Songs From Before
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Deluxe 180gm vinyl LP pressing of this 2006 Max Richter album, Punctuated by Robert Wyatt's distinctive, understated readings of Haruki Murakami's, 'Songs From Before' utilizes piano, cello, violin and viola, with Max playing piano, mixing and producing. The music evokes forgotten memories or lost histories, a series of bittersweet articulations that seem suspended somewhere between a dreamy sense of awe and melancholia. Fat Cat.
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Songs From Before is his latest full length album and it sounds like a very logical sequel to The Blue Notebooks. In fact, it has so much in common with that release that it feels more like the second chapter in a larger over-arching saga, than a large step forward into new territory. The lush string arrangements are back, along with some spoken word bits that filter in (Robert Wyatt reading short passages from Haruki Murakami this time out). If there's any difference, it's that more overt electronics play less of a roll in this recording, although Richter does incorporate more lo-fi electronic touches through the use of shortwave radio noises.
The simply titled "Song" opens the album on a strong note, as some repetitive organ melodies mix with some subtle strings while distant percussion sends deep reverberations through the mix. "Flowers For Yula" opens with some disembodied radio chatter and a few passages from Wyatt before slow swells of strings rise up from the crackling depths and crest without ever getting very loud. "Harmonium" may very well be the most haunting track on the entire release, again starting with a couple evocative sentences from Wyatt before some deep, filtered swirls of what may very well be the title instrument are offset with sparkling bells and chimes. It's a gorgeous track that works wonders at high volumes.
The latter two-thirds of the album is a bit more spotty, and after listening to the release a bunch of times, I still have a hard time pin-pointing why. There are a lot of shorter tracks (like "Ionosphere" and "Lullaby") that add nothing to the release, while a familiar melodic theme is used in "Autumn Music 1," "Autumn Music 2," and the album closer of "From The Rue Vilin." Considering Songs From Before is only about thirty-seven minutes long, it's probably safe to say that the effort suffers a bit from being really good on the front end and then not offering up as much in variety from there out. Richter is still a heck of a composer, and the twelve-track release is always pretty at the very least, but unfortunately it seems like a slight step backwards considering his previous album.
(from almost cool music reviews)
His electronic treatment of classical sounds and overall ambient feel is very interesting. The only parts that I could live without (and the ones that make it loose a star) are those where Robert Wyatt reads passages ("Flowers...", "Time Passing", "Lullaby" and "Verses"). It's not quite that his reading kills them: it's just that Wyatt's voice doesn't seem to add much to them, and distracts the listener away from an otherwise exceptional instrumental album.
The speaking voice on this album detracts from the music.
Tilda's voice on The Blue Notebooks worked great.
But Wyatt's voice here does not.
I think it's largely a matter of the low frequencies of Wyatt's voice interfering with the music. And the music interfering with the voice.
But, also, the music that accompanies the speaking voice here is not as successful as on The Blue Notebooks.
Most of the tracks that don't have Wyatt's voice, however, are super.
3 1/2 stars
There's no composer who can capture longing and melancholy like Max Richter can, so if you like very emotional music, you will probably love this album as much as I do.