Review Summary: Classically inspired Russian chamber folk duo iamthemorning build upon their impressive debut to deliver a beautifully subtle and engaging album.
Iamthemorning’s debut, quietly released in 2012 as a free download, slowly and surely gained a reputation as one of the best progressive folk releases of the past decade. Strong classical influences and an ambitious approach to song-craft characterised the debut but it was its delicate charm and softly lilting atmosphere that really elevated it beyond mere technical competency. This sophomore effort, partially funded by Kickstarter, follows a similar format to the debut and retains a lot of the elements that made it such an arresting experience. This time around, however, the arrangements are more confident and ambitious yet manage to achieve a sparseness in quality that results in a markedly more refined offering.
The classical influences are unmistakeable throughout the album. You could almost describe iamthemorning as a progressive chamber folk orchestra. The core of this Russian group comprises Marjana Semkina on vocals and Gleb Kolyadin on grand piano but a plethora of guests, including the Nevsky String Quartet, inject a multi-layered tapestry of textures into proceedings. Marjana’s vocals were undoubtedly the most immediately appealing aspect of the debut and nothing has changed in that respect. There is an undeniably soothing, almost dreamlike, aspect to her delivery which lifts many of the already impressive piano driven pieces into a world of gossamer clouds and pastel shades. A couple of the songs, especially the gently waltzing ‘Romance’, evoke impressions of Kate Bush in one of her more winsome episodes, but Marjana certainly has a style all her own and incorporates a pleasing soulful edge into her ethereal voice. The epic ‘Crowded Corridors’ showcases her capabilities to full effect as she breathes a fragile misty vocal line over the haunting harp passages and solemn reverse-delay effects that characterize its opening section. This delectably engaging music isn’t just about Marjana though. The progressive aspects to the group’s repertoire come to the fore further in as the song evolves into an eclectic chamber piano piece decorated with gentle tribal folk percussion and tasteful progressive folk rhythms.
Apart from a brief flirtation with some overdriven guitar riffs on ‘The Howler’, which opens the album after a brief introductory piece, subtlety is definitely the order of the day throughout. There are strong melodies which jump out at you in places but these seldom form a repeating theme for the songs and usually act as mere fleeting glimpses before the music drifts off into other territories. The aptly titled ‘The Simple Story’ is about as close iamthemorning come to delivering a traditional verse/chorus structure in this selection of pieces but even here the melodies are more of a gentle nudge than a bold statement. As was the case on their debut, this approach lends the whole experience a gauzy ambience that doesn’t set out to grab you but merely beckon you inside its world of gently shifting soundscapes. The whole stream-of-consciousness atmosphere is strengthened further by the wonderful intermission pieces that link some of the more ambitious songs. These intermissions lack Marjana’s haunting voice but contain some beautiful music, especially ‘Intermission XII’ which seemingly attempts to shoe-horn 200 years of classical music progression into its modest two and a half minutes and ranges from sonorous Bach inspired solo cello through to evocative Ravel-esque melodies.
While not expanding significantly upon their debut in terms of style iamthemorning have definitely succeeded in re-capturing and expanding upon the calm inviting atmosphere that permeated it. The debut was perhaps more immediately appealing as it contained a smattering of upbeat songs with strong consistent melodies and simpler structures but this is a more mature affair with greater depth and longevity. As a body of work this album is a real jewel in the wasteland of overcooked and sterile progressive music that dominates much of the contemporary scene. If you missed them first time around don’t make the same mistake again.