Review Summary: Because you'll surely need no one else when all you've got is me
In commenting on dubstep I once called it a sound for the city, its songs testimonials for lives spent navigating the concrete mazes carved out within its borders. Poems of smoke filled skies and alleyways awash in pools of amber floodlights, streets with stories to tell and guides to lead the way. For a genre reliant on equipment generally regarded as lacking in the ability to provide any kind of emotional warmth, dubstep has always been able to carve out the grandest of images on the most minimal of scales. Though never exuding any warmth directly, these wordless hymns provide a sense of comfort for the isolated wanderer in all of us, buffeted by the knowledge that even though we may be separated by distance there are those just like us, sitting up late while hunched over computers desperately attempting to locate a kind of revelation to justify our eager searches. Submotion Orchestra are the rare exception then, shedding that paranoia and unshakable itch of nighttime travelling to instead conquer the soundtrack to our mornings, their music like the first kiss from an ever hopeful sun slowly climbing its axis to settle comfortably through our open windows, it’s a glow a blanket of security.
A 7-piece live project, Submotion Orchestra came together initially as a one-time deal, though the enthusiastic response that followed their debut performance immediately facilitated the need to move into a more permanent situation. The wildly welcoming reception from the unassuming crowds that gathered around Submotion’s debut performance becomes incredibly justified when their complimentary marriage of bountiful jazz licks and bouncy dubstep flourishes converge in such a spine-tingling fashion that you can’t help but get just a little excited by the prospect at what such a diverse background of musicians can conjure up. In some respects you can compare them to the elusive trip hop titans Portishead in the way that both groups rely heavily on the heavenly and deeply soulful performances of their female leads. The likes of nu-jazz outfit Jazzanova also play a huge part in attempting to accurately describe the group, as smoky trumpets slowly ring out amidst a backdrop of deep rumble and heavily textured percussion. That deep tribal bass doesn’t play out like a novelty though; never appearing for brief moments to offset the sublime trip hop nature of their chilled out jazz club aesthetic, nor is it overpowering enough to destroy that incredible preciousness that makes the group such a joy to hear. It’s a hugely integral part of the mix, such a shocking contrast that perhaps might have failed in less qualified hands; here though the risky gambit pays off, as tumbling waves of undulating bass slowly crest over the top of towering jazz monuments, soaking rather than bringing about a downfall.
’s journey is a slow burning one, a trip through a landscape almost unwilling to fully reveal itself, deciding instead to delicately peel away layers. Opener ‘Angel Eyes’ personifies this with its gentle and soothing release, as those honey-like vocals delicately sing out over a mesh of soft-spoken brass and blurry pianos before falling into a pattern of half step drum beats and wobbly bass. Like trip hop but with a much deeper club leaning, it stimulates these intense feelings of companionship and acceptance. There’s such passion poured into the sound, almost as if the album had been recorded during a much loved performance with all the artists reveling in the ability to simply speak through their humbling music, all of them carrying smiles on their faces.
While Ruby Wood’s obvious talents as a singer remain the main selling point simply because they represent the “voice” of the band so to speak, the musicians, when left to fend for themselves perform admirably. On instrumental number ‘Back Chat’ they conjure up a heady “noir” like atmosphere; trumpets reverberate in and around the shuffling percussion and pianos majestically step over the bones of more traditional dubstep. They don’t just rely on the pace of more dubbed out trip hop though, as they comfortably up the ante by falling almost into the full swing of garage with cuts like ‘Secrets’ and ‘Always’; even as the former descends into a full on skanked out session of smoky reggae there’s still that incredibly delirious thrill that accompanies any upbeat live performance. Each musician gets ample time to prove their worth; even though the foundations of the group are based around Dom Howard’s inspired drum work and Ruckspin’s heavy underground vibes, the final product truly illustrates a group effort. While not so much as given separate opportunities to earn their keep, every musician concocts his own melody before adding it into the mix; at times tracks will find various strands slowly unfolding away from the main bodice, spiraling off into their own little world leaving behind brightly lit paths to follow. The group never loses focus though, as even though these strands move far off into the distance, they still remain tethered to the original foundations, merely heightening the mood rather than destroying it with unnecessary frivolities.
There really isn’t a great deal to be said about Finest Hour
which hasn’t already been said by the group themselves in choosing this particular name for their debut effort. In a scene now recognized as a breeding ground for the brightest of talents to blur the lines of what is and what was once considered natural within its identity, Submotion Orchestra are just another in a long line of musicians and producers turning dubstep from the clear-cut defined genre it once was into the almost limitless banner it has now become. Finest Hour
is the arms of a lover gently embracing you after a seemingly centuries long sleep, it’s that warm light beaming out through the sleet and the hail. It’s a home in foreign territory, and its that comforting friend throughout the night. It’s also quite possibly the finest thing you’ll hear all year, at the very least it’s the most beautiful.