The Neon Ambience's second album this year is an altogether brighter and more mature offering than its predecessor.
Simply titled 'B' (the duo's debut album was called 'A') the 9-track release comes with a press release that's as intriguing as the music.
"He (b)rought me to His (b)anqueting table and His (b)anner over me is love. Song of Solomon 2:4," it reads before promising that 'B' is "perfect" for "reflection, soaking and devotion".
Being an entirely instrumental album, the recording must be judged on its musical ingenuity alone. It should also be understood in context as 'B' forms the middle segment of a promised trilogy (if the final release isn't called 'C' this reviewer will eat his hat).
While the search for spiritual depths contained within Christian music is often fruitful, instrumental albums like 'B' make life much harder. Is there anything distinctly 'Christian' about the way a guitar is played or the order of the notes in a sequence? Probably not.
Yet the spirit behind The Neon Ambience is undeniably Christ-centred. The album has been created to help Christians go deeper in times of prayer and meditation.
This desire – to aid Christian times of reflection – is not new. 'Soaking' albums have had an audience for a long time. But what is new is the way The Neon Ambience have crafted such an album. They haven't reproduced in Christ Alone on flutes or organised an orchestral version of Shine Jesus Shine. They've composed original music that's full of passion, energy and longing.
Some of the tracks are a little heavy on the programming side of things, but this is made up for in other places such as the beautiful acoustic fingerstyle pattern at the start of Befriended. Trevor Michael isn't just a record label owner and skilled producer, he's also a talented guitarist. So it's great to hear some of his signature sounds being put to good use on this record. The other half of The Neon Ambience is Ian Yates – a worship leader from Liverpool who clearly enjoys the studio as well as the live environment.
The greatest thing that can be said of The Neon Ambience is probably that they're doing something unique. There's no doubt their style won't impress everyone. But the beauty of instrumental music is it can be used for everything from spiritual reflection to background music or even as a tool to develop your own listening: How many layers of sound can your ear pick out?
Singling out tracks for praise would be wrong as this is an album best listened to as a whole. Music industry commentators are lamenting the demise of the album for various reasons that I won't cover here. But it's albums like 'B' (plus 'A' and probably 'C') that have the potential to buck the trend and get people appreciating all 52 minutes, rather than their favourite 3 or 4. The only disappointment is 'B' doesn't quite manage to run seamlessly. There are pauses and breaks between tracks that are sometimes in danger of interrupting the build up of energy or atmosphere.
But this is a minor quibble. All in all 'B' is (b)etter, more (b)eautiful and (b)rilliant than its predecessor. If you're desperate to have some new sounds in your music collection, you've come to the right place.