Lost Horizons — Cocteau Twins‘ and Bella Union Records label head Simon Raymonde (bass. guitar, keys, production) and Dif Juz’s Richie Thomas (drums, keys, guitar) — each ended a 20+ year hiatus from creating music with the 2017 release of their full-length debut together, Ojaiá, (Spanish for “hopefully” or “God willing”) to critical praise. “These days, we need hope more than ever, for a better world,” Thomas said in press notes at the time. “And this album has given me a lot of hope. To reconnect with music . . . And the hope for another Lost Horizons record!”
Since the release of Ojalá, the state of the world has gotten much worse. And while many of us had begun to feel hope that things may turn for the better with a Biden Administration, the events yesterday in Washington, DC has quickly brought that sense of hope and possibility crashing to the ground. Things are dire: our socioeconomic and political systems are collapsing, exposing both the worrisome gaps in our systems. The fight for a better and fairer world continues, as it always does but interestingly enough, one small portion of Thomas’ hopes have been immediately fulfilled: Raymonde and Thomas will be releasing a new album’s worth of together, In Quiet Moments.
Written and recorded during pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns, In Quiet Moments‘ material is inspired by the sense of existential doom, fear, uncertainty and anxiety of the larger world surrounding them and everyone else, as well as the same emotions and sensations of their own personal lives: Just as the duo were settling into the studio to craft the largely improvised, instrumental bedrock of the album’s material, Raymonde’s mother died.
As a response, Raymonde threw himself into his work as a way to channel his grief. “The way improvisation works,” he says, “it’s just what’s going on with your body at the time, to let it out.” The duo forged ahead, crafting 16 instrumental tracks that they sent to an eclectic array of guest vocalists including Ural Thomas, Penelope Isles‘ Jack Wolter, The Hempolics Nubiya Brandon, Tim Smith, Gemma Dunleavy, the innocence mission’s Karen Peris, Horse Thief‘s Cameron Neal, Marissa Nadler, Porridge Radio‘s Dana Margolin, John Grant, Ballet School‘s Rosie Blair, Penelope Isles’ Lily Wolter (as her solo recording project KookieLou) and an impressive list of others.
When they sent the instrumental tracks to their then-prospective guest vocalists, Raymonde suggested a guided theme for their lyrics: “Death and rebirth. Of loved ones, of ideals, at an age when many artists that have inspired us are also dead, and the planet isn’t far behind. But I also said, ‘The most important part is to just do your own thing, and have fun.” Roughly half of the album’s lyrics were written during the middle of pandemic-related lockdowns but as it turns out, Raymonde in particular, saw a sliver lining: people were forced to slow down and take careful stock of themselves and their lives. Interestingly, after having heard a lyric written by Ural Thomas, Raymonde singled out on praise “in quiet moments,” and thought it would be a perfect album title. “It just made sense,” he says. “This moment of contemplation in life is really beautiful.”
Although generally centered around loss and heartbreak, the album’s material is imbued with a sense of hope. And as a result, the album subtly leans in the direction of rebirth more so than death. “I think it’s more joyous than Ojalá,” Thomas says. “But both albums have a great energy about them.” That shouldn’t be surprising as both Lost Horizons albums find the duo and their various collaborators on a journey through a dizzying area of moods and voices.
Last year, I wrote about three of the album’s previously released singles:
“Cordelia,” a lush track centered around atmospheric synths, gorgeous steel pedal guitar from David Rothon, elegant strings from Fiona Brice, and John Grant’s brooding vocals. The song is a meditation on the passing of time, the inevitable changing of the seasons — but with the tacit understanding and acceptance that all things in our world are transient.
“One For Regret,” a dark and foreboding song centered around shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, propulsive drumming and Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin’s frantic vocals. While sonically, the song finds Raymonde and Thomas paying homage to the beloved sound and approach that won Raymonde accolades “One For Regret” is a meditation on the messiness of regret and loss, that acknowledges that regret and loss are a necessary part of life — and that the only way out is through.
“Every Beat That Passed,” an old-timey waltz centered around shimmering and arpeggiated keys, jangling guitars and Kavi Kwai’s Julia Ringdahl ethereal vocals. Much like its immediate predecessor, In Quiet Moments’ third single sonically seemed indebted to Raymonde’s while being defiantly upbeat.
The album’s fourth and latest single, album title track “In Quiet Momtents” features Ural Thomas. Born in Louisiana in 1939, the seventh of 16 children, a young Thomas learned how to sing in church. His family relocated to Portland, where he would spend the bulk of his life.
In the 50s, Thomas became a professional singer, opening for the likes of Etta James, Otis Redding, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder at the Apollo Theater. But by 1968, Thomas had returned to Portland. In terms of music, Thomas fell off the map, and not much is really known until the early 2010s when Scott Magee, a Portland-based soul DJ, was informed by the owner of Mississippi Records that Thomas — whose early records he regularly spun at this DJ sets — still lived in the area.
As it turned out, Thomas had been hosting weekly jam sessions at his home since the 1970s but seldom performed live. But Thomas and Magee started Ural Thomas and the Pain, an octet that backs Thomas. The act has released two albums so far, 2016’s self-titled debut and 2018’s The Right Time. So now that we went through the necessary background, let’s talk about the track: “In Quiet Moments” is a shimmering and slow-burning bit of old-school inspired soul meets shoegaze centered around twinkling keys, jazzy drumming, gently buzzing guitars and Thomas’ easygoing and gorgeous vocals. It’s a gorgeous and thoughtful track that evokes a complex and confusing array of emotions with a simple yet profound earnestness.
“Sometimes you just have a clear vision for a song and then try as you might, it doesn’t quite hit the mark and other times, you’re not quite sure where it’s going and then all of sudden it’s like The Matrix and you’re buzzing!” Lost Horizons’ Simon Raymonde says in press notes. ” I’d been talking to Ural and his team since I heard about him earlier that year, and they were all working on a new Ural Thomas and The Pain album, but just as I finished the bass part on our piece, which Richie had started at a session in London, my inner voice was screaming ‘ASK URAL TO SING!’ Scott and Brent who are his producers and write with Ural and in his band too, responded very positively to my enquiry and said Ural was into it, and it looked like they could do it all at their studio in Portland, AND film him at the same time as they were making a documentary about him! I couldn’t believe my luck. After he was done with the first half of the song I asked if he could make the ending spoken-word in the style of Gil Scott-Heron and he did something ad-libbed which I loved. I then asked Wendi Rose who sings with Spiritualized to add some of her beautiful vocals and I think this took it all to the next level. Paul Gregory and Jonathan Wilson also played some delicious guitar parts which were the fairy dust on top!”
“When I first heard the song, I thought it was such a wonderful thing, both open and calm, with that steady, insistent groove,” Ural Thomas adds. “The chords go from looming to embracing then back again, like a sad, friendly giant. It took a quiet moment to go over it in my mind and then we were off and running with the tune. At times I feel strong and one with the world. At other times I feel tiny and solitary. In a way they’re two parts of the same feeling. That sense of being closed in and defined by walls became more real just a short while after we worked on the song. But we’re all those other things, too—connected, hopeful, with a long arc that will go beyond this time.”
The recently released and cinematically shot black and white visual for “In Quiet Moments” is split between footage of clouds passing the sun, stock footage of a slow pan of a forest, Thomas singing the song in the studio and other natural phenomena. It’s a fittingly gorgeous and thoughtful visual.
Now, as you may recall In Quiet Moments was slated for a two part release through Bella Union. The first part was released last month with the second part due February 26, 2021, along with the physical release of the entire album.