UK based composer and performer Daniel Elms released his new album ‘Islandia’ a few weeks ago. His classical compositions are abstract and cinematic in a not too dissimilar way to Phillip Glass but with some jazzier elements and ’70s John Williams understated leanings too. It took me a while to let it click into place.
‘Islandia’ opens with its near 10-minute title track. The pulse flits from bubbling cinematic sparkles of piano and string to sombre and solemn brass led moments of pause. It’s as if all four seasons are being represented as the warmth and bounce of light is replaced by the fall and thaw of the latter months. It’s a monster of a track and requires patience and attention. The jazzier undertones of ‘The Old Declarn’ takes the piano and gives its reverb a really long tail. Whilst the melody itself is stuttering and meandering, it is the long pauses between moments where the notes linger that your mind creates all kinds of thoughts.
‘Soft Machines’ then moves into a post-classical/rock mood. Here the sweeping string arrangement sounds like glass bowls and armonicas and over the top electric guitar wails out. It’s like a crystal machine rather than a soft one and its the easiest track to approach on the album. ‘North Sea Quartet’ twists the post-genre into a running electronic bass pulse. Piano chords swing back and forth with a plucked electric guitar like galloping waves. What it lacks for immediate tone and melody, it makes up for with tense euphoria. The album then closes with the 13-minute ‘Bethia’ which is a live recording. Piano, deep resonant choir noises, field recordings of animals and tree leaves – the track slowly moves through them all. Around nine minutes in a pulsing beat picks up and the track morphs into an organised meditative chill-out piece. It’s the most diverse and ambitious track on the album and really opens up the palette of noises Daniel Elms uses.
‘Islandia’ is a difficult album as there is no hook to hang any of your ears onto. Daniel Elms relishes being in-between moments, genres, thoughts and pauses and that is an acquired taste. There are moments of beauty to be found here though, but you’ll need to invest yourself into finding them. This Islandia buries its secrets deep.
Recommended track: Soft Machines
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