Tuesday 13 October 2015

Dark Music Review – Insomnia

Dark Music Review – Insomnia

Written By Casey Douglass

Brass, piano and various other textures are delicately woven into filmic soundscapes that echo the sounds of memories faded through time. Solemn vignettes seem to emanate from an early morning dream state, the late autumnal tones and noir-ish melodies drifting through fog, evoking feelings of quiet isolation and solitude. Recalling haunting and desolate places, a private world is exposed, where time and space are distilled down to what remain of distant pasts and hidden emotions, melded into a symphony of ethereal melancholy.
On reading the excerpt from the album description above, I was intrigued by the early morning dream state aspect of the words. So many ambient albums seemingly cloak themselves in the darkest time period of the night rather than the time nearer twilight, when the night holds its breath to see if the sun will rise again, or at least, that is my interpretation of early morning. What the listener has in Leila Abdul-Rauf's Insomnia is a collection of tracks that slide easily into this slice of time, one in which harsher or otherwise composed tracks might grate uncomfortably on tired minds.

The Tracks

“Midnight” opens proceedings, its lofty female vocals and chimes thrumming amongst a deeper cosy sound. A short track, it soon becomes “Drift”, a more subdued and reflective track. The notes and sounds created for me the image of a sparkling pool in an underground temple, the ripples reflected on the walls and taken up by the sounds in the soundscape. “The Opening” is a string-led oscillating track with a return of the female vocals again. A resonance joins them later, a reverberating whine that builds into what seems like male echoing voices at a distance.

“Clock Glows” is a cosy track, one that uses simple percussion notes to create an almost languid feeling of time passing and clouds drifting in the night sky. Lighter tinkling notes join as the track continues, almost imbuing it with lullaby credentials. “Pull” is a piano-led track that uses a mixture of brass and female singing to carry the listener along with the notes. “Seconds Tick” is another piano-based track, but this is more frenetic and airy, like a beaded curtain fighting against a strong breeze.

“Edges of a Mirror” is up next, a composition with a crystalline sound, all high pitches and ringing notes, slowly joined by a light drone that adds some flesh to the bones later on. “Absence” is a track that utilises repeating notes that set up a pleasing rhythm and that carry the listener along in some kind of self-propelling motion. Strings and echoing bassy sounds add more detail to what might be some flight of fancy or vision of ghosts from the past, like a ship in fog.

“He Sits in His Room” features bouncy notes that twang into more female vocals, the effect being one that shrouds the ears in darkness as other notes mingle with the soundscape. “Wane” is a track that features strings dancing in an echoing space, brass and drone joining them before things become quieter and deeper as the midpoint is breached. The final track on the album is “Dark Hours of Early Morning”, a track that begins with a breathy sigh and tinkling notes in the distance. A drone adds another layer to things, the sounds becoming stronger and more bold as the track continues. It seems to be very much a track in which something is happening, like a wanderer looking out over a misty forest canopy and seeing a giant tree surging into the sky, fireflies and birds flitting around its branches like some shamanic legend of yore.


Insomnia is an album that I felt fully lived up to its description. There is a certain aural caress to the music, but one that is more like the silence during a nuclear winter rather than anything too warm and cosy. Yes, there is often a warmth to the music, a relaxed feeling of night-time and rest, but there is also the impression of forces being marshaled and the prospect of being destroyed in a smother rather than an overt show of violence.

How someone with insomnia might fare if they popped this album on in the small hours of the night, I don't really know. All I can say is that, even if you sleep like a baby almost every night, you owe yourself the chance of listening to Insomnia if you have any kind of interest or appreciation for dark ambient that evokes night so completely.

I give Insomnia 4/5. Visit Insomnia on Bandcamp at this link for more information.

I was given a free copy of the album to review.

Album Title: Insomnia
Album Artist: Leila Abdul-Rauf
Label: Malignant Records
Release Date: 17 March 2015