Friday, March 15, 2019

Album Review: Cinematic Orchestra - To Believe

Twelve years after Ma Fleur, the Cinematic Orchestra returns with another savant blend of evocative soundscapes, dramatic strings, slow jazz rhythms and a decidedly modern subliminal hip-hop undercurrent. Surprisingly, To Believe is a very uplifting record. Even when things get moody and when the ambiance turns to melancholy (which happens a lot) there is surprisingly very little darkness and the tone is never somber or ominous.

That feeling is perfectly exemplified by the first song To Believe where Moses Sumney’s multi-tracked vocals seem to float above the  delicate arpeggios and the haunting soundscapes. In fact, this track is pretty much representative of the entire record: spare, evocative, almost abstract at times. So ethereal, it’s sometimes barely there, and therefore demands absolute attention in order to make an impression, like an aural filigrane.

Even the second track A Caged Bird/Imitations Of Life isn’t made any less frangible by the acid jazz drum beat and Roots Manuva’s rapping. The dramatic chorus makes this one a real song, and not just rhymes over a soundscape backdrop. It’s also one of the definite highlights of the album.

Lessons is a progressive track which adds layers of instruments as it unfolds: synthesiser waves, swelling strings and keyboard loops all washing over what sounds like an Irish gig rhythm track and creating tension until the release arrives in the form of a quiet ambient, almost Third Stream breakdown before steaming ahead again a few bars later.

Wait For You Now/Leave The World is a beautiful, almost straightforward acoustic song at first sung by British soul singer Tawiah.

Workers Of Art is a gorgeous instrumental reminiscent of the works of Arvo Pärt while Zero One/This Fantasy almost reminds the listener of Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom with hints of Radiohead…

A Promise is a soaring, luminous tune sung by frequent collaborator Heidi Vogel that trance-like electronics and jungle drums take over about two thirds of the way through to bring the album to a logical conclusion.

It would be lazy to point out the Cinematic Orchestra’s errrr… cinematic qualities, and saying that their music is like the soundtrack to an unmade film would be the worst imaginable cliché, but how else can you describe music that impresses images in your mind and lets your soul write the stories to accompany them? Perhaps it’s best to say nothing and just listen.

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