Listening to Keith Richie’s “Ambient Highways” feels like riding an ultramodern vehicle through a futuristic and colorful metropolis – much like the one you see on the cover artwork above. It is a sublime and incredibly well-made release, perfect for dreaming, reading, or creative work. Fans of Vangelis and the Bladerunner soundtrack will feel right at home – although that sharp 1980s analog sound has been replaced by crisp 2020s studio brilliance. I’m also very impressed by the melodic qualities; it sounds fantastic from the first listen. A more welcoming album is hard to find. “Ambient Highways” is, in short, a thrilling musical ride not to be missed.
Keith Richie is a Texas-based composer living in a small town called Mesquite. His music ranges from Berlin-school to film score, ambient, and chill-out. His YouTube persona is the Maestoso, a fitting Italian term indicating parts of musical scores meant to sound large, triumphant, heroic, and victorious, such as the Olympic Fanfare and Theme by one of his idols, John Williams. He recently composed music for the short film “Dead Love: A Fever Dream of Terror“, “Ambient Highways” is released by Richie‘s Other Worlds Than These Music, a nod to Steven King’s series The Dark Tower (which is also the name of a single by Richie). You can see Beth Ann Hilton’s recent interview with Keith Richie, aka The Maestoso, here.
About the creation of “Ambient Highways”, Richie says: “Musically, I was at an all-time low, struggling to find a sound that was uniquely me. I had so many ideas I just could not lay out, I felt blocked, and with that, I had so much pent up inside. Having nowhere else to turn, I took a breath and laid my fingers on the keys.”
The album-opening “Neutrino” – which actually was the first Richie composed – starts slowly, as if zooming in to subatomic level. The rhythmic pluck synth gives the impression of studying something small. But as insignificant it might seem, it is very potent, something the sharp bass seems to underline. I very much like the role of the piano. It almost serves as our guide, telling us to pay attention. “Neutrino” is a splendid start to the album. It sounds, for the lack of a better word, unpretentious. Dealing with Vangelis-like music, that is quite an accomplishment. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself:
“V Feeling” is the album’s first single, released in January 2021. It is a laid-back piece, reminding me of the “Blade Runner Blues”. The Rhodes-like keys back the lead synth brilliantly. There is a piano here too, but that is merely laying the groundwork for everything else that is going on. It is beautiful beyond words, emotionally charged, and, interestingly enough, quite modest. It is an irresistible combination, really.
Notice how the album flows; it almost plays as one continuous piece of music. Next out is “Xenogenesis”. We are back in the realm of science and technology, zooming in on laboratory-designed genes and the brave new world that follows. It is one of my favorite pieces on “Ambient Highways”. I love the synth arp in the background and how the Vangelis-like lead follows up on the harmonies. It sounds like the definition of a synth jam session.
“Weeping Angels” is one of the saddest songs I have heard in a long time. The harp and angelic voices sound divine. I’m very impressed by Richie reuses harmonies; “Faith’s Song (Ptilopeteri Waltz)” continues where “Weeping Angels” left off, but it doesn’t take long for it to evolve into something completely different.
For a moment, we leave the neon lights of the metropolis behind. “Arctic Shores” and “Dew from the Mourning Star” offer two refreshing journeys into the wilderness. The sound of nature is inspired. It is not to last, though; We are right back in the sci-fi department with “Keeping the Dream Alive” and “Neptune’s Awakening”. These pieces are epic beyond Elon Musk’s wildest dreams, “Conquest of Paradise” year 3000 edition. As if commenting on this, “Distant Visions” gives time to reflect on the future of humanity and where technology might bring us. It is a bold vision for sure. The eight minutes long “Ultima Thule” concludes the album grandly. It rendered me speechless the first time I heard it.
The album is available on Bandcamp:
In conclusion: “Ambient Highways” by Keith Richie is very close to a perfect release. It is the kind of album ambient artists set out to make but rarely manage to. The reason? It is hard to compose gentle and warm melodies that also have larger-than-life atmospheres. Usually, this makes the album sound detached, cold and sharp. Tangerine Dream fans don’t mind, of course, but it is way too 1980s for many people today. “Ambient Highways”, on the other hand, is hot, colorful, and has a touch of class. I found myself comparing it to New Age music legend Clifford White’s “Cityscape” (2019), the fourth album in the “Synergy series”, and still being amazed by what Keith Richie – if not a debut artist but a fairly new one – can do. Indeed, when I compared it to the whole A-list of ambient artists with similar topics, Richie’s “Ambient Highways” was still on par, giving a glimpse of what future music will sound like – 10-15 years from now. And the craziest part; most of the album was composed 5-6 years ago! Well, that’s not just great – that is a triumph!
For more information and music samples, visit krichie.com