Body Of Blue






Body Of Blue is Ian Handsley’s aka Enh’s full-length debut, released in April 2013 on the Swedish Gterma label in both a CD edition with a 16-page booklet of oceanic photographies and a digital download version available to purchase and listen to in full at the artist’s Bandcamp page. Comprising of ten tracks in total, with two of them being Enh remixes of other artists, Body Of Blue is a strongly ethereal, designedly synth-based and dualistic work, drawing from many opposite concepts, textures, timbres or other idiosyncracies in order to maintain a deeply engaging listening experience. The surroundings of its production-related existence are equally interesting: the Ambient producer usually resides in the small town of Anori, Japan. However, he temporarily moved to an old hotel on the Pacific Coast in Japan and envisioned his material by experiencing the changing weather conditions as well as the development and unfolding of gales. And still, Body Of Blue is neither strictly tied to the sceneries as depicted on the front cover and the artwork of the CD version, nor to a Japanese mentality which could potentially be woven into the sound layers. Not every entity on the album feels figuratively humid, a possible flaw in the given surroundings and overarching scheme. I oftentimes asked myself why a particular track was produced in this specific way, with the link to the artwork totally amiss. Then I began to see the album as a collection of tracks, and once I forgot about the mandatory necessities and particularities of the album format, Body Of Blue turned into a striking listening experience, time and again. The first third of it feels very crunchy, immediate and attentive, heck, even purposefully over the top in its depiction of joy, and these observations initially caused bewilderment, for I expected haze, diffusion and Drone music. And eureka: all these things one shall receive in abundance! The album soon progresses and has enchanted me implacably. Arpeggiated ornaments are one main ingredient, the other being legato synth washes and even choir-like settings. Enh’s Body Of Blue turns out to be a dream come true for fans of synth-fueled Ambient music. I have known Ian Handsley via Twitter for more than a year and always promised him a review in advance, as I presumed I knew his stylistic range. When he gave me the album for review purposes, I was amazed. Read more about all of my listening experiences and similar works below. 


Right from its very beginning, Body Of Blue descends into aquatic habitats with the same-named title track. However, this is not your archetypically hazy-diffuse oceanscape that is so often depicted in Ambient tracks of all colors. Even though a modicum of tape hiss and liquid reverberations float through the submarine ether, the feeling of moisture is realized by different means, for instance via surprisingly crisp and immediate four-note dark matter synth stabs whose murky trait is accentuated by a spectral afterglow which unfolds in the blue background. The interdependence between space, sustain and decay creates an eminently hollow body, one that seems to be in genteel fluxion, slowly drifting, devoid of warmth. The synth stabs infinitesimally oscillate and change their attack rate, a crystalline legato runlet gutters through the ambience, increasing its impetus and voluminosity ever so slightly, leading to the pristine climax of the opener comprising of revved up synth flecks and a heterodyned mélange of concomitant echoey currents. The remaining two minutes are much calmer and resemble the prelude, but draw from the vibrancy of the backing synth streams in adjacency to the deep bass drones. This dichotomous-tranquilizing state of crepuscular nullity and focused profundity is then neglected in the following Nanmadol, an unexpectedly jocular and even gleeful quasi-Ambient track presumably dedicated to the ruined Micronesian city called Nan Madol. Similar to Masayuki Taguchi’s 1005 (Part 2) off his EP Works1005 (2010), Ian Handsley drops pointillistic vibes next to heavily quavering spirals, claves, hi-hats and additional frizzles. The melody is comparably complex, the layer intertwinement furthermore involves two different euphoric female chants. Admixed acoustic guitars, wound up Trip Hop beats plus handclaps as well as a rather upbeat rhythm result in an uplifting ditty whose perception of movement and stir breaks the designed lethargy of the opener. Everything glints, sparkles and flashes iridescently, warm synth accompaniments boost the hymnic characteristics of Nanmadol further. A blissful, Ambient-esque reel of purified refractions.


Trenches reuses many of Nanmadol’s characteristics, for instance the prominent chime-vibe hybrids, the softly sizzling shakers and the pattern of moving forward, also known as progression. The arpeggiated firefly blebs unite with an elasticized coruscating synth river of bliss and amicability, bass droplets function as the beat fundament, deep basslines for once augment the cordiality of this sublime song partially coated in melancholia. The final minute sees the luminosity of the synth river increase. Now hued in reddish colors, its frequency range decreases, making it sound delicately muffled and dreamy, a noteworthy counterpart to the endemic glistening effervescence. Up next is Fighting Against Your Lungs (Enh Remix). Originally envisioned by Aidan Knight, Handsley takes the acoustic guitar-fueled trumpet-underpinned Pop song and supercharges it with… haze! What was amiss heretofore is quintupled and mercilessly injected into the ears of the excited reviewer. Not much remains from the original, its formerly plinking-scintillating bonfire aura is first transformed into a greenish-turquoise tunnel vision and then supercharged with vaulted echoes. The guitar aorta is still in place, but encapsulated by shadowy remnants of the vocals. Like specters from another time, they whirl around the limewashed billows. Best of all: there is a strong euphoria in here devoid of any saccharine chintziness. The more one increases the volume, the deeper the occurring submergence becomes. This piece of over nine minutes is a highlight, if only for its conflation of Drone, Ambient and acoustic Pop. It is all about the textures and hall effects here, for the melodies of the original are purposefully simplified and silkened. While the following dusky Contact is a sanguine-colored semi-apocalyptic Ambient piece loaded with stuttering Faithless-oid 90’s synth choir lightning bolts, stokehold splutters and polyphonous countermeasures of golden-shimmering cherubim flaps which altogether gyrate around grim wastelands and wraithlike antipodes, Cicadarama ventures into the jocund greenery of a galactic pine forest filled with rhythmic chirrs, sylphlike splinters and diluted analogue acid lead pads which sound less, well, acidic than solemnly exuberant. Together with a balmy 4/4 beat and ecclesiastic susurrations in the background, Cicadarama offers a maximum of mirth and insouciance. A strong favorite of mine, enormously moony and contemplative yet mercurial and vitally alive.


It is Shipping that moves back to the album’s aqueous sub-theme. It is also another standout track due to its inclusion of thermal heat and gaseous mellifluousness. Previously these virtual complexions were reached due to a moiré of different layers which, as a possible result, caused joy, rapture or incandescence. Here, it is not so much the interplay of the layers rather than the texture-related timbre of the imagined surface. A majestic synth choir-esque two-note drone changes its appearance, grows larger and clearer, exchanging its wonderfully foggy endurance for an equally powerful physiognomy of piercing perspicuity. Additional arpeggiated and stereo-panned synth globs likewise turn into shards and back into their original form. Even though Shipping consists of only two notes plus the encircling light glitters, it is a magnificently subsuming tune akin to Sircle’s Under The Sand off his synth-powered floatation tank opus A Relevant Space (2012). The following eight minutes of Line Memory make another U-turn and lead to elysian-aeriform New Age climes. Cathedral-evoking synth choirs spiral in the air, their aura is loaded with pleasant anticipation and ceremoniousness, translucent power ballad piano chords interpolate the churchly atmosphere, hall effects increase the perceived wideness. I for one cannot find anything particularly wrong with Line Memory, but it is clearly not made for everyone: the festiveness, the non-stop elevation, the hyper-transcendental superstructure could be cast aside as syrupy and overly lachrymose. For my personal taste, it sounds too angelic, I miss the depth and ameliorated cavities, the appearance of a counterpart or reverse pattern. All these things are admittedly amiss in Enh’s remix of Drew Moon’s Deep Inside as well, but holy smokes, it lures, enthralls and deludes with its gargantuan synth washes, the insinuated Jungle or Drum’n Bass placenta, the ever-shifting airflows between immersing tropicalisms and galaxies of illumined concrete jungle. A galactosamine-laden journey of almost ten minutes, it lets its synths glow in blazing cavalcades of colors without ever becoming inelegantly vivacious or scabrously flamboyant. Even though the synthorama is also in place in Drew Moon’s club-compatible original, Ian Handsley amplifies the impetus and spawns an almighty vigor. The final Within You serves as the apotheosis. Scabbing Glitch particles, echoey female chants from far beyond and growing red-tinted synth choirs lead to the intriguingly polymorphous twilight state that I sorely missed in Line Memory. Both compositions share many ingredients, but the surfaces and aural cinematography are open to scrutiny and escape from any endeavor of a definitive interpretation. A haunting closer.


Enh’s Body Of Blue is a feast for followers of the synth movement. Like Sircle’s aka James Mills’ previously mentioned A Relevant Space or Oliwa’s Naturalia (2013), Ian Handsley’s album is a revelation for synthesizer afficionados who do not mind the rare appearance of an acoustic guitar or two. While I miss a truly dedicated overarching scheme that unites all tracks with the given front artwork and the album title – i.e. an aquatic theme that traverses through or at least touches every offering – , the material itself is top-notch nonetheless and almost always interesting at worst or truly mind-blowing at best, regardless of how many times one has encountered the overused term mind-blowing heretofore. I do not shy away from using it in two particular cases: Handsley’s remixes. Aidan Knight's original Fighting Against Your Lungs is simply not my cup of tea, I am sorry to say. Yes, I am missing out on one of the greatest post-millenial songwriters and arrangers since Sufjan Stevens, but Enh comes to the rescue and at least lets me enjoy the guitar ornaments of the originals which are then truly ennobled by echoey drones. On top of that, Drew Moon’s perfectly mesmerizing Deep House anthem Deep Inside morphs into a Jungle-insinuating ethereality with severely boosted synth serpentines. That these remixes stand out is no insult towards Enh’s own original tracks; I rather believe this observation to be coincidental, as his material "has it all" as well. From the depicted duality in the first two tracks – the airless ocean vaults of Body Of Blue and the unorthodox sprinkles and vesicles of joy in Nanmadol – over the blood-red adumbration of an apocalypse in the nervously bubbling Contact to the ecclesial synth choirs in Line Memory and Within You, Enh’s dualistic debut always feels transfiguring and unvarnished, aerial and earthen, like a still life and a voyage. There are no memorable melodies on here per se. Most Ambient albums and especially so Drone albums do not feature them in greater numbers anyway. What makes Body Of Blue so valuable is the abundance of synthetic strata and artificial alloys. The wideness is awesome, there is hardly a moment where the pitch-black background shimmers through. Only the titular opener allows this to happen, incidentally the track which embodies the album title most splendidly. Despite my difficulties in linking the dectet of tracks with the artwork, this remains a superb synth album. In a world of electro-acoustic Ambient music, I am munificent to say: support synth artists. Enh’s Body Of Blue gleams so brilliantly that even the calcined decay feels adamantly annealing.  



Further listening and reading:




Ambient Review 222: Enh – Body Of Blue (2013). Originally published on May 29, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.