|Album Review: Submotion Orchestra – Colour Theory|
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Most musicians like to describe themselves as progressive and musically evolving, but very few have as much grounds to claim this as Submotion Orchestra. The UK seven piece band have been putting out dub, soul and jazz inspired electronic music since 2009. They’ve explored a variety of genres, from dubstep and UK garage to ambient jazz, while still maintaining a solid foundation and signature sound combining singer Ruby Wood’s soulful vocals and producer Ruckspin’s experimental production with trumpet solos and hard-hitting basslines. On their latest album however, it’s clear that the group is making a real effort to go out of their comfort zone and explore new styles of electronic music.
Colour Theory, which dropped on Ninja Tune imprint Counter Records a few hours ago, is Submotion Orchestra’s fourth LP. It’s absolutely nothing like 2012’s Fragments or 2014’s Alium, and those of you that are expecting a repeat of those albums will certainly be disappointed. Instead of eerie trumpet solos and dubby sub basses we get hypnotic beats, plucky melodies and experimental vocal processing. It’s the same sound that a number of other UK electronic musicians have been exploring recently, and many of these tracks sound like something you would expect to find on albums by Jamie XX, Bonobo or fellow Counter Records artist Maribou State.
The album opener definitely falls within that category; Jaffa (ft. Still) is a really laid back house track featuring subtle vocal and guitar chops. The tracks “Amira“ and “Ao (ft. Catching Flies)” follow the same pattern, with the latter, which is also the last track on the album, bringing in the group's signature trumpet sound towards the end.
The third track on this record, “Kimono”, deserves a review of it’s own. Catching your attention at once with lush, Asian inspired melodies and experimental percussion, it evolves into an incredibly fast paced, house-tinged electronica track. It features very creative vocal manipulations and plucky, uplifting melodies that are, for lack of stronger adjective, amazing. It’s in my opinion the best track on this album, and will certainly improve the mood of any listener, regardless of whether it’s being played in a club or on headphones.
A surprise for many devoted Submotion fans will be the number of guest vocalists that are featured on this record, considering that they’ve almost never done this in the past, and that Wood’s voice has always been one of their main selling points. The change is welcome however, and all the vocal guests all turn in passable performances. Billy Bothroyd’s voice on “More Than This” and Andrew Ashong’s spacious vocals on “Needs” both work well with the group’s style. Ed Thomas deserves credit for his contributions on “Empty Love”, which he sings alongside Wood. The vocal style is perfect to fill out the really hard-hitting, experimental beat.
Even though the guest vocalists all bring something new and interesting to the table, Ruby Wood is still the one tying this album together. On “In Gold” she turns in a great performance over a sparse beat, on “Red Dress” she displays great range that really complements the strings and horns, and on “Illusions” she adds a soulful touch to the driving bassline and excellent drum groove.
Although Colour Theory is a big step away from what the group has done in the past, it’s still a great record. For anyone who is in to electronic music and wants to try out something a little more experimental than what's on the radio, this is essential listening. Submotion Orchestra explores new genres and styles without straying too much away from their roots and scaring off established fans. So whether or not you’re a fan already, I highly recommend that you check out these forty minutes of jazzy electronic goodness.