Like Floating Leaves sees Wil Bolton carefully add another beautiful facet to the expanding laaps catalogue.

Release date: March 6, 2023 | laaps | Bandcamp | Facebook | Website

As I’m sitting down to write this review, there are no leaves floating in the wind, only delicate snowflakes twirling t’wards the frozen soil beneath. Wil Bolton probably had a different picture in mind when titling his latest record Like Floating Leaves, but I do have to say that the coldly crystalline scenery is still quite befitting of the sounds he conjures behind that imagery. This album, representing the end of the current winter season of laaps releases, seems fit to accentuate any moment of fleeting grace; whether it’s a crunchy brown leaf or a lone dainty snowflake hitting the ground is of little import in the now.

To expect masterful ambient music from Like Floating Leaves is a given upon reading the label on which it was released – laaps has become a contact point for many illustrious names in the genre. This wonderful little label (a French one-man operation by the man behind Eilean Rec. and IIKKI) has given me much to adore over the past few years, and it’s safe to say that Bolton has added another facet to its lustrous gem of a discography.

Mingling analogue and digital instrumentation, Bolton creates an aural facsimile to the Japanese art of ukiyo-e: not pictures of a floating world, but a floating world itself expressed through sound. Music for a drifting mind on a cloud of reminiscence, each moment a dear memory that impishly escapes your grasp the moment you lift your hand to reach for it. Anyone in search of that dissociative, buoyant feeling that has your now weightless body but barely tethered to the ground by the gentle gravity of your softly rushing head (or might that just be my own unique experience?), you’ve come to the right place.

Title track “Like Floating Leaves” was enough to convince me of pre-ordering the album for my private collection back in early February, and its sheen has not diminished over repeated listens; if anything, its mixture of warm, whooshing drones, birdsong, and chiming melodies has become even more of a comfort as time went on. Existing in this peaceful space for almost 9 minutes has an unfailingly positive effect on my psyche; it’s almost like sitting in a quiet temple garden, looking out over the peonies and cherry blossoms while letting go of all thoughts and conceptions for a little while. “Of Ruins” then shakes up the unmoving calm with its vivacious, whirring interjections.

Mostly building from one motif or progression, the compositions that make up Like Floating Leaves are quite minimalistic in nature. A perfectly captured stillness, a single instant frozen in time – floating leaves indeed. “Etched” delivers a magnificent contrast of brightly resounding notes and deep bulbous ones, hitting in dripping clusters to allow each other to stand out that much more satisfyingly. It’s almost like a wind chime or a digital boîte à musique, homey and nostalgic in an age of rampant automation. Later on, “A Wave of Verticals” hits on a similar aesthetic: a blizzard of thin metallic notes enveloped in a warming layer of bass and drones. It all feels like a natural extension of one’s surroundings, underpinning and expanding upon that which gently unfurls itself before the invisible touch of our senses.

“Saffron”, named after the gorgeous flower that yields one of the most expensive spices known to man, places soft-footed melodies on top of recurring stabs of static, while “Fumage” uses stumbling, stuttering synths to inject a certain sense of unrest into Like Floating Leaves. Album closer “Into The Shadows” again sounds like a modern, electronic update on the Japanese minimalism of Midori Takada or Satoshi Ashikawa. And thus, an hour of silent rumination comes to a close.

As I’m sitting here trying to conclude this review, the ashes of my now burnt-out incense (it was cinnamon-apple, in case you were curious) cooling on the side table to my right, I am left wondering what else there is to express about this record. Ideally, my outpourings above will have already enticed you into giving this record the time of day. If not, I will leave you with one final thought: listen to Wil Bolton, listen to Like Floating Leaves. It might not make your pockets richer, but your spirit will be nourished for days on end.

Dominik Böhmer

Dominik Böhmer

Pretentious? Moi?

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