K-scope (Release date: 02.08.19)
One thing is for certain – you don’t listen to the music of iamthemorning for a laugh.
Their exceptional 2016 album ‘Lighthouse’ which was based around the complexities of mental illness and which I described as both beautiful and disturbing – more than deserved the five star review it received.
Now Russian progressive/classical/folk duo Gleb Kolyadin and Marjana Semkina have returned with another gem ‘The Bell’ – a deep and thought-provoking work described by Marjana as “a paean to human cruelty and the pain caused by it”.
Based around 19th century song cycles, a style developed by Schubert (although each track has its own individuality) the whole concept of the album can be deduced from Constantine Nagishkin’s striking cover art depicting a Victorian ‘coffin bell’.
Victorian society had an obsessive fear of being buried alive and a coffin bell could be rung from inside the casket after burial if the person woke up – the concept being that no matter how desperate you are, you can always call for help.
The choice of subject matter would suggest depressive ‘music-to-self-harm-to’ – but nothing could be further from the truth.
In lesser hands this could well be the case, but such is the mastery of the songwriting and the sheer brilliance of the musicianship that the album is awe-inspiring, hopeful and uplifting in equal measure.
The piano playing of the classically trained Kolyadin is simply sublime and which the ethereal beauty of Semkina’s voice – a made-in-heaven amalgam of Kate Bush and, particularly, Tori Amos – complements magnificently.
Things get underway with the somewhat atypical ‘Freak Show’ which begins with cascading piano figures introducing the delicate timbre of Semkina’s vocals before some tasteful acoustic guitar heralds a faster-paced interlude with some slightly discordant sax before returning to melancholic piano and beautifully picked Spanish guitar.
‘Sleeping Beauty’, the most beautiful song you ever heard that included de-capitation, follows with some lovely acoustic guitar work from Vlad Avy and ‘Blue Sea’ with its strummed acoustic (by Semkina) and delightful piano cascades set the tone for what follows.
‘Black And Blue’ showcases Semkina’s staggering vocal talents as she sings against her own backing vocals. The coffin bell sounds at the coda – chilling.
Highlights rack up – the subtlety and savagery of Kolyadin’s piano work on ‘Six Feet’, the superb nuanced integration of many instruments on ‘Ghost Of A Story’, the gentle acoustics of ‘Song Of Psyche’ and the real progressive feel of ‘Salute’, replete with some electric guitar work of the highest order.
Special mentions for ‘Lillies’ where Kolyadin’s Lang Lang-like piano arpeggios are other-worldly and album closer ‘The Bell’ which has a feel of Tori Amos’ ‘Winter’ about it. Just listen how Kolyadin slips in one extra note now and again using the soft-pedal – genius.
The whole album is a complex and eclectic mix of classical, progressive and folk music underpinned with inspired musicianship and a contemplative libretto.
Kolyadin’s piano work is staggering, paradoxically, in both its complexity and simplicity and Semkina’s sublime, delicate vocals both complement and enhance the instrumentation in a way that will leave you open-mouthed.
Insanely brilliant and yet another contender for GRTR!’s ‘Album Of The Year’. *****
Review by Alan Jones
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