AMN Reviews: Steve Brand & Ishq – Spiritual Science (Pioneer Light Music)

Matt Hillier and Jacqueline Kersley reside in Cornwall and have been making ”harmonious” music since 1995, although I was always led to believe it was mostly Hillier. Since 2008, they have been releasing almost exclusively on their own label, Virtual, although I believe it is Kersley who in mainly in charge of that project. Be that as it may, as Ishq, and occasionally Ishvara, Indigo Egg and Elve (along with dozens of contributions to ambient compilations, each one under a different, transitory monicker), its music has maintained an enchanting, optimistic, immersive quality; some feel that ´Orchid´ (2001) is one of the best ambient albums of the new millennium.

Steve Brand of Kansas set up his own label, Pioneer Light Music, to re-release out-of-print material and music originally available through the excellent Relaxed Machinery netlabel. Finding a kindred spirit in Hillier´s “expansiveness and expressiveness of feeling, and his intuitive and spiritual approach to music”, Brand, who boasts an impressive discography himself, contacted Hillier and suggested collaborating. The latter responded by sending him an entire DVD of new material and Brand set to work feng shui´ing it.

For this reissue, Brand has remastered the music and packaged it as two, separate CDRs, each with its own handsome cover, the first containing three tracks over seventy-five minutes, the second a single piece stretching fifty-two minutes. “Spiritual Science” is classic ambient, weightless like outer space and undersea, beatless except for a catchy, blotchy rhythm running through “Flame of Nuit” on the first disc. Rather than challenge it invites and engulfs. It is definitely harmonious, even idealizing, but it is layered with much more craft than any New Age dross, regardless of the meditation fountain and chirping cricket on “Nature is Sung”. Escape is one of the many functions of ambient music, as J.R.R. Tolkien has said of fantasy literature, and “Spiritual Science” is a sweet retreat.

Stephen Fruitman