Review Summary: Anything but fragmented, Submotion Orchestra delivers another work of art.
Imagine being at Submotion Orchestra's first show. Another jazz ensemble in Leeds wasn't likely to create any sort of buzz but Submotion Orchestra is not another jazz themed ensemble. They were something new, mixing elements of music not heard of before.
It was the experience of those at these first shows that allowed for Submotion Orchestra’s meteoric rise to fame. Very rarely does a group get the amount of hype for a debut CD that Submotion did. This level of rise and hype can only be accomplished through word of mouth, the way most groups like it. The debut was everything people wished it to be and more. A delicate, nuanced foray into the group’s collective musical psyche filled with intricately woven instruments, a sweet but somber mood, and the correct way to utilize dubstep to create not just music but a palpable atmosphere. The beautiful voice of Ruby Wood was the perfect topper to this dense wall of music that was created. Only a little over a year later and Submotion Orchestra has created “Fragments.” Fragments doesn’t have the group treading new territory, but the change in overall tone and some slight tweaks to their formula easily make this one of the year’s must listen releases.
While “Finest Hour” exhibited a hint of the melancholy throughout most of the songs, that mood is eschewed in “Fragments” in exchange for a more composed sound that comes off just as smoothly as one would expect. This new sound comes off as extremely fresh and urban and emanates a similar aura (albeit updated) to old-school jazz. Most songs are constructed around this urban-sounding dubstep and give each one a weighty, dense backdrop which allows the vocals and keyboards to shine. Submotion play around with this contrast in a variety of ways throughout the record, on more than one occasion in order to bring out the sultry trumpet which is masterfully played and utilized. The dense backdrop makes the ambient electronic bits stand out as well and in songs like “Birds of Prey” and “It’s Not Me It’s You” they are used to create an almost trance-like effect. This effect appears on multiple occasions and adds a nice pinch of something different to the group. Unchanged is the execution and production of the instruments. The drumming and percussion is top notch and along with the dubstep elements, are the glue that hold these songs together. Each facet of the record is arranged and produced much in the way of “Finest Hour”, everything is heard and nothing gets lost in translation.
While there are more instrumental songs on this release, Ruby Wood remains as addictive as before, with her distinct airy delivery complimenting beautifully the dense ambiance created by the instruments. The delay effect she used in “Finest Hour” makes a roaring return in “Fragments” in particular the front half of the album. While overused in the first couple songs, it’s thankfully toned down as the album goes along. Some interesting ideas in terms of songwriting are also heard in “Fragments”. In addition to the trance effects heard, strings are used to great effect especially the closer “Coming Up for Air” which sounds very much like something Sigur Ros would write. The most glaring example of novelty on this record comes on the song “Times Strange” which features spoken word lyrics by Rider Shafique. Personally this attempt at something different comes off as contrived as the great instrumentation can’t save the cheesy lyrics or their monotone delivery. However, one must applaud this as well as the other ideas Submotion uses to keep things fresh for the listener.
Unfortunately this record provides too much of the same and ends up not being as impactful as “Finest Hour.” In spite of this, the inclusion of trance-esque electronics, the spoken word delivery of Rider Shafique, and the epic conclusion all have a deliberate place on this record. Detractors of electronic music calling it “soulless” need only to listen to Submotion Orchestra to find out that with the correct vision and skill; very real moods and emotions can be conjured using the medium. If you listen to one electronic release this year, make it this one.