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Album Reviews

Tripswitch – Memento Mori (Section Records)

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After a string of more up-beat releases including collaborations with Nick Warren and Hernan Cattaneo as well as curating his own progressive house imprint onedotsixtwo, chillout maestro Tripswitch returns to his roots for the first time in a decade with his album ‘Memento Mori’. 

Perhaps a sign of the times that Tripswitch launched a Kickstarter campaign for eager fans to contribute up-front to the project before the album was complete, with benefits to early adopters. With the events business having all but disappeared almost overnight, many musicians, artists & DJs will have been working out how to survive in these difficult times. The Kickstarter campaign was thankfully a success, providing him with additional motivation and an advance on sales, justifying the focus to complete and release ‘Memento Mori’. 

The album itself is rather curiously and maybe aptly titled given the pandemic zeitgeist we are all in. ‘Memento Mori’ quite literally means ‘reminder of death’ – a symbolic reminder of death’s inevitability. We are all mortal. We will all face death. 

Tripswitch explains in the sleeve notes (a welcome accompaniment to the digital download) that it was his own brush with mortality a few years ago that prompted the inspiration for this album, that it’s about living and cherishing life with its ups and downs, not about death. 

In this current global crisis, we are all in mourning in some way; whether it’s our freedom, our livelihood, or worse. There may be no Café del Mar sunsets this year, no trips to the White Isle or escapes to holiday haunts we took for granted. ‘Memento Mori’ takes you on a soothing journey of reflection, conjuring up nostalgic feelings about summers gone by, wondering what the future holds. There is nowhere to hide in a chillout album like this; no 4×4 looping kickdrum to maintain the listener’s attention. Some vaguely familiar Balearic sounds drift in and out of carefully crafted cinematic soundscapes with real depth. 

Memento Mori’ opens with ‘Petrichor’, a lush ambient introduction; a scattering of vocal echoes with some rousing strings and synths and the occasional muted kick drum. Melancholic downtempo electronica at its finest, setting the scene for an hour of introspection. 

‘Touch Response’ continues on a melancholic floaty vibe with the heartbeat of a gentle kick drum. The addition of a gently strummed guitar and bring organic sounds and realism to a genre that can suffer from being too synthetic. 

On to ‘Last Waltz in Weirdsville‘, a collaboration with long-term friend Nick Warren. Venturing more into traditional chillout territory with tremolo strings introducing some drama and a warped harmonica giving a cinematic feel.  

Gentle percussion with shakers and toms pick things up half a gear with ‘Penumbra’. An ethnic flute rising through a traditional ethnic scale give with the false impression of an Indian-influenced piece, but the strumming of major chords on a semi-acoustic guitar soon take over resulting in a happy, blissful and emotional feeling. One for sunset and my favourite track on the album. 

We’re back to slightly more melancholic vibes with ‘Nectar’. A soft looping guitar accompanied by a slightly unsettling creaking floorboard, still keeping things light & floaty. ‘The Box’ takes a darker turn, cinematic rumblings and threat of danger ahead with retro synths creating a more sinister soundscape. 

‘Souvenir’ takes us out of the darkness with some signature Tripswitch percussion, lush strings and balanced mellow keys. Dripping with positive vibes and a distinctly live feel provided by the happy bassline, claps and piano – just lovely. 

Distinctive Tripswitch beats continue with ‘Kauri’ alongside female vocal snippets and retro synths that could have come from a deconstructed rave. Originally ‘Kauri’ was released with a rather more chaotic and less traditional percussion on a previous downtempo Tripswitch compliation ‘In At The Deep End’. This album version has been re-aligned to conform with the ‘Memento Mori’ flow, a little less unpredictable and easier on the brain. 

Final Piece Of The Jigsaw’ is not actually the closing track, despite its name. There is a certain finality to it too, a beatless floating synth affair. Restrained keys and chords flow gently to some mellow pads, no sign of a kickdrum or high hat. 

After winding down and almost drifting off, ‘Fifty Thousand Volts’ sends a jolt through the system with futuristic industrial sounds, starting off like the soundtrack to a sci-fi computer game before gently easing out with a soundscape that wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Bladerunner’

Forever’ comfortingly takes us back to familiar Tripswitch territory. A slow build with some lovely delayed plucks and sounds pick up the pace with a grand and orchestral sounding kettle drum before breaking and building up to a rousing finish with further accompaniment from the orchestra with some lively percussion and a complete string section. A cinematic ray of positivity.  

A fitting and sombre end to an emotional journey, ‘Maranasati’ is named after the Buddhist meditation practice of reflection on death. Samples taken from a 1950’s state penitentiary group Angola Quartet and the re-introduction of a haunting harmonica provide a vivid environment in which to reflect on the journey, on the album, on the death that would undoubtedly have been experienced by the singing prisoners, and on the situation we are in. We may be in difficult times, but we should be grateful we are alive. 

Art is meant to evoke feeling. There is no point in art without feeling, just as life would not be the same without death. ‘Memento Mori’ feels like it is a representation of Tripswitch; a collection of emotions captured around the time of its creation, a snapshot of his life. A snapshot that we should be grateful we can experience to an extent, as an outsider listening in, a chilled reflective journey of emotion eerily representative of the times we find ourselves in. Not just worthy a listen but worth setting aside the time to go on the journey and reflect.

Score: 9/10

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