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I first encountered Berlin soundscaper and pianist Ben Lukas Boysen under the guise of Hecq, where he released nine albums ranging from ambient music to breakcore. Under his own name, he’s only recorded one previous album called Gravity, and now this new album Spells that is due out on June 10th. Spells mixes programmed piano pieces with live instruments, and includes help from Ben’s friend Nils Frahm, who mixed and mastered both solo records. The programming is delicate and warm sounding, and benefits from the help of drummer Achim Färber, cellist Anton Peisakhov and harpist Lara Somogyi, and a considerate selection of echoes, delays and compressors.
As with all such work, I can only focus on the emotional and visual impact of each piece contained here. Refined instrumental work is designed to evoke such responses, for no lyrics are present to color one’s impressions. Instead, as with all great art, we must rely on our own experiences and memories. Album opener “The Veil” is stark and treads an unsettling path, rather like waiting for a storm on the horizon to arrive. “Nocturne 3” unfolds a bit like one of Talk Talk’s late period songs, with the slightest of beats welling up beneath the prominent piano. When the strings are added, this song really takes flight. It becomes something magical, the soundtrack to a perfect summer day coming to an end. “Sleepers Beat Theme” becomes something quite unexpected after a somber start, soft piano offered up at a gentle pace. Far down in the mix is a secondary melody that offers a tranquil counterpoint, and the song starts to fade out but it is then swept up by joyous and buoyant chords. It becomes light and airy before setting itself down like a bird after a long migration.
“Golden Times 1” is an immaculate, jewel-like set piece, perfectly constructed and conceived as it travels down some of the same stylistic paths heard on the brand new Radiohead album. Gorgeous cello really opens up this tune as it becomes interwoven with pulsating piano notes falling like a soft rain against your senses. It is heartbreaking and joyful at the same time, a trick few bands can pull off (Hammock is one of the few noted for this). It is the centerpiece of this record, in my humble opinion. “Nocturne 4” takes up where “Nocturne 3” left off, as the listener is carried through heavenly choirs and plaintive piano. I love the way this song adds layers until at just under three minutes, it explodes into a triumphant post rock piece. Lovely stuff, Mr. Boysen! “Keep Watch” is painted in darker hues, with sad cello scrapes and downcast piano, the perfect accompaniment to a rainy Monday. And yet, this introspective piece turns outward with its broad sweeps of classical splendor, finally emitting a ray of light by the time things wind down.
“Golden Times 2” is an ambient masterpiece, notes cascading like raindrops from piano, acoustic guitar, and cello, along with deftly handled percussion. It takes up the themes offered in “Golden Times 1” and expands on them. The final piece “Selene” is relatively short at just over three minutes, and it’s a series of lighter strokes on a boldly rendered canvas, closing down this song suite in gorgeous fashion.
In summary, this is a lovely ambient, classical album with shades of post rock, for all fans of Boysen’s earlier solo record as well as his work with Hecq.