The last offering in an album trilogy, but is it the end or a new beginning for the accomplished London duo?
The final part of a sort of three-album holy trinity that began with the fluid, oscillating textures of Walls’ self-titled 2010 debut (which, quite rightly, ended up as the electronic album of choice on various end-of-year lists) and continued with the mesmeric kosmische bliss-out of 2011’s ‘Coracle’, ‘Urals’ is the culmination of a four-year journey for London-based soundscapers Alessio Natalizia and Sam Willis.
That’s how long the duo have been in the studio, painstakingly crafting, enhancing and tweaking their signature sound into futuristic synth-led vistas that lean more towards the dancefloor than ever before. The time spent twiddling knobs and hunkering down behind the console has evidently been put to good use because ‘Urals’, arguably Walls’ most rounded and defined release to date, is a hugely rewarding listen.
As with the first two albums, it’s an expansive and immersive experience, unashamedly seductive as it first entices then pulls you into its alluring melting pot of sounds. Drawing on elements of house, techno, krautrock, ambient, drone and beyond, all bleeding and merging into each other, it drifts between vast stretches of darkness and light. It’s beautiful, intricate stuff.
Natalizia and Willis are musical sponges, absorbing the eclectic electronic sounds around them. Their burgeoning Ecstatic Recordings imprint has seen them release music by kindred spirits such as Pye Corner Audio, Axel Willner (The Field) and L/F/D/M, as well as their own individual work (Natalizia’s woozy synth-led workouts as Not Waving and Willis’ ritualistic techno as Primitive World). And let’s not forget last year’s otherworldly ‘Sound Houses’ album, which saw them rework the archive of BBC Radiophonic Workshop founder Daphne Oram. Being exposed to such a wealth of groundbreaking, creative music seems to have evolved their sound into even more widescreen realms, as ‘Urals’ so admirably attests.
The goosebump moments keep coming thick and fast. There’s the bassy motorik groove and analogue bleeps of the title track, and the probing, early Human League-like pulses of ‘Altai’, given incredible sheen and depth by Sonic Boom’s mastering. ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ is an intense Moroder-esque blast riven through with glorious arpeggiated riffs, while the sublime, drone-hued drift of ‘Radiance’ in some small way feels kind of inspired by Eno’s ambient work, particularly 1983’s wonderful ‘Apollo’ album. Just like that record, there’s a rare, authoritative artistry to ‘Urals’ that hints at long-term durability.
Natalizia and Willis would appear to be cutting loose at the perfect moment, the very top of their game. This isn’t strictly goodbye, of course, as there are countless other great Natalizia/Willis side projects to discover and cherish instead. But if this is truly to be Walls’ epilogue, it’s a darned fine legacy to leave behind.