STEVE ORCHARD: Listening for a Heartbeat (2021)
“A beautiful album that found a gap in my state of mind to sneak in”
1 Spyglass 3:26
2 How Many Worlds 4:24
3 Tropic of Capricorn 4:36
4 Operetta 4:24
5 Signal House 4:14
6 A Confidence in Heaven 10:00
7 Static 4:28
8 Predicting the Distance 3:48
9 To the Naked Eye 4:31
10 Moons 3:34
11 Listening for a Heartbeat 5:05
12 Solar Safari 4:10
(CD-R/DDL 56:33) (V.F.)
(Varied EM's styles)
Steve Orchard's albums don't always pass that well. No! I'm expressing myself very badly here. I'll re-phrase. It's difficult to dive into Steve Orchard's universe after listening and analyzing a big progressive EM album or a psybient very dark and ambient. It's important to know that the music of the English guitarist is quite far from the borders of the EM style that I review. However, David Wright from AD Music regularly sends me his label's albums without putting any pressure on me. And sometimes, it's the beginning of a story. The last reviewed album of SO goes back to Skyway which had its little gems. It's following my discovery of the very beautiful Heart of the Shamman, by Divine Matrix, that I got interested in this LISTENING FOR A HEARBEAT. I thought it sounded very Mike Oldfield with deja-entendu all over the place in this imposing collection of titles more interesting than disappointing.
It's after some suffering cries of a guitar that Spyglass twirls in a big electronic rock belted with flickering sequences. The layers of sounds accumulate between ethereal layers and orchestrations sometimes overexcited and at times cinematographic. The electric guitar is not without reminding Mike Oldfield, impression hidden in the majority of the titles of this album. One easily taps of the foot here! It's a duel between acoustic guitars which solves the introduction of How Many Worlds. A first melody is traced in the second layer of guitar to be transformed in the sharp melody of what sounds like an electric guitar. We're in the ballad genre here and if you're familiar with Seda Bağcan's Miracle, you're in familiar ground. Tropic of Capricorn is a track that is more about the percussions. They drum a structure without frontiers that serves well the interests of the electric six-string. Operetta offers a surprisingly sneaky structure that moves forward in slow jumps. It's a track that is efficient for laying down Steve Orchard's tasty guitar treatments. One can indeed hear an operetta, but also samples, in terms of whistled/fluted harmonies, of Walking on Wooden Legs from Johannes Schmoelling's Wuivend Riet album. Signal House layers a funky-rock structure with particularly good percussions. Apart from the vocals humming wooo-wooo-ahoom, we have a good rhythm structured for harmonies and guitar solos as much inspired than inspiring.
A Confidence in Heaven is a very beautiful track. Ambient, the movement is built on humm-humm-humm sounding a bit like MO's The Song of the Distant Earth, and synth layers with hybrid and well ethereal tones. The orchestrations are like honey on this structure tanned by a benevolent sun. The percussions get in near the 5th minute with vocal and cosmic effects always close to TSOTDE's controls. The rhythm turns into ballad with a beautiful piano which covers the harmonies of a guitar dreaming of solos already proposed in LISTENING FOR A HEARTBEAT. The orchestrations break the bonds of the naughtiest wanting to play hard. A genuinely nice track! In the inviting stuff, we find Static which flirts with the style of Michael Rother and his album Katzenmusik which flirts on its side with the memorable Neu!. Predicting the Distance offers a world beat with an Al Di Meola style guitar. The music flirts a bit with the heavy rock of Spyglass. But only a little! To the Naked Eye is a kind of rock with good percussions and a huge bass that frame quite well this melodic approach trying to dive for a future in the pink-candy pop. It's a listen to it well, even though I admit I'm getting further and further away from the album. But romantic and melancholic as I am, I couldn't resist this dramatic opening provided by the piano introducing Moons. And no matter how much of a moody ballad it is, I loved it all the way to its finale! Moons and the title track bring me back to the moods of LISTENING FOR A HEARTBEAT with a good romantic slow title played under the full moon bringing together the flavors of Patrick O'Hearn and Darshan Ambient. It's a playful piano followed by big percussions, an acoustic guitar and finally a flute that invites us to Solar Safari. As its title indicates, we are in the kingdom of World Music in a vision too festive for a safari.
As you can see from this review, I was more than conquered by the very diverse music of this album. At no time we are in the genre of progressive EM. In fact, are we in the EM genre? But that's not important! The important thing is that LISTENING FOR A HEARTBEAT gives us almost an hour of music filled with those links that make us nostalgic. A beautiful album that found a gap in my state of mind to sneak in.
Sylvain Lupari (June 7th, 2021) ***¾**
Available at AD Music