Yagya :: Stars and Dust (Delsin)

I don’t know what’s happened to Guðmundsson in the last few years, but Stars and Dust is shot through with the heady euphoria that only romance and nostalgia can trigger. This is at least partially achieved through the skillful blending of classical instrumentation, most prominently and touchingly, the piano, together with some of his warmest, most tender and affecting melodies in many years.

Yagya :: Stars and Dust (Delsin)

Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson has been releasing his own unique brand of ambient dub techno for fourteen years now, his much sought-after debut Rhythm of Snow released back in 2002. After a long gap between that and his Sending Orbs sophomore album, a new Yagya album has thankfully surfaced every two or three years, a pattern that continues unabated to this day.

Stars and Dust was announced surprisingly quickly after his jazz tinged Sleepygirls and is once again released through the enduring Delsin label. What’s interesting is that, while his style has certainly changed to a degree over all those years, Yagya is still a unique and immediately recognizable entity.

So how has he done this and managed to keep each new release fresh and interesting? Simple: By being inventive, open-minded and quite brilliant at his craft. Each album has been infused with different musical ingredients, expertly woven into the fabric of his deep dub and ambient atmospheres and penetrating melodic flourishes.

Quite wonderfully, Stars and Dust is probably his finest piece of work since the seminal Rigning, and yet it shares more with his controversially poppy and vocal heavy album The Inescapable Decay of My Heart. If that’s ringing alarm-bells with those who demand their albums to be scoured of lyrics and vocals, don’t worry, none of the former and only a whisper of the latter appear on Stars and Dust. No, the similarities are in the tone and structure of the piece.

I don’t know what’s happened to Guðmundsson in the last few years, but Stars and Dust is shot through with the heady euphoria that only romance and nostalgia can trigger. This is at least partially achieved through the skillful blending of classical instrumentation, most prominently and touchingly, the piano, together with some of his warmest, most tender and affecting melodies in many years.

Opening track “Train Station’s Dustlight” and “Through the Sculptor Group” are both examples of pure Yagya perfection. The smooth, Rigning-esque bass pulse and Sleepygirls windswept atmosphere of the former is mixed with a melancholy piano melody, while the rhythmic sub-bass beat of the latter is a rare return to a Gas-like screen of muted and muffled soft white noise and post-processed cv313 style dub techno tropes through which another memorable melodic loop is woven, bringing a nostalgic tear to the eye.

Those aforementioned vocals and romanticism can be clearly heard in the lilting piano and brief dashes of vocals heard on “Crepuscular Rays Over The Horizon.” It’s actually rather sweet, but thanks to Yagya’s sensitive and refined ear for melody, never saccharine. Meanwhile, the similarly romantic “Motes in the Moonlight” effectively becomes “that scene” from Blade Runner as Deckard sits at his piano while beams of light filter through rotating blades illuminate floating aaaah’s and delicately, idly played piano.

Perhaps the only slightly weak link is the largely ambient and electric guitar-tinged “Young Suns of NGC 7129” that drifts a little too far towards new-age for its own good, following the similar but far superior “Through The Zodiacal Cloud” with its hints of monasterial, Enigma-esque ambiance from when they were still good.

The one thing I would change would be to reverse the order of Stars and Dust‘s last two tracks. “The Observable Universe” feels a little like a serviceable extension of the almost post-rock rumble of “Substorms on a Winter Night” and peters out a little unsatisfactorily. Penultimate perfection is instead found in the rain-drenched “Laniakea’s Redshift” that ends on tender, ambient tendrils and distant birdsong.

Stars and Dust is another sumptuous success for Yagya, one that further enchants and reward on repeated listens, and is easily up there with his best work to date. One couldn’t hope for a finer and more comforting end to what has been one of the most dispiriting, bewildering and outright depressing years in living memory.

Stars and Dust is available on Delsin.

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