The Prickle (@ThePrickle) June 21, 2019
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in June 2017, Daniel Elms’ record Islandia creates a vessel of space and tension that could be the receptacle for any number of post-industrial, political perspectives in the land of its inspiration (England) and further afield.
The sort of electronic-classical minimalism showcased on this 5-piece work will be familiar to those in the Jonny Greenwood, Trent Reznor space. That said, the eponymous track demonstrates a language that draws in the colour of other composers as well as stories specific to Elms’ inspiration. There are cues reminiscent of John Adams and an almost Britten-esque approach to evoking liminal English space. The mournful trumpet of Christian Barraclough in ‘Islandia’ could be a remnant of the coal-mining history and the dwindling brass band culture of post-industrial England. There’s something of a Jeff Beal / House of Cards reference in this moment, a filmic sophistication that confidently sets up the rest of the work.
This is a contemplative record that allows elastic wistfulness throughout. The piano and gentle electronic production of ‘The Old Declarn’ (a name taken from a Cecil J Sharp discovery) allows the mind to get lost in the layers while the electric guitar lines and pace of ‘Soft Machines’ and then ‘North Sea Quartet’ introduces a throb and urgency to proceedings. Here, Blade Runner intersects with Steve Reich as repetition in phrases across the ensemble gives a sense of perseverance as well as trepidation.
This is a deeply human, landscaped, urban record with a keen sense of place. It’s therefore fitting that on the concluding track we hear voices, seagulls and the harbour-side bells that connect directly with Elms’ subject. As with everything else on Islandia, these samples are measured, complementary and help to tell a story. This is an album where light and fog co-exist in subtle contrast and acceptance. A suite of music to get lost in time and again.
Daniel Elms’ Islandia is out now on New Amsterdam Records.