Streams by State Azure (Review)

This four-hour collection of improvised ambient/electronic music is as spacious and expansive as its cosmic cover art suggests.

For what it’s worth, if you release an album of ambient/​electronic music and put some space imagery on the cover — a nebula, star cluster, or something galactic-looking — then my inner cosmology nerd will insist that I give it a listen. (The same, by the way, goes for my inner goth and imagery of decaying monasteries and fog-enshrouded ruins.)

Sometimes that artwork turns out to be a hokey cliché, but in the case of State Azure’s Streams, the cover’s cosmic imagery turns out to be quite apropos for the UK producer’s brand of expansive, widescreen electronic music.

Streams begins with the decidedly terrestrial sounds of birds chirping and singing, but that’s just to remind you of what you’re leaving behind. Trance-y synths and airy flute-like sounds soon begin ascending into the sky, taking you with them; fragments of beats help speed you on your way. Meanwhile, deeper wells of sound imply the depths of space that you’re about to experience with the help of State Azure’s modular synths.

After about ten minutes of this, the music shifts into a darker, more spacious tone. You’ve left the atmosphere far behind, and are now fully venturing into the expanse depicted on the album cover. The music is slower and more solemn, exploring deep sound spaces similar to those on Steve Roach’s albums. And just when you think you’re going to be lost forever in the reaches of space, softly echoing piano notes come drifting in, bringing with them a sense of intimacy and warmth.

I should note that all of the above happens within the first half of the first song. When I described State Azure’s music as ​“expansive,” that might’ve been an understatement: all four of the album’s songs come close to the hour-long mark. Considering that all of Streams’ music was improvised live, the thought of sitting through nearly four hours of it might seem daunting, if not interminable. But State Azure’s music proves to be quite the opposite: it’s never anything but lush and richly detailed, and highly evocative.

For example, ​“Part II” evokes the softer, more intimate moments of Vangelis’ classic Blade Runner soundtrack (e.g., ​“Wait For Me,” ​“Rachel’s Song”) with its dreamy synth cascades. The first half of ​“Part II” is decidedly more introspective and contemplative than its predecessor, but eventually, it also evolves in some surprising ways thanks to the album’s improvisational nature.

I’ve only written about Streams’ first two tracks but given the album-like length of each track, this review would, itself, become interminably long were I to try and chronicle all of the album’s various facets and directions. The beauty of an album like Streams, though, is exploring and experiencing it for yourself. Given State Azure’s obvious attention to detail, especially for a highly improvisational album like this one, you’ll find plenty of hidden discoveries of your own within its vastness — if you’re willing to spend a good portion of your day with it, that is.