I know the above songs from the wrong album. I just want to give a little context, an idea of where I’m coming from. You don’t just see the music when you look back.
It goes something like this.
‘D’you mind if I sit with you lot’ he asks us. My crowd [- a little crowd whose collective age is only few years larger than his - make various affirmative noises] say yes. I pull out a seat. Excluding me, the crowd are all deep into their second sleepless day of a Berlin visit. I took the bus home as they were settling into the club’s morning hours. Whilst I slept, they moved onto a World Cup screening at Brandenburg Gate, and then onto a nearby pizzeria for seats and drinks, where we reunited. I’m a bit fuzzy. I ask our new mate about the 60s; the biggest gigs (apparently Jimi Hendrix was a big fun social gathering but musically rubbish) the best (Emerson Lake and Palmer, amazing light show) and the banned (he was a Stones Guy, no Beatles for him). Disappointingly, he dismisses David Bowie as ‘weird’, but a few minutes of chat later he kinda hits the nail on the head. He’s talking about how he’s enjoyed slowing down in retirement, looks at me, and says ‘everything’s a hundred miles an hour for you, isn’t it?’
It reminds me of a recent gig. I had just moved into my second Berlin flat, and decided last-minute to shell out for Gigi Masin, a sick Italian ambient artist. It was nice to hear Masin through big thick speakers, but then ‘nice’ doesn’t mean nice does it. Watching his hands move between three view-shielding laptops, watching him from a semi-circle of hard wooden chairs...it was awkward. I didn’t know where to look, and my neck was aching from what I thought would be helpful pre-gig stretches (Fun Fact: a good pillow helps the body alleviate physical, postural, and nervous pressure). At the end of the gig I chatted to an admirably chilled Liverpudlian who had the key to the gig: he hadn’t opened his eyes the entire time. I walked on, to the Spree’s dimly lit banks, slipped my headphones on and switched on a mix from my favourite DJ, Moxie. Leon Vynehall’s ‘Envelopes (Chapter VI)’ edged its way into my ears, like a rising tide. I dangled my legs over the Spree, put my elbows on my knees, and my weight on my elbows. The water, the sky, the office blocks facing me, the trains rolling alongside, they were all painted with the same molten palette, this enormous city whose pulsating culture could paint my life with rich colours, or smother it. This city whose tides pushed me on and pulled me down, with the occasional gutturally choking gush. It was nice.
The album is really something. I read a review of it, and if I close my eyes I can picture the 10-piece string section featured therein, 10 professionals sat in a solid room. Or I can just focus on its artwork and name. Track one is named ‘From The Sea / It Looms (Chapters I & II). As it builds and pulsates with synthetic swells folded into the mix, I kinda see what Resident Advisor.com means by ‘he uses these musicians to enrich a sound that feels authentically his own’, although at points it works in the other direction. Rather than sitting alongside the strings, Vynehall’s synthesisers grow out of them, like airflow bursting from an airplane’s growling engine. He was always brilliant at crafting synthetic, utopia-sourced sounds that lift dance-floors into ‘Paradisea’. Now, he uses those same shape-shifting skilsl, so you get the sense not just of the place, this looming city, but also of the psychedelic filter one sees it through, as it looms upon them. It’s kind of like the dream-sequence in Inception where the city folds back on itself.
The album’s track-list is is split into chronological chapters and footnotes, which tell the tale of Grandma and Grandpa Vynehall’s 1960s immigration to New York, along with a novella and a pair of short films. Leon isn’t fucking around here, this project took him years. This layered but subjective conceptual plot is perfect for allowing you to bring the record into your life, and then further into your mind, at your own speed. It’s a gift to the tired migrant. Or the tired dancer. A relaxing but nuanced record is always useful when you’re feeling drained by a big night, or a big move.
If you listen to Nothing Is Still on an urban commute, through a city that hasn’t quite claimed you yet, you might recognise the sound of the ground shifting beneath your feet. Your journey didn’t end when your feet hit the ground, you’re still moving through this grand, complex and - hopefully - functional lifemachine.
Nothing Is Still.