5.20 is the third full length release from French band Nine Skies, following on from 2019's excellent effort, Sweetheart Grips (see review). Again there are some eye-catching guests joining the central nine piece group. In this case we are treated to a brace of Hacketts and Damien Wilson providing vocals on Porcelain Hill. The group are also bolstered by a string quartet rounding out this largely acoustic selection.
There is a growing aura of expectation around Nine Skies and it is fair to say that they have really hit their stride with this release. Opening this collection is the laid back, hypnotic Colourblind, a beautifully realised moment which finds itself entranced in its own rhythm, confident and insistent, paving the way for the more upbeat, urgent Wilderness, featuring trademark guitar from Hackett S. Beauty Of Decay provides a short, introspective instrumental interlude. Typical of the whole, even down to the nostalgia inducing title, this piece invites a personal response while also hinting at universal themes. Golden Drops hints at a transcendental mysticism, underlined by exotic violin work. Swirling, urgent orchestration underpins the steady vocal of Above The Tide, hinting at inner turmoils. The longer, structured pieces are interspersed with short intricate instrumentals, Dear Mind and Achristas completing the trio begun by Beauty Of Decay providing havens for contemplation. While Hackett J provides a dazzling flute contribution to The Old Man In The Snow it is the group dynamic that increasingly takes centre stage. Personal confessional themes dominate Porcelain Hill without losing sight of the universal themes at its heart. Smiling Stars which stands alone at the end of the album twists through verses like late night malt, threatening at any time to burst into choruses of triumphant shooting stars in a blaze of light.
5.20 is an album of poetic grace capturing moments of personal insight and turning them into a shared truth to engage with the audience. It is easily Nine Skies' most accomplished of their three albums and represents a great leap towards greater universal recognition for this excellent outfit. I look forward to seeing and hearing more from them in the future.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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