A Good Land, An Excellent Land is Joel Nathaniel Pike’s debut album under his instrumental and ambient tag, Tiny Leaves. A Good Land, An Excellent Land is so heart-felt, so open and so accomplished that it’s difficult to believe this is Pike’s first full length; it feels composed, articulated and delivered by an assured, skillful hand that has been around for decades. His is a special talent that has been nurtured, nourished and then cultivated throughout the years; it’s a natural talent that defies longevity, and one that proves elusive to the passage of time. Years of practice and thousands of hours are required, but Tiny Leaves demonstrates that this musical discipline isn’t the only necessity, or the only way, to produce gorgeous, free-flowing music. All things are possible with music. The conjuring of emotion, and the deep resonance we feel stirring inside when we sit to listen and receive, is a musical talent all of its own that doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with the hours of practice and devotion; emotion isn’t restricted to lengthy practice sessions.
While ‘What We Dream Of’, an EP released earlier this year, tended to stray towards mellow, ambient seas and total emotional surrender, A Good Land, An Excellent Land raises itself up solely upon the open cliffs of modern classical music. Tiny Leaves creates a dense, richly textured body of instrumental songs that swirl in the air like tiny, fallen leaves. You may not usually associate the word ‘songs’ with modern classical music, and a purist or two may gasp at the suggestion, but that’s just what the music sounds like, drifting with a definite sense of purpose and a clear structure, exactly like the classic song-form, but missing an erased vocal part or a second guitar. Crucially, his phrases never return, like that of a chorus; instead, they meander and then branch out, to become something bigger than they originally were. His piano is in charge of the direction, but it’s never an overtly forceful push. They’re incredibly active, thoughtful in their voice, and he’s never afraid to lower the dynamics to a hush. And all of this can happen in a single track, with phrases that are tied together loosely, but never returned to.
What started out as a collection of short piano melodies has evolved enough to incorporate the weighty, sombre resonance of a cello and some dreamy atmospheric clouds of drone, a process which involved re-wiring amps and fine tuning pedals, just to get the right tone out of his electric guitar. A passion for detail, the right sound for the right situation, is the sign of a musician dedicated to his craft. Not only that, but it also demonstrates a finely tuned adoration for the entire process of creation. Although initially conceived as short melodies, it’s clear that most – in fact, nearly all of them – have grown wider, healthy wings, metamorphosing and then departing to include the cello and her thicker voice. Only a couple of pieces brood solely with the piano’s close intimacy, a sound that is alone, and yet comfortably together with her surroundings.
His 8 movements unfold with poise, are controlled, and run off into the poetic shelters of modern classical music, but the heart of the music still feels, still beats, close to an ambient listen, thanks to the dominant tranquility that spreads its white wings over the land. Peace lives here. The fluid soundscapes so prevalent to traditional ambient music are only injected when the bare cello risks drying up the record. You could be forgiven for thinking that the ambient inspired atmospheres of the past have disappeared completely, replaced by the sombre toned cello and piano, but on ‘Your Hand In Mine’, an open, ambient river shimmers with the reverb-deep tone of an electric guitar in a return to his ambient roots. The instrument plays a prime role, trickling soft chord tones into the waters before disappearing into the eventual, arriving piano line.
The entrance of the strings allows the archway of sound to expand, blossoming open in ever widening arms of circles. Ambient music is, of course, a prime example when it comes to expansive, escapist atmospheres, and imaginary, far reaching lands stretch out underneath closed eyes. The addition of the strings helps the music to go even further beyond, trailing notes that seem intent on sailing ever further away from home base – in this ecosystem, the strings feel far braver than the ambient atmosphere, ready to take steps beyond.
Swimming in sweet currents of blue, reverberating textures, the music goes with the flow. The additional guitar-led sequences are used sparingly, but you never know when they may surface; there’s a sixth sense that they’re always around, just waiting to enter. ‘A Good Land, An Excellent Land’ reclines at first, until her melody changes, and soon rapidly picks up speed; soon, the full beauty is uncovered. Upwards the music ascends, once again turning towards the light, at home in the light, making it pretty much impossible to see where the original motif belonged; that lonely melody, once thought of as a short phrase, is now able to live life to the full, to harvest an emotional response, even though she was composed so long ago.
– James Catchpole for Fluid Radio