John Foxx has always been a bit of a mystery. One is never sure what he will release next. Last year, he released The Marvelous Notebook, which is a reading of his 2020 novel. Prior to that, he recorded a pretty aggressive album with the band The Maths (Howl, 2020). And before that, well, let’s just say he does not follow any set patterns. Occasionally, he will release an ambient album. Such is the case with his most recent offering Avenham. The name of the album comes from a real place that Foxx used to visit and continues to go. But as usual it is much more than that. It is the centre of emotion for Foxx and the emotion comes out in the music he has created for this album.
The album opens with the stunning “On Waking”. It has the vibe of the feeling of having just woken up from a good, healthy sleep. A slow rise to the day. It is mellow, beautiful and yet a little melancholy. Actually, the whole album has a tinge of loss and longing but it does not overshadow the beauty of the songs. The songs are layered and keyboard based, such as the second track “Ampuurias To Ithaka”. Although piano-based, the layered synth sounds form almost a brass sound. It is stirring and sublime. It is also the shortest track on the album, but it has a big impact.
Foxx uses ambient music very differently than, say, Eno. Foxx lets the melody and mood drive the piece and there is less repetition. But, like Eno, he does paint a sonic picture. This is not a knock against Eno (who is a genius and has created some of the finest ambient albums of all time and continues to do so), but Foxx has his own distinct style. “Dream Through Trees” is the perfect title for the song, as it does play out like a dream. And for those who have a longing for a place that is no longer there, it is the perfect soundtrack. Foxx takes his time rolling out the textures of the song and the end result is a centre piece for the album. It almost sounds like a symphony with the layered sounds.
Foxx has structured the album perfectly. “The Best Of Us”, which follows “Dream Through Trees” takes the listener on to another path, but a path in the same location in which he is writing. “The Best Of Us” is the longest track on the album, and continues to lead the listener deeper into a mood and place. It is a work of art. It begins somewhat sparse, but builds. Not by adding a lot of instrumentation but with emotion. It is a remarkable song.
The album concludes with “Murmuration” and the title track, “Avenham”. “Murmuration” is another one that takes its time in building up energy. But it does and by the end of the song, emotions are alive. The fact that Foxx is able to do this with instrumental music is quite astounding. The last track, “Avenham” is perhaps the saddest and most reflective. It is, in a very real sense, a goodbye. A goodbye to the place, the mood, and the album. Again. He does this without words yet conveys the feelings. It is a work of art.
Foxx has come back with a strong ambient/instrumental album. It is an absolute work of art and one of the best ambient albums he has released. In Foxx’s case, he continues to visit Avenham but there is still that sense of loss and of reflection. It is not nostalgia, but it is looking back at the changes and where he is now. Something we all do. With Avenham, he has done it with music, and it is majestic.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: JOHN FOXX – AVENHAM