The special thrill of hearing an artist grow into their voice is emphatically served by the debut album from Ed Riman, the half-Welsh, half-Indonesian, London-based singer-songwriter and soundscape-ist who records as Hilang Child. Released through Bella Union in August, Years radiates a rich sense of self-discovery in its lush, textured layers of sound and feeling. Between its blossoming choruses, multi-tracked harmonies and loose theme of embracing adulthood, it’s an epiphanic debut from an artist not just fulfilling his early promise but reaching far beyond it.
Hilang Child’s gorgeous earlier tracks met with due acclaim, but Years is a great leap of faith for Riman. Looking back on his formative recordings as learning experiences, Riman says they taught him to trust his own talent over the lures of a “nice studio” and “fancy gear”. “I was always more excited about my home demos, recorded on a laptop, than the final recordings. I learnt that the only way I could convey the sound I wanted was by producing it myself, despite having little knowledge or ability in production.”
That sense of self-revelation rings out clearly on the opener, “I Wrote a Letter Home”, Riman’s tender voice exhaling ecstatically over warm keys and blooming synth-scapes. “Growing Things” meditates on the gap between youth and adulthood over flickering beats, celestial synths and music-box tinkles, its zero-gravity melody unfolding gracefully. “Sleepwalk” dwells on self-doubt over nagging electronics, before Riman offloads his anxieties with a cathartic promise to himself: “This darkening down inside ends tonight.” “Starlight, Tender Blue” layers booming synths and levitating voices emotively; the beautiful “Rot”, meanwhile, reflects a faith in a “better tomorrow” with a yearning serenity.
Riman’s expansive intimacies grow more immersive as the album continues. “Oh, We’re Getting Along” articulates an intent to accept growing pains in its hymnal chorales. “Endless String” and “Crow” build to gentle crescendos of glistening electronics; “Lissohr”, meanwhile, closes the album with Riman’s voice adrift in sound, floating in the spaces he’s created.
Riman’s route here began after he sidelined an early career as a drummer. Bella Union’s Simon Raymonde championed the fledgling Hilang Child (which in Malay translates as ‘missing child’) releases, before inviting Riman to contribute to Lost Horizons, the project formed by Raymonde and former Dif Juz drummer Richie Thomas. While Lost Horizons boosted Riman’s vocal confidence, his solo work evinced a talent for texture. His harmonies and spacious sounds have drawn comparisons to Fleet Foxes and Sigur Rós, but it was Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys’ Smile that first inspired Riman to do “something beautiful and unusual with vocals”. Other influences include Imogen Heap, Bat for Lashes, Steve Reich, Paul Thomas Saunders, Hundred Waters and Nobuo Uematsu: feted explorers in sound and mood all.
Collaborators on Years included Kwes, who helped on the mix and added “little touches here and there,” says Riman, “which really made it feel complete”. Sam Delves played guitar and Yazzmin Newell played trumpet; the remainder was largely self-written and self-produced, reflecting a distinct vision at work. “This is the realest, most honest representation of what I do,” Riman says, “and the first time I feel properly proud to share it.” A pride fully justified, we’d argue, by the beauty and ambition of Years.