It has been a busy few months for Soulsavers. In October they released Angels & Ghosts, a collaborative effort with Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan and now, just a month later, there’s another new offering. Those with a passing knowledge of Soulsavers will know them from their work with both Gahan and Mark Lanegan. The duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover might have a fine track record when it comes to selecting vocalists to work with, but quite often the presence of such characteristic vocals pushes their creative skills into the background.
As an entirely instrumental album, Kubrick is to some degree new ground for the pair and, whilst they are certainly no strangers to the form, this is the first time they’ve produced an entire album with no vocals whatsoever. This time around, the focus is on the duo’s compositional acumen; no longer hidden by their fine choices of collaborators, they seize the opportunity, and positively soar.
It’s a brave move to release another body of work so soon, and as if that wasn’t brave enough, they’ve decided to base each piece around a character from Stanley Kubrick’s work. Given that Kubrick’s soundtracks and musical choices were just as masterful as his writing, direction, and attention to detail (and this is true of the works of Wendy Carlos, or the classical selections for The Shining, for example) it was perhaps wise for Soulsavers not to attempt to create new soundtracks for Kubrick’s work but to instead use the characters and films as a basis to explore musical texture and mood.
Opening with De Large, a piece based on Alex from A Clockwork Orange, it’s clear that Machin and Glover are in relatively introspective and considered mode. It’s a rather elegant and plaintive piece, with sorrowful strings sweeping majestically. Beyond the pounding beat and uneasy bass shifting craftily as the song progresses, there’s no real indication of the ultraviolence that lurks at the heart of Alex and the governmental systems that attempt to rehabilitate him. Nor are there any direct nods to Ludwig Van (or for that matter Heaven 17 – fictional or otherwise), in the place of bombast is a strange kind of calm which perhaps reflects the thought processes of the commander in chief of the droogs as he plans for battle, the old in-out, and any coups that might be about to occur.
Torrance is similarly reflective and full of sorrow. Essentially a reworking of Point Sur Pt.1 from the band’s 2012 album The Light The Dead See, it nonetheless works in this setting. Rather than focusing on Danny’s gift, Wendy’s apparently never ending torment, or Jack’s decent into insanity, it feels more like a rumination on the situation that the Torrance family endured. It is of course far more sedate and overtly beautiful that the angular and terrifying Bartók, Penderecki and Ligeti pieces Kubrick scored his movie with (although they’re all beautiful in their own unique way).
Elsewhere, the acoustic guitars and flutes of Mandrake provide a deftness of touch and a lighter approach, whilst Joker provides the closest thing here to a rock song (in line with Godspeed You! Black Emperor for example) with its reverb heavy guitar lines, xylophones and string sections intertwining perfectly. HAL sensibly avoids the waltz feel of the iconic Blue Danube scenes, and instead feels like a gravity free eulogy for the slowly dying circuitry of the electronic psychopath. The only time they feel like they drop the ball slightly is on the closing Ziegler which is utterly gorgeous, but far too short and deserved far more exploration that the mere two and a half minutes that it exists for here.
Kubrick is an ambitious project, but one that works just perfectly as a showcase for the wonderful songwriting and compositional skills of Machin and Glover. It proves, as if it were ever in doubt, that their strength lies not in the skills of their collaborators, but in their music and ideas.