Seattle-based Prog Rock fan and Ambient producer Andrew Reichel aka Gel-Sol is my personal hero. I'm not kidding! He didn't save my addle-pated cat from a tree, for I don't own a cat. He didn't even save my life, for I don't have one either. But he accomplished something that lets me speak of him in the most glowing terms: harking back to the typical Ambient House extravaganza of bands like The Orb while at the same time refining their synth-heavy and sample-laden formulae with his own unique blend of Space Age rocket eruptions, television advertisement idiocies and gargantuan melodies that glow and shine in multiple colors. His music was produced during a time that typical fans of The Orb – including yours truly – became more and more alienated with their shift of style that didn't seem to be compatible with the overly nostalgic memories of their Glastonbury and Brixton Academy gigs of the early 90’s. Enter Gel-Sol who in 2003 released his first album with the cute title Music Made For You and By You … I Mean Me that was complemented by a definitely gloomier but nonetheless galactically swirling follow-up Unifactor in 2007 – suddenly it was 1992 all over again, and the wit and charm of Mr. Reichel floated through each and every track on both albums. His third album IZ, though, presents a complete overhaul and a new music-related focus. A joint release handled by the Irish Psychonavigation Records and the Canadian Upstairs Recordings, IZ is dedicated to his then newborn niece. It is a pristine, spacey Ambient album with mostly beatless tracks, both mellow and slightly tense synth pads and a more serious approach. This doesn't mean that Gel-Sol succumbs to grave topics, but there are certain tracks that are particularly majestic and solemn in their build-up, almost cinematic in their gestalt and less keen on weird samples in favor of solemnity and tranquility. Over the course of nine varied yet coherent tracks this album can be aptly described as a shimmering Ambient space opera.

The seven-minute long IZ is the title-giving gateway to a blissful journey, starting with a slow fade-in of an ecclesial warmth of multiple layers –some of them quavering and sparkling – that are grouped around an electric organ. Even though these warm drones are strongly monotonous, the different filters and modulations applied to the synths make it an organic track of contentment and delight. The middle section features a short voice, one of many male samples used in Gel-Sol's tracks, and presents a blurrier, deeper but by no means darker alteration of the monotony, followed by brightly-lit square lead pads whose rudimentary melody is very well embedded in the now even warmer Ambient washes. A terrific opener that embraces the listener with its accessibility, warmth and friendliness, and flows right into the no less astonishing Mourning Wok with its earthen hectic of police sirens, traffic noise and chattering. A fragile, coruscating synth melody glows in the background and becomes more prominent later on, when it is backed by bass drones, glittering pulses and cricket-like clicks. Distinctly similar to the interplay between quiet spaces and bubbly swirls that is depicted by the self-titled album of FFWD, it is yet another warm track with a pinch of melancholy that is already displayed in its title and a melodious track on top of it, with gently meandering tone shifts and a trembling thinness. This fragility is later boosted by additional synth washes. No technical description can do the track justice, and it really has to be heard to be believed. After the long sustain of a braking train, the eight and a half minute long As Far As Eye Can See is next, resembling the foggy, illuminated textures of Tetsu Inoue that are accompanied by the distant voices of children and incisive Korg-like synth pads. A hummable bass melody is introduced and enhanced by flute-like scintillae, various sparkles and a fuzzy rhythmical loop of a cheering crowd. After around 5 minutes, the bass line wanes, making room for an oscillation between hazy and upfront synth washes and quirky bubbles. A towering ending.

Disko Bay could be considered the signature track of the release, for not only contains it the glitziest, dreamiest synth stabs, but has been knighted by Mary-Anne Hobbs during her Breezeblock show on BBC Radio 1. Starting with a soporific synth stream monotony, the track soon presents punchy-phantasmagoric, gently warped acid loops that pulsate, morph and float in a technicolored galaxy full of conviviality. It's a terrifically deep track due to the backing synth choir and yet keen on a clearly iridescent aura and a small dose of New Age-mannerisms in form of a field recording of ocean waves that mark the end of this track. It's the show tune, the glaring choice for an EP or single release. A huge song that makes me happy. Bubble In The Sky is a fitting foil with its unsurprisingly bubbly bits that burst ubiquitously and a strong 80's feeling due to the solemnity of the backing synth pads. Similar to Mourning Wok in its mood, it is quite a bit warmer and fuller due to the welcoming massage caused by the deep bass drones that drift along. Next is Secret Island, and depending on your viewpoint, it could be either the strongest or the weakest tune off IZ. Its base frame is a lonesome, isolation-evoking three-note synth loop that is utterly melancholic but nonetheless mellifluously warm. The 80's feeling is über-strong with its clichéd angelic synth strings. The lack of any sample or field recording only enhances the forlorn mood, and while the dubby bass line accentuates the majesty, the song feels rather empty, possibly a deliberate choice in order to inject the feeling of an encapsulating shelter. The track is strong, no doubt about that, but it's rather serious, heavy and doesn't transport the cheekiness that I've grown to love about Gel-Sol's music. So I acknowledge the utter beauty of the track, but still see Secret Island as one of his weaker tracks. Pah, my loss!

The samples are back in Raneboze in the form of a slightly snobby female voice ("You will listen to my voice, and you will rest quietly") that is juxtaposed to the metallic haze of cloudy drones, ship horn-like strings and multiple trembling textures which are the most sophisticated ones of the whole album, providing an atmosphere that is at times gloomy, only to reappear in a happier crystalline form. The song is cold without the feeling of coldness. It's getting brighter with every minute, leaving the haze behind but keeping the melancholy. Drone fans who favor multiple textures will be more than pleased with this tune. The 10+ minutes long Orca is the centerpiece of the album. Aquatic deepness and cavernous drones – whose fissures allow the entering of mellow synth strings plus bursts of heat – are the main ingredients of this underwater track which morphs so slowly and seemingly arbitrary that it's hard for the listener to spot the differences; that's the very formula of a great Ambient track, so I won't complain. Rapturous bubbles and the vestigial glitz of the synth pads make this another deep, carefully meandering track that ends on a dusky note with the glaring red pompousness of the darker strings. The final track is Your Day In The Sun, and it gets hold of all the positive energies the album presented in its first five tracks. These vibes, however, are unexpectedly poured into a flask of melancholy: multitextured two-note loops, galactic synth swirls and contradictory rain drops are merged with the coziness of another dubby bass line, terrifically melodic vibraphone-like curlicues and "I love you" samples. It's hard to pinpoint the mood of this closing track. Is it bright and upbeat, or melancholic and sad? It's unsolvable and therefore intriguing. A great outro that leaves a pondering listener with gentle droplets and gurgling water.

IZ is a great present for Andrew Reichel's niece, but an even greater offering for us Ambient listeners. Despite its heavier undertones and deepness, it features a great amount of brightness, happiness and beauty. It is a pure Ambient album and shows Gel-Sol's change of style. Gone are the warped, sneaky and positively ridiculous beat-driven tracks of his first two albums. But what the listener gets in exchange is equally great and more majestic than his previous works. The theme of space isn't mentioned explicitly, as there aren't the usual mission briefings or launching rockets that are closely tied to the artist, and yet they are implied to my mind due to the galactic shimmers and fluttering sparkles that are found in many of his tracks. IZ is as keen on presenting cinematic qualities (Orca) as it is on the proposition of isolation (Secret Island) and catchy bliss (Disko Bay). But there's even better news to Ambient fans: as Gel-Sol's vibrant 2003 debut was placed against a darker opponent in the form of Unifactor, the stream of bliss and isolation found in IZ is further changed in Gel-Sol's fitting foil of 2010 called K8ema, also released on the Psychonavigation label. That album is definitely spacey, very dark, rather serious and eerie, but also rose-tinted and happy at times. It is like Unifactor, but without the beats. As a true fan, I recommend every bit of Gel-Sol's music, but if you favor melodious Pop Ambient that isn't tied to the Kompakt label, definitely get yourself IZ. Dark lords may check out K8ema. Everything is wholeheartedly recommended by me.


Further reading: 

  • Gel-Sol has a cool blog where he explicates his further music-related projects. If his double album Terramecha – again keen on depicting a journey through space – ever becomes reality, I'll be drooling all over it!
  • On Gel-Sol's SoundCloud page, you'll find his latest experiments of the aural kind. He will probably never weave them into an album, but they are top-notch anyway. 


Ambient Review 076: Gel-Sol – IZ (2008). Originally published on May 30, 2012 at