The Village Orchestra
Et In Arcadia Ego

When is an orchestra not an orchestra? Why does ambient music suck? How many packs of Haribo can a hypoglaecemic eat before dying?

By Ed Chamberlin

Setting yourself little challenges is fun isn’t it? Trying to get back in shape in the new year; seeing how long you can go without washing and still get laid; how many packs of Haribo can I eat as a hypoglaecemic before dying? Life’s all about achievement, and the smaller and more pointless they are, well, the easier it is to achieve them. And that can only be a good thing, right? Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to review an album coherently within the amount of time it takes to listen to it for the first time – surely the challenge of any music critic (as insignificant as we may be). So what follows is probably going to be a bunch of nonsensical crap:

The Village Orchestra is no orchestra, but the solo project of Ruaridh Law from the Marcia Blaine School For Girls (a band name – and Ruaridh is a bloke). Apparently he describes this solo project as being “like an allotment or a garden shed”. Now I do not have an allotment or garden, but like all humans I shed my skin at a rate of once a month, so i think I can get a third of what he is getting at. From the opening swathes of melodic noise of Coshh, we seem to be in Fennesz-land, with vague and slow-to-reveal themselves chords seeming to evoke sadder and more tangible human emotions than any identifiable instrument ever could. Not quite as well as Fennesz of course, but the sound is toe-curlingly gorgeous.

Let’s face facts here: ambient music sucks. Not inherently, but Brian Eno and certain other unsung heroes of that era so perfectly defined the idea of music that somehow alters the shape and aspect of the room it’s played in that it barely requires repeating. This here is clearly ambient music. What it requires law to do to create something of worth is introduce something original to the room. Already from track two Jacob/Bad Hand At Cards V2 the hints of rhythm, shuddering chords and voices that drift from cut-up beyond recognition to clear as a choir, the sound is distinctive from track one and thoroughly enjoyable.

The thing with solo side projects is that they are always in danger of being consumed by the overall sound of the band they come from. Either they are replete with ideas that were deemed not good enough for the original band’s releases, or they deviate so far from the familiar sound that a whole new and probably disinterested audience is vainly beckoned. This seems to follow the same post-Boards line as The Marcia Blaine… but with a looser structure suggesting that Law was responsible for the band’s more esoteric moments.

Back into Fennesz country here on Bryan’s Tricky ‘Do You Like The Drummer?’ Question, with its dense lattice of tiny sounds, elongated melodies, crashing hard drives and the strange sense of a modest choir of angels cooing in the background. The busy rhythm section that emerges around the two-minute mark manages to sound lazy and aggressive.

The album seems to be gradually introducing increasingly obvious and consistent beats as All The Little Lights Going Out settles into a moronic, yet comforting four-to-the-floor house rhythm. As though it is beating into gravel, each Thump sprays out jagged shards of sound to either speaker, while two drunken rhythms churn away in consonance.

The album cover is starting to make a load of sense now: one of the curling arms of a combine harvester. Like a computer-generated image, the blades of the device repeat themselves, while slowly shifting out of synch with the circular cutters. The music here never seems to repeat itself, instead allowing each element to gradually drift into a different alignment with its neighbours, never repeating itself, never letting you create a distinct memory of what has been played, rather an impression of the overall sound. You could try to recall a section from Love Theme From ‘Two Man Rumble’ and in fact be composing a series of sounds in your head that never even existed, based on the molecules of its off-beat rhythm, scattered melodic elements and twisting atmospherics.

Sunken resorts to the tried and tested emotional-chord-layering that is a lazy cliché in ambient music, and the least interesting thing on the record so far. Seriously, absolutely nothing has happened all through the track. The musical equivalent of an ad break. Make a cup of tea.

Many Rooms In My Father’s House sounds very much like Arovane, with its chirping non-rhythms (they don’t keep a beat, they dance rhythmically). The male chanting recalls Eno’s Music For Airports.

The final track, In Arcadia, comprises simple, distorted atmospherics and wheezing organs – a fitting end to an album that went the traditional ‘song cycle’ way of gradually rising to a climax of sorts around Bryan’s Tricky ‘Do You Like The Drummer?’ Question, All The Little Lights Going Out and Love Theme From ‘Two Man Rumble’ back to an echo-y lack of distinction. Highly recommended on a first listen.
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