The floaty, dream-like follow-up to 2019’s Wave sometimes sounds so light, it’s about to float away
As the last couple of years have had a somewhat surreal quality, it’s fitting that Patrick Watson has described his latest album as the sound of “negotiating a world where you don’t know what’s real anymore”. That unreal quality floats through Better In The Shade, the follow-up to 2019’s excellent Wave.
In fact, it sometimes sounds so light, it’s about to float away. All the tracks on Watson’s seventh record are floaty, dream-like and never outstay their welcome – in fact, the entire running time of the album clocks in at just over 20 minutes. Each song is based around some stately piano chords, and Watson’s beautiful voice (still probably best known for The Cinematic Orchestra‘s classic To Build A Home, 15 years on from its release).
The sheer brevity of the record means that it doesn’t really feel like a ‘proper’ record as such, but it’s still a lovely listen. As you may expect from an album that namedrops Virginia Woolf and Argentine writer Samatha Schweblin as influences, it’s a cerebral work, but one that’s easy to slip into. The lead single, Height Of The Feeling, is a good representation of the record as a whole – simply Watson and Ariel Engle‘s vocals meshing beautifully over a warm synth bubble and subtly clanging percussion.
It’s a track that’s at once dreamy and yet somehow full of unease – which describes the rest of the record too. Ode To Vivian is a 90 second instrumental interlude, showcasing a gorgeous piano motif that feels like it’s close to falling off the rails at any given point, while La La La La La could almost be improvised, just under two minutes of Watson vocalising over a delicately strummed instrumental. It’s reminiscent of Watson’s film soundtrack work, but like much of the album, seems to disappear before it’s made too much of an impression.
Yet there is a hypnotic quality to Better In The Shade that keeps you coming back. Album centrepiece Blue is a lovely, shuffling little number, with Watson’s voice on the verge of slipping into spoken-word, while the closing track Star adds a few eerie industrial-style electronic squiggles to the mix. As ever though, it’s Watson’s voice, here paired with Canadian singer Sea Oleena, that lifts it up a level, conjuring the same atmospherics as Julee Cruise managed with Angelo Badalamenti for Twin Peaks all those years ago.
There are possibly more substantial Patrick Watson albums out there, but with the world filled with so much chaos, uncertainty and fear at the moment, even 20 minutes or so of Better In The Shade can act as a necessary soothing salve.