Album: Songs From The Aqua Lounge
Artist: David Arkenstone
Ever the sonic adventurer, veteran recording artist David Arkenstone embarks on a journey into the world of Chill music on his latest release Songs From The Aqua Lounge. Drawing on elements of ambient, electronica, and smooth jazz, the album serves up a groove-based blend of ultra contemporary sounds that range from dreamy to driving. A perfect example is a track called “Take My Soul,” that features atmospheric synthesizers, pulsing sequencers, electronic beats, and the misty sensuous female vocals of Nahara that evokes a vision of Tangerine Dream and Enya performing together. If this album illustrates anything, it is that with David Arkenstone one thing to expect is the unexpected.
David Arkenstone is one of the most recognized and highly regarded artists in the new age and contemporary instrumental music genres, and one that I’ve been writing about since I began my work as a music journalist in the early 1980’s. Most recently, I wrote feature articles about his Inamorata and Lovéren albums. Inamorata won Best Vocal Album 2015 from OWM. Since the early days, David’s impressive career has included more than 45 albums, 20 Billboard hits, film & TV soundtracks, commercials and game scores, and 3 GRAMMY nominations. Over the years, David has covered a wide range of musical terrain from archetypal new age music, to Celtic, ethnic fusion, symphonic, dark ambient, progressive electronic, Christmas music, and much more. In my interview with David, he shared: “I pride myself on being fairly diverse, and I think this new album is a good example of that. I’ve always liked making atmospheric music and Songs From The Aqua Lounge is another version of that, yet with more beats.”
The genre of lounge music dates back to the mid 20th Century and is currently enjoying a resurgence. According to Wikipedia: “Lounge music is a type of easy listening music popular in the 1950s and 1960s. It may be meant to evoke in the listeners the feeling of being in a place, usually with a tranquil theme, such as a jungle, an island paradise, or outer space. The range of lounge music encompasses beautiful music-influenced instrumentals, modern electronica (with chillout and downtempo influences), while remaining thematically focused on its retro-space age cultural elements.” In David’s words: “I’ve always liked lounge music from the 50’s and 60’s, my parents had some records. I’ve always loved bossa nova, so I used those rhythm patterns on a few songs. I just wanted to bring my own take to the genre. There are so many cool sounds available these days – many of them are inspirational. A lounge is a place where people are comfortable and congregate. Songs From The Aqua Lounge is music to relax to, to put you in a good mood, to play in the background, and to accompany all sorts of activities!”
In our interview, I asked David if he had any back story or reflections on the album overall, to which he replied: “I started by thinking, as usual, what would I like to hear in this genre, and then just experimented with sounds and beats/rhythms. That usually leads me somewhere. Sometimes I’ll pick up my guitar and start jamming with beats, trying to come up with a groovy chord sequence and feel. This album took me about 3 years, as I would work on it in between other projects not really worrying about a deadline. I also wanted to mix up the guest artists, and some of that came down to their availability. I was finally happy enough with the material to release it.”
While David plays many of the instruments and sounds himself, as mentioned above, the album also features a number of talented accompanists. In her fourth collaboration with David, Charlee Brooks, who was David’s primary collaborator on Inamorata and Lovéren, lends her stunning vocals on two tracks. Another wonderfully expressive female vocalist, Nahara, is heard on three of the songs. Adding a bit of horn magic are David Crozier on sax, and the flugelhorn of Jeff Oster. And last but not least, Luanne Homzy on violin. While many of David’s albums are created on his own, of this one he shared: “It was fun collaborating with so many artists. I don’t often have vocals, so Songs From The Aqua Lounge is unusual in that there are five songs that feature vocals.”
And the first of these vocals is heard on the opening track entitled “Temporary High.” The sultry voice of Nahara floats over a jazzy rhythmic foundation that evokes the feel of urban nightlife, accented by trippy little synth sounds, trumpet, and a short but sweet acoustic guitar solo by David. Following in this vibe is a slightly more laid back instrumental piece called “Midnight Cruise,” that features the tasteful sax playing of David Crozier on a track that would be right at home on a smooth jazz radio station. As David shared: “I’ve been working with David for years, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to feature him. Stylistically it was a good fit.” The album ventures into the electronica/chill world with “La Grande Corniche.” This is a good example of David’s statement about liking to make atmospheric music with beats. Although the tempo is quite snappy, it is overlaid with spacious synthesizer orchestration that creates a nice yin/yang balance between them.
Track 4, “Take My Soul,” as mentioned above, is the featured song on the album. According to David: “I wanted to write a sexy song, and now we’ve made a sexy video to accompany it. Nahara made it come alive with her distinctive delivery. The “Take My Soul” music video premiered live at an exclusive VIP event in Los Angeles and was streamed live on the internet. The song has a dreamy gauzy feel with a downtempo beat that is quite seductive, and I particularly liked the spacey electronic sounds that weave through the piece. The next track entitled “5 a.m.” features the spacious ambient flugelhorn of Jeff Oster, whose own album Next I’ve had the pleasure of writing about. Jeff is one of the most in-demand session musicians in the new age and contemporary instrumental genres, as well as a stellar bandleader and recording artist in his own right. As David shared: “I was thrilled that Jeff was available to bring his artistry to “5 a.m.” I wrote this song with flugelhorn in mind. And I finished writing it at 5 a.m. This is the first time I’ve written songs that so prominently feature flugelhorn and sax.”
A well-chilled downtempo track called “Charade,” features the vocals of Charlee Brooks. While her crystal clear voice that has graced other Arkenstone albums is heard here, there are also other sections where her vocals are heavily processed with electronic effects in a style that is popular in many contemporary recordings. A bit of Latin flavor is felt in the beat of “Reflections On The Highway,” providing a nice change up rhythmically, along with mellow flute and acoustic guitar solos. Keeping with the often-heard outer space themes of lounge music, is a track called “Water On Mars” that offers a perfect background to drift away on its easy groove and lush synth textures. Bringing the album to a peaceful conclusion is track 13, “Sakura Ascending,” that features a lovely Asian ambiance highlighted by the sweet and soulful violin of Luanne Homzy over a meditative ambient background.
As I started off by saying, Songs From The Aqua Lounge represents a different direction in a career full of different directions for David Arkenstone. Its not the classic atmospheric new age sound that many listeners associate with him over the years, although there are certainly elements of that within these jazzy electronic grooves. Interestingly, the album has an ultra contemporary feel, although its roots reach back to the lounge music of the 50’s and 60’s. And paying tribute to the groovy vibes of the late 60’s is the album’s lava lamp artwork theme. The copy of the CD I received is a limited edition with a lenticular cover which gives a realistic 3D effect that is appropriately psychedelic. I have a great deal of respect for David Arkenstone as an explorer of various musical genres and his willingness to venture into what is, for him, uncharted territory in his quest for creative expression. However, even within this diversity, he always puts his own stamp on whatever style he is playing, as well as reflecting the high standards of production, arranging, orchestration, and instrumentation that he has always been known for. So kick back, fire up the lava lamp, and take a chill trip with Songs From The Aqua Lounge.
Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: