The Magnetic North – Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North

These songs still ultimately feel like snatches, film score pieces, confessionals, personal recitals, glimpses of the parts of a larger whole. Maybe that’s the point. But what the heck, it’s still bloody good. You should get this.

 

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Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North can be seen as a pilgrimage as erstwhile leader of The Magnetic North, Erland Cooper, was born and raised in The Orkneys and he’s returned to make this record about them. That’s all well and good, but in creating any LP about a place the artist faces a nigh insurmountable task of setting what it is they feel about a landscape to music, and how that music can draw in the listener who doesn’t share the same geographical bond. With this in mind I have to say that I’m not sure whether Orkney… wholly succeeds here - in that at times during you wonder whether we should be listening at all – as the LP feels like a private conversation between Cooper and the islands, with Hannah Peel and Simon Tong there to help him give his impulses form and direction.

So, this is an intensely personal ode in parts (Bay of Skaill, Nethertons Teeth and Betty Corrigall); a mix of personal feelings and quiet votives to various places or figures, with the music in some ways playing second fiddle, creating a sympathetic and skilled backdrop to Cooper’s emotive, suggestive observations. At times the “listener experience”, (for want of a better term) is slightly blurred, or vague, and it’s worth paying attention to the lyrics because in some ways that’s where the action is. This isn’t to say that it’s not worth listening, of course it is.

At many points, though, Orkney… is a marvellous thing. When the songs do reach out to the listener, or step up a notch in power – as in the incredibly beautiful and hopeful Hi Life, (a real tear jerker if you’re in that mood to be moved) the brooding Ward Hill or in the bubbly mood piece Warbeth then it’s a truly great record. Rackwick is another that successfully balances the personal with an expansive and empathic sound.

But even so, these songs (and tracks like Orphir) still ultimately feel like snatches, film score pieces, confessionals, personal recitals, glimpses of the parts of a larger whole. Maybe that’s the point. But what the heck, it’s still bloody good. You should get this.