I am back with another Track by Track for something that is slightly different, in that I originally heard this album performed live before I heard it on CD.
I went to see Tubular Brass on Saturday evening, in a performance that turned out to be a joint main event. Tubular Brass was, in short, amazing. They turned an album with so many layers into a brass extravaganza that George Martin would have done had he composed and arranged it. This isn’t a Tubular Brass review; however. ‘Mary Casio-Journey to Cassiopeia’ is an album that was released on the 22nd of September 2017 by Hannah Peel.
It is a largely instrumental concept album which marries analogue synthesisers and a strong brass and rhythm section (provided on stage and on the album by Tubular Brass); which makes me very very happy. The album is about (and I quote): ‘An unknown, elderly, pioneering, electronic musical stargazer and her lifelong dream to leave her terraced home in the mining town of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, to see Cassiopeia for herself.’ and quite frankly, this is one of the best concept albums I’ve ever heard, and an excellent come back for the genre of music, but enough hype, let me talk about the music:
TRACK ONE- GOODBYE EARTH
The opening track of the album builds up the sound slowly, starting with a strong synth chord playing, increasingly becoming more and more multi-layered, which is a joy to listen to. It reminds me of the early experimentations of Kraftwerk, especially on their third outing; Ralf and Florian. The mixture of synthesised sounds, recorded samples, and the brass which enters in the final third of the track actually comes together exceptionally well. The music makes you feel like you are going into space, with grandiose brass symbolising one floating above the Earth. Poncy art critic talk aside, this is a great opening track which gets the album off to a wonderful start. And it is a bloody awesome thing to listen to live.
TRACK TWO- SUNRISE THROUGH THE DUSTY NEBULA
Almost a mirror to the opening track, in that rather than opening with synthesisers, it opens with the brass. The quiet opening allows one to hear metallic sounds in the background, which sounds like a rickety old rocket. The music in this is in stark contrast to the opener. A little slower, and a touch melancholic. It’s a lovely wind-down piece, helped with the voiceless vocals by Miss Peel. The minimal synth makes this piece feel like something Brian Eno would have made.
TRACK THREE- DEEP SPACE CLUSTER
Deep Space Cluster is a must listen to live piece of music. The album version is good, but it lacks the deep reverberation sound you feel in your chest when one listens to it live. The percussion in it conveys pieces of space debris; such as asteroids, comets, old space junk, and it coming towards you as well as banging into the space vessel. It is grand, but also slightly intimidating to imagine. The best way I can describe the imagery is travelling through a safari park in a small car and watching animals pass you by. A great piece, but it must be heard live to appreciate to get that awesome reverb sound.
TRACK FOUR- ANDROMEDA M31
Perhaps my favourite track on the album and my favourite one performed live. Ominous brass sounds and scratchy radio transmissions open the track, which really gives a sense of distance from planet earth, that the protagonist is faraway now, unable to be reached. But the bubbling synth and the slow percussion makes it seem like one is getting closer to the final destination. The synth section in the second half was amazing to listen to live, and it comes across well on the album. It brings colour in the second half of the music away from the cold and unforgiving blackness of space. It is a great piece, like a spectrum of sound and I love it.
TRACK FIVE- LIFE IS ON THE HORIZON
Solitary piano keys return to the melancholic sound of the second track of the album, and the zooming pieces of debris can be heard in the background, almost like a callback to earlier in the album. It is a piece that makes one feel rather reflective, which I believe is what the piece is trying to achieve, reflecting on the listening experience so far and allowing one to reflect on the past in general. In the context of the album, this piece seems like one which reflects the protagonist recalling their life, which is supported by the title of this piece, and the callbacks to sounds from the previous four tracks. Ultimately, it is a great piece that adds to the story of the album through its music.
TRACK SIX- ARCHID ORANGE DWARF
This piece is more upbeat in its sound. Not to the point of being jaunty, but it seems to take joy in painting a picture through its sound, and once again, it shows off the marriage of sound between the electronic instruments of Miss Peel, and the brass instruments of the Tubular Brass troupe. This piece is a lot warmer than the other pieces and its tempo noticeably quicker. It is also the shortest track on the album, which when looking at the rest of the album, makes a lot of sense, as this is the penultimate track, the final part of the buildup for a grand finale. That is what a good penultimate track should do, build up to the end, but be good in its own right.
TRACK SEVEN- THE PLANET OF PASSED SOULS
Just a sublime and beautiful finale, which makes me feel a little emotional when listening to. The brass has built up to this grand, bombastic sound at the terminus of the album. Its harsh, loud and grandiose sound is tamed somewhat by the soft, scrapping, metallic sounds in between each passage of the large, all-encompassing brass. It really makes your eyes widen when listening to because it is so awe-inspiring to listen to. The sound is softened by the synthesiser leading us to the sound of a music box. You can heat the cogs being turned which adds to the fragility that stands equal to the loud and confident noise of the brass that makes this ending shine. All the elements of the album take a bow, in the end, making this the perfect end to the album, topped off with an old scratchy 78RPM recording of the musician’s grandfather as a young choirboy, complete with organ. I cannot think of a better way to top that or end this album.
What can I say? This review has said it all, and I did not do it justice. This album is not only one of the best I’ve listened to in 2017, but it is the best of 2017. Arguably, one of the best albums I’ve listened to in all my 20 years. Good is not a word to describe it for me. Beautiful and sublime come the closest and that’s not one word. This album blew me away when I first heard it live at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The music from Hannah Peel and Tubular Brass that night made my year. I order you all to listen to it. It is perhaps one of the best albums ever made, and certainly, one of the best live performances ever made.