A rich layering of verbed-out textures and elaborate sonic landscapes are what awaits listeners to ‘Secret Intelligent Light’, the latest release from Aura, the solo project of Lower Hutt-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Albert Mikolaj.
At their core, this new collection of songs from Mikolaj and producer Ben Lemi (of Trinity Roots) are flowing folk anthems that invoke the work of Jose Gonzalez. However, it is the atmospheric instrumental layering that provides ‘Secret Intelligent Light’ with its ethereal tone and reflective mood.
From the outset, the songs evolve and flow as opposed to revisiting choruses or melodic hooks. It’s music that can set you off on a daydream, it doesn’t demand constant attention to appreciate what the songs offer, rather they induce a feeling akin to the nostalgia of a road trip where the concerns of everyday life are made a little less significant.
There are notable suspensive, haunting elements in the album created by the stirring of strings, coupled with the hypnotic use of percussive instruments that induce a stomping rolling rhythm. Albert’s style of vocal delivery elicits a sense of vulnerability, it delicately sits at the forefront of these songs, not dissimilar to the work of Bon Iver and Sigur Ros.
There is a real abundance of instrumentation and over-dubbing throughout the album, with clear use of grand piano, plucking/picked acoustic guitar, distant choir/backing vocals, brass horns, tambourines and shakers, as well as the use of synths. There are times when the richness of the songs can feel slightly clustered, but not the point of having to take a break from listening. The cache of instruments used tends to sit in the background of these songs, drenched in reverb, giving the album a full, warm, experimental sonic character.