What does Nonsemble sounds like?
A chamber ensemble that wants to be as indie as much as it wants to be classical.
The review of Nonsemble – Archaeopteryx
Nonsemble has crept up on me over the last year as a chamber ensemble that creates fascinating projects. Whilst their instrumentation may be classical mixed with synth work, they have just as much in common with the indie pop music scene in how they channel their emotions. ‘Archaeopteryx” is a song cycle inspired by large prehistoric birds and that means we’re in for epic sweeping string and synth arrangements from beginning to end.
The album opens with the cinematic epic scale of ‘Pelagornis’. Its long drawn string pulls mesh with vast vistas of panoramic synth washes to create a grand scale to its sound. The occasional bass boom kick drum reverberates through the mix as if a distant sonic boom is heard and it sets up the album beautifully. ‘Phorusrhacos’ switches gears to elegant strings motifs and marching drums. Here its dainty elegance becomes electrified as the song takes flight halfway through. It’s as if Nonsemble is processing their strings through a guitar amp as some melodies get a guitar fuzz added to them. With crunchier indie pop drums seeping in, it is a far cry from where we were five minutes ago and the track imbues that indie pop/rock sensibility I spoke of at the top of the review. As a listener, it is invigorating and exciting to anticipate where the music will veer next.
Where it leads is to the shivering bristles of ‘Harpagornis’. This track is one of the more abstract ones as it portrays a beast that feels like it’s waking up. After the opening few minutes shiver and quiver in half motifs, dramatic percussive logs smash in to provide a spine for the string arrangement to take its full shape. The closing two minutes are an epic almost Norse folk styled chamber piece – angsty and spikey. This allows the chilled beauty of ‘Argentavis” to shine. Cute pizzicato movements, chunky drum loops and icy keyboards lead this chillout piece in its early minutes. The second half transitions the track into a sci-fi cinematic credits piece with rugged and stirring strikes of string bows to attack with. What makes the track interesting is underneath a post-rock ambience guitar fuzz shimmer glitters away and this leads us into ‘Flight Feathers’. This is a four-minute ambient hue of string feedback, ambient pads and string fuzz like you’d expect from a post-rock band. Any expectations of what you’d expect from a chamber ensemble are well out of the window.
This leads us to the climax of the title track. Here Nonsemble pulls out a full band to hit a new stride. It’s like an ensemble-backed GoGo Penguin as the piano features heavily here along with live drums. The song conveys immense and overwhelming beauty, grace and grandeur as synth brass ring out over the string ensemble who pour their hearts out too. It’s one of my favourite tracks of 2022 and is an easy one to pop on repeat. The album concludes with a radio edit of ‘Argentavis’ as a bonus track.
As a concept, I love ‘Archaeopteryx’. It’s like Nonsemble has channelled giant birds and JRPG overworld themes and distilled them into one heady album. Each track is distinctly unique and full of passion. The string arrangments are spellbinding and the way the ensemble leans into electronics and drum machines breathes life into everything they do. Anyone with a passing interest in string ensembles, art rock, contemporary classical or orchestrated game music will love this. Nonsemble has created one of my favourite albums of 2022 and I bought their previous two albums straight after listening to this one. Take that as a recommendation!
Recommended track: Archaeopteryx
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