I admit that I’ve never paid much attention to England’s Cinematic Orchestra, other than hearing a few records and catching them once years ago at South by Southwest, but their latest album Ma Fleur (Ninja Tune), caught me off guard. Leader and producer Jason Swinscoe has traditionally hired an assortment of jazz-oriented players to flesh out ideas and licks he created electronically, a technique that was novel for a hot second once upon a time. But on the new record Swinscoe's radically retooled the band's sound; it's semi-orchestral moody pop that falls somewhere between Radiohead and, I dunno, Coldplay.
Ma Fleur is a soundtrack for a film that doesn't exist; one of Swinscoe's friends wrote "scripts" for each piece, providing a narrative structure for the album, and the booklet comes with a set of "film stills," mostly shots of clouds, water, and the sun. Swinscoe was fortunate enough to land vocal cameos from Fontella Bass and Lou Rhodes, and the playing is meticulous throughout, a lovely matrix of elegant upright bass, gorgeous guitar arpeggios, warm electric piano, and nice string arrangements. The problem is Swinscoe is more technician than musician. The music progresses at a balletic crawl and after a while it seems to be standing still. The instrumental voices are distinctive enough that the melodies sound pretty, but they don't stick with you. If the soundtrack is any indication, I really hope this movie remains unmade.
Cinematic Orchestra plays the Abbey Pub on Saturday, September 22.
Ion Petre Stoican, Sounds From a Bygone Age Vol. 1 (Asphalt Tango)
Sueli Costa, Sueli Costa (Odeon, Brasil)
Chivirico Davila, Chivirico (Fania)
Biosphere, Shenzhou (Touch)
Clara Moreno, Meu Samba Torto (Far Out)