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Gifts From Crows – Stories in Slow Light Review

A neoclassical meditation on haunted photography.

Sounds like…

What slow shutter speed photography sounds like as classical music.

The review

It is fascinating seeing a composer really take an idea or concept and run with it in different directions. Gifts From Crows, the moniker for Richard Laurence, has been working towards “Stories in Slow Light” for a while. As an audiovisual project, using photography from Helen Whitten as inspiration for each track, it is a great idea. Musically, everything can stand on its own two feet too.

Whitten’s haunting imagery is often ghostly and otherworldly and that feeling permeates each track on this album. Whether it’s the post-rock tinged classical musings of “Beyond the Frame” or the emotive and sombre string arrangement of “The Empty Mirror” – each track carries a weight to it. “Beyond the Frame” has a stuck-in-time quality to it as the piano trickle on, the drums tick-tock like glass shards and the distant electric guitar rings out. In contrast “The Empty Mirror” has an overflowing of taut emotions that bubble up from whispered voices and plucked strings into a stream of outpouring chords. These two styles focus Gifts From Crows style and funnel a lot of the songs into two categories. Some tracks like “All That Is Concealed” use their electric percussion and string combo to evoke a colder ghostly presence. These largely contain more electronic elements to them. These play against more organic pieces like the devastatingly beautiful piano and marimba piece “Traces”. Here, instead of a hue of a mood, these tracks feel like emotions being played out in real-time.

Gifts from Crows visualiser
Some of the images from Helen Whitten that inspired the songs

Looking at Helen Whitten’s imagery, she uses a lot of slow shutter speed effects to create layers of movement and visual whispers in her work. This idea is something Gifts From Crows runs with fantastically. A running theme is the human voice or an echo distorted backdrop. “Traces” does this with vocals channelled like a bubbling choral song being played in another room. “Now Winter Has Come” pairs field recordings with piano to create vast space. “The Unimaginable Brightness of Summer” uses vocal snippets to open up a gorgeously warm piano and string arrangement in one of the few moments of gracious levity. String arrangements are often kept elegant and restrained but the two final studio-recorded tracks go all out with hustle and bustle. Both “The Day Before Tomorrow” and, in particular, “Childhood (Dance of Unknowing)” have visceral energy to them. The latter playfully skips around with confidence and curiosity that just works. Gifts From Crows never lets go of that aforementioned weight though. The music is bountiful and bounding but the motifs and production have an oppressive smear to them. It’s difficult to describe but there is a gothic taint in every bar. “The Mesmerist” is a delicately balanced piano and sting duet that best explains how I feel. The chord progression and swaying rhythmic playing feel gothic and macabre but the piano is recorded so intimately you can hear its insides gently thumping. The strings are effortlessly supporting and enrobing the piano in a way that feels like a tight hug that’s born from emotional upheaval. I love the way it is recorded.

In addition to the studio-recorded tracks, some pieces have alternative “recital” versions. These are piano solo versions of “The Empty Mirror” and “A Resolution”. Hearing both tracks in string and piano editions is a lovely touch and both versions are excellently put together.

Whilst I’d absolutely recommend “Stories in Slow Light” as a neoclassical album that punches well above its weight, I’d also recommend it as a concept album too. If you can, have the images that inspired each track to hand when you play the album as you can hear the slow shutter speed camera blur come through the speakers. This is exactly how I’d imagine ghostly show shutter speed photography to sound like sonically. This is Gifts From Crows best work to date and any neoclassical fan should give this one a whirl. Lights down low first though…

Recommended track: Beyond the Frame

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Gifts from Crows - Stories in Slow Light

8.5

8.5/10

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