Vessel: Pictureland 01
Pictureland Records

Visually, Vessel's Pictureland 01 is about as stark a release as one could imagine, with its black label and matte black case revealing little. But the moment the needle drops, the ten-song disc by London-based Gavin Toomey effortlessly conjures expansive vistas in the listener's mind.

Following a pretty harp-laden overture (“My Glass Eye”), the epic “Lives of String” unfurls dramatically with multiple layers of washes, intricate synth motifs, and loping breaks. Yep, it's IDM alright—more atmospheric and ambient than dance-based (though “Inhibit A” does work up a funky groove)—but Pictureland 01 sounds fresh, no matter the genre's long history (strangely, the main melody in “Swimmer” vaguely echoes The Police's “Wrapped Around Your Finger”). Toomey's sound design sparkles, plus he proves himself an assured composer, one wise enough to let the material unfold as it naturally should. He's no neophyte, however, as the album (issued on his own Pictureland Records) is his third, following the Expanding releases Dreaming in Pairs and Resist. Side B elevates the disc to a higher plateau with “Great Breath” and “Avalanche Minor,” both of which exude a grandeur that, thankfully, never turns pretentious (though orchestral strings in the latter threaten to do so). A well-measured and succinct representative of a genre that, in the right hands, can be made to sound as vital as ever.

April 2006