It is impossible to give Illuminine’s hypnotic third album, simply titled #3, anything other than your full attention – instantly we are sent journeying deep into an ambient ocean of waking dreams and melancholia, softness and pain, a gentle, sweet, slow confusion that tangles and untangles like the weeds in the waves. There is no way back – only through.
Flemish composer Kevin Imbrechts, the artist at the helm of Illuminine, deftly blends neo-classical with post-rock influences – and, the album having been mixed at Sigur Ròs studio Sundlaugin, one can certainly detect connections between the two acts – but the music Imbrechts is making here is something precious and distinct of its own. Previous work has attracted comparisons to Nils Frahm, Bon Iver and Ólafur Arnalds, although Imbrechts admits he is more influenced by avant-garde enigma Buckethead, explaining that Electric Tears was “my first experience with slow, instrumental guitar music.”
The largely instrumental #3 is a deeply personal work, reflecting the composer’s emotional state throughout the two years preceding its birth – Imbrechts is open about the fact that it concerns “a very dark chapter in my life: it’s about dealing with my anxiety disorder and accepting an Asperger diagnosis. Writing this album was the best therapy possible.” Each song reflects a specific moment, it is “a unique time document,” he says. “My secret sound diary.”
There is a delicate frailty to the album, a spaciousness and a lightness of touch, but the mood is anchored by something elemental, and moments of drama punctuate the dream. No words are needed to intuit the emotions behind the songs, although the soft vocals of Hannah Corinne on ‘Dying Flame’ and ‘Fright’ are a welcome presence.
Imbrechts explains that Corinne’s voice reminds him of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, ‘One of my favourite bands. [‘Dying Flame’] was written on Christmas Eve in 2016, while everybody was feeling ‘together’, I felt alone and went to my room to play the guitar. Within 5 minutes this song was born and written. I always imagined a warm soft female vocal on that song, representing the feeling I had that night.”
Opening track ‘Aura’ reflects that state between sleep and awake that inspired the composer to write this song. “During my darker period, my neighbours often woke me up with a loud noise coming from their [shower], just when I was maybe finally asleep after a long night of lying awake. Therefore I recorded this sound and sampled it into the song. It’s the backbone of the song.”
‘Dear, Utopia’ features Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid / A Winged Victory For The Sullen), whose sensitive orchestration was a “dream come true” for Imbrechts. “When I wrote this song in my bedroom I would never have thought that it would be performed by a real movie string orchestra. We teamed up, (Wiltzie) wrote everything down for the orchestra and the song was born. It represents a feeling or a desire to something that cannot exist anymore, to better times.” He describes the mood as one of “travelling through time and landscapes.”
‘Fright’, again featuring the otherworldly vocals of Hannah Corinne, is “one of my favourite songs on the album,” according to Imbrechts. A silvery backdrop of chords and drones are spectral but uplifting, drifting in and out like an Estuary tide.
While #3 is inspired by a struggle with anxiety, an affliction all too many can relate to, the overall feeling is one of hope – light penetrates the fog and changes arise unexpectedly. The composer also intentionally made the work reflect the cycle of a day: a spacey, sleep-deprived dawn grows into a hopeful morning, darkness brings new fears which transmute into another dawn filled with potential. This will also be portrayed visually in the form of an accompanying movie, which will feature scenes of Icelandic nature – Iceland being a country Imbrechts is closely connected to – while taking us through the shifting colours, moods and energies of a single day.
Having difficulty expressing his feelings verbally, Imbrechts communicates them largely instrumentally, and so the songs can be interpreted in a personal way by whoever hears them. This album is not only a therapeutic vehicle for Imbrechts, it is intended to be shared, and to be a light for those who suffer similarly. Imbrechts consciously wants listeners to merge with it and allow it to reflect themselves.
“It’s my own ‘channel’ to communicate with the world, to express feelings. Everyone can and should project their own ideas and feelings onto the music. Instrumental music is more powerful than vocal music with clear lyrics; it’s much more telling. I want to share this with the world, as I think people have to talk about these issues. It’s not easy to talk about it, but it helps.”