Night Time Stories releases Departure, the much-anticipated debut album from Portland-based Kennebec, in mid-February. Following the production of its title track (which finishes off the album) back in 2017, it’s been a long period of refinement for the project’s mastermind Eric Phillips, taking in anime soundtracks, obscure hip-hop and ambient electronica to deliver this 10-track delight.
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The name Kennebec is derived from the Eastern Abenaki language. It means 'large body of still water, large bay'. I think this is a perfect description of the music on Kennebec's new album 'Departure'. Every sound is crystal-clear, with clucking percussion, burbling synths, and this great sense of progression that resembles the movement of water around a bay.
I love the production on this record. It's bone-dry, crisp and brisk. In the hands of someone less skilled this LP could have become filled with the kind of chill-out music you get free with John Lewis' monthly magazine. However, Kennebec has kept things fairly sparse by avoiding the hackneyed synth pad sounds that are a surefire route to electronica mediocrity.
This album sounds a bit like Four Tet, Bonobo, and other masters of that downtempo trip-hop aesthetic, but I think where 'Departure' differs is the amount of acoustic instrumentation. There's a pleasing interaction between acoustic and electronic elements. In the arragements, violins and guitar are supported by warm sub-bass and scurrying percussion. There's even a pretty gnarly pan-flute solo on 'Kalahari'. The two piano pieces, 'As We Grow Older' and 'Yesterday, Tomorrow', are absolutely gorgeous, at once intimate and sumptuous.
Although it's not the most riveting music in the world, 'Departure' skilfully avoids the pitfalls faced by a lot of projects of this kind by deftly-weaving acoustic and electronic instrumentation into a neatly-rendered collection of pieces.
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