It has been almost twenty years since Ed Harcourt released his Mercury Prize-nominated debut Here Be Monsters and in recent years he has won critical acclaim with his own releases and his songwriting for a variety of artists such as Paloma Faith and Lana Del Ray.
His new ventures into instrumental work might seem like a world away from the pop-inflected days of Apple of My Eye, but he has always been an artist for whom arrangement and thematic ideas, alongside an emphasis on tone and texture, have been central to his music.
Monochrome to Colour is Harcourt’s ninth studio album and his second instrumental work following 2018’s Beyond the End. The album was recorded in his ‘Wolf Cabin’ studio at his home last year and is a family affair, featuring his wife Gita Langley on violin and her sister Amy Langley on cello. Clive Deamer – who has played for Robert Plant, Portishead and Goldfrapp – provides drums on three of the tracks.
Harcourt’s classical leanings are most evident on the Satie-inspired Her Blood is Volcanic which features a glistening violin melody echoing over thrumming chords. So Here’s to You, Hally matches a classically-inflected piano air with ambient synths to create the most introspective moment of the album. Standout track Only the Darkness Smiles for You is a euphoric melding of minor arpeggios marching beneath a swirling refrain led by strings.
The aptly named Childhood leads with a melody played on a music-box while closing track Monochrome to Colour has a tune worthy of Billy Joel but is steeped in thumping drums, buzzing synths and layered choral voices that take it to an otherworldly dimension.
There are noir-ish interludes here too. Drowning in Dreams features prolonged bass notes and a menacing drone which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jóhann Jóhannsson score. Intense opening track First Light is a perfect showcase for Clive Deamer’s drums which rage within discordant sliding strings and Vangelis-style synths. After the Carnival is led by said drums and builds to a sense of menacing mayhem as Harcourt reaches the literal upper limits of the piano keyboard. On all these darker tracks though, the beauty outweighs the blackness.
The overall tone on Monochrome to Colour is lush and orchestral, rich in tone and atmosphere, with enough variation to hold the attention. This might be instrumental music, but unlike his previous album Beyond the End, Monochrome to Colour is anything but background music.
It demands and rewards attention with its grand chords, intricate arrangements and exhilarating soundscapes that defy convention.
Speaking of his new release, Ed Harcourt says “The last one was quite minimal, very melancholic. The new record opens its arms to the world.” Monochrome to Colour does just that – it is a thrilling embrace of an album that perfectly showcases Harcourt’s unique talent.
1. First Light 05:44
2. Ascension 03:47
3. Drowning In Dreams 04:58
4. Her Blood Is Volcanic 04:24
5. Only The Darkness Smiles For You 04:22
6. Death Of The Siren 04:06
7. After The Carnival 04:50
8. Last Rites 04:14
9. So Here’s To You, Hally 02:49
10. Childhood 03:40
11. King Raman 03:04
12. Monochrome Into Colour 04:40