Warm honey from the ambient classical genre.
Icelandic duo Hugar have been working together on music since they were kids and it really shows. “Rift” is their latest album in which they explore electronic soundscapes in weird and unusual ways. Think 2am soft electronica mixed with Icelandic contemporary classical sensibilities and you are on the money.
There is a certain Japanese word that I associate with this album: Yūgen. It means profound mysterious beauty and that single word encapsulates the entire album. Across the hour of music, Hugar reaches for this emotion by creating washed out, soft piano, strings and synths. Occasionally echoing soft drums seep in like on the achingly beautiful “Far” but often it is left to the piano, strings and synths to provide the emotion. The album is slow, unfurling and epic in stature. Not one string or synth chord washes in without it being like a tide – all sweeping and all-encompassing. The music feels like water and each track has it trickling, lapping or pouring over you.
That’s not to say “Rift” is boring or stale – far from it. Every sound has technical layers of production to it so even a gentle hue warps, bends, fractals and fragments. Nothing stays still and something is always coming and going. Even on the most ambient abstract pieces like “Rest”, you are uncovering unusual sounds that pique your interest. On the flipside “Mist” is like a new age pillow. It has a driving beat, warm strings and pianos, soft brushed arpeggios and even some brass hiding in the background. You can drop the music in anywhere on this album and it will feel warm and inviting. Its sound design is to feel beautiful and every track does just that.
Where the mysterious element comes in is with the fog of noise Hugar creates. If an early morning mist was translated into sound -this would be it. On tracks like “Keilir” and “Solaris” – the synths and tape noise call out towards hues of ideas and sounds. You aren’t given the full picture but you are left with a sense of longing and nostalgia alongside the beauty. Other pieces later on in the album feel more astral than Earth-based as the synths feel a bit more metallic but it never feels foreboding. Instead, it evokes a wondrous sense of mystery to uncover such as the tracks “Form”, “Luna” and “Bless”.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is Hugar has recorded a one-hour audio hug. With a warm weighted blanket. With a stunning view from your window and a mug of hot chocolate to boot. It is one of the softest and warmest albums I’ve had the pleasure to listen to and it’s already become a study favourite. I have it on in the background whilst I plan out my week or think about projects as it keeps me grounded but curious. Anyone interested in contemporary classical music and soft electronica needs to listen to “Rift” at least once. It’s a true beauty.