Bent arrived on the back of the chill-out craze that pervaded the first half of 2000, and they proved to be assured and humourous players. Their albums Programmed To Love and The Everlasting Blink are both very listenable, if criticised for being a touch unkempt around the edges.
Ariels is an audible change of gear, with a tightened grip on structure and a change of focus to more song-based material. Guests brought in to achieve this include Sian Evans from Kosheen, Rachel Foster (Weekend Players), Steve Edwards and long standing vocal accomplice Katty.
The new approach pays handsome dividends, with the opening trio as strong a start as you could hope for. Comin’ Back has a gorgeous old time vocal from Foster and a euphoric chorus, its sprightly beat an uplifting vibe. Sunday 29th evokes Dubstar at their best, a throwaway chorus and breezy lyrics. So far so good, and a hint of melancholia on I Can’t Believe It’s Over gives air to the rich voice of Sian, sounding much more at home in this musical company.
The focus drifts for a while in the dreamy As You Fall, while Silent Life attempts to recreate the upbeat mood from the opening, largely successfully. On The Lake is awash with harp glissandi, certainly not sparing on the production front, but creating a lush, humid atmosphere. The breathy vocals for Now I Must Remember and Sunday Boy make for a pair of winning downtempo tunes, but the instrumental Exercise 4 is perhaps the best here, its electro touch more than welcome. Closing track The Waters Deep takes the warm fuzzy feeling over the horizon.
Bent use for the most part a wide open sound, creating real outdoor music for the summer. At times this means the production can lack subtlety, disappearing into a warm mush, but more often than not there’s a hook or vocal to enjoy. It’s certainly a step forward from previous records and means they’re punching at the same weight as their fellow downtempo duos Groove Armada and Lemon Jelly.
What really works here though is the fact that a summery record is being released at exactly the right time. So many labels get this wrong, dictated by the traditional “boom” periods of spring and autumn, while what the music lover wants is hot, sunny music for hot, sunny days – and that’s what Bent are offering. With a bit of class thrown in.