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Ilya They Died For Beauty Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

A simply breathtaking debut from the Bristol based trio. An album that pays homage to...

Paul Sullivan 2004

If sweeping, cinematic strings, languorous, continental moods, simultaneous nods to Portishead and Edith Piaf and frequent diversions into romantic melodrama are not your idea of a good time, stop reading right now.

If, however, you cherish all things nostalgic, emotive and well-produced, and like the idea of an album that cyclically pits sadness and pain against light and optimism, then Ilya's debut LP might just be the ticket.

They Died For Beauty is the kind of album that makes Frenchmen sigh and shrug enigmatically: 'C'est un grand melange..." they mutter, "C'est formidable..."

Joanna Swann, Nick Pullin and Dan Brown, the three members of the outfit, hail not from France, but from (where else?) Bristol. Their influences of course hail from all over Europe and beyond, representing many different musical eras along the way, from 70s soundtracks and 50s torch songs to 40s 'chanson' and 90s melting-pot trip hop.

Their super-sophisticated style of orchestral music has already been usurped by advertisers, in particular Cacharel, who used "Bellissimo" ­ the album's lead single - for their latest ad. This has been many people's introduction to their talents.

The track, a gorgeously slow, gently undulating slice of modern troubadour-ism - is a good insight into the rest of the album, certainly in the way it murkily blends old influences with modern production sensibilities and contrastive emotional states.

All the tracks - which bear titles like 'Heavenly', 'Bliss', 'Happy and Weak' - are pretty andpoignantyet varied in density. "Pretty Baby" is especially lugubrious, for example, whereas "Soleil, Soleil" stays - just about - this side of pared down insouciance.

On a more general level however, anything wistful and carefree in the LP is balanced with melancholy brass, plaintive vocals or the pervasive string-laden pathos. The result? A tapestry, weaved from a mixture of light linen and heavy velvet, sometimes translucent, often opaque.

Rising from the mist of this morphing tableau is the siren voice of Swann, which infuses the scene with intellectual panache, other-worldly ethereality and Gallic romanticism. Her wispy refrainroams naturally and effortlessly around the LPlikethe smoke from aGaloise cigarette permeating a crowded salon.

The band's primary genius lies in the way they intertwine and ensconce their myriad influences within and around one another, rendering them only partially visible. In this way they suspend disbelief and transport us, a la Air and Zero 7, to a world that's distant and exotic yet somehow familiar.

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