Lusine Icl is the moniker of Texan musician Jeff McIlwain and the counterpart to his other alias L‘Usine that is more dance-oriented with a focus on either intricated beats or straight 4/4 club thumpers. I don‘t want to begrudge him the success in this field which is, at the end of the day, an attractive change of pace. As you may have guessed beforehand, I of course prefer the Ambient tunes McIlwain releases as Lusine Icl. The Icl is the marker for warm, towering synth washes and multilayered glints of encapsulating bliss. Most of the 9 tracks on Language Barrier, the third Ambient album of Lusine Icl, are of this kind and induce an aura of depth and plasticity, but this is still no quiet or fragile album, for the synth layers are most often dominant and audible. Don‘t be fooled by the autumnal blue front cover, the music is neither cold nor does it evoke the feeling of loneliness (the exception being the last track). Interesting additions are field recordings that transport the album title in a poignant way as well as dubby, most gentle beats that underline the synth strings rather than distracting from them. However, there are also entirely beatless pieces on this album if this is what you are searching for. Although the track titles amplify the suspicion of theme music – the motif of traveling and travel experiences –, the music itself does contain a characteristic style, but no overarching theme, so the album doesn‘t beg for a listening session from start to finish; it is to my mind no aesthetic crime if you skip certain songs or shuffle them at random in a larger playlist.
Headwind starts with the fade-in of pulsating static noises, but right from the beginning there are shimmering synths underneath, waiting for their turn to overcome the noise. After about a minute, these gorgeous sustained two-note synth layers posess the most dominant aura, and though they are of the hypnotic, ethereal kind, the track is a buzzing starter due to the addition of eclectic beats. I think of it as an Ambient track, but people may differ and call it an example of a downbeat electronic track. Caught In The Middle is a beatless Ambient track that starts with a field recording of a bustling hall which turns out to be an airport. A friendly female announcement reminds three passengers in German to reach their destined gate. Shortly after this announcement, frosty chimes are playing in unison with sparkling synth pads while another, less prominent field recording sets in, with a few people talking incomprehensibly. The chime melody is permanently swelling in tone and falls down afterwards. The resulting spaces are either just that, or they are filled with background noises of the fiel recordings. A Day Apart is the longest track with 8 and a half minutes and starts with chopped-up voice samples of a sympathetic French femme and moves to twinkling, reverberated bells and bright limewashed xylophon-like dots. An electrifying sawtooth synth pad is temporarily added as a darker counterpart but vanishes soon and makes room for sanguine guitar chords that remind me of Underworld‘s 8 Ball. This surprising shift works really well. The song is bubbling over with contentment and is a successfully upbeat track.
520 At 8:30 virtually hands the theme of traveling on a silver platter to the listener considering its track title. The song begins with terrific synth washes which include lots of oscillating details. At first, the synths are slightly glacial but tone shifts suddenly cause warmth and euphoniousness, even though the synths are still the same ones as before, built upon gentle crackles, pulsating loops and monotonous strings, while in their brightest moments, an additional, high-pitched and ethereal string is added. The listener is coated in their illumination. This is a towering Ambient track! Jetstream is a dubby Ambient track with a heavy focus on pulses: every part of the polyphonous synth melody is pulsating, the exception being the voluminous bass drums, the glinting bells and the fragile crackles near the end. This is another happiness-spreading track, its ubiquitously pulsating melody works marvelously. On The Line starts with a fuzzy conversation that seems to come out straight of a transitor radio. Dark bass pulses seem to change the friendly mood, but soon after their introduction, a fuzzy guitar melody is presented, yet again beautifully integrated into the mix. The blurred filter remains on the guitar loop, but an additional guitar layer slowly takes over, and this one inherits an irresistible limpidness. The synth strings are definitely more in the background on this song and the omission of plinky bells allows for a different kind of organic warmth, this time accomplished with the help of an acoustic string instrument. The album closes with 30 Days And Counting. Howling wind noises and crackles are the sole audible source for the first minute before a tremoling synth string fades in gradually. After a few minutes, it becomes clear that these tremoling strings are the same that can be heard on the album‘s first track. Even though they are altered on 30 Days And Counting and are thus much more oscillating, quavering, drone-like but also surprisingly thin, their resemblance is distinct enough. Curiously, this last song ends on a melancholic note, an adjective I didn‘t need for the description of Lusine Icl‘s music until now. The strings disappear and for the last two minutes, a reverberating melody is plucked on a guitar, enhancing the feeling of isolation, a contrasting device to all the previous songs.
Language Barrier is a deeply satisfying album for fans of synth-heavy coziness-inducing Ambient tracks with the additions of field recordings, incidental crackles and static noises and the successful inclusion of the guitar akin to the guitar-electro style of Underworld‘s 1993 song Tongue or their aforementioned latter song 8 Ball. The guitar fits in remarkably well. I am always wary of an overly uncritical reliance on folk music elements and campfire romantic in Ambient songs which at first feature a certain cosmopolitan mood and suddenly morph into an introvert woods and meadows entity afterwards. The style has to be consistent, not arbitrary or lackadaisical, and Lusine Icl‘s Language Barrier definitely delivers in terms of a mesmerizing, continuing style. The album features ethereal soundscapes that work well when isolated from percussive elements as in 520 At 8:30 and Caught In The Middle. The dubbier tracks and the complemental inclusion of chimes and guitars works equally well in the entanglement with the multilayered synths. I like Jeff McIlwain‘s music best when he delivers an Ambient-focused album like this. Recommended for lovers of the above categories but also for those who fear guitars in Ambient songs – they are working well on this album, believe me.
Ambient Review 028: Lusine Icl – Language Barrier (2007). Originally published on Jan. 25, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.