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Reviews

Snow Palms
Intervals Ted Grant , November 25th, 2013 07:12

The brains behind Snow Palms is David Sheppard (State River Widening, various others) but this is ostensibly a two piece project from the Village Green stable with producer/arranger Chris Leary (Ochre) supplementing Sheppard's vision; together they have created eleven bewitching and beautiful instrumental suites.

First impressions suggest this is an album of music box-esque whimsy; perhaps slight and underpowered as a percussive tete-a-tete between glockenspiel and xylophone and other mallet-centric instruments plays out. But on repeated listens the splashes of electronica, piano, guitars and woodwind, plus Josh Hillman's lugubrious violin and viola, add a depth and potency to this delicate record. A nigh-on perfect amalgam of chamber and avant-garde music.

There's beauty in abundance here but also a foreboding, unsettling quality at times. Snow Light has all the daintiness of a revolving miniature ballerina but is counterpointed with menacing portent as synthesised strings and mournful piano roll in. It's easy to conjure images of secluded houses, creaking floorboards and rocking chairs propelled by supernatural will. The effect of rich cello on 'Atoll' merged with the polyrhythmic collision of xylophones is utterly magnificent and 'White Sea', perhaps the stand-out here, finds simple lines intertwining before becoming overwhelmed by swathes of mellifluous instrumentation.

Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians is probably the most obvious touchstone here although Snow Palms' work, while similar sonically, is less sprawling and more honed; tracks ranging from just shy of two minutes to five and a half minutes. The pair seem keen to focus their vision in to tangible 'songs' rather than rambling opuses. There's something of Yann Tiersen's cinematic kaleidoscopes in 'Motion Capture' and 'Premonition' - a pair of tracks that perhaps sail a little close to that unwanted musical critique – jaunty – but on the flip-side 'In Camera' and 'Swimming Figures' recall the chilly folktronica of Iceland's Múm; again innocence and dread are evoked in equal measure.

The ubiquity of The XX and Sigur Ros soundtracking every BBC montage under the sun has begun to grate but I hope it's not a criticism to say Snow Palms would comfortably befit the latest Attenborough odyssey. Many tracks here evoke images of scuttling arachnids emerging from crevices or quivering sunlight atop butterfly wings. There's fabulous dexterity but also minimalist simplicity in this record which allows you to involve yourself with the music as much as you desire. I was never sure whether to relax with a book and let this wash over me or crank up the volume through the headphones and listen more intently.

It's important to note that this is expressive, progressive music but never feels indulgent or showy, or indeed gimmicky or glib. For me Intervals is a truly beguiling, hypnotic and, at times, mesmerising record. Enticingly, too, there is something in the post-rock sensibility of closer 'Light Museum', the way it builds and also being the only track to feature vocals of sorts, which suggests Snow Palms could lift their magical soundscapes from a bolder palette yet.

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