It’s not one of the Biblical Beatitudes, but it may as well be, considering the impact creative manic expressives like Holland Phillips have had: “Blessed are the Night Owls, for they shall inspire the world with the magic they create under cover of darkness.”
In an extraordinary career that began in the mid-90s but has picked up its most freewheeling contemporary instrumental steam (and a slew of industry awards!) since the release of Daydream Alley in 2015, Phillips has centered our experience of his eclectic, orchestral tinged new age, dream pop, electronic music on unique titles that have alternate between fairly mainstream genre concepts (Under a Second Moon) to adventurous mystery (A Presence of Three Minds) and straight to the point reflections of the times we are living in (the 2020 pandemic lockdown era release A Momentary Pause).
Fresh from his ZMR nomination for Piano with Instrumentation Album of the Year for that last collection, Phillips takes us ever-deeper into his compositional process with Eleven after Midnight, a sweeping, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically eclectic celebration of the magic he creates between midnight and dawn, when most of us are in sleep/recharge mode. As he presents yet another multi-faceted masterwork that, thematically speaking, takes us from the gently sensual piano and subtly orchestral “Lights Off” through the soulfully contemplative, also piano driven lullaby “At Night’s End,” he is only to happy to make a key confession that liberates him from the status quo.
“Those hours just happen to be the time that I am most awake and creative,” he says. “I used to fight it, wanting to work as the rest of the world does, but that seems to be something I am not capable of doing. Every song on this album was created in the hours between midnight and dawn’s light…not through any specific design, however, that’s just the way things worked out. The title also reflects the fact that I ended up with eleven song simply because ten wouldn’t do, even though ten would have been much more prophetic for my tenth release.”
Keeping the proverbial oil burning, Phillips takes us on an extraordinary nocturnal journey that naturally sounds beautiful, alternately relaxing and uplifting any time of day. Beginning with a soft spoken, eloquent harp melody, “All That We Are” builds emotion via orchestral intensity around his meditative piano musings, a hypnotic duality which extends effortlessly to the dramatic excursion to “That Distant Horizon.” Although piano with strings is definitely his favored aesthetic – fans who love this vibe should also immerse their senses into gorgeously textured tracks like “Wolf Moon Rising,” “From the Music Fields,” “Calling Us Home” and “Pieces of You” – Phillips also uses his arsenal of keyboards to take us on much trippier, sonically offbeat adventures.
Though he’s wide awake during the week hours, he recognizes that most of us are in dreamy la-la land and has a blast with more exotic, percussive energies on the deeply mystical “Stranger Dreams” and the super tripped out space fusion jam (a melodically compelling but also wildly experimental outlier) that makes “Landing On Mars” the extra terrestrial musical experience of a lifetime.
Although last year’s A Momentary Pause was Phillips’ official pandemic era album, some of the epiphanies about isolation, loneliness and caution that inhabited his musical flow then spill over most delightfully now on Eleven After Midnight. “During that time,” he says, “I also realized that to keep on going with some sort of positive outlook, it was important to periodically reflect on what we still have, what we can be and what we can look forward to. As a result, this new set of songs is decidedly more thought-provoking, deeper and more focused on life’s positive vibrations than any album I’ve done to date.”
Here’s to new age music’s magnificent resident Night Owl!