Andrew Poppy is, by most stretches of the imagination, a classical composer. On the experimental end of classical certainly, (if that’s not a tautology in itself, rather like the idea of a cult pop band) but classical nonetheless.
Because he’s best known for hanging around with the ZTT crowd, however, that’s not how he gets labelled. Virtually unknown in the classical world, he’s better recognised and better liked amongst the rock’n’poppers, where his main influences – Steve Reich phasing (in evidence on What Else: What Then Now especially) and Philip Glass piano minimalism – have always been welcomed and embraced.
It’s 23 years since his first solo album, A Beating Of Wings, was released alongside such unlikely stablemates as Frankie Goes To Hollywood and 808 State but since then he has managed a steady output that deserves far more recognition than it has received.
“…And The Shuffle Of Things.”, his latest offering, is as understated as the rest. Delicate piano minimalism, here and there interspersed with frugal vocals on occasional tracks including spoken (or rather whispered) word on the opener and chanting on Balcony Scene/Doppelganger.
The result is more haunting than some of his previous work. On some tracks, an almost industrial abrasiveness lurks beneath the gentle surface as if this is the sound of the concrete jungle asleep under a starlit sky. It’s more challenging than a concert orchestra crowd might want but too educated, perhaps, for the rockers.
There is a definite sense that Poppy is playing with sound, and with the structure of sound. Split into 10 tracks, there is also a deliberate structure; the sleepy opener Something Secret slowly starts to wake up, the piano darting lightly from one chord to the next, before Wet Fold betrays his rock affiliations with some robust percussion and dirty electronics. On the paranoia-inducing The Head of Orpheus Football, he weaves studied chords with forbidden swearing in a way that makes both seem simultaneously perfectly suited and utterly at odds.
There is an appealing dichotomy to Poppy’s music. Unashamedly classical but equally unapologetic about the influences he brings from 80s electronica, the result is satisfyingly in between. If he came down more heavily on one side or the other he might be easier to categorise – but he’d be far less interesting.