A final love letter to the Orkney Islands.
‘Hether Blether’ is the third and final album in a trilogy from Erland Cooper. Designed to be like a triptych, each one influences and plays on the next. There are recurring themes and the whole collection is a love letter to Erland’s experiences on the Orkney Islands. I loved last years ‘Sule Skerry’ and had to dive back to get ‘Solan Goose’ which kicked things off in 2018. With ‘Hether Blether’, Cooper has saved some of the best til last.
Poetic themes return from the outset as guests spill in to add voices to what were previously largely instrumental collections. ‘Noup Head’ adds the charismatic voices of Kathryn Joseph and Kevin Cormack narrating poetry from John Burnside over tentative piano and strings. You can taste the salty sea air as well as the meadows and harsh weather. This album is dedicated to the land and the people of the Orkney Islands and this is why voice and more rustic instrumentation is more prominent. Each note feels steeped in heritage and beauty too. ‘Peedie Breeks’ has Benge join to sing along to cute pizzicato synth pianos and swelling strings. Its understated warmth feels both homely and cosy – like a beacon of light waiting for you to come home. The choir that coo’s gently underneath adds that special something too.
Single ‘Skreevar’ is achingly beautiful. The muted drums, bass, lilting strings and intimate piano are utterly captivating. Erland Cooper is deft at creating something feel both epic and intimate and Marta Salogni features here, presumably adding her experience with recording on tape to create that heart-wrenching emotional resonance throughout – especially when the choir and creaking effects seep in. What makes it feel more special is the way how ‘Longhorn’ follows it on. It uses snippets of Orkney folk speaking away over a light thumping beat and airy strings and choirs. It feels like you at an outside disco with whispers of ghosts. This soon gives way to more noodling synths and trickles of noises no doubt from guests Hiroshi Ebina and Hinako Omori. These two tracks combined feel like the real soul of the album.
Erland Cooper then moves towards the percussive industry of Orkney with ‘Linga Holm’. The drums sound like hammers and mallets as the dramatic and mechanical piano and strings descend down notes at speed before distant choirs join in. This is juxtaposed to the light and breezy ‘Hildaland’ which focuses on simple humming and a skipping piano melody before Erland softly sings a lullaby to the place itself. This leads into the title track which transforms from the organic instruments of pianos and strings into a soaring synth trance finale as Astra Forward and Hinako Omori take over with huge vocal synths and drench the speakers in a sea of noise.
However, Erland returns to the roots of Orkney Island for ‘Hamnavoe’ and the closing goodnight of ‘Where I Am is Here’. Moving from a string movement to a tiny piano outro with more vocal snippets from residents, you can really feel just how much every citizen, every clump of dirt and wave of the salty sea means to Cooper. It truly is a heartwarming love letter. I don’t think I’ve come across such a well-constructed trilogy of albums that explore a location in such a manner like this. Erland Cooper has worked wonders and made me feel like I’ve experienced the love and warmth of Orkney whilst never having been there. Now I want to go and explore but in the meantime, I can enjoy one of the finest modern classical albums in recent years.
Recommended track: Skreevar
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