A thoughtful release from a quirky musician; Ablu's first EP deftly avoids the common pitfalls of “atmospheric” records.

If there is one trend that has dominated the music of 2013, it is the concept of space. The success of XX’s 2009 debut – as bold an exercise in reductionism as we’d heard in years – sowed seeds in the tastebuds of plenty of musicians, and this is the year in which that harvest has finally flowered. Daughter, London Grammar, Deptford Goth, Lorde, Foals; all have been competing in a race to the bottom, a competition to make a record with as little in it as humanly possible. Of course this quest is largely futile, as it was arguably won last year by the XX’s second record. However, despite being epically sparse, Coexist was also epically unlistenable, so I give the crown to Es Muss Sein’s track Sail, again from 2012. You could literally not make a good song with fewer ingredients.

The cover image of Ablu by Ablu

So what does that mean for all the upstarts chasing the crown this year? Well, some have produced excellent records (Daughter and Deptford Goth being chief among them) but there’s no escaping the fact that all this introspection and space sounds very much like a trend, and all those who experiment with it can quite justifiably be accused of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’. Viewed in that light, it is especially refreshing to hear records like the one Oxford-based synth-botherer Ablu has just released. Ablu has clearly heard all these sparse, empty, atmospheric records, and clearly likes them too, but thankfully he uses the texture-du-jour as just that; another texture in his pallet, no more, no less.

The sparsity and “atmosphere” (music journo shorthand for reverb) in Ablu’s EP are tempered with an almost jaunty sense of fun. A playful Bhundu Boys-esque rhythmic complexity undercuts much of this record, ensuring it never becomes too po-faced or serious. This also keeps the music’s view firmly on the horizon and not gazing shoewards; another plus-point in Ablu’s favour.

If I had to level one criticism it would be that at times the voice sounds too mannered, too wrought and affected. The vocal has a distinctive quality that serves to draw the listener in deeper, and for most of the twelve minutes of this EP the voice is a great asset, but every so often it does creep dangerously close to the border between artful-artlessness and music-hall pastiche. If Ablu played it straighter I’d be happier, but that’s a small niggle in an otherwise excellent record.