Bristol producer Phaeleh, aka Matt Preston, is a man concerned with atmosphere and texture over frenzied energy and uplift. His sound is very much in the lineage of esteemed Bristolian electronica like Massive Attack and Portishead, while tinged with a sense of foreboding portent and contemporary urban dread. Phaeleh’s second album proper, Tides, sees him taking his sound ever further down the path of ambient aural introspection.
Phaeleh’s work is firmly rooted in the landscape of UK dance music. The restlessly inventive sounds of early dubstep, dark core garage, and drawn out house combine with a penchant for the cinematic. Tides is an album that strives to move beyond the club into the rarefied atmosphere of spiritual and emotional reflection. The best moments here succeed in blending soft focus sounds with a rich sense of scope. Opening track Journey is a lovely filmic swirl featuring askewed string samples and a woozy off-kilter percussive beat. Tokoi is equally as inventive. Here, a fluttering rhythmic shuffle gives the music a satisfying looseness. The drums pop and skip in such a manner that you are left entranced.
Adding to the rather more refined and textured musical feel of the album are a number of tracks featuring guest vocalists. These songs have mixed results, however. There appears to be a desire for emotional resonance that is only partly fulfilled. Here Comes The Sun features the prominent sweet keening vocals of long-time collaborator Soundmouse. The rather formulaic lyrics unfortunately stymie the intricate unwinding music. More successful is the dark and mysterious Storm featuring Jess Mills. Mills’ susurrating voice is a perfect accompaniment to the dark low-end bass rumble that broods ominously throughout the track. Night Lines, featuring Irish vocalist Cian Finn, is a diverting piece full of luscious clock chime sounds and textures. The faint hint of a dubby reggae skank towards the end is a nice touch.
Despite some weaker vocal led tracks, the instrumental pieces are mainly quite lovely. There is something compelling about Never Fade Away. The insistent shuffling beats combine with faint echoing samples. Everything is measured and considered. There is an understated musical similarity with Ghostpoet’s debut album in the way the beats are slightly idiosyncratic.
Despite the impressiveness of much of the music here, there is a sense, particularly on the very long closing tracks, that Phaeleh is striving for a sense of gravitas. So Far Away’s languorous vibe makes it ultimately forgettable while the promising off beat rhythms of Distraction fall away over the course of its seven minutes. Something crucial is missing. It represents the sound of a haunted, bloodless and ghostly dance music. You are left willing it to cut loose. Perhaps that is Phaeleh’s intention; this is an album audibly carefully crafted by the producer.
Throughout Tides, you are left captivated by fragments of sound and blissful fluttering beauty. At others, the feeling is something rather more sedate and dulled. There is though, ultimately, still a lot to savour in the album’s most impressive moments. Phaeleh’s desire to follow his own path, while acknowledging the sound of his music is certainly commendable. Tides stakes an admirable claim to being a first tentative step in building a more advanced, melodic palette.