Before now, you would be hard pushed to really detail the differences between Gilles Aiken’s Edward and Desert Sky aliases. The output of both—variously on labels like Geigling, PAL SL and Assemble Music in both EP and LP format—is spacious and serene, whimsical and unhurried. Drums are never really the focal point, but a seductive sense of rhythm comes from the gentle unfurling of percussion or a passing melodic breeze. But with the arrival of Gaia, a curious first full-length as Desert Sky, the German artist indulges his love of psyched out sounds and occult oriental moods more than ever before.
Sometimes it works, and works really well. "Syrax" for example, is a mystical affair with film noir oboes, wisps of smoke and zoned out melodies fading in and out like your own consciousness on a druggy 5am dancefloor. "Paul Athmo Third," too, is eight-and-a-half captivating minutes of cinematic minimalism with paddy drums, haunting glass triangles and bubbling water sounds. Unsettling crescendos straight out of a Hitchcock movie also pepper the groove, and the result is definitely not club music per se, but it would certainly work in the right club.
Throughout this most supernatural of albums, Aiken mixes up broad, sweeping synth stokes, blissful drones and circling UFO sounds with more pointillist and organic details. It means you really need to pay attention from start to finish for much of the music to make sense: these are not background tracks by any means. They are high fidelity affairs that require your full attention; when they have it, they tie your mind in knots and take you to imaginary worlds that seem utterly real.
Occasionally, though, Aiken’s unbridled style ends up being a little too cluttered and discordant, suitable for neither the club nor a more focussed listening environment. When he does leave the drums out all together (see "Skit"), you can tell something is missing: without the persuasive push of his kicks—however soft or plinky-plonky they may be—his gong strikes, bell tinkles and guitar twangs seem a little too aimless. Essentially, though, Gaia proves that Ricardo Villalobos is not the only one who can make elongated, intricate and left-of-centre sounds seem wholly absorbing.
A2 Paul Athmo
A3 Paul Athmo Third
C2 Loop 1
C3 Loop 2
C4 Loop 3
D1 But I Like To Say
Gaia is scheduled for July 31 release via Aiken's own Gaia imprint, while a mixed version of the LP is available to stream here.