A few times a year an artist album comes along which touches the hearts and minds of electronic music lovers.
One that resonates with fans from all corners of the industry. An album where the artist pushes him or herself into unknown, border-less territories. It’s been a long time coming for Gai Barone’s debut LP, the Italian artist has been one of the most loved melodic producers of the last 10 years. His releases on Perfecto, Platipus and a slew of other long standing imprints have all been extraordinary, but his home has always been on Germany’s Afterglow Records. The label, both hugely impressive in both the progressive and trance arenas has released over 25 projects with Gai and none more monumental than his much anticipated ‘Towards’ LP.
It’s rare that we get to see Gai step outside the confines of club production but the lead track here ‘2 Sides of Nowhere’ does just that. An ethereal, timeless beauty; it’s broken rhythms and indistinct, yet poignant themes put in motion what is an incredible journey. It sets the stage for ‘Bianca’, a deeper mid-tempo affair with cross cultural motifs and textural drifts, which bring about more than a few ‘lost in sound’ moments. One of Gai’s all time best and also the album’s first single ‘Mom’s Clown’ takes you further into never-land with hazy, seaside themes and one of the year’s most memorable bass lines. It’s unique rhythmic structure seals it’s brilliance and leads to the appropriately titled ‘Stripped’. With a scaled back framework the Italian’s pendant for hopeful vibes never seemed more prominent. It’s something that’s locked deep within all the cuts in fact, particularly ‘Flowers’. It’s nearly two minute break, highlighted by icelandic designs and breathy wails lifts your mood on a deep and profound level. It more than whet’s the appetite for ‘Mimosa’, which is a showcase for Gai’s dreamy techno inspired vision. A storyboard of vocal loops and shifty atmospherics make for a delightful listen each and every time, and it’s minimalistic design is a breath of fresh air. We get a glimpse of Gai’s meatier sound on ‘Fade2Black’, where after a short but perfectly executed break a bevy of kaleidoscopic designs and a spaced out spirals take you home.
All good albums tend to feel like well told stories and it’s pretty evident Gai has put a lot of thought into how this was going to play out. It would have be easy to keep the flow going in an upwards and obvious direction but the proceedings get dialled back a touch with ‘Scarlet’. A slice of dubby, rolled out techno with just a glimmer of beauty drifting through its mountainous bass tones. It’s basically the perfect composition to set the stage for one of the album’s showcase pieces ‘Love Stimulation’. After twenty years of big, boisterous interpretations on the Humate trance classic, Gai’s take might be the most heartfelt of them all. His sonic imagination seems boundless here as he’s taken the distinctive themes and remoulded them into a warm blissful narrative that’s sure to stand the test of time.
The ethereal qualities of ‘Six Months’ and ‘John The Geometry’ take the journey further to the heavens and it’s here where the album ultimately seals it’s borderless scope. The offset beats and quirky vocal motifs of the former set up the bassy swells and glassy harmonies of the latter with an unconventional flair. It’s a unique twist in a story of sound which seemingly unveils something more compelled as it unfolds piece by piece. Appropriately the ride continues with ‘Saurus’, reaching new heights and perhaps falling as the album’s most trance oriented creation. For as grandiose as it is, there’s an old soul locked in that production and one which is going to touch a lot of listeners and dance floors in the coming months. Gai’s poignant musicality is on full display with the ‘My Sicca Drawing’ version of ‘Lilith’. The original, released in March of 2009 marked the beginning of Gai’s long standing relationship with Afterglow. In many ways it’s fitting for it to get included here 7 years later, getting scaled back into a compositional piece with a delicate sensibility.
Now 13 tracks into the album it begins to take on a reflective tone with ‘Nightingale’. One where you look back not only on the journey which just unfolded but moments in your life as well. It’s music that makes you feel and resonates on a deep emotional level. Finding the right piece to close out an album which took years of work can be a daunting task for any artist. Not only because of needing to find exactly the right mood to leave the listener in but also because it’s puts a finality to the project which can sometimes be a very difficult thing. Needless to say Gai has outdone himself on the LP’s closer ‘You Make Me Hurt’. Featuring the vocals of Katty Heath, it carries the reflective tone which began with ‘Nightingale’ and adds a sentimental depth. There’s something fascinating in the vocal which recalls the magical days of progressive music in the early nineties. A time where Sasha forever changed the landscape of electronic culture. It was an emotional forwarding thinking blueprint for house music and still sounds timeless today. ‘You Make Me Hurt’ encapsulates that and so much more. Gai’s artistry has always carried somewhat of a nostalgic mood, music that’s been written by someone who’s spent a lifetime in the electronic underground and understands how it can connect people on a profound level, this encapsulates that thoroughly and puts a perfect close to what could only be considered an impeccable album.
It’s a tale told over 15 acts which encompasses an emotional depth that you just don’t hear in electronic music much any more. Somewhere along the way the music has gotten lost for a large part of the industry but Gai has never wavered in his melodious approach. He’s crafted a brilliant journey here and one that you’ll want to listen to several times over. Ultimately there’s something deep and meaningful in each and every selection here and that’s why you’ll likely end up with a new favourite track after each listen. Fittingly, the album which has now been out for over a week, has reached the #1 spot in Beatport’s Electronica and Progressive House charts respectively, and although It’s only March I’d be surprised if this doesn’t sit as one of the year’s most memorable albums as 2016 draws to a close. If you consider yourself a lover of unique and timeless electronic music then there’s no reason not to have this in your collection, as it’s something you’ll enjoy for years to come. Highly Recommended.