Chloë March: Nights Bright Days
Nights Bright Days, the third album from British singer-songwriter Chloë March, arrives in the wake of her memorable performance on Bloc 4, the most recent Hidden Shoal collection by Jumpel. Self-recorded and self-produced, March's sixteen-song recording is a different creature stylistically speaking than Jumpel's, with the songstress opting for a style closer in spirit to entrancing artpop than ambient composition per se. A poetic quality pervades her material, and in that regard it doesn't surprise that many songs reference mythological tales and figures such as Eurydice and Orpheus.
Crafted with obvious love and care, the songs unfold instrumentally as dream-like soundscapes where March's piano and synthesizers are complemented by guitar, French horn, and woodwinds contributions from Tommy Ashby, Emma Bell, and Ted Watson, respectively. Her music's defining sound, however, is her luminous voice, a smoky alto that unfurls like a plume of cigarette smoke, its velvety tone a sensual narcotic for the listener amenable to its charms. In a typical song, she bolsters her singing's impact and the music's entrancing potential by accompanying the lead vocal with intricate, multi-layered counterpoint (“Orpheus at Sea” one good example of many). At such moments, it's hard not to think of the mythological Sirens who used their hypnotic voices to lure sailors ashore, wrecking their ships against the island's rocky coast in the process. In place of naked vulnerability, her voice typically exudes a cool control, which makes the appearance of a tremulous quality in a song like the beautiful “Unlit” all the more welcome in the way it humanizes her delivery.
As key as her singing is to the project, its sound design isn't incidental to its impact, as March enhances the songs with subtle touches, such as the twinkling mallet instrument that repeatedly ascends within “Winter Deep” and the soprano sax and bass clarinet haunting the backgrounds of “Sunless” and “Sometimes the Dark.” While the greater number of songs reinforce the enchanted character of the album's tone, there are a few, such as the piano-based reverie “Eucalyptus Night” and the jazz-inflected “Cafè des poétes,” that evoke the image of March singing softly within a dimly lit nightclub, her voice a comforting tonic for the weary listener. And while March's album is generally unlike Jumpel's, a synth-heavy piece like “Owl” wouldn't sound out of place on one of his recordings.
One imagines March's song cycle would appeal to listeners of artists like Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, and The Cocteau Twins. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, however, and that's true where Nights Bright Days is concerned: in place of an unwieldy sixteen songs, something like twelve might have been more effective. A greater degree of variety in tempo might have strengthened the album, too—though not so much variety that its overall sultry mood would have been compromised. Even so, there's no disputing the high quality and integrity of the release, and it's well-presented, too, with March having supplemented the disc with a booklet of lyrics in an attractively designed case.