[sic] Magazine

Layton & Wood – “When? Softly”

‘Ever Decreasing Circles.’

Duo John Layton and Christopher Wood have music backgrounds based in jazz and orchestral music. Layton’s father was a jazz pianist and both were members of the Leeds based 58-piece orchestra. Wood is also a writer and artist. None of this gives too many clues as to what “When? Softly” sounds like. Layton’s love of free jazz, ambient and pan global music is more an indicator of where the listener will find themselves with this album.

Starting off with ‘Isle’ with what sounds like someone tuning up a guitar in the middle of a jungle. Its all random notes and strums with tendrils of electronic sound ,and with insect chirrups and sweet bird song. The music has an extremely pleasant almost eden-ist like quality which runs into track two ‘Remember’. And then the next track, I hesitate to call them songs, does pretty much the same. And then the next one….and the one after and well you get the picture I’m sure.

There is nothing inherently wrong with what Layton & Wood’s approach, like I said, it’s relaxing and extremely pleasant to listen to but halfway through “When? Softly ” I started to wonder when it might change tack or approach. To be fair ‘Somnolent’ ( make your own joke here ) has what sounds like whale song coursing through and ‘The Innocent’ sounds less pastoral and more like the ambient effects on Blade Runner. ‘Remember’ which curiously I’d forgotten about adds by comparison dynamic whooshing keyboards. Best of all is ‘Unknowing’ which weaves a subtle melodic keyboard throb into the random squeaks and effects.

More of this, mixing the accessible and the experimental would have made this album a more rewarding listen. The hard line experimental approach is to be admired but if your idea is one note stretched to infinity (or what feels like it) then the listener, or most certainly this listener rapidly disengages and the attention wanders off. It could be argued in fairness that with ambient music this is very much the intention.

The duo’s label asserts that “When? Softly” comprises of nine different tracks in one organic whole. The fact the album was recorded in real time without computer intervention is impressive but the organic whole is too much of just that. As a soundcape “When? Softly” tends to wander aimlessly round in circles rather than stretching its legs and heading off boldly for horizons unknown.