Over the course of five years' worth of singles, Illum Sphere's Ryan Hunn refined his approach, growing more subtle and complex without sacrificing too much of the drive of his early tracks. The songs on his full-length debut, Ghosts of Then & Now, move and morph with what feels like no effort; former single "Sleeprunner" begins with ominous sci-fi arpeggios that seamlessly melt into a sparkling melody. It's likely that Hunn's expertise as a DJ as well as a producer informs how expertly he blends all the elements in his music. These songs are so well-balanced and intricate that they demand, and reward, close listening: "It'll Be Over Soon"'s juxtaposition of somber piano and children cheering over mercurial beats and a claustrophobic bass creates a mood that's all the more fascinating for its complexity. Here and throughout Ghosts of Then & Now, Hunn's tracks flicker between dark electronics and poignant melodies, but he never repeats himself. From the fittingly named "Liquesce," which combines Max Richter-esque strings and piano and Shigeto's drumming into a melting prologue that washes away the outside world, to the dreamy, gamelan-tinged final "Embryonic," Hunn gives the album's formidable beauty plenty of facets. The alternately funereal and frantic title track may be one of the darkest moments, yet songs such as "Near the End," "One Letter from Death," and "Lights Out/Shinjuku" allow the more playful side of Hunn's artistry to shine. As good as Ghosts of Then & Now's instrumentals are, Illum Sphere's guest vocalists give even more dimension to his music. Chief among them is Shadowbox's Bonnie Baxter, who adds extra elegance to "Love Theme from Foreverness" and heightens "The Road"'s eerie R&B leanings. Elsewhere, Mai Nestor's cameo on "At Night" captures the album's sophisticated, surreal late-night vibe, with her vocals hovering above beats cut so intricately they might as well be lace. An impressive debut, Ghosts of Then & Now's gorgeously abstract music proves Illum Sphere's music has just as much impact in a long-form release as it did on Hunn's many singles.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares