Robert Miles, Thirteen

Joe Muggs

By Joe Muggs

on 01.26.11 in Reviews

The island of Ibiza's relationship with cosmic and hedonistic music goes back way before the modern dance music era. Long before house, trance and techno, Ibiza was a millionaire's playground, where Europe's beautiful people danced with barefoot hippies on the beaches to a soundtrack that took in Latin music, reggae and other diverse sounds, but especially psychedelic and progressive rock.

A progressive rock album through and through

Roberto Concina, the Italian-Swiss producer better known to millions for his era-defining mid-1990s trance anthem "Children" as Robert Miles, is clearly well versed in the history of the island where he has made his home. With each release following "Children" and its accompanying album, Dreamland, Miles moved further and further from the simple dance beats and electronic melodies that made him his fortune, and closer and closer to the sun-kissed psychedelicism of the original 1960s and '70s Balearic sounds. His previous collaborations with the likes of Bill Laswell, Trilok Gurtu and Robert Fripp have moved ever more into experimental rock, and the instrumental 'Thirteen' is the culmination of that.

Be warned: This is a progressive rock album through and through. The guitar solos sometimes feel endless, the structures of tracks unfold through shift after shift in complex narratives, and the chords and rhythms always avoid the obvious. Throughout it all, there are hints of Pink Floyd at their most free-ranging, of jazz-rock like Mahavishnu Orchestra, and even of those most far-out of mushroom-munching hippies, Gong. It's a far cry from Dreamland — and yet somehow there is continuity. Despite all the seeming “difficulty” of the structures, even the hardest-rocking tracks, like "Everything or Nothing" and "Black Rubber," have a blissed-out quality to them, sounding like exactly what they are: a rich man with a home in the sun and the leisure to do what he likes having an extended jam and really enjoying it.


Robert Miles

This luxurious feeling is even clearer in the more ambient experiments like "Voices From a Submerged Sea" and the gorgeous piano-led album closer "The Wolf." These are tracks that unfold at their own pace, the sense that they have no need to hurry and can just settle into their own drifting groove absolutely palpable. And often tracks will shift from one mode to another for no more reason than that it feels right — so as well as the fairly orthodox build from ambient drift to rock crescendo in "Afterglow," you also get the complete opposite in 'Archives', which decays from a skittery Kraftwerk-like electronic beat into a strangely gothic-sounding ambient guitar doodle.

Is it self-indulgent? Hell yes it is. Prog rock was always about indulging instrumental technique and over-wrought cosmic philosophies to the maximum, and this modern take on it is no exception. But oddly, it doesn't feel like ego music — Miles is clearly a man with nothing to prove, and the sheer pleasure that he injects into this music radiates back out. No, it's not easy listening for the most part — rather, it's a record to really immerse yourself in, and if you do, the rewards can be surprisingly great. Turn on, tune in and float off!