Films - Messenger [Noble Records - 2010]As befitting a project of this name, “Messenger” is a very soundtrack-y album; though as far as I can tell, not an actual soundtrack. Its a melodic mix of strings, vocals, woodwind, percussion and electronic touches; all delivered in the “pretty classical music, informed by modern production” style.
This is a style I have just now invented, or rather given a name to; since it seems to have been a growth industry for a while. Most of the projects I’ve heard in this area (and, to be fair, I haven’t heard too many) seem to share similar aims and sounds: a pretty melancholy, seemingly born out of a post-rock sensibility, created with yearning strings and lonely pianos. A listen to Films finds all these things and others too: melodica and glockenspiel are often used as short-cut signifiers of prettiness, and there’s plenty of the latter on this album - “Little Forest” even uses both. I don’t have a problem with prettiness or beauty, or using classical instrumentation to achieve this; but sometimes the strings, in particular, and the harmonies, are so sumptuous on the ear that they become innocuous background music.
There are plenty of recordings equally sumptuous and luxuriant, which are staggeringly beautiful: Gavin Bryar’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is so heartstring-pulling its almost embarrassing - yet it is nevertheless beautiful; James MacMillan’s “Seven Last Words From The Cross” again has moments of unashamed beauty. Closer to home for Films, there is the grandeur of Stars Of The Lid, or the seminal “Handwriting” by Rachels - its possibly unfair to just line up comparisons, but it strikes me that the sounds and style of Films are used so similarly by others, that you’re left with finding some individual angle that you like. (I realise that this could be said for any number of genres.) Sometimes, attempts at prettiness and beauty overstep the mark and become cloying and sickly; and to be fair, Films don’t suffer from this: they achieve prettiness, it is melancholic, the album does sound beautiful - but it just washes over me. There’s nothing to make me prick my ears up and actually listen.
Its not all irredeemably bad or forgettable: the production and electronic touches, particularly with the female voices, are interesting and unusual. They often serve to cloud, obscure or blur the voices; which stands out in a sound-field of such clarity and precision. But, alas, these embellishments are only present on the first half of the album and the last track. At its very best points, “Messenger” reminds me somewhat of the ravishing untitled tracks on Peccatum’s “Amor Fati”; but unfortunately, for most of its duration, it struggles to enchant my ears.Martin P