It’s been seven years since Californian electronic producer Sam Grawes graced us with his last album as Hatchback, 2011’s ‘Zeus & Apollo’. It appears that little has changed in his sound-world though following this lengthy hiatus, with this third album ‘Year Of The Dragon’ smoothly slotting in alongside its predecessors as another volume in his ongoing fictitious ‘California Cosmic Sound Series’.
As with previous Hatchback albums, there’s a strong kinship to be found here with New Age and chillout-tinged sounds, with distinct proggy and Balearic influences rearing their heads amongst the six distinctly unhurried sounding tracks collected here. Opening track and first single ‘Haiphong Boogie’ offers up a good taste of the brightly hued and airy aesthetic at work here, as percussion tones and handclaps gather pace against 4/4 kickdrums, placing a lazy Balearic house pulse beneath bright pitchbent analogue synth pads and burbling acid squiggles, the noodling layered melodies suggesting late eighties Tangerine Dream as much as they do something that might have been played on an Ibizan beach during the original Balearic / chill out explosion.
‘Evening Mountain’ reaches even further into the New Age rack, as shuffling rhythms and sparse percussion trace a path beneath smoky sounding saxophones and trailing synth ambience, the emergence of twinkling arpeggiated sequences seeing bright shards of daylight rippling in amongst the track’s seemingly effortless glide. If the aforementioned track calls to mind the ghost of VHS movie scores past as synthesised Asian melodic elements float past against retro video game tones, ‘Onarimon’ veers further out into proggy territory that suggests Budd & Eno meeting late-period Pink Floyd head-on, as fluid guitar bends arc and wail against a bed of deep droning ambience and bell-like melodic sequences, the phasing background effects heightening the spacey sense of psychedelia.
Elsewhere, ‘Humidity Report 1976’ sees Grawes joining forces with Windsurf’s Sam Judd to craft an unhurried wander through slow drums, shimmering guitar layers and warm synth melodies that sits somewhere between a late eighties French film soundtrack along the lines of Eric Serra, and New Age-kissed yacht rock. There’s a distinct sense of nostalgia here for late eighties synth vistas along the lines of the aforementioned Tangerine Dream and Harold Faltermeyer, but on the whole it feels sincere and well-crafted, rather than ever coming across as cloying or forced.