Review: James Johnston / Steve Gullick ‘We Travel Time’

We Travel Time sees painter/musician James Johnston (Gallon Drunk, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) team up once again with music photographer Steve Gullick (Tenebrous Liar, Mark Lanegan/Soulsavers). The last time Johnson and Gullick collaborated was in the band …Bender and 2006s split 10” with Virgin Passages was their last musical collaboration, until now. The genesis of We Travel Time came after the pair worked together on an art show in late 2019 and started spontaneously improvising and recording.

James Johnson / Steve Gullick 'We Travel Time'

You would associate the gory album cover featuring a blood splattered apron with an Unsane or death metal album than the ambient sounds promised on this release. An interesting juxtaposition of violent imagery and beautiful music as it were.

Opener First Light is a gorgeous classical piece featuring a piano/violin combo and one can envisage waking up to a rising sun, birds encircling your beach house and waves gently lapping at the shore. Blue Rider is the first track to feature vocals and are accompanied by Japanese styled instrumentation. The vocals also form part of the music, as opposed to being its own distinctive entity and it works well. If you’re expecting Rob Halford then you’ll be bitterly disappointed.

Seven Seas adopts a post-rock approach, recalling the minimalist work found on the last two Talk Talk albums as well as Mark Hollis’ sole Self-Titled solo album. Lightly plucked guitar, understated vocals and atmospherics are all in play. Poised To Fall takes a folk influenced approach, with Palace Brothers being mentioned in the promo notes. I’m also reminded of the folk laden output from Swans’ label, Young God Records, Devendra Banhart, Mi and L’au, Akron/Family, hippy freak folk territory essentially. 

We Travel Time demonstrates how one can create ambient music with subtlety and understatement…

Poised to Fall is something of a tearjerker and has a wooziness that recalls the likes of Morphine, with an even more lo-fi sensibility. The stripped down rawness and fragility on offer here is breathtakingly beautiful. Stormy Sea marks the halfway point of the album and features delicate piano and guitar, laden with a depressive tone and is the kind of acoustic interlude I’d associate with Nine Inch Nails classic The Fragile, short but sweet.

Big Star was mentioned in the promo notes, but I’m finding it a little difficult to picture where their brand of comparatively upbeat power-pop fits on an experimental, ambient and frankly downbeat record such as this. It’s especially prevalent of the track featuring that band’s name, Big Star Falls with its droned vocals and tortured instrumentation. The track John continues this maudlin trend but injects a little Galaxie 500 dream pop along the way.

Idiot Moon‘s gothic mournful piano blues brings to mind Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and seeing as James has played with them, this should come as no great surprise. Swing Me with its moody Morricone atmospherics would be suited to the kind of thoughtful independent fare you’d find on the MUBI/BFI film sites. Likewise We Sail fits this mould and the incidental eerie, yet pleasant sounds, would soundtrack a Peter Strickland film. We Travel Time at over 6 minutes is the longest track by far and concludes the album on a more ethereal note to the sound of rainfall.

Unlike the ham-fisted Play album by Moby, We Travel Time demonstrates how one can create ambient music with subtlety and understatement. It is an album that could be played alongside the works of late English Philosopher Alan Watts, such is its transcendental and meditative quality. To anyone struggling with stress during the ongoing pandemic, this album is the perfect antidote.

Label: God Unknown Records
James Johnston: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Steve Gullick: Official | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills