SUBMOTION ORCHESTRA – Colour Theory
aaamusic | On 25, Feb 2016
When reviewing Submotion Orchestra’s last full length album, Alium, I praised it for executing ambitious goals with flying colours. Such a solid album would be quite difficult to follow but this time it’s been painted abundantly clear by the orchestra what needed to be done – identify what should be kept similar, what should be changed, how this will combine into a coherent followup, and then absolutely nail the life out of that idea.
After my second listen of this new work, Colour Theory, I was drunkenly attempting to walk a straight line along the precipice of pure awe; I pottered about and didn’t pay full attention on my first listen, but once I gave the full album the attention it deserves I realised how subtle some of he brilliance truly is. Exploring the various frontiers of their evolution up to this point, Submotion Orchestra come out successful in weaving together a variety of sentiments and stylings with galvanising bliss.
The opening tracks at first appear to define a mission statement: that the songwriting has evolved to embrace more slick electronic production than with past albums, putting them in a realm closer to Jamie xx, Bonobo and Caribou. A few collaborations appear across the LP: the first two tracks feature Still and Billy Boothroyd, respectively. ‘Jaffa’ ft. Still is smooth, featuring myriad soft key and sultry vocal parts, complimented with a cool picked guitar and all cradled lovingly by active percussion and a thick kick pounding on every beat. Pressing synths threaded tightly to the bass play stage to a chorus of muffled trumpets inhabit ‘More Than This’ ft. Boothroyd.
These songs seemingly indicate a desire to explore a new writing approach while the next track, ‘Kimono’, seems to both agree and disagree – it lacks the general cool subdued vocals of the previous songs but goes full force in production perfection. Allow me to ditch my sensibilities for a moment so I can gush over how amazing a track ‘Kimono’ actually is. Even on that first unfocused listen, ‘Kimono’ arrived with fanfare and full gratification, instantly catching my attention numerous times throughout it’s movement. It’s a truly riveting track that strikes an endearing balance of romanticising itself just enough without ruining what makes it special.
The following song then hits like an epiphany. The acoustic guitars and forest vocal harmonies come from nowhere but fits beautifully in the progression and make my previous Caribou reference much more relevant. The epiphany of course is that this album may be much more than it appears on the surface. Things keep moving forward as shooting lasers spice up the place up around ‘In Gold’, a slower more heartfelt number that leads into ‘Red Dress’ that tweaks the tone and slips it into ‘something more comfortable’. The shaking hiss that plays part of a hi-hat, group-clicked backbeats and trumpet line that rises though the strings in the chorus add to the sultry noir air.
The last four tracks all sound great but following the first six, they don’t really feel like they add anything new. They do at least allow us to enjoy the album a little further and seem to actually suit the unfocused listen very much. As with Alium before it, Colour Theory has a peculiar tendency to want to be replayed right from the beginning, regardless of whether I did that earlier in the same day.