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Sasha Renkas
Safe Place Will Salmon , February 28th, 2024 10:03

From Kyiv, an album of 'nighttime music', all dreamy synths and hushed vocals, looks back with nostalgia across a ruined cityscape

Safe Place marks a fresh start for Sasha Renkas. The Ukrainian producer has released a steady stream of techno 12”s under the name Antenna for the last decade or so, as well as a pretty compelling album on Dutch/Belgian label World of Paint back in 2019. Now releasing under his own name – a move that perhaps suggests a more intimate and personal approach – Safe Place drops the tempo and moves away from the Analord-era AFX-adjacent sounds of his previous incarnation in favour of a collection of ‘nighttime music’ that’s all dreamy soundscapes, faded melodies and the very occasional hushed vocal.

Opener ‘West’ is a scene-setting ambient piece, with intertwining melodies tentatively picked out over a wash of watery drones. There's a hint of Angelo Badalamenti’s eerie atmospherics for Twin Peaks here, likewise on ‘Hydro Park’ which has a delicious nth generation bootleg VHS warble. The title track, meanwhile, is a minimal piece that seems to be composed from about 90% reverb with indecipherable vocals emerging slowly from out of the fog.

It’s an ideal scene-setter for album highlight ‘Boy’, a moody slice of goth-tinged synth pop shored up by a thick, dubby bassline that locates the song somewhere between the Cocteau Twins and Massive Attack. It’s the first and only time on the album that Renkas’s vocals move fully out of the shadows and it leaves you wanting more of the same. It’s a hypnotic track, but it’s also something of an outlier. While there’s the suggestion that Renkas could make a pretty unique dream pop album (next time, maybe?), Safe Place instead exists in a mostly instrumental realm.

The title perhaps hints at the intent here. The somnambulant melodies of ‘Night’ are sweetly comforting, while some of the more stirring pieces – notably ‘Carrier'’, which introduces snarls of distorted guitar to the record – evoke Bowie and Eno’s work on the b-sides of Low and “Heroes”. This is instrumental music with a strong sense of place and a quietly nostalgic yearning.

That’s particularly true on the album’s penultimate track, ‘You’ll Be Okay’. Renkas was born in Kyiv, and that simple fact lingers over a suite of music which looks back to a time when, in the producer’s own words, “everybody is still alive and safe”. It’s a gorgeous track in itself, all impressionistic sighs from Renkas and soaring synthetic strings, but when taken with its accompanying video. a narrative-less compilation of glitchy old DV footage of his home city, it takes on a far heavier weight. It’s impossible to watch it and not wonder, in the wake of these last two years of war, just what has become of the people laughing and smiling here. Safe Place is a gentle album – a balm, perhaps – but it’s also steeped in a palpable melancholy and a longing for a lost home and happier times.