Roger O'Donnell: Songs From the Silver Box
Anyone who fell in love with Roger O'Donnell's 2006 album, The Truth In Me, will most assuredly do the same with Songs From The Silver Box. In some respects, the template established by the earlier album remains in place for the second: the ten electronic songs are again performed almost solely with a single instrument, specifically the producer's beloved Moog Voyager; the album includes a mix of instrumental and vocal pieces (with his partner Erin Lang appearing once again on the new release); and as The Truth In Me ended with an extended composition (the fourteen-minute “...And So I Closed My Eyes”) so too does Songs From The Silver Box close with the thirteen-minute “Musique Pour Irakli.”
A key difference between the albums, however, is the presence of beats on the new album, a change that nudges O'Donnell's material closer to the refined melodic electronica associated with Boltfish artists such as Cheju , Mint, Milieu, and Joseph Auer. Though O'Donnell's material may (as reported) find its inspiration in the music of Autechre and Daedelus (among others), it evidences little of the alien severity of the former and the sample-based mayhem of the latter; O'Donnell's oft-pastoral settings, by comparison, are soothing and serene, and exude a warmth and humanity that sets his music apart from other genre practitioners.
The opening notes of “The Prince of Time” immediately identify the music as O'Donnell's when the Moog Voyager's warm sound is used to generate the song's kinetic bass and treble melodies. A few minutes into the piece, a midtempo funk pattern, the beats courtesy of Alka member Bryan Michael, makes its entrance, setting the stage for an extended synthesizer solo. Michael also programs the locomotive patterns that drive “If You Were Alone” and, interestingly, the pitter-pattering beats that appear in other pieces are likewise suggestive of “Trans-Europe Express” in their propulsive quality. Gentle pastel melodies dance over a repeating bass pattern in “Endlessly,” a song whose surface quietude tends to camouflage the emotion that slowly swells as it advances from one stage to the next, with lovely flourishes emerging ever-so-surreptitiously at the four-minute mark. Elsewhere, a beatific trip-hop lilt underscores the open-air splendour of “Changing” while “Always” brings a refreshing, free-floating spirit to the album.
On the vocal front, Lenka's siren-esque contribution to “In Your Hands Now” bolsters its already rapturous character, with the Australian singer's multi-tracked voice sinuously navigating a path over the rolling hills of the keyboard melodies and lightly skipping beat pattern. The first piece composed for the album, “Musique Pour Irakli,” originated when O'Donnell was commissioned to write and perform the music for an haute couture fashion collection in Paris for the Georgian designer Irakli. Swaying rhythms and intricate keyboard melodies suggest an elegant latticework of patterns and colours, while Lang's layered vocalizing offers intermittent sparkle. Her breathy singing also lends an appealing innocence to the melodically radiant “Tiny Pieces of You.” In its quiet way, the song is perhaps the album's most powerful, due in no small part to the fact that the intensity of feeling Lang and O'Donnell have for one another is so palpable.
O'Donnell's history will always precede him—how many others can say they played keyboards for the Psychedelic Furs and The Thompson Twins, and was a long-standing member of The Cure?—but such background is almost incidental in the case of the solo releases. They signify not just a new chapter in his career but an altogether separate volume, and anyone expecting songs remotely resembling The Cure's should look elsewhere. At this stage, O'Donnell has nothing to prove and could easily rest on his laurels, which makes the pleasures afforded by his wonderful solo material all the more satisfying.