The eagerly-awaited sequel to Malibu's "One Life", "Palaces of Pity" is a euphoric ambient (trance?) elegy to calm, sublimating delayed guitars and cello into balearic zoomer-bient bliss sequences that remind us of Orbital, Burial, Enya.
'One Life' was an all-too-brief album that summarized a spectrum of moods, refining the slow crawl of nostalgic ambience into a digestible cinematic narrative that peaked with the Oliver Coates-assisted title track. 'Palaces of Pity' is its follow-up, this time motivated by quietude. It's music that is to trance and '90s Hallmark ambience what Burial is to garage and 'ardkore, the vaporous traces of a shared memory that's been passed along via regurgitated (algorithm assisted) mainstream culture before being reduced to noise and dust. Pure vibes, if you will.
Opening track 'The Things That Fade' might be the most strident example of Malibu's technique, with seductive vocals layered over Café Del Mar guitar licks, dirtied Reese bass rumbles and dizzying phased strings. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, adopting the weightless motion of Chicane or Banco de Gaia if the music was piped into an empty swimming pool and recorded to an iPhone; a lost future memory of the hedonism zoomers were promised but never inherited. Malibu once again taps experimental cellist du jour Oliver Coates to help out with textures, enlisting Madelen Dressler-Vollsaeter too, and guitarist Florian Le-Prisé, whose lite jazz tangles echo Isolée's iconic 'Beau Mot Plage', experienced within a half-remembered dream.
But the piece of music that looms largest over "Palaces of Pity" is Orbital's early '90s emosh classic 'Halcyon', that loops Kirsty Hawkshaw's wordless coos over clipped 'n stepped broken house rolls and an unsurpassed TX81Z "lately bass" bassline. The original was written as a tribute to brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll's mother, who was addicted to benzodiazepine derivative Halcion; it seems peculiarly fitting now that the narcotic ambient sound it inspired has become a de-facto soundtrack to a generation partly defined by its relationship with benzos. If "One Life" was anger, and "Palaces of Pity" is calm, there's an oddly medicinal subtext that's hard to ignore; blind panic is reduced to an emotional cinder. Stripping away the beats entirely and only leaving the sort of longing strings, soaring vocals and next-morning-comedown throb that Orbital captured so perfectly in the '90s, Malibu makes music that sounds completely in line with an emotion that's hard to define because we're still trapped, slumped over the trashcan.
As temporally liminal as Burial's 'In McDonalds', instead of soundtracking a late night visit to the Mark Fisher-powered neon-lit consumerist endzone "Palaces of Pity" is lying in wait for a VR world we haven't quite been granted access to yet. As austerity trips into rapid inflation and a cost of living crisis, the idea of the beach holiday is bound to become more and more mythical, and a soundtrack like this ends up representing the concept of sun, sea, sand and relaxation rather than its physical reality. Cleaved from the actual experience of boozy Club 18-30 package parties and balmy weekends breathing un-polluted salt air, its music that's as suggestive of the life we don't have as AI rendered artwork is to the skills we never learned. Dystopian, maybe, but also painfully on point.