The surge in popularity towards Modern Classical or piano based music can largely be attributed to the likes of Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Stefano Guzzetti, Bruno Sanfilippo, Library Tapes and others with their inspirational works of the last decade and a half. Essentially they re-framed the piano and brought it into a modern context. With such changes in popularity in the instrument there will be a surge in people inspires by those names mentioned above. Sometimes this can contribute to a glut in a particular style and artists have to create a point of difference in their works for them to stand out. The three  releases that will be covered over the next few posts are perfect examples of artists putting their own stamp on their music and showcasing the beauty that is inherent in this form of music.

Moderna, the Montreal, Quebec based label have been quietly growing their part of the Modern Classical underground for the past four years. Names like Lorenzo Masotto, Ed Carlsen, Tim Linghaus and others have featured in their catalogue. One of the most recent additions is Scotsman Richard Luke with his new album “Grass Island” which comes on the heels of 2018’s “Voz” (1631 Recordings).

“Glasgow-based composer and producer Richard Luke’s LP” Glass Island” explores the tensions of living on an island in the wake of referendums on leaving the EU and Scottish independence. The songs, explains Luke, have “confidence and strength, but also a fragility and drama that makes them almost wistful and nostalgic.”

The album was written and recorded collaboratively with violinist Amira Bedrush-McDonald.The duo has created a collection of lushly arranged instrumentals, inspired by the epic sound of bands like Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire and Jon Hopkins. Luke’s stately piano and Bedrush-McDonald’s swooping strings drive the record, with the added weight of subtle synths, washes of warm electronics and the pitter-patter of programmed beats. The songs are at once tense and disquieting, but with an ever glowing optimism.

 

From the outset Luke draws the listener in with his well crafted solo piano pieces that are beautifully accompanied by violinist Bedrush-McDonald and lush, but ever so light electronics. The opener “Everything a Reason” epitomizes this with its chilled out mix of piano and electronics from the get go. The music manages to transcend the levels of sound and sonic styles to become an immersive piece. Throughout the album electronics will feature from track to track but probably not as pronounced as this.  In “Silent Story” they  adopt an almost trip hop meets post rock feel to create this epic swell of sound that elevates the piece in the final minute and a half. Up to this point the listener is enjoyably listening to a piece that balances melancholy with heartfelt emotions and then it just soars and takes the music to new heights.

“Décembre” mixes up  delicate picking, fluid playing and micro sounds alongside retro bassy synths creating a piece that contrasts the slight ominous sounds of the synth with an airy fragility of the other elements. “Eich Bhàna”, not to be confused of the short animated film of the same name, takes all the delicateness of piano, violin , double bass and electronics and swirls them into an ambient styled piece that transcends genres. It is relaxing, introspective, contemplative and a real joy to have the music just wash over you. Much like “Silent Story” towards the end the music reaches another gear. “Red” turns the lights down low and mixes up a track that manages to be cinematic, retro, mysterious and somewhat romantic all at the same time. The way that Luke manages to incorporate any elements, but still give sthe piece space  to breathe,  allows it to work so well.

With “Last Call” the piece is cold, the violin wails mournfully, the piano stark and deliberate, while the lost signal like ambience adds to the funeral like atmosphere of the piece. The Sigur Ros mention in the press release above becomes apparent with just the swooping sounds that cascade in “Freda”. Possibly from a string source such as Kirsty Matheson on double bass, the sound is familiar to the bowed guitar the Sigur Ros utilize. Other than that the piece really delves into melancholy with the slow delicate and deliberate piano, that still holds a tiny bit of hope within it, while the violin creates long flowing drone like lines that compliment the piano. “Time Moves” is the shortest and possibly most intimate piece on the album. Sounding raw and natural, it feels like it was probably recorded late and night or very early in the morning. There are subtle field recording or electronics and violin that just slightly raise their head during the piece that draws the listener in and focuses the attention on the minor details. With “Last To Let Go” the violin takes centre stage in a piece that has a folky feel to it. While not running through the track, its fluid lines wave their magic over Luke’s piano which is consistent in pace and tone.

The final trio of tracks “Drift”. “Ghosted” and “Breathe” are more Ambient orientated (though “Breathe” does reach greater sonic heights than the other two). The piano of “Drift” easily slips into ambient mode as does the tightly strummed violin with subtle undercurrents of Double Bass. The electronic component has a small amount of disruption to making sure its not overly sweet. The way that the piano and violin interact towards the ends leads me to think of a narrative about people who are intimately close, just in the way those two instruments interact and sound. “Ghosted” musically suits the title with fractured electronics that skitter about as well as the minimalist piano fills the gaps in space thoughtfully. You feel as if you are in a drafty cabin with a swirling storm outside, protected by the elements, but only just. “Breathe” is the perfect sort of track to end an album on. It starts off with a gentleness that also lets you know that it’s going to be building throughout reaching a crescendo.It’s the culmination and fusion of all that gone before it. Ambience, frantic strings , minimalist piano. It builds up it’s tempo and its weight of sound, but like the other piece it doesn’t overstep it’s welcome and its quick finish is rather dramatic and leaves the listener on the precipice wanting more.

Luke and Bedrush-McDonald (along with Matheson) have created an album that is full of beauty, sweeping romanticism, experimental electronics and ambience. It’s never bombastic, but does have its own epic moments, it’s relaxed without being too laid back. In short, it is just a really impressive work that revels in composition with everything sounding in its rightful place. It is an album that will reward listeners with multiple listens. Totally recommended.

“Glass Island” is available on Cd and Digital.

 

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