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Gifts From Crows – Etudes of the Crow Review

A masterclass in ambiguous neoclassical composition.

What does Gifts From Crows sound like?

Dark neoclassical music, led by a century-old piano and an undercurrent of yearning.

The review of Gifts From Crows – Etudes of the Crow

Whilst an etude may mean a musical study or technique practice, in the latest album from talented composer Gifts From Crows, I feel like it is a study of visual art as well as a musical one. Richard Laurence, the man behind Gifts From Crows has approached his third album as a collaborative experience with Johanna Ronn. Ronn herself is an award-winning Swedish photographer whose work often has multiple ghostly portraits exposed underneath other imagery. With Laurence and Ronn working collaboratively to inspire each other, ‘Etudes of the Crows’ was born.

The album itself is one of two halves. The first half is eight compositions that represent the full-bodied arrangement of each track. Whilst Richard’s family-owned century-old piano is the skeleton framework for every track, each piece is then fully embellished with a rich tapestry of string arrangements and atmospherics. ‘A Persistent Dream’ opens the album with a symphonic bounty of wistful strings and melancholic piano that effortlessly rolls off the speakers. It also gets you accustomed to Gifts From Crows’ composition style, which is perhaps best personified in ‘Fragments of Light’. Every song on the album has an underpinning feeling of yearning or longing to belong. There is beauty in every riff and note and both of these opening tracks could be lullabies or crystalline moments in time. They are quietly devasting and introspective. They have tiny motifs or callbacks that hit the exact middle ground of inquisitive and sorrowful.

Gifts From Crows – Etudes of the Crow

As the album progresses, other tracks paint versions of a similar theme. ‘Forever Surrendering’ has some beautiful string work as it moves from airy sweeps to merry-go-round plucks and twinkles. ‘Becoming Autumn’ balances a foreboding and sinister chord progression and string frills with a slightly suffocating tautness in the production. Musically it is straddling beauty and quiet chaos and manages to evoke both. Gifts From Crows also leans into his atmospherics side. Most of the album has a gaussian blur afterglow to the strings hiding in the background but that becomes a main character in the track ‘Of Moon and Tides’. I’ll describe this track as Castlevania Enya and I mean that as a pure compliment.

‘Conflicted Memories’ has some beautiful glass rim synth work that creates a curious illusion. When matches with the bluesy piano chord structure, the track feels questioning and circles back to that undercurrent of longing and yearning for something. That yearning turns to a gothic romance in ‘The Familiar and Her Feelings’ which has all the hallmarks of a Ghibli villain theme song mixed with some Amityville Horror. The album closes with the mildly creepy ‘A Secret Wish (To All That Is)’ which mixes in some synth choir work with piano and strings to end out the first half of the album.

The second half of the album brings in piano solo versions of most of the tracks. It is here where I really tap into the searching nature of this album. With most of the atmospherics stripped away, the piano shines. ‘Fragments of Light’ has all the hammers and piano guts softly crimping away in the background as if the cogs of feeling and emotion are processing the track in real time. It is so delicately performed it may be my favourite on the album. Other songs like ‘Becoming Autumn’ are almost reborn – sounding much softer and less brutal without the bustling synth angst emboldening the dense mood. ‘Forever Surrendering’ also has a transformation into something more like a music box rendition for the sad crowd.

The physical CD version comes with all the artwork of Johanna Ronn too. Each song has its own image and the artwork itself is beautifully done. Where the music has a dense searching to it, Ronn’s photography revels in the grey. Each photo is a story to imprint your own thoughts upon and that carries forward into the music videos too. Higher Plain Music is delighted to be premiering the music video for ‘Forever Surrending’, which features Johanna and her opaque yet artistic hands below. Is she locked out or are we locked in?

Video Premiere – Gifts From Crows – Forever Surrendering

‘Etudes of the Crow’ is a beautiful album that deserves all the plaudits in the classical music scene. The densely packed ambiguity each song balances has replayed in my mind upon each playthrough. Little motifs pop up differently each listen too. I find myself entering 2023 in a place of questioning and this album feels like a 50 minute question that holds space for multiple answers. It’s a mood amplifier too because you can lean into its sheer beauty or its dense tragedy. 2023 already has its first big neoclassical album and that album is ‘Etudes of the Crow’.

Recommeded track: Fragments of Light

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Gifts From Crows - Etudes of the Crow

9.5

9.5/10

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