Pixie Ninja – Colours out of Space Review

I’ll be honest, I grabbed Pixie Ninja on a fleeting excursion to the promo pit based simply on the fact that their name reminded me of my daughter in her latest stage of development.1 I didn’t really spend any more time on it than that and was unaware of even the most basic facts about Pixie Ninja: that they are a four-piece from Norway, who play a dizzying array of instruments, synths and other electronic kit2 and specialise in dark ambient instrumental prog. I was also unaware that Colours out of Space was their sophomore record, the follow up to 2017’s Ultrasound. I was also unaware of just how long it has been since I heard the crunching, grating beeps of a dial-up internet connection, until they drop part way through Colours’ second track, “Leng Plateau.” Are Pixie Ninja a relic of analogue yesteryear or are their electronica-driven tunes fit for a broadband age?

Having spun Ultrasound a couple of times before hitting Colours, I have to say my interest was not piqued. There was nothing wrong with Pixie Ninja’s debut outing but, as a commenter remarked on a previous instrumental record I reviewed, “yeah, this is nice, I could work to this.” On pressing play on Colours, however, I was immediately struck by the shift in mood and intensity on the band’s latest offering. Apparently heavily influenced by a collection of short stories from horror fiction legend H.P. Lovecraft, Colours has a much darker, eldritch quality to it. Across its 43 minutes, it flits from haunting, eerie atmospherics through scrambled, grinding riffs to dissonant chaos. Blending the groove and fuzzed riffs of Metallic Taste of Blood with the weird, discordant electronica soundscapes of Aphex Twin, Pixie Ninja have played something of a blinder in terms of the ominous, occult mood they conjure.

Colours sees several guest musicians join Pixie Ninja, contributing a few very sparing vocal samples (a distorted chant on closer “Strange Days,” for example, which also features an haunting piano arrangement over the barely-audible sighing wind) and, more importantly, a number of other elements including cello and French horn. The overall effect is to produce a rich, layered album, packed with dense textures. From the almost Crippled Black Phoenix prog-scapes of the opening title track to the harsher, percussive riffs and urgent beat of “Leng Plateau,” Pixie Ninja exude a sort of confidence and energy, even when the record is in fully ambient mode, as it is for the first third of “CosmiK,” for example.

While I cannot single out anything I dislike about Pixie Ninja’s work on Colours, that’s not to say that it’s a record without its flaws. Although it only just passes the 40 minute mark, it’s by my estimation about ten minutes too long. Comprising just five tracks – albeit each with multiple moods and movements – a crisper, more concise outing would have made more impact. The standout track, “CosmiK,” which combines quiet build atmospherics with electronic samples and a disconcertingly dizzying melody – is notably the album’s shortest cut. Where tracks like the 11-minute “Hutchinson Cipher” have much that is good about them, they rely overly on repetition and building up their sound a single constituent element at a time, which lessens their immediacy and memorability. I will say, however, that for me the production is very good, generating a gorgeous sound palette, which does a fantastic job of balancing the electronic elements with the more traditional instruments.

Colours out of Space is a significant step up from Pixie Ninja’s debut in terms of songwriting, execution and richness of sound. It’s also much more than just ‘music to work to’ but, at the same time, its length stops it from having the impact I really want it to, feeling at times like it’s meandering. I get that Pixie Ninja want to take the listener on a journey and it is for the most part a rewarding one, but there are moments when you ask yourself, ‘are we there yet?’

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Apollon Records
Websites: pixieninja.bandcamp.com| facebook.com/pixieninjaband
Release Date: July 3rd, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. She is roughly pixie sized and, having just (more or less) mastered walking, is rapidly developing ninja-like skills, meaning that I will turn my back for less than a second, only to find she has scaled some piece of furniture and is balancing on the edge, considering a swan dive into the carpet.
  2. By my count, 34 are listed in the promo blurb, excluding those sported by the album’s guests.
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