It was a pleasure to review Mark Harris’s debut solo album The Boy Observes the Ocean on the Hibernate label last year and his follow-up album has been eagerly anticipated by many. His electro-acoustic music gently unfolds from carefully manipulated sound generating software that he developed himself in the Reaktor programming environment. Always subtle, nuanced and slowly evolving his tracks manage to perfectly capture the essence of location,  environment and emotion through sound.

Harris’s search for an appropriate new home for his second album seems to have alighted on the perfect destination with Mike Cadoo’s contemporary electronic label n5MD based in Oakland, California. n5MD’s tagline is “emotional experiments in music” and I think that perfectly sums up the content of the new album An Idea of North/ Learning to Walk, which has its origins in the Winter of 2010 and was further developed throughout 2011.

The album includes five tracks which seamlessly play through as one work totaling some 44 minutes in length. Opener softly lies sleeping builds gently from blended field recordings of cars swishing past through a fine curtain of rain, birdsong and kids playing somewhere in the distance. Accompanying the field recordings there are strains of woodwind and reed instrument tones that perfectly complement this soundscape of a sleepy Sunday afternoon in suburbia.  Second track in slow motion she falls builds and develops the sound of the orchestral drones into a swelling pastoral symphony before fading to the blue-grey Atlantic swell and sea mist of an idea of north/ learning to walk. This is the central piece of the album and the longest track at just over 19 minutes and it really benefits from having that extra time to develop. Sounds of the the sea-kissed shoreline are pierced by high pitched flute like meanderings and some colossal reverb interjects here and there to give the impression of some huge hulk of a ship groaning in the wind. Processed chimes feed into the sound from about half way through and really lift that misty veil to throw some glinting sun into the mix before the tide slips and slides back into hushed white noise – this is a mesmerizing track !  Fourth track a place of safety/ all things will change is full of string swells with a slight dissonance and some hazy cathedralesque organ before playing out on a light piano refrain to great effect. The album ends where it started with towards an ending and reprise where the sounds of the first track make a barely perceptible return before vanishing again in a long fade.

This is already one of the most outstanding albums of the year for me and I was spellbound throughout. I highly recommend that you selfishly reserve some quality time for yourself to give it a listen.

Mark Harris – An Idea of North / Learning to Walk. n5MD MD195 Released on CD and Digital formats 6/2/12.–Learning-to-walk

NOTE: Also released on January 24th at n5MD’s digital outlet Enpeg is the accompanying album Points of Departure: Works 2004 – 2009 which collects some of Mark Harris’s earlier experiments in loop phasing with musical phrases. This album again includes multiple tracks in one seamless and constantly developing soundscape.