In which the hills and valleys combine to inspire a colourful album. Submotion Orchestra retreated to the Welsh countryside for two years to record this, their third album – the first since entering the Ninja stable.
If you’ve heard the first two long players you will know the seven-piece group are capable of plumbing emotional depths in their productions, largely through the voice of Ruby Wood. This isn’t something that should be taken for granted, as it is a level that a lot of electronically-based acts fail to reach, leaving their feelings at the door.
Wood it is, though, who elevates these songs by singing right from her heart. At times she feels dangerously vulnerable, seemingly shying away from close contact in Rust, where she sings of how “the nearness of you scares me”. Time Will Wait carries more reassurance, sealed by a beautifully sung observation of how “time will wait for you”, at which point a sharp bass sound kicks in.
Awakening is the track that shows off the Submotion Orchestra eye for detail, with a thrilling rush to the rhythm that threatens to break out into drum and bass but ends up with some intricate cross rhythms, sounding like the opening credits to a film. It has an incredibly assured weight to the production, unlike Swan Song, which channels a John Martyn-style slide guitar to form the basis of a silvery, beautifully scored nocturne.
The orchestration is consistently fine, with a sweeping string sound and a trumpet that always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Only on a few occasions does it feel that there is too much going on at once, and even then there is a good line or two to follow, or just simply Wood’s voice to enjoy. There are reminders of 4 Hero in the skill with which beats and orchestration are blended.
The musical language incorporates jazz in its harmonies and occasional bouts of improvisation, but these always take place within the confined structures of a song and are tastefully done. Doubtless the band will cut loose with these jazzy interludes live, which will bring even more to the well written songs.
With all this to consider, Alium is an impressive achievement, a colourful piece of work that frequently gets beneath the surface emotionally in songs that move and on occasion inspire, particularly when heard on headphones.