An introverted and emotional journey between artist and piano.
Although I hadn’t come across Neil Cowley’s music before as part of a trio, ‘Hall of Mirrors’ marks his first solo album and spoke to me immediately on the first listen. It is a deeply personal album of an artist finding out how to fall in love with the piano all over again and by the end of the album, you feel as if Neil has done just that.
‘Hall of Mirrors’ is an album about placing the piano into different moods and spectrums of sound. It could be preparing its insides to play alongside its outsides like in ‘I Choose The Mountain’. It could be as a jazzy tuned percussion meditative chime such as ‘Suadade’. It could be paired with understated synths and smeared with ambient textures such as ‘Prayer’. There are so many different ways that Neil Cowley decides to place the piano that each track feels like an individual chapter in discovering something new about the instrument again.
Rarely will you hear the piano unaltered in ‘Hall of Mirrors’. Each track refracts something somewhere. In ‘Berlin Nights’ for example, the piano is drenched in reverb and placed into city traffic and blinking synths. ‘Circulation’ pops a gramophone vintage feel onto the ivories whilst adding echoing drum loops around you. ‘Just Above It All’ mixes ambient chords and electronica percussion as the piano reflects itself back like a ghost. There are some exceptionally beautiful twists of compositions throughout, whether you’d like curious oddities like the trip-hop ‘Stand Amid The Roar’ or the lush drones of ‘Time Interrupted’.
By switching each song up completely, Neil Cowley could have run the risk of having an album that doesn’t make much sense sonically. This isn’t the case. Instead, it’s the piano that becomes the through-line by being the constant anchor through the musical diversity. Nowhere does this make the most beautiful sense than in ‘She Lives In Golden Sands’. It is a circular riff of piano trickles that gallops and skips at a canter. It is the musical equivalent of a golden shimmer in the sun and yet it contains so many layers of sound design that make the album what it is. It comes together so unassumingly yet to listen to it is intoxicating.
‘Hall of Mirrors’ was born out of anxiety of not creating the music that the artist wanted. I sincerely hope that Neil Cowley feels like he created exactly what he wanted with this album. It is a sumptuous piece modern classical music. Full of wonder, gadgets, quirks and charm but most of all creativity. Each song is a spark of artistic beauty and for that any artist should be proud.
Recommended track: She Lives In Golden Sands
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