Since releasing his breakout EP, Music For the Uninvited, in 2014, Leon Vynehall’s status within the deep house community has preceded him. The British producer and DJ took the hypnotic disco loops and synthetic textures with symphonic grandness and quirky jazz fusion and expanded the potential of house music beyond club-friendly beats with immersive soundscapes.
Inspired by revelations about his grandparents’ experiences emigrating from the U.K. to New York City in the 1960s, Vynehall’s latest release runs with “deep” instead of “house.” Nothing Is Still not only commemorates his family’s story but sees Vynehall transition from techno producer to electro-acoustic composer.
Right from the start, this album charts territory reminiscent of contemporary composers like Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson. “From the Sea/It Looms” opens with a gorgeous 10-piece string section arranged by Amy Langley, embellished with echoing piano notes and coastal field recordings. Even as walls of powerful synth emerge like waves, the result feels much more flowing and expressive than anything Leon Vynehall made before. Whether one looks to the plunder-phonic interlude “Birds on the Tarmac” or the classical ambience of “Ice Cream,” Vynehall recalls Valtari-era Sigur Rós and Eluvium’s Talk Amongst the Trees with the transportive beauty of his masterful aesthetic manipulations.
Nothing Is Still maintains its share of beat-oriented passages, but only hints at the distinct house feel of Vynehall’s catalog. Finn Peters’ sensual saxophone slithers between a vaguely tropical rhythmic structure in the midi-jazz serenade “Movements.” This creates an intoxicatingly intimate feel, in contrast to the amorphous grandeur displayed on the previous tracks. “Drinking It In Again” transitions seamlessly from sound collage to vintage ballad without sacrificing on either side. In the midst of these stylistic jumps, Vynehall maintains a surprisingly cohesive sense of narrative. This is strengthened when taking into account the novella of the same name and short films that supplement the record.
“Julia” might seem a bit on the nose with its spoken word monologues about self-expression and solidifying one’s worldview, but its message resonates naturally within the album’s underlying themes. The song’s bombastic bass line bounces off submerging drones, serving a pervasively cinematic aura. What exactly each sound means with regard to the struggles and triumphs experienced by Vynehall’s grandparents becomes more clear within the deeply personal novella chapters, but his sense of scope is only matched by his minimalist beat-making.
Comprised of three distinct movements, “Trouble” layers what almost sounds like sitar and hammer dulcimer in energetic 30-second note loops, before sandwiching Leon Vynehall’s harrowing take on underground bass music in heavenly drones. While this track’s seismic drops and harrowing dissonance finds disjointed symmetry with more pleasant soundscapes, the following “Envelopes” earns its place as the album’s lead single. It’s Vynehall’s most impressive musical statement to date. It bridges the gap between otherworldly atmospheres and meticulous orchestration over a trance-inducing downtempo trip-hop beat, resulting in a perfect synergy of spacious electronica and modern classical music.
“English Oak” represents the closest Nothing Is Still gets to recognizable deep house vibes. As nimble violin trills dance over a massive crescendo, the four-on-the-floor disco sample finally manifests; albeit as a piece of a larger puzzle. It’s clear that Vynehall had no intention of making a house record. The record is a holistic exploration of the headspace he entered while learning about his family’s past. Sam Beste’s gentle piano modulations and harmonious strings conclude the record with a sense of peace and coherence. It’s a hard sell for such an eclectic tracklist, but a telling demonstration of Vynehall’s accomplishment.
Vynehall’s personal stakes on Nothing Is Still never translate obviously, and the idiosyncratic nature of the music strengthens this point. While the true significance of these songs as family artifacts reveals itself through the written and visual material, their emotional resonance translates magnificently. By transcending the confines of house music, Vynehall has progressed beyond deep house royalty to an avant-garde imagineer.
Follow writer Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.