Review by Mikhail Capone
Book of Illusions: Chapter I & II
It's impressive what people can do nowadays with technology. Suppose you are an inspired musician but can't or don't want to find a band for various reasons; lets say that you want your vision to keep a maximum of integrity and make a minimum the artistic compromises (something that a democratic group can bring) or simply can't find interesting band-mates. What do you do? You record and release everything yourself! Of course there are downsides to doing things this way and it's hard to do on a large scale, but I much prefer to live with them than to consider the possibility of losing this very interesting and enjoyable work.
I remember that sometime last year when Devin Townsend first talked about his Terria project in interviews he described it as "Alien Landscapes". It didn't turn out exactly like that (not to me anyway) and I can't say that VLE sounds anything like Devin, but the way I imagined "Alien Landscapes" back then is pretty similar to how those two chapters of the Books of Illusions sound. It sounds out of this world and I have a very hard time coming up with a decent comparison to another band.
Chapter I is a little more guitar oriented, but overall both discs are full of mostly instrumental (when there is vocals they are far back in the mix and only serve to enhance the ambience) mid-tempo atmospheric compositions. The synthesizers wash all over the songs like ocean water on the shore, guitar are drenched in reverb as if they were performed in the middle of the Sea of Tranquillity (I know, there's no air there, but I didn't complain because you could hear the ships in Star Wars either). Many of the instruments used were synthesized, but most actually sound good (I'm mostly thinking of the flute and piano). The imperfect production works well with the material and you appreciate it even more once you stop to think about the fact that all the layers were recorded by the same person (except some acoustic drums by Michael Molina on some tracks - many tracks don't have any drums though) and that a lot of them were improvised. I actually had to email the man behind VLE to inquire about his improvising technique because, to me, most of the music sounded pretty organized and structured. He told me a little about how each song was created differently, how some started with a melody or a rhythm guitar track and then he improvised over it. I think that, as it's often the case, the artist himself can't really say where inspiration comes from but, in this case, all that matters is that the end result is interesting. Of course, this is not the kind of band that you can fully appreciate after one listen in the middle of the day, you have to be in the right mood for it and it works best when you listen to the CD from beginning to end. Recommended to the people who want 'grand' yet mellow music for late night listening. Also, one has to accept that not everything is polished and perfect on these CDs: sometimes the drums are a little off, some errors are present here and there, sometimes the guitar can be a little far in the mix... But none of these takes away from the VLE experience in my eyes.
Rating: 4/5 kudos