High-concept albums rest on the ability of its creators to marry a great idea with even better songs. Go either way in the wrong direction, and you risk making something that’s a bit too thinky without the tunes to back it up, or so vague the concept seems superfluous.
Llyr has mastered the balancing act of a high-concept album on his first go with Biome, an impressive ambient-techno hybrid that uses the rainforest as its playground. Gareth Williams captures the ancient beauty of the Earth, and human interference within it, in large part by going straight to the source.
The sounds on the record are manipulated field recordings from the rainforests of Borneo. Bird calls, rustling foliage and insect wings are the base for much of the mood and pacing. The songs here are far from just field recordings, though. Llyr uses his prowess with binaural sound to create a three-dimensional space that feels tangible. The rainforest samples become an orchestra to direct across the album.
Biome is split into two clear sections – Pre-Anthropocene and Anthropocene. The first is a slow-moving ambient landscape, where quietly emotive synth pads and precise one-shots capture stark primordial stillness. When a beat eventually does three-and-a-half minutes into opener ‘Refuge of Majesty’, it carries all the heft of the environment it represents.
Anthropocene announces human arrival with a shift to absorbing dance grooves, while keeping the central patience and atmosphere. Though its perhaps less distinct than the stunningly alive opening tracks, it’s still a satisfying exploration that earns its lofty presentation. ‘The Hawthorne Effect’ is a clattering near-industrial piece that posits humans as alien invaders with metallic bass rumbles. There’s even a surprising shift into classic dubstep on the minimal ‘Interject’, where nature is swallowed up in radio static and drone interference.
Concept albums often try to emulate other mediums like film to stir emotion. You can imagine another version of Biome that looked to Planet Earth soundtracks for inspiration. But the reason it succeeds is precisely because it’s a dance record. It revels in being one. The closer, ‘Encroachment’, is a dizzying experience that could only be achieved in this form. Across seven minutes, Llyr describes the shifting harmony and chaos between humans and the world we inhabit, through methodical loops and the blending of synthetic and natural.
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