Chicane - Thousand Mile Stare

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“Hot on the heels of the last album” is not a phrase you typically associate with Chicane. Clearly on something of an inspirational roll, Nick Bracegirdle has followed-up 2010’s pop-infused Giants with a collection that radiates the classic Chicane sound of lush synths, dreamy soundscapes, euphoric highs and melancholic lows. With the artwork tipping its hat to French synth pioneer Jean Michel Jarre’s 1981 classic Magnetic Fields, Thousand Mile Stare is less immediate than its predecessor, but in the long-run, it provides more of an involved, engaging and rewarding listening experience. It’s highly unlikely to draw any new recruits to the Chicane fold, but for the faithful, Thousand Mile Stare can take its place alongside Behind the Sun as an exemplar of classic Chicane.

Continuing his love affair with the Sigur Ros Icelandic sonic aesthetic that he first evidenced on the Hoppípolla re-work Poppiholla, Nick kicks the album off with Hljóp, a piano-driven slow builder produced in collaboration with Vigri, who also hail from Iceland. It makes for a dramatic introduction. In fact, this will probably go down as Chicane’s ‘Iceland’ album, given that the second track The Nothing Song is a re-work of Sigur Rós’ Njosnavelin in the classic Chicane signature trance style, while Sólarupprás is another joint effort with Vigri, this one more upbeat, with some flashes of subtle techno wrapped up in the usual grandiose styling.

The broken beats, fractured piano lines and operatic vocals of Tracey Ackerman make Windbreaks a standout track, another addition to the Chicane bank of chill-out classics. The title track’s wonky synth lines and widescreen sonic washes display another acknowledgment of Jean Michel Jarre, while Playing Fields represents an attempt to recapture the chilled fragility of 2000’s No Ordinary Morning, and it comes pretty close through the heavenly vocals of Kate Walsh. There is some Faithless-esque epic trance with the Moogmonkey Rework mix of Going Deep, although it sits a little out of place amongst all the Icelandic chilled vibes that dominate the rest of the album, as does the original, rap-featuring version tagged on at the end.

The chant-like vocals and echo-laden piano of Goldfish create a down-tempo masterpiece, while for me, the highpoint of the album is to be found in the gorgeous rolling beats and glistening melodic textures of Flotsum & Jetsum, a co-write with Nick Muir. Rounding things off are the house-like Super Mouflon, which again digs out the old-school Jean Michel Jarre sounds, and the classical-like Fin de Jours, which wraps layers of slow-building synths around some more dramatic Tracey Ackerman vocals and brings the album to a close in a delicate and sophisticated manner.

Parts of this album sound very familiar to older Chicane material, with certain rhythm tracks and chord progressions creating a peculiar sense of déjà vu. I can’t work out whether this is meant as a sly wink of self-acknowledgment or representative of a lack of new ideas. Many bands self-plagiarize, and if you’ve created your own instantly recognizable sound, then you’re entitled to mine it for all it’s worth. So Nick gets away with it on here, crafting a cohesive collection that largely eschews the pop sensibilities of the previous album, and instead links back to 1997’s Far from the Maddening Crowds debut, with its layered instrumental soundscapes, sweeping sonic shades, and smooth, sun-drenched moments. If you had given up on Chicane with all the madness of leaked and shelved albums a few years ago, then consider giving him another chance with this. There’s no mind-blowing inventiveness, but you don’t need that when you get the warm, comforting familiarity of the classic Chicane sound to wrap yourself up in.

10/10 stars

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