Stubbleman: Mountains and Plains review – a low-key charmer

(Crammed Discs)

Pascal Gabriel’s CV is one impressive document. Starting with Belgian punks the Razors, he moved to London in the late 1970s, became a recording engineer, created chart-toppers with S’Express and Bomb the Bass in the late 80s, and has since written and produced for a legion of pop acts, Kylie Minogue and Ladyhawke among them. Gabriel’s latest project, as Stubbleman, is a step sideways into ambient territory – quite literally, since Mountains and Plains was inspired by a coast-to-coast road trip across the United States.

The album reflects Gabriel’s innovatory skills with electronica, though his principal instrument is a ghostly piano, over which are layered synths, guitars, glockenspiel and the toys of the sound alchemist’s art. It’s a beautifully crafted work that fits Eno’s definition of ambient being “as ignorable as it is interesting”, at times as minimalist as Steve Reich (such as Badlands Train, a slog across the Texas plain), at others unsettling in its evocation of “purposeless highways and terminally closed diners”, or meditative in its portraitof Taos Twilight. A low-key charmer destined, one suspects, for a long life.

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