and floating synth licks become increasingly lively as Vynehall constructs a thick, treacly soundscape that’s no less affecting.
It soon becomes clear that Vynehall is out to deconstruct any existing preconceptions at every turn. Over a poem recited by three different voices, circling chords jarringly emerge from the shadows on “In>Pin” before quickly retreating. It’s a slowly building track with a twitchy, slightly unsettling beat that segues effortlessly into “Mothra” – a track that takes the same energy and wraps it around swirls of yawning saxophone.
Those sax notes twists and twirl on the suitably gorgeous “Alichea Vella Amor”. Built from a single percussive syllable, it’s a track that seems to be both caught in the same place whilst managing to drift off to somewhere new entirely. “Snakeskin ∞ Has-Been” not so much changes the mood as it slices through it with heavy industrial equipment. Something of a stomping, tech-house outlier, it’s Vynehall at his most confident. Tieing flanging synths around steady bass thumps and crowd-pleasing beats. However, there is nothing derivative here. This is Vynehall’s marrying the artistic sensibilities of his past and present.
The wonderfully abstract “Worm (& Closer & Closer)” feels like the point, hours later, when the club vibe has turned a little more unpredictable. The point where sounds, shapes, and voices become either welcoming and soothing or worryingly disconcerting. Thankfully, “An Exhale” is an idealistic joy. Twisting synths joyously dance together before falling to the floor like the last drops of rain. As the pitter-patter begins afresh, Vynehall invites a deep synth bassline and other euphoric touches that twist the senses upwards. As he says himself, it’s a song imbued with an infectious sense of optimism.
That optimism continues on “Dumbo” but with an added playfulness. Low rumbling, stampeding beats steady the approach before rushing the listener with color and sound. With vaguely Afrobeat drums, it’s like a dance party that gets steadily more intense and (whisper it) even more damn fun. The droning “Farewell! Magnus Gabbro” serves as the album’s big comedown moment. All glacial synths and gliding violins, it’s a chilly track with an emotional heart that stays tantalizingly out of reach. Closer, “All I See Is You, Velvet Brown” ends with a touching poem that concerns the need to carry the lessons learned onto future endeavors. A profound closing statement that lingers long after the music has faded.
Rare, Forever synthesizes all of Vynehall’s musical instincts together into one unique vision. Both beguiling abstract and instantly gratifying it’s as dizzyingly immersive as Nothing Is Still whilst occupying a totally different sonic space.