The British duo Aquilo have taken a path more and more artists are using these days. Starting with their self-titled EP release in 2014, Tom Higham and Ben Fletcher have released a steady stream of EP's and singles, while utilizing social media to build an audience before releasing their first full length album. Between their four studio EP's, there was also a live release, and numerous one-off singles, Aquilo had released 15 songs in total between 2014-2016. That gave them a lot to choose from in preparing their first album.
Silhouettes does draw from some of those earlier releases as five of its fourteen tracks appeared on one of those EP's. But with so much strong material to choose from, it was inevitable there would be some carry over and I'm glad to see some of these tracks see a wider release on the full length. I was hooked by Aquilo's music as soon as I heard it a few years ago, have jumped on every new release as soon as it was available and Silhouettes was one of my most anticipated albums of 2017. Higham and Fletcher do not disappoint as they've released an early contender for my favorite album of the year.
Although they do have some uptempo songs in their catalog, and on this album, let's be clear. Aquilo excel at creating beautifully melodic, sad, electronic-tinged pop ballads. Higham's soulful voice is surrounded by layers of harmonies, gorgeous, atmospheric electronics and piano work. The duo write and produce their own material and also have some dynamic collaborators on a number of tracks here. One of my favorites, SOHN, co-wrote and produced both "Human" and album closer "Waiting", while the great Olafur Arnalds helped produce four of the album's standout tracks including the album's first two songs, "Silhouette" and "Blindside". Both are piano based ballads with Arnalds adding lush orchestration to the former and a more restrained, quiet approach to the latter.
The other two tracks produced by Arnalds are also devastatingly lovely. It took me a little time to get used to the studio version of "Almost Over". It was originally released in a live version on the EP Midnight. That version was performed as a piano ballad, with Higham and Fletcher harmonizing together on vocals, but here it is just Higham singing over a bed of ambient electronics. That doesn't change the heart breaking nature of the lyrics or the beauty of the song. "Sorry" sees Higham utilize his falsetto as he somberly apologizes for his role in a broken relationship. It's a stunning performance.
Of the songs that have been around for awhile, I'm most thrilled that "I Gave It All" made the cut on Silhouettes. First released on their 2014 EP Human, it's another piano-based ballad that's among the best songs they've made. The harmonies and melody are captivating, as is the lavish production. As I mentioned above, as great as Aquilo are at balladry, that's not all they're capable of. Silhouettes has a number of more upbeat tracks that break up the melancholy. "Never Hurt Again" and "You Won't Know Where You Stand" both have hints of 80's synth-pop to them, while "Complication" is the closest thing the duo have to a dance track. It's catchy and single-worthy.
Silhouettes continues what Aquilo started with their earlier EP's and singles, establishing them as major talents in the melodic pop field. Their patience in crafting their debut album has paid off with what will surely be one of my favorites albums of 2017. When the year is over, don't be surprised to see this at or near the top of my Best of 2017 list.
Favorite tracks: "I Gave It All", "Sorry", "Almost Over", "Silhouette"
Silhouettes was released in the U.S. on February 17th, 2017 on the Harvest Records label.