Placed at deliberately strange angles and interspersed with off-centred, skittering rhythms, ‘Starlight And Still Air’ can loosely be described as song-tinted electronic music (although it has no desire to stick to a genre and its restrictive labels) from This Mortal Coil’s Dominic Appleton and Italian composer and producer Matteo Uggeri. Starlight And Still Air is the result of a unique collaboration between the pair, and it marks their debut album under the name of Starlight Assembly.
Appleton’s vocals are located in the middle of low-hanging bass-zones, crystalline, towering melodies, and irregular, dislocated drums, which sometimes appear as a light sprinkling and a showering of percussion. At other times, the drums come across as being heavily improvised and liberated from pop’s strict sequencing. When the thicker, muscular drums enter, still displaying a flexibility to their many rhythms, the music almost feels like undiscovered trip-hop (brought forward a couple of decades). Although scattered amongst the music’s uneven and maze-like terrain, all of its elements walk with obvious grace and there’s a distinct lightness to their steps.
Field recordings and other electronics, such as distant pops and distortion-dented notes, form a part of the music’s many colours, but also present are operatic tones and chants of reverence, and the atmosphere remains balanced and gentle.
The vocals are the centre of attention, although one is never sure whether this is by choice or a result of its pop-oriented format; the music revolves around the lyrics. In reality, Appleton’s lyrics seem honest and humble, which are a far cry from the plasticity of modern pop. If you thought the world had a problem with plastic, it’s better not to look at the state of the Top 40. The authenticity here is a welcome deluge of rain after a drought –levels of rainfall to rival the scene of liberation in The Shawshank Redemption. This is why its original brand of pop music will never fit in – because it isn’t tuned into the unoriginal cycle of chart pop. Not that it wants or needs to fit in. It is its own thing, proud of itself and staying true to its musical self, and because of that, there’s a lot to unpack and a lot of original ideas brought to the table. Although the music is like a puzzle, with its many pieces slowly being put together, perhaps the biggest achievement is the record’s accessibility in its wearing of many different tonal clothes.