Smoke & Tea’s sound may have a gentle surface flow, but holding these forms in place is a sharp edge underneath. The duo of Bernard Farley and Patrick Blinkhorn provoke an emotional reckoning with heavy intonations that cut through the shimmering ether. Oceans On Mars is cinematic in scope but colored with a vulnerability that rubs nerves raw. In those stark moments, though, is a quiet beauty that stretches past the cosmos and into the furthest reaches of time.
The title track is stuck in a time loop with resonating synth swells rolling across greyscale valleys. Disembodied whispers blow through static as ephemeral memories flicker past, always out of focus and out of reach. Feeling as though the moment has passed us by, high-pitched notes rain down across secure sawtooth fields as a reminder to keep searching for the target. Minimal electronics dot the horizon, small points of light holding a million different worlds where answers might live.
A crystallized sheen stretches across the surface of “Blueshift,” those buried memories now submerged and encased in ice. Rising aural conjectures held down by an immersive bass line orchestrate the tonal thaw. Farley’s voice is the ax, shiny and smooth, cracking open the surface with moving vocal gestures that let the long-buried blood seep out. It’s spellbinding. His voice completely envelops the empty space, icy synths becoming a sonic puddle. Hard-won battles against inner turmoil are couched in billowing tones, but the scars still shine through.
Before falling into oblivion, Smoke & Tea reach out a helping hand. The 43-minute epic “Kauai” opens a portal, a chance to escape into celestial fields where nothing hurts and everything is gold. It moves cautiously, tones gentle shifting like gem-colored seas, an acknowledgment of the serrated edge underneath. “Kauai” is a world unto itself, encapsulating all of Oceans On Mars in some kind of transcendent Escherian way where everything is turned upside down. I feel this music deep in my bones.
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