Hidden Orchestra Archipelago Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Despite moments of distinction, this second LP doesn’t stand up to repeat listens.

Kevin Le Gendre 2012

The line between the atmospheric and the asinine is a fine one. Although there is a lot to be said for music in which subtlety, if not measured understatement, is an organising principle, there is every danger that an artist can short-change an audience simply by not doing enough rather than doing too much.

This follow-up to the 10,000-selling debut Night Walks, by one of the flagship artists on the popular Brighton-based label Tru Thoughts, sadly falls into the aforementioned trap. Despite an array of undeniably beautiful sounds, too many of Hidden Orchestra’s songs don't stand up to repeat listening, often suggesting that they will go somewhere but without then actually making the journey.

There is a great deal to commend the Edinburgh-formed four-piece as purveyors of cultured textures. Their use of low, creeping strings, punchy drums and bass and well-weighted programming is not devoid of interest. But while leader Joe Acheson has an astute ear for detail, there is a surfeit of producing and a deficit of arranging. That is to say that the orchestral palette is, for the bulk of the pieces, shorn of strong themes or occasional key changes that would have lent the music a sense of narrative development.

The counter-argument is that light and shade come by way of the haunting electronic effects, evocative samples or played motifs that are woven into the fabric of the songs, and the glinting glockenspiel chimes that suffuse the second half of Flight make for a moment that is hard to ignore.

To a certain extent, this and the piece that follows it, Vorka, have the distinct makings of Reich-meets-Portishead territory. Yet Hidden Orchestra don’t go far enough down that road, retaining too polished a sound when some rougher, harder tones would have feasibly served the cause better.

As it stands, the rich resources Acheson has at his disposal are sadly compromised and the orchestra is indeed hidden rather than exposed, at least as a vehicle for music that can drift out to uncharted islands rather than moodily hug the shallows.

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