Patterns In The Ivy
Patterns In The Ivy






Patterns In The Ivy is the self-titled debut of Liverpool-based Classical pianist John Pearson and Hindustani classical musician and vocalist Yashashwi Sharma who is originally from Jaipur, India. Despite their musical backgrounds, this debut has many stylistic surprises to offer and meets the stereotypical pictures of supposedly ethnic music only to break with the formulaic allusion mere seconds later. For one, Sharma may be featured on each and every unique track that the duo wrote together, and she’s also in the spotlight every so often, though this is still no vocal-driven Pop album, but a work of art where the soundscape is at least as important. And while I’m talking about the sounds, Pearson’s and Sharma’s music is clearly inspired by classical piano arrangements, but these only provide the skeleton or the base frame of each composition. Of equal momentousness is a strong Oriental or Middle Eastern flavor that is either created by the haunting voice of Sharma or a large amount of synthesizers, sound libraries and filters, altogether shifting the focus further away from an all too obviously piano-driven album. The style is shuttling between Occidental and Oriental melodies, but the mood of the debut, which was recorded partly at home and in the studio of Liverpool’s Hope University, is harder to describe. It is gloomy and potentially frightening at times. The dark mood can be soul-crushing, and the album in its entirety is a heavy beast that depicts several shades of grim, enigmatic and at times even apocalyptic patterns. Oscillating between the 90’s work of the Future Sound Of London’s Lifeforms album – and even more so the Lifeforms EP – of 1994 and the 2012 debut of Bare Beats called Strangeways which features similarly indicting but also hopeful female vocals that are placed in an Atomic Age setting full of wastelands and despair, Patterns In The Ivy present ethnicity on an intriguing and dedicated level. The band travels to Rajasthan, India every so often in order to seek and most definitely find inspiration and extraordinary instruments, at least to the ears of European or American listeners. The eleven tracks might be dystopian and very dense overall, but the surprise level is actually quite high and the album way too enthralling to just write a few lines about it. I’m risking a deeper look into the darker realms of Patterns In The Ivy and you can do so as well if you wish, as the album is readily available on the Bandcamp page of Patterns In The Ivy, so by all means, listen along to this review.


Raindrops Part One is the gateway to the enigmatic darkness of Patterns In The Ivy, and it isn’t until the very end of the album that Part Two leads the listener back to the better known world. Part One starts in medias res, with John Pearson’s warm, contentment-fueled piano backings already intact, ebbing and flowing all the time, occasionally accentuated by darker chords. The voice of Yashashwi Sharma is also interwoven right from the get-go, and her rich timbre oscillates between camouflaged blithe and an admittedly large dose of melodrama, but the latter works really well, especially so since she is at times inheriting the Indian tonality that every Occidental music lover seems to be able to pinpoint immediately. With these assumptions and conjectures perfectly in mind, the duo tries to target these criteria, only to move into different directions. Raindrops Part One is a piano piece that shares nothing at all with Hindustani Classical music, and the occasional beats which are rounded off by an abyssal main burst – whose sustain resonates with the dark distance – are obfuscatory Trip Hop remnants. Since this composition is so piano-focused, Sharma’s voice outshines almost all other particles, but cannot fend off the dark mood. And this is a deliberate process, for the following Nomad depicts the same gloominess, but with much more variety: a meandering electric piano loop, allotted flute samples and intimidating, erupting tribal beats waft around Sharma who remains in the center of the piece and reminds strikingly of Elizabeth Fraser whose accusatory, incomprehensible vocals made the Future Sound Of London’s Lifeforms LP and Lifeforms EP so exciting, alienating and tenebrous. Chanting priests and additional pressuring flutes expand the murkiness. Nomad sounds so outlandish, and even the only heartwarming element, Sharma’s voice, doesn’t illuminate the cavernous alcoves… yet. This is the short-term task of Lullaby which is based on a catchy kalimba-esque four-note loop and scattered piano motifs, but before the first minute is already over, Patterns In The Ivy drop terrifyingly dusky temple synths whose evocative spectrality encapsulates the mystical Rave sound of the early 90’s, sounding refreshingly apposite in the given context. Not convinced? Don’t worry, as Pearson drops hammering acid stabs and staccato synth strings which altogether merge in a great finale that is way too short, as I would have loved to bathe in this richly texturized temple for much longer. After two minutes and 40 seconds, everything is over. I consider this a signature track of the band, the variety and multiple layers embiggen the endemic mood without destroying the overarching concept. An exceptionally creepy lullaby!


Interlude is the first of three like-minded arrangements, altogether making up one fourth of the whole album, all of them being Ambient tracks, so they aren’t short or negligible by any means. The first construction features a droning organ in the background which can indeed be interpreted as a source of thermal heat. Misty synth streams float in the background, long-sustained piano tones boost the melancholia, but all in all, this is an unexpectedly peaceful track, even though Sharma’s voice is more piercing and powerful than ever, especially so during the vocal climax in the middle section. I would have liked a more soothing, balmy performance by her in this specific song only, as she counteracts against the fragile setting; however, no harm is done, since this could well be the duo’s exact plan, as completely mollifying arrangements are nowhere to be found on this debut. While the following Higher Love delivers eminently haunting sitar-like strings, a clanging, heavily reverberant Industrial (!) beat pattern, tremendously catchy but blood-red pizzicato synth strings as well as thunderous guitar keys in juxtaposition to Sharma’s lamenting-longing equivocal performance, Forest is a fissure-fueled, string-laden Ambient piece with unbelievably galactic synth droplets; they break the formula and deliver relaxation, paradisiac panoramas and entrancing bliss and are the definite high point of the album from a synth-related perspective, even – gasp! – degrading the superiority of Yashashwi Sharma on this track. Ethnic flutes and hi-hat drops with a gargantuan reverb round off this second truly magnificent track by Patterns In The Ivy. It even has a weird, successful twist that makes it memorable, for Pearson cuts off the hi-hats during their sustain phase. I don’t believe in flimsiness or an accident, for this debut is too well produced to suggest such an interpretation. It’s a great risk to cut the majesty of a good reverberating brazen sound, thus making it stop abruptly. Whatever the intended message is, this calculated audacity works nonetheless. The following Paradise is approached by me in a suspicious, distrustful way, for Lullaby and Forest didn’t exactly depict the stereotypical expectations one Western reviewer has about these conceptions, and Paradise is indeed no different, though intriguing on its own thanks to its positively wonky ethnic-string synthesizers, the bamboo rod-loaded Trip Hop downbeat and Sharma’s lyrics, her voice reaching sky-high regions. In order to fuel the pressure, additional synth strings waft prominently through the track, killing any good mood off, painting desperation that meshes well with the depicted infatuation as suggested by Sharma’s sung tone sequences. Heart-breaking seraphic string washes mark the end of this intense song. Shuffling between earthen colors and ethereal bliss, Paradise is yet another strong track with an Ambient core.


Interlude Two begins with a muffled synth creek but morphs soon enough into a terrifyingly eerie, hammering piano piece that drones and vibrates gigantically before the song shifts a third time and aurally sketches a sizzling-hot mirage with the help of a violin and surprisingly lightweight, positive piano droplets. The song is purposefully indecisive about its direction, but with a title like Interlude, you can forgive everything. It’s three tracks – or rather blueprints – in one, and that blood-curdling piano remains stuck in one’s head. Gruesome! After the mirage comes the frostiness: On Ice, the band allows itself a treat and changes literally everything instrument-related. The tempo is revved up, the beats resemble classic 4/4 club stompers and the mood is joyful! John Pearson’s gelid piano shards works well with the bells and whistles of the track and with Yashashwi Sharma’s constant exhalation. It is as if she is happy to lose a heavy burden, and this is explicated further by her exclamations "I can love, I can feel". A joyful track that smashes the Oriental mood and crestfallen darkness. Could it be that this energetic outburst changes the remaining two tracks? I believe so, and after several listening sessions, I’m more than sure about it. Maybe I’m the victim of psychoacoustic sound waves, but Patterns In The Ivy got me fooled for sure, as Interlude Three slowly fades in and delivers the darkest piano notes once again, but somehow they have lost their fright for better or for worse, as the following vignette of the interlude consists of balmily glistening of wind chimes, shifting piano notes ranging from darkness to mystique, and a trembling, pulsating haze that whirrs around an X-Files-like doleful tonality and a mosquito-esque Oriental string instrument. As usual, there are many ideas to be found in here, and all of them are delicately delivered, but again way too far-fetched and diverse to fully enjoy each part with the same passion. If there were three dedicated interludes, one being solely horrific, another one doleful and the last one mystical, their presentation would have worked better from a conceptual viewpoint. But then again, the shock-and-awe method would have been dusted as well. The final song is called Raindrops Part Two, and it resurrects the warmer spectrum of Pearson’s piano chords and Sharma’s voice, the latter of which is sometimes presented in two layers at once. This second part is more than a minute shorter and doesn’t feature anything new, it’s simply a re-edit for the purpose of encapsulating the album in a warmer shell.


The self-titled debut of Patterns In The Ivy is a trip into a dark, doleful Oriental setting whose superstructure is further carved out with the help of baneful piano chords, portentous synths, fulminant beat structures and Yashashwi Sharma’s haunting voice, while retaining its Ambient nexus on each and every composition. The strongest tracks are usually the ones which entangle more layers and synth structures than usual, with the 90’s Rave-penetrated Lullaby leading the way, followed by the supposedly dreamy ambience of Forest and the mood-shifting relief of Ice with its coruscating molecules. As I’ve hinted at in the opening paragraph, Sharma’s beautiful voice is in the limelight most of the time, she’s always present and adds Middle Eastern or Oriental tonalities and characteristic traits even in those situations where the melodies and sounds remain distinctly placeless. Occasionally, I would have liked Sharma to deliver a more subtle, intimate and deliberately fragile performance. I just want to stress that the listener knows about the strong qualities and crystalline yet powerfully intense voice of her after a few minutes already, so she is definitely allowed to keep a lower profile on certain songs. A huge benefit, however, is the unvarnished quality of her voice, as only the slightest echo filters are laid over her voice, but otherwise, Sharma remains electronically unharmed, so to speak. No vocoder, autotune effect or ring modulator has been used. I’m stressing this fact because of the conceptual relation to the aforementioned Lifeforms EP by the Future Sound Of London, which the band even cited as a huge influence in an email to me when I mentioned this similarity. And on that EP, the voice of Elizabeth Fraser is altered and warped quite a bit. Where she has to give up her authenticity, the songs benefit from and grow in alienation by further augmenting the intense duskiness. Patterns In The Ivy keep it real in this regard and reach similar effects through the clever interplay of pianos, sample libraries, synths and a wonderful vocal work. As stated before, the album is available on the Bandcamp page of Patterns In The Ivy, and if you decide to buy a digital copy of it, there are two additional surprises bundled in the package, one of them a live performance of Paradise with the Hope Vocal Group led by Chloë Mullet, and this group accentuates Sharma’s vocals splendidly! The album is for fans of Future Sound Of London as well as admirers of apocalyptic and Dark Ambient music with only the slightest scents of true horror, but a focus on loneliness and interspersed particles of beauty.




Ambient Review 110: Patterns In The Ivy – Patterns In The Ivy (2012). Originally published on Aug. 15, 2012 at