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Alex Henry Foster - 'Kimiyo' Album Review


1. Of Dreams And Dust

2. A Silent Stream

3. The Edge Of Time

4. A Vessel Astray

5. All Of Our Past Future Lives

6. Autumnal Processions

7. Nocturnal Candescence

8. Too Bright To Crumble

9. Under A Luxuriant Sky

2022 should have seen the start of Alex Henry Foster's ascendance. “Windows in the Sky”, a record that drew from the death of his father, and its tour was previously curtailed thanks to the global pandemic. The live album “Standing Under Bright Lights” and the band's subsequent live shows looked to propel Alex and his band The Long Shadows into new territories. However, this was derailed due to surgery that Foster needed for cardiac issues; surgery that would require a lot more healing than expected, with both his physical and mental health feeling the repercussions for over a year. It also meant Foster losing the ability to sing for some time, leading to his questioning of how he could continue in his artistic endeavours, something he has been able to slowly regain.

Searching for a way to express himself, Alex drew upon a notebook he'd kept dating back to 2010 while he was in Japan. Ideas germinated from these words, ideas that would allow him to create an album (part of an artistic project that will span several different mediums). Assisting him would be one of his longstanding musical accomplices Ben Lemelin (one of The Long Shadows multi-instrumentalists). The pair would together craft the soundscape that would form his latest release “Kimiyo”, a female Japanese name meaning “beginning generation, beautiful”. Unable to perform the vocal tracks for the album due to the rehabilitation of his voice at the time, Alex would allow his friend and fellow artist Momoka from Japan to take his words and poetry and express them in such a way that would give the project a flavour that would not have been present otherwise.

The suite of performances is multi-layered, drawing from the Japanese tradition for songs of longing (called aishōka), defined by mourning, contemplation, and a faith in a better tomorrow. In “Kimiyo”, Alex draws on the story of someone who communicated to him her story. In it she finds herself with child, something that takes a while for her to come to terms with. After much introspection, she finds balance in herself and acceptance before, ultimately suffering a miscarriage. After the loss that creates further emptiness within herself, she finds peace and new purpose in her life as she contemplates what has happened while also looking forward, something that becomes a metaphor for Foster's own recent journey.

To try and describe the songs is like trying to describe a film's soundtrack without being able to see the accompanying narrative. Normally, this could lead to a dissatisfying experience but here Alex, Ben and Momoka craft a feast that can be listened to without a full understanding of what's going on. In fact, it allows the listener to draw from their own feelings and emotions as it flows through you.

“Flowing” is possibly the best way to describe the journey you go on with the albums. As with a film score, songs have their own motifs and themes, with some sounding like stories within of stories (the track ‘Autumnal Processions’ almost feels like an ambient version of a Christopher Nolan film such as “Inception” or “Tenet”). Musically, there's a lot less recognisable guitar than his previous album as it’s often treated with effects. Overall the tracks are warm and full. It's balanced well without being too thick with sound. The various layers combine and compliment each other in a really great way.

Momoka's voice and vocals become another instrument in the album's musical palette. Performing in her native Japanese, she floats amongst the music, weaving her way through it like the thread that holds our clothing together. She is a constant element on 'Kimiyo' and it works to great effect. Sometimes she speaks low and softly, other times with urgency, her pitch rising with the passion of her performance.

The album itself invokes several comparisons in it's tone and approach. First and foremost is the work of Portishead and it's vocalist Beth Gibbons, but shorn of it's Bristolian trip hop trappings. There are also leanings towards Nick Cave's more recent work with the Bad Seeds that has seen him in a less linear, traditional frame of mind. It's here where the more ambient sounds of his work are tapped into (think “Skeleton Tree” or “Ghosteen”). The artist Moby also feels like an influence on the music, especially referencing his more classical sounding work such as ‘God Moving over the Face of the Waters’ or ‘When It's Cold I'd Like to Die’ but with a more progressive steer on the tiller. You can also hear it drawing from the dna of modern film scores from composers such as Hans Zimmer, Clint Mansell, Ramin Djawadi and Ludwig Göransson.

The release also marks another first for Foster as the vinyl is created and pressed at his very own record plant Drummond Vinyl. It will be released as a beautiful pink marble effect gatefold vinyl, giving him even more control over his own artistic output.

“Kimiyo” sounds grand and orchestral (please, someone score this for a symphony!), taking you on a journey if you will allow it to. You don't need to know the story that has influenced the album, in fact I only read about the narrative after a few complete listens of the album, instead allowing the performances themselves to take me places where my feelings wanted to go. It's at times joyous and mournful, rejoicing whilst also questioning itself. It tugs at your very soul if you will let it, the mix of traditional instruments working with the more abstract sounds and structures that are employed here. It's the sound of introspection while looking towards the sky, a motif that seems to appear often in Alex's work. Here “Kimiyo" seems to ask more questions of you, dear listener, questions that we all need to answer to ourselves every now and again. Abstract and wistful, it continues to chart Alex's path away from Your Favorite Enemies, into a more challenging world, something that must feel incredibly satisfying to all the artists involved.

Review - Scott Hamilton


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