Even the worst albums can be the beginning of a great conversation.
Any collaborative album has the potential for astounding success or punishing failure. For every My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, there is a Lulu. The combination of Simon Raymonde (ex-bassist of Cocteau Twins) and Richie Thomas (ex-drummer of Dif Juz) should not be an offensive combination, but if it was, their debut album as Lost Horizons, Ojalá, might actually make for a more memorable listen.
Even the worst albums can be the beginning of a great conversation. Not so when an album is simply boring, which the name of the game for Ojalá. All you need is the phrase “Cocteau Twins bassist” and you’ve already got a good sense for the album’s tone. Raymonde and Thomas do fine work in crafting sublime soundscapes, and Ojalá is peak shoegaze/dream-pop pastiche, but this unfortunately translates into something perplexingly generic—to the point where it’s somewhat difficult to conjure the memory of even the most satisfying moments of the album. Like a dream, this album fades completely not long after you’re out of it.
Raymonde is no slouch and has made timeless music like this before, but the album somehow possesses almost no sonic fingerprints to speak of. This is a fatal flaw for an album built on its guest vocalists. Opener “Bones” tries to soar with its gospel-infused vocals but ends up feeling cheesy, right down to the shouts of “Louder! Louder!.” This leads into “The Places We’ve Been,” a song featuring Karen Peris of the egregiously-underrated the Innocence Mission, and it feels like the remainder of the album struggles to capture the sparks present on that song. Ghostpoet’s appearance on “Reckless” feels like an unnecessary attempt at being hip, but his delivery is so lifeless that it residually sours the excitement of Midlake’s Tim Smith appearing one song later on “She Led Me Away,” and due to poor sequencing decisions, Smith’s appearance goes largely unnoticed within the context of the album.
Aside from its limp nature, Ojalá makes one other grave mistake: it’s 70 ever-loving minutes long. Albums need to earn that length by remaining consistently interesting, and that just doesn’t happen here. “The Engine” is pretty enough, but it wears out its welcome as it stretches across nearly eight minutes. This is true of the album as a whole: while sonically pleasing, Ojalá sags mercilessly under its own heft, making even the most gorgeous sections ultimately feel like a slog. This project could be whittled down to a much more enjoyable six-track EP.
The album’s lone saving grace is its use of guests that manage to stand out. It’s replete with solid vocals by Raymonde’s Bella Union besties Marissa Nadler and the aforementioned Smith, as well as the too-brief glimpse of the still-very-criminally-underrated-two-paragraphs-later Peris. Though, in keeping with the level of misfire at which the album is operating, it relegates the otherworldly Sharon Van Etten to backing vocals. Some tracks—“Asphyxia” with its sub-Tough Alliance drum machine and the grungy, almost mixtape-worthy “Life in a Paradox” both being examples—offer small glimpses of what this project could have been with a focus that matched the talent of these musicians. While it’s well-produced and aurally pleasing enough, the album’s few moments that leave an impression fade too quickly for it to be a worthwhile listen with so little substance. Neither Raymonde nor Thomas have made much noise over the past two decades, and with Ojalá, we’re left wondering if this all they have to say after 20 years.