The Magic Lantern – album review

“The Magic Lantern” reviewed by Steve Palmer at Terrascope…

KK & The Steampunk Orchestra – The Magic Lantern

Last year, KK’s album “Telescopes” was, in this reviewer’s book, eclipsed only by the mighty Mercury Rev in the top-albums-of-the-year stakes. Now KK (aka Kevin Kerrigan) and his steamy, punky orchestra return with “The Magic Lantern,” a concept album concerning the lady Aoide in some kind of alternate Victoriana-land. Unlike the earlier work this is an intrumental album, but the musical feel is similar, though the vibe is different.

Opening track “Aoide” mixes mysterious orchestral samples with whirling keyboards, before we enter a sonic tapestry of clicking devices and odd sounds. Slowly, a tune hoves into view, uttered by a vocal sample, and then more regular instruments, like bass, strings and hand claps. The tune, “Carousel,” is another of the themes that this highly talented musician does so well, embroidered with fluttering flutes, subtle strings and sundry sound effects. The tune expands as further instruments, samples, percussions and effects are added. Marvellously done.

“Pioneers” begins with a spooky sample and another operatic vocal, before keening strings and bass bring another epic theme into earshot. KK’s production abilities (he has worked with Bj√∂rk and Brian Eno amongst many others) allow him to both strip down and embroider his music with considerable skill, so that not a dull minute passes by. After a brief breakdown a violin solo soars over the music, adding human warmth. “Cirque Du Lac” sounds like madness in the orchestra pit, as sounds and samples collide, often in head-spinning stereo. Subtle use of operatic voice samples and another violin makes the track cohere with what has already passed. Great bass too.

“The Magic Lantern” slows things down a little, but continues the use of solo female vocal, this time supported by piano, viola, thrumming bass and choir sounds. Effective and moving, and as ever beautifully produced, the track slides through keys and chords as did some of the tracks on “Telescopes,” an album to which this track is akin. “Mermaid” is also slow and melancholy, with flute and glockenspiel taking the listener on a soft trip. Subtle brass, choir and percussions underpin the track before it bursts out into something stronger. This kind of slow-build, strongly themed track is what KK does so well.

“Rhapsody” is a particularly lovely, albeit rather sad, theme, played in waltztime on violin with orchestral and piano accompaniment; the album highlight melodically, for sure. And the arrangement is simple, contrasting nicely with earlier, more frenetic tracks. “Desert Isle” carries its theme on brass instruments, supported by Mediterranean sounds and percussions; a slow, lazy summer vibe sourced somewhere in Southern Spain…

“Into The Jungle” has a light drum’n’bass feel amidst the echoing orchestral samples and sounds. This is a particularly trippy track, bouncing all over the sonic universe, though held together with a strong vocal-sample theme. A beautifully judged ending returns the listener to the world of Victoriana. “Lazarus,” the longest track on the album, clocking in at almost eight minutes, opens with distant piano and deeply reverberated choir sounds, before glockenspiel synth, bass and keening strings bring another thematically strong, slow-build track. As before, the use of orchestra and choir sounds adds to the epic quality of the music. A terrific ending to a wonderful album.

It would be pleasing if KK and his undoubted musical talent were noticed by more people. He is producing some of the best, most interesting and enjoyable music that I’ve heard recently. An enthusiastically recommended album, and one worthy of standing next to “Telescopes.”

(Steve Palmer, Terrascope)

http://www.terrascope.co.uk