One Little Indian CD/DL
Brighton-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Poppy Ackroyd has released her fourth album, Resolve, on One Little Indian. Like her previous work, ambient neoclassical instrumentals reign here. Ackroyd’s violin, piano, and synths are abetted by percussionist Manu Delago, wind player Mike Lesirge, and cellist Jo Quail. Together they create a formidable chamber group that realizes Ackroyd’s hybrids of synthetic and organic elements with grace and delicate shadings. This is particularly true of the winsome title track and layered keyboards of album opener “Paper” and the reverberant synthetic repeats of album closer “Trains,” a fetching post-minimal excursion led by Ackroyd’s piano and violin.
All is not gentleness. Delago, in particular, adds formidable beats to several album tracks, notably “Quail” and “The Dream.” “Time,” appropriately enough, leads with drums that are then rhythmically mimicked by a repeating piano ostinato. “Stems,” at a fleeting minute-and-a-half, sets up a memorably propulsive ground bass with a plethora of auxiliary beaters: one wishes it was at least twice as long and allowed to truly blossom.
Ambient neoclassical music has become all the rage again and many of the reissues and newer work are quite good. The best of it, like Poppy Ackroyd’s recordings, present lovingly prepared arrangements, harnessing one’s attention with little details that make all the difference between surface beauty and a deeper listening experience.
One Little Indian
Björk’s latest album is her longest (clocking in at 72 minutes) and her most daring yet. On past recordings, cadres of female musicians with fierce chops held sway – employing French horns and strings. This time out, a dozen Icelandic flutists are the ensemble of choice. Alongside them is the electronic musician Arca, in an enhanced role as collaborator rather than appearing, as he did previously, once the songs had already been written. These performers are augmented by additional classical musicians and singers, making for a heady mix of timbres.
Where Vulnicura was about personal devastation – Björk’s breakup with her then-partner artist Matthew Barney, Utopia is about the returning of equilibrium, healing, happiness, and even romance. Thus, these two efforts demonstrate both sides of personal vulnerability; the musical differences are stark. Vulnicura’s “Black Lake” is a dark meditation of despair, whereas Utopia’s “Arisen My Senses” contains sensuous melodic lines and an arrangement replete with bird-calls and flutes. The songs on Utopia are intricately designed, containing beautiful variegated textures crafted with tremendous artistry. But the music displays lightness of touch too; indeed, it often floats. Björk’s voice retains a formidable range, both in terms of compass and of the myriad demeanors she flexibly coaxes from it.
Much has been made about Utopia’s ornate melodies and lack of rhythmic propulsion in the press; I would suggest too much. “The Gate” may be an extended track, but it has one of the most soaring, viscerally moving tunes in Björk’s catalog. Likewise, a noteworthy example where propulsive beats play a role is the fascinating “Courtship,” in which Arca puts skittering percussion alongside the flute choir and then juxtaposed against it. In the midst of this mix of sounds, Björk’s voice sits mid-register and the lyrics venture into a narrative “storytelling” mode.
Many stories are told in the course of Utopia. Often, they mirror the vocalist’s own experience of reentering the world of dating and relationships. That Björk at times approaches the idea of love with trepidation and at others with jubilation makes her willingness to share lyrics based on autobiography all the more touching.
In a year filled with revelations of abuse and betrayal, Utopia reminds us that just around the corner from desolation can be restoration and healing; one hopes many will take solace from the album’s message. I do, and In my opinion, it is the best pop recording of 2017.