Stubbleman is the alias of Pascal Gabriel, formerly of Mute electronic pop alumni Peach, a central figure in Rhythm King via S’Express, Bomb The Bass and others, and a producer to the stars. Mountains And Plains was inspired by a trip across the breadth of the United States and finds Gabriel in deeply reflective territory, the eleven pieces here tapping into a voguish, borderless modern classical style wherein an array of analogue synthesizers sensitively accompany stentorian piano. The album was mixed with the knowing ear of fellow Mute stalwart Gareth Jones.
Despite the grand scale of the vistas, buildings and infrastructure that Gabriel was enthralled and captivated by, there is a deeply introspective tone here, one that only slips into uplifting territory on the closing piece, the ephemeral ‘Piety Wharf’. Could it be that he is silently commenting on some sort of quasi-political squandered environmental opportunity as he looks out from car and train windows between New Mexico, California and the relentless flatness of the Mid-West? Did he not enjoy the trip? Or was it simply that I played these tracks on a particularly sullen, overcast Tuesday after a warm public holiday where nothing in my life seemed to make much sense anymore as I trudged to and from work?
Maybe that’s oversharing on my part, but such is the effect of the beguiling detail available to the listener on Mountains And Plains. Pieces like the stillness of ‘Great River Road’s upright piano motifs, sensitively-deployed modular synths and found sounds prompt you to consider your tiny place in the world; ‘Griffith Park’ moves forward on a particularly absorbing, ever-changing synth pattern, a perfect allegory to the unsleeping vibrancy and disposable creative hustle of the Los Angeles that the park overlooks; ‘Badlands Train’ has a quiet grandeur, water-like synth sprinkles evoking the incessant slow-motion dance of the derricks as they suck oil from below the Texas bedrock.
It shouldn’t comes as the remotest surprise, when you consider Gabriel’s CV, that this album is a highly accomplished body of work. It is more than just a producer’s pet vanity project and opportunity to deploy a mouth-watering array of kit; it is a highly personal, evocative, thought-provoking, affecting and arresting endeavour that seems to transcend just about every single expectation you might have about what it could sound like.
(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence