If you like the off centre output of Warp, Ninja and the like, or you’ve had more than a passing care for minimalist classical composers Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, then Andrew Poppy should be just your thing.
He may not be an exact soundalike for any of those mentioned above, but Poppy’s style has elements of all, in some cases predating the composers themselves, arriving at a distinctive and melodic approach. He demonstrates an uncanny talent for spreading short melodic motifs over long distances without causing the mind to wander, using subtle development and barely detectable changes in orchestration.
Straddling the pop and classical divide, his music sometimes uses a drum kit to propel it forward, at other times it descends into an uniquely electro-acoustic style.
Several composers have adopted his approach since, among them Michael Torke and Michael Gordon, but it’s doubtful any of them have made a recording quite like the seminal Cadenza for piano and electric piano, an almost transcendental piece of music that stays rooted in E flat for what seems like an eternity, arpeggiated figures dancing around each other. At the other end of the scale is Poppy’s theme for the Channel 4 series The Tube, demonstrating an ability to popularise his music if required.
The orchestral pieces are structurally convincing if not perhaps containing the same onward propulsion that characterises the music of Reich. At any rate it’s interesting to follow their development, and with musicians of the quality of Jocelyn Pook and John Harle involved, performance standards are exemplary. Electronic and acoustic instruments rub shoulders on most pieces, not always most comfortably when a curious vocal effect is chosen on the keyboards.
What will surprise is the year of genesis of these pieces. Poppy joined the ZTT label some twenty years ago, hence this commemorative collection of material, and at this time minimalist music was very much underground. The other parallel to draw with Poppy is Cabaret Voltaire, for some of the music takes on an experimental form, fractured rhythms thrown around for dissection. Nowhere is this more evident than Kink King Adagio, which could be termed as “industrial downtempo” – not the most appealing genre name, but an intriguing listen nonetheless.
ZTT’s comprehensive package includes rarities, remixes and much detail on Poppy’s history with the label, and its presentation does him proud. If his is a name unfamiliar to you until now, further exploration can be wholeheartedly recommended. With the 3-CD set retailing for the same price as one, there can’t be too many excuses!