Every now and then a package lands on my doormat from France courtesy of the downtempo/electronica label Ultimae. While their releases are always welcome this latest collection ‘Imaginary Friends’ does have something special about it. Fans of the label will note that many familiar artists from the Ultimae catalogue are all present and accounted for on this release (Solar Fields, James Murray, Aes Dana for example).

For the uninitiated Ultimae cater towards the softer side of the electronica spectrum, however for those expecting what many would consider generic chill out material this album is not the case. ‘Imaginary Friends’ delivers material that mingles the sounds of live instrumentation with sparse and atmospheric electronica, sometimes with percussive elements that wander from the gentlest of glitch right into electroacoustic territory.

Field Rotation start the album with the track ‘Regenzit II’, a magnificent opening breath to the collection with a strident yet melancholy piano moving over an otherwise subtle landscape of sound, this is a theme that is continued with Kevin Andrews track ‘Three Weeks’ punctuated with inquisitive twinkling splashes of noise, almost like static rushes or radio transmissions from space. Rena Jones adds an air of depth and complexity to proceedings with ‘Photosynthesis’ introducing the subtlest hints of percussive and slightly twisted and skewed ethnic influences. Gently shifting pads alternate with liquid undercurrents for Offthesky’s track ‘Gently, Drown The Scene’ the metaphor in the title is apt. As the track summons a very aquatic visual element mixing evocative sounds of depth and surfacing simultaneously. ‘Gray Daze’ by Murya becomes the most ‘traditional’ offering of the album up to this point with gentle melody shrouded in melancholy, simple yet delivered with an almost bleak beauty.

The next track ‘Out of Breath’ courtesy of Cell furtively builds, straining against the gentility of its forebears with the synth work becoming busier and the percussive elements moving in quickening succession, fashioned just beneath the track’s surface. Aes Dana meanwhile delivers ‘Resin’ built on gentle sounds of repetition, as the track moves forward slight variations weave their way into the piece and the drums become a little more forceful in their execution. I’ll concede this track took a little getting into but as it builds it does grown on you. Hol Baumann’s ‘Handwritten Notes’ pursues a more acoustic direction with a gentle guitar led melody and natural percussive elements coming the fore in opposition to the late arrival of the track’s electronic influences.

As we move towards the end of the album Asura’s contribution ‘Longing For Silence’ enters with more than a passing sense of tech noir, dark and weighty you can’t help but feel this should find a home somewhere in a Ridley Scott film, the featured musical backdrop to some key scene or other (some tasty squally jittery use of sound in the songs latter stages). Solar Fields ‘Times Are Good’ is something of a journeyman track, while maintaining a genteel pace there are subtle shifts in the track’s intensity. The bottom end of the track is carried with a slightly tense bassline underneath a succession of ghostly pads and melodies that are almost designed to be half heard.

James Murray closes the album with the sombre Decades Mix of his track ‘Eleven’, pitch black strings contrast to the glistening flashes of electronic sound that builds almost imperceptibly. The conflicting halves of the piece then begin to merge on a slow percussive wave and the while the track roots itself in melancholy, there is a gentle rising of spirit that does beckon repeat listen and invites closer scrutiny. Lovely closer.

In conclusion this is perhaps one of Ultimae’s most accomplished collections of material to date and for fans of the downtempo genre this will make a worthy addition to your collection.