PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

voyage au soleil
numün

Musique Impossible

04 September 2020

The term "ambient country" – applied to artists like SUSS, Mute Duo, and Labradford, among others – is meant to describe a musical style that is rich in contradiction. The spacey atmosphere of ambient music is traditionally married to synthesizers, sequencers, and other "modern" machines. Meanwhile, in its strictest terms, country brings out acoustic guitars, pedal steel, and more organic forms of percussion. What makes this genre so interesting is its ability to pull out so many different sonic possibilities from these disparate forms of instrumentation.

The trio known as numün certainly have roots in ambient country. Multi-instrumentalist Bob Holmes of ambient country pioneers SUSS joins forces in this band with Joel Mellin and Chris Romero (both of Gamelan Dharma Swarma). While they do a wonderful job of combining Eno-leaning minimalism with traditional instruments, they take it a step further – by taking it into space. voyage au soleil means, literally, "trip to the sun" in French, and this inventive trio pulls off the neat trick of creating music that evokes space travel while also sounding refreshingly grounded to Earth's atmosphere.

The sessions for voyage au soleil came out of a multi-artist project meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. The Moon and Back – One Small Step for Global Pop was released on the London-based WIAIWYA label and features the numün track "Tranquility Base". It combines the interstellar droning of synthesizers and sequencers with electric guitar twang, percussion, and NASA transmission samples. "Tranquility Base" not only pays appropriate musical tribute to the inaugural lunar mission, but it also helped set the template for voyage au soleil (the song appears on this album, along with five other numün tracks).

While "Tranquility Base" (which also includes inspiring violin work from Trina Basu of Brooklyn Raga Massive) seems intent on almost overstuffing itself with a variety of musical ideas, other tracks on voyage au soleil come off as more leisurely and deliberate. The opening track, "Tranceport", unfolds lazily with comforting drones and an odd but beautiful combination of instruments: entering the mix are a cümbüş (fretless Turkish banjo), mellotron, acoustic guitar, violin, and Balinese gongs. While it seems strange on the surface to have this exotic confluence of sounds on an album that pays tribute to space travel, it makes perfect sense. Musical travelers from Earth should bring with them a total of the sounds that make up their planet, and voyage au soleil has a feel that is warm and soothing, but also globally all-encompassing.

"First Steps" is appropriately titled as it seems almost tentative, with a bit of nervous uncertainty. The tempo moves cautiously, but the instruments hang beautifully all around the beat. Again, the combination of contemporary synth droning and almost funky sequencing clicks well with the stringed instruments and percussion. Modernity and traditionalism never sounded quite so good together.

But it's not all soothing, trippy space vibes. On "Mission Loss", a sort of warning klaxon provides the spine of a track filled with tension and danger. It's perhaps a sonic representation of space travel as a potentially perilous excursion into uncharted territory. Eventually, the warning sounds subside as guitar strumming takes over, indicating that the mission may be salvaged after all. Holmes, Mellin, and Romero possess an uncanny knack for creating a musical climate that perfectly encapsulates the mood of humans in space – full of wonder, fear, and spine-tingling trepidation.

voyage au soleil can be best compared to recent albums like Mute Duo's gorgeous Lapse in Passage and Quindar's quietly thrilling Hip Mobility. It takes the best aspects of these albums – loping, exotic instrumental twang, and interstellar synth ambience – into one beautiful package that sounds warm, inviting, a little strange, and best of all – unlike any other music out there. It's a thrilling, otherworldly ride.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


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.