Urbanist Hanoi

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LAKES’ Debut EP is an Ambient Homage to Life in Hanoi

LAKES’ debut album draws inspiration as much from American electronic composer Tycho as it does from instrumental post-rock outfits, yet remains, thematically at least, firmly rooted in the Vietnamese capital.

Featuring Alistair Hobson on ‘hardware’ and Stewart Utley on guitar, the British duo focus almost entirely on production, Utley’s understated refrains and found sounds. Three of the four tracks contain no lyrics – perhaps for the best considering song titles 'Shadow,' 'Homestay' and project title ‘EP1.' Yet what the record lacks in verbal virtuosity it makes up for with its accomplished arrangements and heavy sense of tranquillity.

Right from opener ‘Red River,’ it becomes clear how LAKES’ electro-organic approach, with warm, sepia-toned beats and flourishes of electric guitar, helps evoke a kind of urban peacefulness that both describes and contrasts with the city the record grew out of. Yet underlying the familiarity these tracks induce is an undeniable sense of longing.

‘Shadow’ features ethereal, keening vocals from electronic musician and singer Linh Ha, her style recalling elements of Slowdive’s Souvlaki. Hobson mixes and cuts her lyrics, adding to the track’s teasing sense of anticipation. ‘Homestay,’ meanwhile, is a slow-building offering that utilizes found sounds to create unusual percussive elements.

Perhaps the album’s most urgent song is closing track ‘Rebuild.’ Though laden with the kind of rhythmic preoccupation one might find on Atom for Peace's AMOK, its pace slows considerably long before it closes, reaffirming the languid tone set throughout the EP. Indeed, the four tracks rarely depart from their core ambient sound, which helps forge a cohesive whole.

While the record hums with a slick ease, it remains dusted with metallic echoes of the city. What results is a low-strung soundtrack to Hanoi that evokes the kind of calmness one might want to experience often in the capital, yet rarely can. According to Hobson, the EP grew, in part, out of the duality of this lived experience that all Hanoians can recognize.

“For me, there’s a lot of field recording – my neighbors and places I’ve lived. So I hope there's a sense of the center of Hanoi that comes across,” he says. “For anyone who’s lived here, they’ll hopefully recognize that element of development that’s happening across the city, that unique calmness you can sometimes find in certain streets at the right time. More broadly, I hope people who haven’t lived in Hanoi get some sense of being far from home, but being comfortable, pensive and curious.”

‘EP1’ is available for streaming and digital download on Bandcamp.

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