Justin Adams – Ribbons

Album Review | Wayward/DJA | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Both on his own records and as a sideman Justin Adams has always an compelling listen.  From Justin’s early days with Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart, he played memorably with Robert Plant, injecting Plant’s music with a dose of electric Saharan blues.  Adams partnership with Drecker, vocalist on Ribbons, stretches back to tracks from Take Me To God the 1994 Island Invaders Of The Heart album where she was a featured vocalist.  From 2001’s fine Desert Road onwards Adams has released a series of solo albums and a trio of African fusion albums with Gambian musician Juldeh Camara.  His production work has seen him working with Sinead O’Connor, Brian Eno and Malian band Tinariwen.  Ribbons abandons the traditional rhythms of Adams Indie Rock beginnings for the snaking African guitar of Tinariwen, with shifting sand like presence through an often mystical soundscape.  As with many musicians before him Adams has turned to abstract Art for inspiration, drawing on work by painters like Robert Rauschenberg, Jackson Pollock, Joan Miro and Robert Motherwell as starting points.  “Lightshaft” the opening track has a strong sense of the ambience and shifting light of a roomful of Mark Rothko paintings.  The guitars and distant devotional voices drift and shimmer in a way that recalls Vangelis’ music for Bladerunner and Peter Gabriel’s Passion soundtrack, both excellent musical touch stones.  “Wassoulou”, named after an area of West Africa and a strand of vocal music is more directly infused by the African pulsing guitar.  Layered instruments slowly build with a rhythmic loop that strongly suggests staccato vocal sounds.  If Mike Oldfield had journeyed to sixties Morocco with Davey Graham then Tubular Bells might have sounded funky like this.  Harping with its beautiful slack string sounds evokes the quasi ethic music of ECM Records legend Stephan Micus and the African Ngoni.  The rattling strings have a gritty ambience which Adams sets against waves of guitar feedback, sounding like John Martyn at his most abstract.  Across the whole album there is a languid beauty, this is the music of open spaces, distant vistas like a desert sunrise jam.  This not the claustrophic music of a highrise city centre or a tiny spaces lit only by artificial light.  “Crow Dream” features the beautiful vocals of Aneli Drecker from Royksopp more prominently.  Justin Adams provides a series of looping guitar motifs while Drecker croons atmospherically shifting from “Great Gig In The Sky” vocalise to an icy electronica blues.  “Grey Green” has a guitar sound lifted straight off The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead album, but the guitar loops back over itself, building a trance like feel, swirling and winding like beautiful smoke.  Imagine a dirty garage band take on Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” piece built around Pat Metheny samples that featured so memorably on The Orbs “Little Fluffy Clouds”.  On this and all the tracks, the music has the space for you to appreciate the most glorious crackling analogue guitar sounds.  “Ariel” has a Moorish, North African feel as the flurries of flamenco like notes shimmer and resonate building tension and atmosphere.  “Khamsa” is another showcase for the glorious sound of Aneli’s vocals, both a resonant lead and a more abstract Cocteau Twins like chorus swirl over a buzzing bass drum like note.  The whole track crackles with a kind of ambient resonance like an early blues 78 and sounds decidedly other worldly.  “Deep C” and “Strand” are guitar pieces, on Deep C Justin Adams builds sound around harmonics and riffs that recall Robbie Krieger’s eastern mysticism on The Doors “The End”.  On “Strand” chiming notes build waves of feedback, string squeaks sound like birds against a rumbling bass.  As chilling as anything Blind Willie Johnson recorded, this is a man in total control of his instrument and his music.  “Fog March” features beautiful Psych guitar parts, a frenetic percussion part and some superbly unnerving vocals from Drecker.  “Open Invitation” pushes the vocal till it folds back on itself to create a Throat Singing note which is picked up through the track against nervous but insistent guitar parts to create a dark, sinister Sigur Ros like music.  The sound rises and falls in waves in a way that is cinematic and glorious.  The final bass note spreads from the speakers to the furniture and the music seems to fade away into the fabric of the room.  This is destined to be an ambient classic of the future.​