Remember that picture of the dress that no-one could agree what colour it was? In a funny way, it reminds me of this album from Estonia’s Mart Avi. It’s got more shelf-lifeg than an internet meme, but just as I think I’ve started to pin it down, something else comes in and I change my mind. Is it perhaps Warp-type electronica? Futuristic soul? Or an up-to-date take on 80’s sophisticated pop? Perhaps a mixture of all three of these – or maybe none at all. That’s all with opening track ‘Feather’ – but it continues this way for for much of the album. It’s born out of Eastern Europe but also seems to look slightly to the west of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and to the east of Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Of course, no artist puts their heart and soul into the work so it can be put in a nice convenient little box, although many consumers seem to just want one type of work, not wanting to test their own boundaries and leave their comfort zones behind. As an album, this takes a bit of getting used to, it mostly drifts along in a very pleasant manner, though the abrupt arrival of ‘The Fifth Season’ comes in as a bit of a nervous jam between Liars and Battles. Then the album goes off in a different direction again, carrying us along with it.
If I describe this as a challenging listen, it’s far from a criticism. It’s not difficult to listen to – reminiscent in different places to David Sylvian, or the pastoralism of Virginia Astley. It’s rather that the listener is challenged to follow a continuous whole which changes drastically, sometimes without warning. His vocals have been compared to the late Billy Mackenzie, and they reflect the music well, simultaneously powerful yet vulnerable.
It’s born out of art, experimental and atmospheric, yet the album is focused and cohesive. Less than forty minutes long, it pulls together many strands and never feels that it is descending into self-indulgence. This would be an excellent album to travel, were the current situation (understandably) not allowing it. Many years ago this writer would doze and dream on long train journeys to the sounds of Laurie Anderson’s Big Science and Brian Eno’s Apollo. While at first listen this may have more in common with the latter, the underlying themes may also suggest the former.
No-one is going to get their head around this in one listen, but in the current climate most of us are not rushed off our feet. So you can afford to take the time to listen, and also listen to more of his back catalogue. Embrace hope, all who enter here.
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