The second album by the ambient pop duo of Amoeba (multi-instrumentalists Robert Rich and Rick Davies) was released at the height of interest in electronica, when bands like Stereolab, Air and Mouse on Mars were all exploring different aspects of drones, hypnotic patterns, and deep-space bliss-outs. It would have been easy for the pair to explore a similar brand of Euro-synth cool, but instead, Watchful is a lovely, warm album that has much more in common with both serious post-minimalist composers like Wim Mertens or Gavin Bryars, and with low-key ambient pop acts like Virginia Astley and late-era Talk Talk. Indeed, at times Watchful threatens to dissolve into standard-issue new age mush, as on the opening "Inside," which adds a bodhran-like drum pulse and David Gilmour-style slide guitar to the minimal synths and lush arrangements through deliberately under-mixed vocals. But the duo's mixture of electronic and traditional instruments and their knack for creating near-pop song structures for their floaty melodies makes Watchful that rare near-ambient album that repays close listening.
by Stewart Mason