Ocean Sighs is almost a bit of a throwback album, a reminder of the early days of New Age, where blending quiet synth with the sound of waves would not have been unusual. But I do find it a touch unusual for Igneous Flame, whose work tends to find a comfortable spot between darkness and warmth, with little room for these kinds of standard tropes. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not complaining. On this album Pete Kelly runs the wave sounds through some treatments, adds binaural and vocal harmonic elements, and gives as much weight to the waves as he does to his drones. The result is a set of very deep pieces, absolutely relaxing (especially in headphones) and ready for long looping. Although the album is broken up into nine songs, the consistent pairing of waves and music, and the consistency of tone within those aspects, makes it feel like a singular thing, albeit with slight pauses between passages. There are places where the music rises up. The duo of “Vox Sanctus” and “Vox Humana” lift above the waterline with a sacred music feel. Choral pads, always a must in this kind of music, are used well here. Kelly doesn’t overplay them, sticking to his 50/50 plan so that voice, drones, and waves live in harmony. At that, there are moments where their presence is rightfuly strong. The real sacred music piece comes later, on “Vox Sanctus (Reprise),” which comes at you with a surprisingly big, distinct church organ sound before it fades back to drone. And then there are passages of pure quiet and beauty. “Oceana” is a breath-slowing piece that moves simply but at the same time pulls threads of emotion from you. It drifts into “Clairaudient” which retains that hushed warmth as the water sounds turn to a light crash of waves. (And do I hear a gull?) The waves get their solo moment on “Breathing Waves.” It’s a pleasure to listen to them on their own for a bit, and–in a close listen–to try to hear how Kelly has manipulated them. This is as close as he gets to being just a “relaxing sounds of nature” album, but its place late in the flow, setting the stage for the closing track, lets it work in keeping with the overall arc of the album.
Ocean Sighs is a bit of a gamble. First, it’s a deviation from what Igneous Flame listeners might expect. But Pete Kelly’s never been one to sit still. On one of his recent past albums, he noted that it was the last time he’d be using sounds from a long-standing library that informed his earlier works. So the deviation is not unexpected, but this is a pretty far jump. The second bit of the gamble is that, yes, at first listen it would be very easy to dismiss this as an old-school relaxation album where the soothing sounds of the ocean are matched with the familiar ooohs and aaaahs of the choral pads. Listening to it has made me want to go digging for my copy of the flute-and-water album O’Cean by Larkin. (Whole bunch of New Age listeners about my age just went, “Oh, yeah…”) But it’s not that, despite the reasons to think so. Kelly is very careful about his balance, and if you stripped out the wave sounds you’d still be left with a very strong drone-based ambient album. I can attest to its use as a sleep aid and an endless loop. Let this ebb and flow in the background quietly, or pop on the phones to get the full effect of Kelly’s binaural mixing. This is an interesting departure for one of my favorite artists, and a lovely, relaxing album with a lot to take in.
Available from Bandcamp.