For both better and worse, Apart—the debut EP from UK producer Jack Lever (a.k.a Bering Strait)—sounds like something that could have been released via Apollo's original incarnation in the '90s. Its title track in particular is an earthy work of vintage chillout music; its construction of reverb-soaked acoustic guitar chords, field recordings of birdlife, and spacious percussion comes across like an amalgamation of Boards of Canada and the tape-loop work of classic Apollo mainstay Mark Van Hoen. Unfortunately, it's also the first thing that the label has released since its resurrection last year that comes across as a bit regressive and overly nostalgic.
The main issue with Apart is that its title track—an effort which is clearly intended to be the record's centerpiece—comes across as rather unambitious. The song relies upon an obvious chord progression without much in the way of elaboration, and its construction of lush guitars and organic, reverb-drenched percussion has little new to offer. To Lever's credit, it's produced perfectly and certainly succeeds in conjuring a sense of laidback nostalgia, but the whole thing ultimately comes across as merely pleasant, and is nowhere near exciting enough to carry the EP.
Elsewhere, things are a mixed bag—minimal drone and percussion pieces "Luna" and "Surface" are both well executed, but neither is substantial enough to hold attention for too long. "Journey," on the other hand, sounds bizarrely antiquated with its stilted drum-machine rhythm and retro synth melody. It's only with the final pair of tracks that the EP really begins to find its feet. "Surya" underpins the usual ambient sidesticks and analog pads with an intriguing little bassline that sounds like a computer program attempting to simulate lounge jazz. Meanwhile, appropriately aquatic cut "The Sea God" stretches a cluster of digitized submarine sound effects into a pleasingly meditative finale.
The curious thing about Apart is that, for the most part, one can understand what Lever is getting at with his dedication to vintage ambience and unapologetically retro melodies. Unfortunately, the results here often merely come across as outdated. Particularly when compared to some of the stellar releases Apollo has issued as of late, Apart feels terminally short on ideas.