Hidden Orchestra – Night Walks (2010)

Wow, such a busy day I only get to write when it’s technically tomorrow! All day I thought I’d write about a certain album, only to change my mind at the last possible second, literally right before I logged in to WordPress. It’s more fitting that I should write about “Night Walks” at this time of night, and about one year after discovering the Hidden Orchestra. It’s an album to see us all into winter (more or less) in once piece, and it seems that we ought to brace ourselves at this point. (There, inevitable “A song of ice and fire” reference out of the way…)

Last year around this time I was in a bad way, but I was trying to pull myself together by roaming the streets like a lunatic every night until my feet hurt. And I would do that while listening to this amazing album. I’m extremely grateful for the fact that, when I’m depressed, the music I listen to simply doesn’t become tainted by that state of being (otherwise I’d have a lot less music to listen to without fear of relapse). Music always has a positive effect on me, no matter how angry, dark and/or twisted it might be – it always comes at the right time and it always fulfills its purpose. You might even say I have faith in it that way. What “Night Walks” did for me is distract a large section of my mind from actively trying to deconstruct my existence and occupy it with some of the smoothest, most blissfully meditative and also uncompromisingly cool array of sounds and beats I had ever heard.

So, I would roam the streets, thinking up two-page stories to write as I went along, chain-smoking and occasionally stopping by the goth bar (which, ironically, succumbed to the general economic crisis a few months later) to drink absinthe, read China Miéville and sulk. And throughout this much-more-serious-than-I-make-it-sound time, “Night Walks” was my companion, my anchor to something I loved and very often my inspiration.

It’s not music I perceive as being fit for a soundtrack – not because it wouldn’t be necessarily, but because it would be a cheap shot to use it as such, an easy way out. It’s so colorful, so diverse, so well-paced and in so many ways that the album could serve as a musical background for anything from the umpteenth Saw franchise installment to the much-awaited HBO adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, from a film based on a Dickens novel to the latest James Bond.

That doesn’t mean the album is “all over the place” in a bad way. Not at all, it’s a very solid, coagulated affair. It’s just very ambitious thematically and the modern cool it exhibits has a way of permeating the mind in such a way that it sort-of envelops and seduces a very large number of images, ideas and memories one might have.

The thought of a beatnik, endlessly tall and thin, comes to mind. Patient and imaginative, he’s playing a saxophone at a street corner to the rhythm of a distant jackhammer and of cars hitting that pothole on the curb every damn time. There’s a sort of urban legend feel about it, the slightly unnerving bass lines and atmospheric oboe and brass trills that layer the songs give it this grandeur, this ominous, hypnotic quality which invites one to unbound themselves to the sensations and images the city has to offer. It’s an album that responds well to the invasive sounds of the street as one walks around – the overpowering scream of an ambulance just seems to compliment the tracks, the soft murmur on the bus, the idiotic speakers they hang up in bus stops to entertain waiting people, the guy talking on the phone next to you as you’re waiting at the traffic light… the music suddenly makes you aware of all these things and all the myriad details about them and, lo and behold, they cease to annoy you and become part of the experience!

Some years ago, Air would make me feel the same way with their “Moon Safari”. But, as I said just before, Hidden Orchestra has a very seductive, ominous little trait which acts as a bonus to my eyes, something more akin to Portishead than anything else I can dig up from my memory right now.

It’s late and I should leave the rambling on to Led Zeppelin. For a bit of chilled, sophisticated, cloudy music, give Hidden Orchestra a try, by all means. And stay sane!

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