John Foxx / Robin Guthrie


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Mirrorball is a melodically affecting exercise in ethereal ambience -- precisely what you might expect from two artists whose CVs list collaborations with Harold Budd. That's not to set Budd up as an overarching influence, though: Foxx and Guthrie come to this album with their own long-established and distinctive pedigrees, the former as an electronic pioneer and the latter as chief architect of the Cocteau Twins' unique dream pop lullabies. Mirrorball bears the musical fingerprints of both, combining Guthrie's trademark hypnotic, echo-laden melodies with the kind of otherworldly, cavernous spaces that Foxx mapped on Cathedral Oceans. Like David Bowie on "Warsawa" (and Guthrie's former bandmate Elizabeth Fraser), Foxx sings lyrics that aren't recognizable as English; he favors improvised vocals that suggest a hybrid of Latin and glossolalia. Foxx's sonorous baritone -- often set amid austere synth washes, slow, droplet-like piano notes, and Guthrie's reverberating waves of guitar -- contributes a hauntingly beautiful, almost liturgical gravitas. Most memorable are "The Perfect Line," "Spectroscope," and "Empire Skyline," relative miniatures that conjure up cathedral-sized ambience; and "Luminous," a more amorphous, oceanic piece, whose sounds and words overlap and bleed into one another, spreading like ink through water. Foxx and Guthrie also explore more boldly defined arrangements on "Sunshower," with its Cocteau Twins' lilt, and on the string-adorned "Estrellita," which could be the theme from an imaginary James Bond film. While these tracks are more direct than most of the material, Mirrorball is by no means a predominantly abstract endeavor. Far from it. Alongside Another Green World and the instrumental suites on Low and Heroes, Mirrorball shows that ambient music isn't only about epic soundscapes: skillful practitioners can also bring that aesthetic to bear on more compact tunes whose brevity belies their richness. Foxx and Guthrie's work makes that point emphatically. Much like its namesake, Mirrorball is a shimmering, multi-faceted artifact.

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