Review Summary: The night has ended, but Hidden Orchestra’s story is not over
Although people generally like to find labels for everything they encounter and put it all in neat little categories, some artists are hard to pin down this way. Take Hidden Orchestra: genres used to refer to this band are jazz, electronic, classical, ambient and hip hop. All these labels apply in some degree, but they become rather meaningless if used this way: with so many categories, it is impossible to derive an image of how the band’s music sounds. Judging from the categories, it could have been rapped vocals, mixed with saxophone playing and a cheesy synth line. Obviously, this is by no means a correct description of Hidden Orchestra’s music, but it clearly shows the limitations of the “genre-approach”.
So it is probably better to just ditch the labels and provide a more detailed description of Hidden Orchestra and its music. Formerly known as The Joe Acheson Quartet, the band indeed consists of four members with Joe Acheson as their driving force. With Tim Lane and Jamie Graham, the band has two percussionists, providing the core of the sound. The prime influence of the music is jazz which is clearly to be heard in the drumming, but this is supplemented by Acheson’s electronic dance-based beats and basses. Furthermore we have Poppy Ackroyd’s violin and piano playing and all these elements are tied together by Acheson’s sampling of a wide variety of sounds such as field recordings of natural sound effects, solo recordings of guest musicians and orchestral arrangements.
Hidden Orchestra’s acclaimed 2010 debut Night Walks
was the musical translation of a dark, restless night full of thoughts and waking dreams. But now, the rather muggy night transforms in a brisk morning. Archipelago
shows us the events during these hours after dawn. After the album’s “Overture”, showcasing parts of the other song’s themes and thus serving as an introduction of what to expect, “Spoken” shows us the awakening of nature. After our sleepless night, we find ourselves on the shoreline and we can hear the waves and the birds flying above them. Besides the field recordings, “Spoken” is composed of equal parts piano, drumming and varied trumpet playing, creating an atmosphere which is more lively than what we experienced during Night Walks
“Flight” continues on these lively and fresh emotions. It is a very folky and quite catchy tune featuring a rather prominent electronic bass, strings, harp and saxophone. It is indeed a flight (emphasized by, for example, wind sounds), the real start of the journey that Archipelago
is. It’s also a nice illustration of all the songs on this album: the large influence the various guest musicians have, enriching the music with their skills on the additional instruments. (Most notably Floex
, who co-authored “Hushed” and is responsible for the soothing clarinet on that track.) Each instrument has its place and each musician has his or her occasion to play a solo, but the pieces always build up to a marvelous final – or a sudden breakdown and a moment of peace.
Despite the similarities between the pieces, they all have their own character and each piece brings something new to the sound to make it stand out. From the cinematic (indeed, think of The Cinematic Orchestra
) “Vorka”, featuring an uneasy atmosphere due to the saw sounds, to the plainly beautiful closer “Vainamoinen”, the album is able to hold the listener’s attention by being varied enough. Sure, there is nothing truly new to be found here, but rather a smooth blend of many small snippets of influences collected throughout the musical world. From the aforementioned The Cinematic Orchestra through Amon Tobin
: they are all in there somewhere. For this reason Archipelago
has the potential to appeal to fans of a wide variety of musical genres but, on the other hand, might leave some of the listeners unsatisfied. This is because one could accuse Acheson of playing it too safe by not going all the way in certain direction. Instead, his choice is to deliver a broad musical experience but, as mentioned before, he does it well doing so.
In conclusion, Hidden Orchestra have created a worthy successor and natural progression of Night Walks
is organic and electronic, classic and contemporary, relaxing and exiting, subtle and vibrant, varied and consistent. Although not ground-breaking in a major way and clearly not meant for everyone this still is one of the most beautiful, haunting albums of the year.