This is the French band 9 Skies third studio album, a collection of releases that have been very different to each other. On this release, the emphasis is very much on acoustic instruments and includes the consequential contributions of a string section.
The band introduces its music on this release as being; “the personal poetry of this album conjures up a dream beyond various horizons”, which provides a lot of scope for content and approach. The band’s influences are quite varied, taking in the broad encompassing delights of rock, jazz, folk, and no little classical. This is quite evident from even the briefest of listens to the band’s music, but here there are more pointed reference points. The more acoustic side of Genesis is one such point, but being far from a copyist way. It is more that the two bands are co-travellers and their ideas have led them to similar areas of music. It is the interplay of acoustic guitars that provides the key to this, in this instance. There are four guitarists interacting in 9 Skies, and their sound is the main feature of the music. The opening track, Colourblind, highlights this, although the tracks saxophone section suggests that 9 Skies jazz influence.
The predominance of acoustic guitar throughout the album is a defining feature, and it works well with the array of other instruments deployed. And quite an arsenal it is too, as the band itself has nine members and there are also a number of significant guest contributions. Steve Hackett plays an excellent characteristic solo spot on Wilderness, his brother John Hackett is tasteful and apposite on The Old Man in the Snow, while Damian Wilson sings wonderfully on Porcelain Hill. The string section also interacts quite brilliantly with the band. Such a roster of musicians would be quite unwieldy if not handled correctly, possibly creating a dense and rather turgid sound. That it is not the case is down to both the excellent production of course, but also the very good writing skills of Eric Bouillette, Alexandre Lamia and Achraf El Asraoui, not forgetting the perceptive lyrics by Anne-Claire Rallo (and Alexandre Lamia on Wilderness). The songs meanings are, quite naturally, a matter for interpretation, but would seem to be reflecting the human condition, particularly our emotional responses to various situations. This aspect of the songs can be quite markedly poetic at times too, not least on the fragile melancholy of Beauty of Decay, which has shades of John Keats about it.
Stylistically then, this is a move on from the band’s other released material. This suggests that this is not a band that wants to sit on its laurels and repeat itself just for the sake of it. The diversity of influences is what gives the band its distinctive sound and approach. The resulting music might be introspective, plaintive, and also elegiac, but it remains artful, profound, multi-layered, highly-textured and quite positive. There is a compelling timelessness to it, a determination it would seem to not produce music that is too ephemeral. Another impressive release from the band.
2. Wilderness (feat. Steve Hackett)
3. Beauty of Decay
4. Golden Drops
5. Above the Tide
6. Dear Mind
7. The Old Man in the Snow (feat. John Hackett)
8. Godless Land
9. Porcelain Hill (feat. Damian Wilson)
11. Smiling Stars
Eric Bouillette: Guitars, mandolin, violin, piano, arrangements
Alexandre Lamia: Guitars, piano, arrangements
Anne-Claire Rallo: Piano
David Darnaud: Guitars
Achraf El Asraoui: Vocals, guitars
Aliénor Favier: Vocals
Bernard Hery: Bass, fretless bass
Fabien Galia: Percussions
Laurent Benhamou: Saxophones
Steve Hackett: Guitar solo on Wilderness
John Hackett: Flute on The Old Man in the Snow
Damian Wilson: Vocals on Porcelain Hill
Cath Lubatti: Violins, viola
Lilian Jaumotte: Cello
Music composed by Eric Bouillette, Alexandre Lamia and Achraf
Format: Digipack CD
Release Date: 4th June 2021
Label: Anesthetize Productions