Snow Palms – Intervals

Snow Palms – Intervals

It feels like it’s been just a little too long since we last had an album featuring the multi-talented David Sheppard leading or co-leading the way.  If this writer’s memory is correct then the last time Sheppard jointly-headed-up a long-player officially was back in 2008 as one third of Smile Down Upon Us (a pan-global collaboration between eccentric Japanese artist moomLooo (sic) and the London-based Phelan Sheppard duo).  That’s not to say that Sheppard has been idle over the past few years.  Besides cranking out a riveting Brian Eno biography and innumerable articles for MOJO magazine, Sheppard has lent his dextrous multi-instrumentalist skills to releases from Klima, Pete Astor and Piano Magic’s Glen Johnson, slipped out the occasional compilation track (both solo and with Ellis Island Sound) and co-parented the birth of the sterling Second Language record label.  But now finally, Sheppard returns properly to the frontline with his latest instrumental project, cut in collaboration with producer/arranger Chris Leary.

Reassuringly and with happy predictability this debut Snow Palms set continues, consolidates and drives forward the near-unbroken run of imagination and accessibility that has defined Sheppard’s work since the late-‘90s through State River Widening, Ellis Island Sound, Phelan Sheppard and Smile Down Upon Us.  Typically and reliably, Sheppard has taken another avant-garde palette and added warming colours to paint eleven gorgeous wordless pieces.

Built – almost literally – from polyrhythmic beds of xylophones, glockenspiels, vibraphones, metallophones and other mallet-centric instruments upwards, the sporadically constructed Intervals, captures minimalist sketches being complemented and expanded upon by detailed yet uncluttering layers of strings, woodwind, drums, synths, guitars and more.  Inevitably the inspirational wares of Steve Reich loom heavily over the album, particularly with the fusion of chiming percussion and chamber music on the marvellous likes of “Motion Capture” and “Snow Light.”  Yet there are other strong influences at play across Intervals that prevent it from merely being a solid homage to Music For 18 Musicians and the like.  Hence, for the shimmering yet murky “In Camera” Eno-like ambient looping drones are added to the fertile mix; the rippling cinematic “Index Of Rivers” and “Premonition” both cross-reference Yann Tiersen in soundtrack-scoring mode; “White Sea” skilfully brings together lithe Latin-flavoured acoustic guitars, tropical rhythm patterns, plaintive piano and serene neo-classical orchestration; “Swimming Figures” draws in near-ecclesiastical ethereality and eeriness; and “Blue Yonder” evens refers back to Sheppard’s most motorik post-folk moments with the sadly now disbanded State River Widening.

At a time where too many have resorted to sheer brute force and digitally-enhanced compression to be heard through the musical productivity overload, the subtle analogue-baked paths mapped-out here are balmily inviting for those needing to be soothed with both simplicity and sophistication.  Overall, Intervals intrepidly sustains a beguiling balance of spaciousness and intricacy throughout, to prove itself as one of this year’s unqualified treasures.  More and sooner please Mr. Sheppard…

Listen to extracts from Intervals here.

Village Green