The Road Not Taken by Ecovillage (Review)

The Swedish duo release their most austere and purely ambient album to date.
The Road Not Taken - Ecovillage

When Emil Holmström and Peter Wikström first began releasing music together as Ecovillage, with 2009’s Phoenix Asteroid, their brand of dreamy, ambient electronic music was just that: dreamy, euphoric, and all-but-untethered to the surly bonds of Earth.

Over time, however, their music has grown more contemplative and inward-facing, be it 2015’s Jesus of Nazareth (a modern classical album inspired by the Gospel of Mark) or 2020’s Arrived. Recent Ecovillage albums also found the duo embracing collaborations with the likes of Ludvig Cimbrelius and The Green Kingdom.

Holmström and Wikström’s latest album, The Road Not Taken, feels like the logical and natural end of both of those developments.

Each of the album’s eight songs is a collaboration, and taken as a whole, they represent some of the most austere and purely ambient music of Ecovillage’s career to date. The snappy, propulsive beats that provided some momentum on the duo’s earlier albums are largely absent here. In their place are pure drifts of sound (“Spark”) punctuated by Middle-Eastern textures and ghostly vocals (“Halo”) as well as sparse string arrangements that evoke Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s slow burn (“Living Flame”).

This does mean that The Road Not Taken, as per its title, often feels meandering and direction-less — which may very well be the duo’s intention, particularly on a song like “Memories of Spring,” a collaboration with Masayoshi Fujita in which meditative tones chime and swirl around the listener. And given the lush-ness that characterizes a song like “Spark” or “Memories of Spring,” it’s tempting to just sit there amidst the swirl — but only the most patient listeners should apply.

Those who do will be rewarded, at the album’s end, with its loveliest track. “Waking Up” is a collaboration with harpist Nailah Hunter, whose 2020 Spells EP revealed her own knack for creating beguiling sounds. Ecovillage’s atmospherics together with Hunter’s vocals and the dulcet cascades of her harp is a match made in musical heaven, a shimmering song that’s equal parts playful and pensive, and represents the apotheosis of Ecovillage’s musical evolution to date.

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