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Ex-Isles
Luxury Mass Brian Coney , November 21st, 2018 17:23

Debut album from the collaborative project of composer and multi-instrumentalist James Joys and vocalist Peter Devlin

This Belfast duo appear to arrive fully formed, but delve deeper and their “dark swoon” craft hints at years of creative chrysalis. Luxury Mass weaves together immersive chamber pop and delicate ambience over ten serene tracks. Even at its faintest, Devlin’s lulling baritone is a show-stopper, while Joys’ balmy arrangements offer up symphonic soundworlds that curveball across 35 minutes. That the duo co-wrote and self-produced the release “in a tiny cold room [...] using a very basic and rudimentary set-up” is something of a feat in itself.

‘Arrival’ is an early highlight, a disembodied paean to the ‘thresholds’ of economic inequality (“Peril for you and luxury for us…” Devlin croons). The scorched synth and grave piano arpeggios of opener ‘Blackened Shores’ briefly conjuring Radiohead’s ‘Daydreaming’ reconfigured by John Grant. It hits home, as does the hymnal swoon of ‘The Mourning Tide’, while the genre-bending ‘Run To The Porcelain Hills’ proves an outright peak.

The more personal, plaintive moments aside, propelling Luxury Mass is a worldly mindfulness often at odds with such gossamer music. The writers Deborah Levy and John Berger have apparently helped inform these explorations of loss, migration and alienation, while David Sylvian and Scott Walker also leave their mark. All this – together with how Joys and Devlin oversee tug-o’-wars between despair and warmth, the political and the intimate - give Luxury Mass its vital edge. As it ebbs towards silence, this album proves Ex-Isles are already worthy of real consideration on the world stage.

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