Laika is a unique blend of ambient, electronica, and trip hop. "Tasteful restraint" sums up their approach to the genre. Guy Fixsen's choice of sonic elements and his arrangements make these tracks more timeless than most of their trip hop contemporaries. Portisheads' "Dummy" is still a work of genius, but many of its production elements already make the CD sound sadly dated. Laika's songs don't share that problem.
The underlying tracks are a mix of synth based soundscapes, atmospheric samples, live instrumentation, ambient percussion and border-line d-n-b drums (Laika crossed that border on the more recent "Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing").
Margaret Fiedler's vocals float like a wistful mist over the top of these tracks one moment and cut through them with a gentle urgency the next. Her voice has just that right mix of female-chill-out smoothness and original personality to work within this context. Purely ambient music is intended to create atmosphere, allowing the listener give the music itself as much or as little attention as they choose. Most vocal music makes poor ambient, since vocals and the narrative nature of lyrics tend to demand attention. But even Laika's lyrics have an ambient quality. The listener can tune them out altogether and let the vocal be just another element in the soundscape, or focus on them at any point be rewarded with intriguing, poignant images that add to the atmosphere.
The melodies are sparse. Laika approaches vocals as an equal partner in the total piece. Rather than instruments and arrangement merely framing and supporting the melody, they share equal responsibility for the listening experience, and the sparseness of the melodies maintains balance.
Disc 1 hardly sounds like a compilation. Even though the tracks were recorded over a nine year period, the CD is as coherent as the best concept album. Hard to believe some of these tracks are more than 10 years old. It's best to think of disc 2 as a bonus CD, as it is a little more uneven from track to track. But as a bonus CD, it is quite a plus to the package.
A nice listening experience that can fit quite a range of moods.