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Pacific Heights' Cinematic Album Came Out of a Crazy Vivid Dream

The latest solo project by Devin Abrams (ex-Shapeshifter) was created at lightning pace before the birth of his first child.

Having started his musical career as a founding member of seminal live drum and bass act Shapeshifter, Devin Abrams is a producer with a catalogue by magnitude deeper and more broadly acclaimed than near any of his local contemporaries. Coming two years after the release of his NZ Music Award-winning The Stillness, Abrams’ third album under the Pacific Heights moniker, A Lost Light, arrives in early September, and for the first time sees his oeuvre shift towards the cinematic.


Featuring collaborations and vocal contributions from artists including Joe Dukie (Fat Freddy’s Drop), Julia Catherine Parr (Black City Lights, Physical) and Motte, the record is inspired by an especially vivid dream in which Abrams saw himself as a young man in 18th century Britain, leaving his wife and their unborn child to embark on an eventually doomed expedition towards the Pacific.

“[The dream] just struck like lightning in a bottle” Abrams told VICE. “It happened maybe a month after we found out that my wife has due to have a baby, so I guess I was embarking on a new frontier of fatherhood and family responsibility.”

The unusual source of inspiration also added an extra degree of urgency to Abrams’ practice, with the entire writing, recording and production process taking just three months. “There was a flurry of writing that first morning,” Abrams recalls. “I took as many notes as i could and tried to sketch the key points and timeline of the journey, then for the next few weeks i was really in the den—24/7 in the studio, just writing and trying to immerse myself in the emotions while they were still raw. About 80 percent of what became the record was composed in those first few weeks.”

For the first time in Abrams’ career, the arrival of A Lost Light will also coincide with the release of a collaborative short film. Helmed by director Rob Burrowes and featuring a cast of local contemporary dancers, the film follows the narrative as laid out by Abrams’ backstory and the music itself, though the two halves of the project came together in relative isolation. “The music and the story was very much finished by the time Rob came on board, then I pretty much gave him complete creative liberty to visually tell the story.” Abrams says of the process. “He took it in quite a different direction visually to what i’d imagined, but i think what he’s created is stunning.”

Writing and producing an album which needed also to function as a cinematic score was a new challenge for Abrams, with the result being a collection of songs that nod to a set of reference points somewhat broader than his previous work as Pacific Heights. Though his aptitude and pedigree as a producer of bass and club music is apparent throughout, there’s a general patience and attention to texture that feels more deliberate than his previous work, as well as a Portishead-esque attention to space on the album’s slower numbers – the spare, crushing mid-album ballad ‘Forgotten Times’ is both the perfect distillation of this measured approach and the album’s sonic and emotional apex.

With that in mind, it’s maybe not surprising that Abrams points to Portishead founder Geoff Barrow’s work on Alex Garland’s robotic mindf**k EX MACHINA as a particular obsession during the production process. “I wasn’t specifically researching particular films, but i was definitely listening to a lot of modern classical and film music at the time,” he explains. “Artists like Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnulds, Johann Johannson, Hans Zimmer; that was where I was percolating.”

Given that the sound and scope of the album is by design so expansive, Abrams says he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to figure out how he’ll actually perform the songs live. “I’d love to do it with a string section, some modular synths and a small choir, and try to arrange the songs into that kind of format,” he says, “but everything’s quite fluid at the moment.” For now, he’s happy to let the work stand on its own. “I’d even like to see myself as not really the central part of the live performance. . .even just a background musician. I’d love to see someone else take the fore.”