A sonically expansive, ever evolving 27 years since making his debut back in his lead flute playing days with Afternoon in Sedona, Nicholas Gunn is releasing his extraordinary 20th album Pacific Blue into a very different world than he could have imagined existing while recording it. There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition and world affairs allows them to create works that meet the moment.
Yet the multi-faceted keyboardist, composer and producer here pulls off the extraordinary feat of creating a spiritually peace-making, perspective and consciousness shifting collection that seems primed to help its listeners through this age of coronavirus without having had the foresight that music facilitating this would be more of a collective necessity than a personal luxury.
However that mystical creative synchronicity happened, we should be grateful for it – and the way Gunn’s deeply thoughtful blend of dreamy atmospheres, pulsating grooves, timeless melodies and adventurous sonic details lifts us from this moment while reminding us of the ongoing energies and eternal nature of the earth and universe. Gunn has reminded us of the planet’s spendlor before before on works inspired by and paying homage to the Grand Canyon (three collections), Yellowstone Park and the Great Smoky Mountains.
On the six instrumentals and four vocals (by the soulful and ethereal vocalist Alina Renae) of Pacific Blue, he finds strength and solace in the endless flow, calm and intensity of the waters that surround us. Gunn’s original intent seemed to be using his musical interpretations of aspects of earth’s largest ocean as a metaphor for self-discovery and the ebb and flow of the life journeys we are on. Now that these life journeys are imperiled and interconnected (despite social distancing) in an effort to conquer a common foe, those musical visions of the sea take on a much deeper emotional meaning.
Like the ocean itself, the tracks on Ocean Blue are meant to be and best experienced as a full experience – a novel concept in this day of streaming playlists of many artists. Have the patience for that with Gunn and your senses and spirit will be rewarded. He opens with “Into the Vastness,” a seafaring entry into the majestic ominous, peacefully atmospheric and intense, uniquely pulsating deep showcasing many of the elements carried over from the artist’s entry into the world of dance/EDM under the name Limelight. Once at sea, he introduces us once again to the brilliant talents of Renae (who also appeared on his 2019 epic Riding the Thermals), who brings beauty and wistful heartbreak to Gunns’ regret-filled lyrics and elegant piano playing on “And I.”
The adventure gathers high energy momentum on “Sailing,” which takes into another sonic world filled with throbbing beats, swirling melodic synth energy and transformative wind in the face exuberance. He reveals the core of his mission on “Chasing the Light,” which includes an hypnotic piano motif, and breathtaking blend of gentle steel guitar caressed in atmospheres and wordless angelic voices. After making sure we feel the abounding gratitude on the electronics-swirled romantic vocal ballad “Fallen” (which will make you fall for Renae if you haven’t already!), Gunn allows us the spa-ready, easy flowing relaxation of being “Adrift” and a truly peaceful stretch where we can simply “Float” on the gentle waves as a single angelic voice speaks love to our souls.
Alina’s haunting, plaintive emotion in sharing Gunn’s soul-searching lyrics on the title track “Pacific Blue” allow us a few moments to reflect on love and life and our own connections to loved ones – a task made more soul-pertinent at this fraught moment in time. The beautiful narrative Gunn weaves reaches its graceful conclusion with a sighting (while feeling the back and forth of the waves) of the “Coast” and the gentle way he and Renae coax us to emerge “Out From the Deep” from the darkness and murky thoughts that may surround us back into the bursting synth sunlight once we reach the safety of land. This is affirmation that one day, we will make it through the stormy seas - a message that resonates powerfully in the era of coronavirus.