Vince Watson has always been a melody guy. The Scotsman has been prolific over his two decade-long career, and all-pervading lushness has always been the common thread. Beats been a fixture, too, all the way from 2001's classic Mystical Rhythm up until last year's Interference on Tresor. But if you heard Watson's recent LP Every Soul Needs a Guide, or you've seen him play live in the past 12 months, you'll know he's grown more and more keen to drop the drums. Not 100 percent of the time, and not for good, But enough to warrant using his unabbreviated first name (Vincent), inserting a very serious-sounding initial after it (L.), and making an entire album of beatless music titled Serene.
Beatless, not ambient. Whether generated by throbbing synths or soaring crescendoes, there's far too much movement on Serene for it to comfortably fall into the ambient bracket—it's clearly a dance musician's version of the style. Take the grey, sheeting tones of "Re-Contact." The song is textbook dub techno, the type of thing where the beat would usually drop in after a few minutes. It almost feels like percussion was there, then removed post-production. But if Serene can occasionally feel like music with something missing, the absence of beats also allows Watson's superb grasp of composition more room to breathe than ever before. There's no waiting for the usual emotional breakdown: this is an hour of them.
Spun together from a mass of shimmering textures and slow-rising chords, "Sagitaria" is almost impossibly pillowy. "Out Of Reach" takes a similar approach, but plunges deeper into the heady mixture, while "Celtic Beauty" and "Continuum" sprinkle colourful synth solos over the already-intoxicating equation. It's at the heights of these last two that you might find yourself wishing for some restraint. There's just so much happening. Yes, it all makes sense and sounds beautiful, but at times Serene can also feel like walking through a perfume department, with a dozen different scents attacking your nostrils at once.
The album's best moments happen when Watson forges starker, quieter or simply less euphoric moods. In the aptly-named "Placid," a single motif cartwheels in slow motion, a backdrop of dusky synths smoothing the path ahead. Towards the album's end, the surreal sense of space generated by "Abyss" becomes genuinely unsettling, its power lying more in silence than in sound. The eponymous centrepiece, "Serene," is also interesting, though likely to be divisive. Running for close to ten minutes, its forbidding piano notes and trancey leads reach massive heights. Here, though, the cloying feel is gone, perhaps because the heavy piano notes provide some much-needed solidity in the mist of shining, insubstantial sounds. It's an idea that's worth remembering next time around.
Buy Vincent I. Watson - Serene at
Tracklist: Vincent I. Watson - Serene 01. Hidden Behind The Eyes
06. Out Of Reach
07. Celtic Beauty
10. Open Your Eyes
Other Pyramids of Mars reviews