Most of Be Still My Bleeping Heart has been heard before. Yet this collection of recordings from 2002-2008 ought to mark out Andy Dobson’s Digitonal as something special.It is far from hollow praise to crown Digitonal’s release as the best we will hear of its kind in 2010.
The mark of truly phenomenal music is the response it evokes, and hazy opener Come And Play really tugs at the heartstrings. The shrill stabs of ensemble strings melt into beautiful violin solos, shaped by plodding synths. The instrumentals are occasionally sullied with inopportune pips and scratches – the largely-perfect synthesis of organic violin with harsh electronica very slightly overdone in places. But even this cannot totally detract from the sheer gorgeousness of this masterpiece.
Too often the violin is cheapened by the music industry. Here though, Samy Bishai’s violin hasn’t been thrown in for a big key-change to kick Take That into one chorus too many or drown Leona Lewis in slushy schmaltz. Instead, the way it sings the melody on Amberkreiss makes you forget for a moment the lack of actual vocals. Any lingering doubt as to the suitability of the percussion is blown out of the water by the way Callum Macmillan’s slick-as-clockwork beats weave in and out of Bishai’s soaring lyrical lines, the perfect juxtaposition of hard and soft, robotic and organic, freedom and control.
The strange thing is that even their longest tracks, which clock in at over nine minutes, are listenable throughout. You’d have to be completely soulless to criticise the repetitiveness, for this is minimalist in its truest sense – every single note, every beat of the drum, every progression is carefully chosen and judiciously executed. Each sound feels like a single brushstroke on an emotional masterpiece, as moods emerge and fade with the ebb and flow of the music.
Digitonal have chosen their tracks with precision and they evoke an incredible variety of feeling. Vearth begins with an eerie sample from a 1997 message from the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ religious cult, which incited scores of people to kill themselves as the ‘only way to evacuate’ the Earth. The shifty synths and unsettling distorted cymbals give a sinister feel to the track even before you know the backstory.
Elsewhere, the deep and leering strings of Cantus V build like a rising cloud, thinly veiling the chaos of drums underneath, while Seraphim (Yuri’s Mix) takes a more relaxed and optimistic tone. As the theme loops round and round like a cosmonaut in a tin can orbiting the earth, each development adds to a feeling that the music is learning to walk. Yet another highlight is dreamlike Maris Stella, of historical importance for the group, marking the beginning of a long partnership with vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw, whose beautiful floating tones have also graced the work of Orbital.
Cuetips, on the other hand, lacks the visceral pull of the rest of the album, and Snowflake Vectors is maybe a little too cool for school – at times it’s genuinely difficult to decide whether you’re listening to an atmospheric masterpiece or the rhythmic squelching of a Nintendo soundtrack.
But this is petty criticism. While the rest of the world spent the noughties lurching from one musical fad to the next, Digitonal quietly created some of the most beautifully-constructed art of the decade. This culmination of that work ought to go down as one of the albums of the year.