A band nameand album titlelike Slowly Rolling Camera gives little if anything away about the nature of the music to be experienced on this, the debut album from the UK-based quartet. Goodfor surprises can be fun. Once the music becomes familiarthe beautiful, imaginative and ambitious compositions become firmly fixed in the mindthe surprise is revealed to be lots of fun.
Two other UK bands, the Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead, are Slowly Rolling Camera's own points of reference for its sound. There's also something of Massive Attack's laid-back confidenceunsurprisingly, as producer Andy Allan has worked with both Portishead and Massive Attack. At its most soulful, on "Protagonist" and "Dream A Life," Slowly Rolling Camera seems to have its roots just as firmly in the sound of Soul II Soul.
The core quartet that forms Slowly Rolling Cameravocalist Dionne Bennett, keyboard player Dave Stapleton, Deri Roberts on electronics and drummer Elliott Bennettare augmented by guest musicians including saxophonist Mark Lockheart, bassist Jasper Hoiby and trumpeter Neil Yates. Electronics, keyboards and synths are central to the music but the guest players make emphatic contributions, the acoustic instruments in particular adding a warmth to the sound that the electronicswith the exception of Stapleton's Fender Rhodesseldom match.
Lockheart's tenor solo on "Rain That Falls" is lyrical, his soprano on "Slowly Rolling Camera" is vibrant and emotive. Høiby's tough, assertive bass gives "Protagonist" real punch and contrasts well with Dionne Bennett's vocal. On "Dream A Life" he combines with Elliot Bennett's drums and Dionne Bennett's vocal at the core of the album's most striking number. Both of these songs, incidentally, highlight the connection with Soul II Soul.
"River Runs Free" is a lovely slice of ambient calm. "Rolling Clouds" is more up-tempo, with Chris Montague's electric guitar, Lockheart's soprano saxophone and Elliot Bennett's drums adding a note of urgency. The Portishead influence is most apparent on songs such as the moody "Fragile Ground" and "Two Roads" and the gorgeous "Bridge"although Dionne Bennett's voice is more gospel-tinged than Beth Gibbons.'
Slowly Rolling Camera is available as a CD and, courtesy of Edition Records' collaboration with Gearbox Records, as a vinyl album (with download code). The comparisons being bandied about (including the ones in this review) offer a hint at Slowly Rolling Camera's heritage, but an intimate knowledge of the Portishead or Soul II Soul back catalog is far from necessary for enjoyment of the music. Once Slowly Rolling Camera infiltrates the mind with its gorgeous compositions it becomes clearthis album heralds the arrival of a new and distinctive ensemble.
Protagonist; Dream A Life; Rain That Falls; Bridge; Slowly Rolling Camera; Outside; Fragile Ground; Two Roads; River Runs Free; Rolling Clouds; Color.
Dionne Bennett: vocals; Dave Stapleton: Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ; Deri Roberts: electronics, trombone, saxophone; Elliot Bennett: drums, drum programming; Neil Yates: trumpet; Mark Lockheart: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Chris Montague: guitar; Jasper Høiby: double bass; Jon Visanji: violin; Catrin Win Morgan: violin; Victoria Stapleton: violin; Katy Rowe: violin; Ilona Bondar: viola; Rebekah Frost: viola; Alice Hoskins: cello; Sarah Stevens: cello.
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