Marconi Union don’t want to sound pushy, but the title of their new album is obviously hinting that a change has taken place within the band. They’re six albums in, which is an impressive enough feat in itself, but they had to make it clear they were moving on. More of the same from the band would have been good, sure – their discography is full of strong albums that still hold up very well – but not good enough. One gets the feeling that they knew that, too. Having worked as a duo up until 2010, Richard Talbot and Jamie Crossley decided to bring Duncan Meadows (who had helped to flesh out their live sound) into the fold permanently as their pianist, and Meadows’ influence can be felt quite clearly on the new record, most notably on the penultimate track On Reflection.
At times it’s hard to believe that just three people are behind the lush soundscapes created on Different Colours. Across its seven tracks, there is a minimalistic approach applied (most notably on Almost Numb, which gets an incredible amount of mileage out of a simple melodic motif and little else), but it often sounds like much more than the sum of its parts, as said parts are allowed to breathe and develop at their own pace. This is an album on which the slightest addition to the mix can have a huge effect. The best example of this is on the measured album opener First Light, which progresses at an unhurried pace for its first half, up until the point that everything falls away and only dreamy keyboard chords remain – that is, until the xylophone is introduced. In an instant, the atmosphere of the track is transformed. Different Colours is full of moments like that.
It’s an album that works on multiple levels; it can be either a pleasant background listen, or something to be closely scrutinised. Its ambient style is quiet, reflective and sometimes otherworldly; in fact, should the listener want to be temporarily transported to another world, then it would be a good idea for them to dive in and take as much notice of everything as they possibly can. While it can sometimes come off as a little too contemplative for its own good, there are some unexpectedly euphoric moments scattered here and there, such as when the soft patter of a bass drum enters midway through Flying (Through Crimson Skies) and a gorgeous melody makes its presence felt.
Added to this, there is the gradual unfolding of the stately closer Broken Colours, which is downbeat, but builds to a relatively intense climax, featuring a wall of sound, or at least, the closest the trio have come to it. It is moments like these that reward perseverance, though those who are looking for a more immediate fix will need to look no further than Time Lapse, the album highlight. It’s a great place to start, as it is the most direct offering on the album, as well as being the track on which the album’s creators show that they are most aware of the constraints of the genre in which they operate, whilst simultaneously defying convention by letting their playful side out. Yes, there’s no denying that, with this album, they have changed, but their horizons have also been broadened in its creation. Different Colours is a more diverse album than one might expect, and shows that the state of the Union is very healthy indeed.