Floating Circles Quartet ‘Humble Travelers’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

“Humble Travelers” is a bit Ronseal, in that it is an apt title. Confidently understated, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this loose, easy-going collection of simple-yet-complex tracks. Clicking the huge go button on my Pentium 486, the first title “Brockley N Peas” gave me concern. It felt like one of those jazz titles. You know the ones; “Minestrone Enigma”, “Mystery Refried Beans”, “Calamari and Catherine”. Glancing over the rest as a snippy break was honked over, I relaxed, feeling that Floating Circles were taking a more jovial angle. They’ve cast a wide net pulling in all sorts of textures and styles, resulting in something both ambient, driving, purposeful and meandering all at once.

There are constantly strong motifs and heads poking up amongst the tracks that give the listener an anchor. More akin to more modern folk-fusion-jazz like Cinematic Orchestra or Portico, but for me served a deeper experience than those two outfits. Leaning into technicality rather than trying to mask it in “atmosphere” serves Floating Circles well. The third track “Caravan Curtains” has a desert staccato guitar, metallic violin and an urgent double bass, providing all the description without being flooded with an overt field-recording sample to hammer it home. “Caravan” is one of the highlights for me, counter-pointing Arabian textures with a chamber feel. There is a deep character to it. Rather than staring at Omar Sharif emerging out of the shimmering heat with grandiose aplomb, it’s more like the human relatability of the booze at the end of Ice Cold In Alex.

Another standout is “Wading Through The Mist” that unfurls and reveals itself like a really anxious Penguin Café Orchestra track. Again, the guest violin by Johanna Burnheart is stunning. The drums open and contract the mood skilfully, while the guitar tries its best to unpick itself, and the bass hoping to hold it all together. It’s a cracking little journey that never tests my patience.

The finale of “Galactic Pedalboat Rescue Trip” is, to me, a classic travelling track. Obviously, nothing will ever usurp “Tijuana Taxi” as the Lord Regent of the descriptive travelling music, but this can be a strong contender. And it manages it without pummelling one’s ears with a car horn (admittedly). There are even strains of “Ipanema” hidden within, and that’s fine by me. I’m with them by this point, trying to hold it together after too many gawdy cocktails in the sun.

“Humble Travelers” is the right sort of not-quite-relaxed-but-still-very-relaxed tone for me. It’s not asking for too much of your attention, but if you give it you get a lot more than you think. Pitched beautifully and played with class.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe