*This review was original posted on 14/08/2018 and was subsequently updated on 13/04/2020 to include additional information.
James McLaughlin is a very talented Audio Engineer and Musician from Scotland, he also happens to be my brother in law, but don’t let that make you think I’d be biased, because James McLaughlin happens to be one of the most dedicated, professional and as previously mentioned talented people working in the industry today. I will be reviewing his latest EP ‘Reflections’ which is scheduled for release on 17th August 2018. The EP is a collection of soundscapes with each track being inspired by a different location such as Manhattan, Kelvingrove Museum, Guia de Isora and Normandy. Anyway before I get on with the review I want to give some additional credits, first off to Leah McLaughlin for her photography featured on the EP and Danny Quinn for his sleeve Design. Next up I’d like to credit Laura Currie and Gemma Thomson for their vocals on ‘Awakening’ and ‘Stay’ respectively and lastly more Kudos to James himself for not just providing Guitar, Keys and synth on the tracks but being responsible for composing, producing and mixing the tracks as well. The artist has recently created a blog post where he expanded on the creative process behind creating this EP, and you can check that out here.
‘In Dreams’ starts with a soft, soothing continuous note that rises and changes and progresses as the track goes on. It fills you with a sort of ease as you listen to it, it’s exactly the kind of music you’d expect to hear to send you off to sleep. So it’s particularly fitting then that the track is called ‘In Dreams’. I like tracks like this because they don’t suggest anything, they are just this clear blend of sounds that lets you think and lets you feel what you’re going to feel, and personally as an opener to this EP titled ‘Reflections’ I think having a track like this that encourages introspection was an excellent choice.
‘Approaching The Beach’ carries on the thread started by the first track, this pleasing glow of notes that aren’t fighting to be heard, instead they just sort of are. These tracks were described as soundscapes, and are ideal for observing a place, because they work well in the background and add something to a scene rather than take away from it. This track gets a little quicker, with a slight percussive undercurrent around the 3 minute mark, its subtle but it takes the track as we progress towards its conclusion.
‘Longing’ changes things up a bit, still a fairly consistently present note throughout that ties the track together but it’s different from the previous two tracks. Perhaps because the previous two inspired dreams this one just seems like engaged but this one in my opinion has more of an energy to it. Sometimes a track can be too busy, and other times it can feel a little light, but this strikes a balance, leaving you almost wanting…or should that be ‘Longing’ for more without leaving you hanging. Its something that’s tricky to manage just James is able to do well.
‘Searching’ has a really nice reverberous quality, that mixes a classic riff with this flowing undertone, that seems to build as the track goes on. There’s a really nice little section around the early 2 minute mark that’s just great, it puts everything together, without seeking to overwhelm the listener.
‘Stay’ fades in slowly so you’re almost not sure if you heard those first few opening notes, but it builds and unfolds evenly as the song progresses. Again I have to note how impressed I am by the understate nature of these tracks, they just flow seamlessly from one to another throughout the EP and yet each track has its own little thing to say and do. This track adds something new, vocals, that subtly emerge around the 3 minute mark, they really do kick the track up a notch, strangely haunting and ethereal amidst the track itself.
‘Awakening’ has a more upbeat feel to it, which is very fitting as we are coming out of the dream we entered at the start of the EP, it’s a wonderful little closer, which encapsulates everything good about this EP while still managing to give us something different as well. There is one note in particular that flows throughout, at times becoming almost discordant, because waking up is never an entirely pleasing thing, but it blends back in, and merges with the other notes, however this entire track does seem to find a balance between an almost upbeat feel and something a little more jarring.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/