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  • Jonathan Widran

NICHOLAS GUNN, Riding the Thermals

On a very personal level, listening to Nicholas Gunn’s hypnotic and rapturous electronic/ambient collection Riding the Thermals is like catching up with an old friend who is still weaving inspiring, transcendent magic, just in a very different way. A lover of all things Southwest in the early 90s, I became an instant fan of his early flute albums, whose soulful, soaring native vibe was the musical equivalent to Arizona Highways magazine, and the soundtrack, quite literally to some fanciful daytripping in Sedona and multiple return visits to the Grand Canyon. Gunn’s successful entry into the world of dance/EDM music these past few years under his trance music name Limelght has had a remarkable impact on his solo artistry, which he takes into fresh, adventurous realms on this wondrously melodic, seductively rhythmic and passionately textured new collection.

Gunn’s title says it all about the soaring forward motion and artful ebbs and flows of the music. The primary physical mechanism for the jet stream, the thermal wind relation defines a vertical wind sheat – a variation in wind speed or direction with height. Yet it’s clear from titles like “I’ll Always,” “I’ll Be Gone” and “Finding You” that Gunn has more than science on his mind. This is a romantic and philosophical, soul reflective work, using the earth’s wind patterns as a metaphor for insights into the way our lives twist and turn through the gentlest wisp of air to the most turbulent of down drafts as we embrace this crazy, wild ride called life. This is exemplified on the propulsive, guitar spackled title track that pulls us along a deep current of electronic atmospheric flow, away from the occasional echoes of youth and into different moments and realms where our hearts are beckoned.

Just as in Gunn’s previous works, there’s also a glorious travel element, rendered of course much differently as he embraces new sonic possibilities. “Be Tulum,” no doubt inspired by the town on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, has the spirituality of an ancient civilization mingling with fresh bright guitar and synth textures in a seductive ambient swirl. “Saint Lucia,” an Eastern Caribbean island, is full of subtle shadows and light, an invitation to a deeper hypnotic experience that increases in tone, energy and percussiveness as the track races on. Another stop along the journey is “Ibiza Sunset,” where soft, piano and synth created sunlight sparkles in the distance on the gently moving water (fashioned by electric guitar), sparking memories of the greatest loves of our lives – and where time and circumstance may have taken them.

The emotional core of Riding the Thermals are the three sensual, haunting vocal songs that are gentle but heart shifting collaborations between Gunn (who showcases his poetic lyrics) and the stunning vocals of Alina Renae, who previously appeared on songs Gunn created as Limelght. Renae’s voice sings poignant declarations of love and loss, but in a unique way.

On “I’ll Always” and “Out There,” it is used as an instrument complementing the multitude of textures Gunn creates on synth and guitar. “I’ll Be Gone” and the album's lead single "Older" are slightly different. The most passionate statement on Riding the Thermals, "I'll Be Gone" is a burst of deep seated heartbreak whose restrained production and prominent, unrestrained vocal lead by Renae allows us to feel every bit of love, pain and mixed emotion lingering eternally in the heart. "Older" features Renae's gossamer voice floating over an all-enveloping mystical dreamscape, reflecting longingly and wistfully of days gone by.

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