Three years after their debut album Liebe, Tábor has returned with a provocative follow-up full of atmospheric compositions that only the chemistry among the members of the Czech quartet could produce. Released earlier this month (November, 2023) on Day After Records, Údolí Hvězd (The Valley of the Stars) is a collection of ambient tracks that builds on the mantric nature of their music. Like Liebe, it is full of carefully-rehearsed harmonies (in terms of both vocals and instruments), blending moments of weightlessness and weight (sometimes unbearable with dramatic contrasts among one another) that gives listeners time to conjure images of a magical place somewhere, where one can find solace and peace among the beauty of the vocals and instruments.
Údolí Hvězd begins with Malý princ (The Little Prince), a beautiful instrumental of ethereal lightness that combines the sounds of a melancholic synthesizer with the light picking of an acoustic guitar. It is the final 20 seconds or so of the lingering keys of the keyboard, however, which captivate me and pique my curiosity to hear more. The transition to Kaskády světla (Cascades of light) is smooth and subtle, a beautiful way to begin a journey imbued by the prepossessing sounds harnessed from Liebe. Here, the whole quartet becomes alive, with the harmonies of the female vocals complementing each others‘ illustrations of existence inside the Valley of the Stars. There are also male vocals too, and I am enchanted by the groups scope and range. Still, there are grunts and screeches, like in Koleno (The Knee), which begins with a heavy bass, yet ascends to a dramatic cathartic surge towards the end, evoking feelings of hunger and dark desperation. The atmospheric beauty produced by the talent of Tábor is enhanced by the high-quality production and mastering by the producers of this disc.
Of course, as was mentioned above, there are several contrasts in Údolí Hvězd, and this is apparent in the track order. One song rises with dramatic effect while the next is introspective with moments for contemplation. Take Jazyky (Tongues), for example, which slows down a bit with a heavy drone in the background, while Velvet takes the tempo down a further notch. In fact, the latter is so beautiful in its simple arrangement between the lightness of the vocals and the ambience created by the instruments, it’s easy to imagine oneself lying on a soft forest floor, looking up through the tree branches at an endless sea of stars on a moonless night.
Elements of suspense abound as well. Bezhlaví (Headless) is full of foreshadow and danger, provoking feelings of fear and melancholy. It’s a beautiful track with layers of high notes on the guitar and the heavy drone of the bass. This follows with the lighter instrumentation of Alois Nádherný and the conclusion of Koráb, the latter of which closes the compilation with lullaby vocals, reminding you of the tranquility and peace that prevails in the Valley of the Stars.
Údolí Hvězd will not disappoint those who seek dark and ambient sounds, and Tábor is worth keeping on your radar.