Classically trained trio show their time away has been well-spent, returning with more maturity and with bigger sounds and concepts
Half a decade since their last major release, Left With Pictures’ new LP is an emotionally nuanced portrait of death and renewal. Broad yet subtle electroacoustic soundscapes augment the band’s instrumental talents to great effect, taking them to a new dimension of timbral sophistication.
The billing ‘orchestral pop’ does a disservice to a band that, far from the banks of Moogs and 23-minute solos this phrase might conjure to some readers, are masters of intimacy and introspection – delivering home truths about life (and death) with considered, honest songwriting. Put simply, prog rock this ain’t.
The epicentre of the record, Terra Firma, is a brave lead single – slow, lengthy, and “very plainly about dying.” But the concept is big enough to fill the space, and Left With Pictures characteristically select the right musical elements to underscore a song which, at its core, is excruciatingly human. The main accompaniment is an electric organ, with harmonic twists and turns highlighting the despondency of loss. In the chorus the two lead vocalists intertwine before coalescing on the metaphor-laden “one day I’ll find you at the water’s edge.” An instrumental section swells to infinity, with cinematic synths, strings and wordless vocalisations that ultimately collapse down to just voice and organ again.
Stage Fright follows a similar format, with an even more intimate opening giving way to an instrumental that dominates four fifths of the song’s length. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel are conspicuous influences here, laying bare the trio’s classical training and repertoire knowledge.
The highlights of this record are its slower, more ethereal numbers. But that’s not say it lacks bite elsewhere. Bloody Mess, Long Lane, The Howling and The Start are all beat driven and generally more uptempo, evidently informed by Muse and Florence and the Machine to name just two of the band’s influences. Richard Formby (producer of Wild Beasts, Ghostpoet, Darkstar and now this), also warrants a mention, contributing a fundamental part of this record’s sound with his generous application of analog synths and effects.
Afterlife is cohesive and affecting, without ever lapsing into self-indulgence. In truth it may be too cohesive, with some tracks sacrificing their own integrity for the sake of the whole. What could have been an unbroken chain of brilliance is instead a bit hit and miss, and it takes a few listens to hear the logic that carries you from one golden nugget to the next. This issue prevents the record from being truly remarkable, though, it is nonetheless a great effort from a band whose sound has undoubtedly matured over the last five years.
Verdict: Quality conceptual craftsmanship