This is Banco de Gaia’s first new studio recording for seven years and the thing that has impressed me initially about it is the beautiful cover design. The painting of the ancient Greek temple on the front of the sleeve gives you some indication to the music contained within. Automatically it makes me aware that Banco is on the move again geographically. From the ancient Mayans to travelling through Tibet, Banco’s work can sometimes be seen as a travelogue for both inner and outer experiences. Whether or not these are places Toby Marks has visited or a kind of musical atmosphere he thinks of when contemplating these areas matters not, because the real journey in the end is the musical one he takes the listener on.The album opens with “Lamentations” – soaring string-sounding synths build up beneath a beautiful vocal from Zhenia Mahdi-Nau, and the sound here is very reminiscent of Dead Can Dance as it conjures up the images of the ancient pagan temples clinging close to the cliff edges on Greek islands. Whether this is a lamentation to the crumbling state of these monuments or a lament for the rituals of old matters not, it is a powerful opener and one that casts a spell over the album. “Wimble Toot” bleeds in from the end of “Lamentations” as a bass throb hits in and ghostly voices echo all around. When the drums build the rhythm you are reminded of some heathen dance as a pan pipe-sounding synth calls the revellers to the party. This backed by reggae-sounding horns that pepper the proceedings and add an exotic spice into the mix. When its lead sax hits in, it sounds like a howl to the gods in the sky. “Eternal Sunshine” starts with a low bass throb and a stuttering sampled voice. The drum kicks out a steady beat as electronic pulses bleep around. Already it’s making me think that this could be a dance floor hit for this summer’s festivals like Boom, etc.. It radiates a positive vibe and keeps in a four to the floor stance and is infectiously feel-good.
“For Such a Time” opens with brooding keyboards almost like a storm is brewing after all that sunshine. However, when the main melody starts to play and a vocal hovers over the top you enter a sensual cosmic feel that seems part world music and Tangerine Dream all at the same time. The drum plays a steady languid beat and the voice sings a stunning melody. This is the sound of chilling within the shadows cast by the massive pylons of Karnak temple or the cool of the cave where Hercules was hidden. It is a blissfulness of shade after the heat. “Apollon” follows next and picks up the beat. The opening sounds like it could be from a carnival band with its percussive power, then a contemplative keyboard part takes the track elsewhere before we head back to the rhythms and the keyboard refrain returns. These two elements playing off against each other give off a early morning Goa feel and you can imagine the sun rising over the ocean, the elements of fire and water combining together.“Hu!” begins with a more global beat before a strong keyboard part takes charge, making a catchy riff over the top. Slowly more synth sounds get added as the song gets busy. Then hits in an almost Arabic-sounding tune, to spin the track into a non-specific geological location as it sings above synth slaps. This is music for a train ride around the world that lasts only a few minutes. Ambient bird sounds tumble into the opening of “All Sleeping” as wolves howl; we are now taking a trip into the unconscious. A drone drifts underneath various sounds as Tim Wheater’s haunting flute creeps into the dream. This is a drifting voyage down the river of your mind in slumber. It is as much about summer trees dangling over a quiet English stream as it is trying to touch the intangible strand at the edge of those dreams.
“Oreia” brings us back to earth with a bump with a big beat and a funky bass. This is topped off with all manner of world instruments adding into the brew of the dub rhythm. It is mainly the bass that gives the track its forward movement until we hit into its psychedelic middle section. This what the Incredible String Band would have sounded like if they had made dance music in an orgy of sounds that fit together quite brilliantly. “Acquiescence” closes the album, its breathless vocal chant bringing us back to the ancient temples where the sun is now setting casting deep its darkness until the stars begin to appear in the sky above like a shining carpet. Keyboards swell underneath an impassioned voice and we are left in its mood of sombre quiet as the music drifts off into the aether.
The album seems to tell a story (although it is certainly not a concept album) and bookended by two graceful tracks give the sense of the beginning and end of a journey. Was the album worth the seven year wait? I, for one, certainly think so.