Review: Soft Mirage - Ionian Dream
(Cassette, Kinnta Records, 2012)
The album cover, with a semi-abstract, psychedelic painting by Marc Knowles promises a trip into a realm of 70’s progressive rock or folk, with relaxing, multilayered compositions and a sense of fullfilment after the listening is done. Even the project name sounds like taken straight from the 1970’s, like a more proggy approach to krautrock or Canterbury scene. This duo of Norm Chambers (Panabrite) and Christian Richer (Element Kuuda, also the mastermind behind the Kinnta label) show themselves from an entirely new, and thrilling side.
The opening “Colorsound” does not bring any hints of a new style - it’s basically a bubbly, synthy, fluorescent opening Panabrite got us really used to - no surprise here. It gives a fake firest impression that the entire album is going to be series of calm analog synthesizer jams, much like the solo work of Chambers. Fortunately, this track works as an “intro” to the more varied, instrumental sound of the rest of the album. Because the rest does not rely on synthesizers as much as on “real” instruments, such as acoustic guitar, bass guitar or drums. It is obvious from the beginning of the second track - the serene acoustic tale kicks into a freewheeling jam in the vein of Beck’s “Sea Change” (minus the vocals) or Tortoise’s “TNT”, with an occasional break for cosmic synth noodling, which always stays somewhere in the background.
I value “Ionian Dream” very highly - mainly because as a showcase of what musicians, who may be accused on relying too much on electronic instruments or computers (which can “cover up” the lack of compositional talent), can do when posed with other instruments. Chambers and Richer defend themselves here from any criticism, proving that they’re just as good with good ol’ guitars and drums as they are with modern age electronic equipment. What especially deserves praise here is the bass guitar, which provides a separate backbone to the entire sound and can change the mood with confidence and feeling of true power.
Soft Mirage sounds like a truly groundbreaking project without breaking any new ground - after all, it’s been done before, the sort of soft, bucolic, inoffensive instrumental jamming that provides a feeling of healthy, un-drugged psychedelia. But it’s quite rare to see musicians operating mainly within analog electronics to make such a confident and bold statment with such an ornamental and eclectic album. We can only hope the life of Soft Mirage does not end with “Ionian Dream”, because there is an enormous potential here.