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Ghosts of Then and Now

A few years back, when Illum Sphere, aka Manc club night Hoya Hoya co-founder Ryan Hunn, had only a couple of releases under his belt, I remember discussing the variation in his musical styles with Daedelus, who was over in Manchester to play. “Ryan is still searching for his sound,” he said affectionately.

Ghosts of Then and Now is the culmination of Ryan’s sonic ascension so far, his first album proper following a bevy of EPs and singles for Fat City, 3024, Tectonic and Young Turks. None of his music so far has been easily classifiable for those that feel the need, but the murky hip hop of his earliest forays have here been superseded by a resounding landscape of synth work conducted with a definite narrative in mind. Vocals, from New York's Shadowbox on three numbers and Mai Nestor on the epic 'At Night', don't overpower proceedings, but provide a sweet contrast to the potential darkness of an extremely layered piece of work.

‘Sleeprunner’ (the most aggressive and immediate track), ‘Near The End’ (sci-fi party jazz with soul, all mesmerising keys, tribal drive and chord build-up) and ‘Embryonic’ (the closer, a memorably-hummable Shadowbox lullaby) are standout tracks for me. Tempo varies and percussion hits hard, but those synth lines are killer throughout. Illum remains steadfast in tone and demonstrates admirable restraint and subtlety – ‘Near The End’ and ‘Liquesce’ with Shigeto end way too soon – over thirteen tracks which in less skilled hands could have been a stylistic mess, and the underpinnings of live musicianship on such an 'electronic' album make it a warm affair which rewards repeated attention.

Ironically for someone identified with a pioneering club night, Ghosts... is unconcerned with scenes or what you think is a la mode. Illum has found his sound.

Jamie Groovement