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Selected Works (Solomon Grey)

May 21, 2015

Cover_SelectedWorksSGSELECTED WORKS (THE CASUAL VACANCY)

Solomon Grey, 2015, Astralwerks
10 tracks, 33:17

This compilation of Solomon Grey tracks is mostly made up from their music for the JK Rowling-penned TV show “The Casual Vacancy”. It’s a fine little compilation. Beautiful and mesmerising.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Solomon Grey are a London-based band (Tom Kingston and Joe Wilson), who find their inspiration in French electronica, jazz and classical music. They set out to make music that blurs the line between acoustic recordings and digital programming. For “The Casual Vacancy” there re-used some of their existing songs, but also wrote new material. “Interwoven within the score are elements from our own tracks, as a band/artist,” Wilson describes. “There are several strings and synth parts adapted to work within the score as well as some of our commercial tracks.

What does it sound like?

We took a lot from watching films like “Her” where Arcade Fire had used both their own music and composed music to really fill the world within the piece,” says Kingston. “We wanted to create every musical element within the world of The Casual Vacancy and with the exception a few source tracks playing on a radio, we did that. This included rearranging the classic pieces for the big band to perform at Howard’s birthday bash, the music on Sukhvinder’s headphones and the music you hear in the background through bedroom walls and shop windows. It meant a lot more work for us, but it was worth it. We hope it gives the whole piece a feel that adds to its authenticity.

The reference to Arcade Fire is striking, as opening track “Last Century Man” seems to owe a bit to the Canadian band – especially towards the end when the percussion picks up. Until that moment, it’s a chilled song for plucked guitar, softly bubbling synths and the occasional trumpet. The relation between synths and vocals also reminds me a little of Delphic. “Twilight” is a dreamy cue that adds a female vocalist to grainy synth pads.

“Firechild” and “Miradors” are two poppy songs for vocals, synth arpeggios, percussion and occasional strings (again a bit Arcade Fire-esque), whilst “The Drowning” combines operatic vocals with soft synth pads and very faint guitar notes (I think). “End Theme” is one of the few wordless cues and presents a hypnotic sequence of chords for strings and bass, which somewhat reminds me of Olafur Arnalds’ work.

“Gorm Blue” combines Mike Oldfield-ish bass lines with Craig Armstrong-like strings. During the second half the band briefly apply an “underwater” effect, which feels totally normal and seems to fit the rising synth arpeggio (like bubbles rising to the surface) that permeates the cue. “The View” is an understated cue for long drawn-out string chords (and a tubular bell towards the end).

Soft trumpets open “Revelations”, initially triggering the image of a brass band in my mind; but soon majestic-sounding synth chords and sampled vocals take over. It’s another minimalistic cue in terms of structure, but it has a wonderfully rich sound. The album concludes with “Choir To The Wild” – a highlight! A soft ostinato for piano accompanies beautiful male vocals. As the song progresses, softly echoing percussion is added. Slowly but surely the reverb increases until it all blurs into a cloud of sound, from which a beautiful arpeggio/chord progression for metallic (steel drum-like) instruments emerge. It’s quite Cliff Martinez-ish at this point. It all comes to a very sudden stop, as if someone simply pressed the stop-button in the middle of the song. It’s deliberate, but it took me a while to figure that out – and it still bugs me (because I’m a sucker for these kind of arpeggios and I just want it to go on and on and on…)!

Is it any good?

Throughout the review I’ve mentioned Arcade Fire, Mike Oldfield, Craig Armstrong, Olafur Arnalds… I’ve done that purely to describe what this album sounds like, or rather what it feels like. Those artists are amongst my favorites and for me Solomon Grey’s “Selected Works” is an instant hit! It’s beautiful, mesmerising, melancholy, exciting, almost epic in its own restricted ways. It’s very stylish. The funny thing is (and I’m not sure I can explain this sensibly)… most of the time I’m not even registering the lyrics. You can listen to them, if you like, but it’s also quite easy to ignore them and let the vocals become an integral part of the music (more so than is usually the case with pop songs). This is something else that reminds me of Arcade Fire – melody, harmony, arrangement and words are in perfect balance and no one element is deemed more important than the other. “Selected Works” is a wonderful, slick little album. Way too short though. Next time we want more!

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

01. Last Century Man* (4.58)
02. Twilight*** (2.22)
03. Firechild* (5.18)
04. The Drowning*** (1.49)
05. End Theme (1.46)
06. Miradors* (4.32)
07. Gorm/Blue (3.42)
08. The View*** (1.56)
09. Revelations*** (2.09)
10. Choir To The Wild* (4.45)

*Solomon Grey commercial vocal tracks licensed into “The Casual Vacancy”
***Score tracks from “The Casual Vacancy”

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