Like Nightwalks before it, Archipelago is a triumphant body of work with rich and detailed production, soaring instrumentation and a staunch visual identity complimenting it’s predecessor and reaffirming Joe Acheson as a master of his craft. Straddling jazz, electronic, ambient, hip-hop and classical as before, It’s also a considerably more varied effort with tracks that shake off the darker claustrophobic atmosphere of Nightwalks and open up to a wider, reenergised and genuinely further refined record.
Overture confidently opens the album with cuts from the rest of the record making fleeting appearances and building into a full track before debut single Spoken brings it down and starts all over again. It is an incredibly evocative piece with field recordings from the Outer Hebrides complimenting the record sleeves beautiful etched visuals. It’s this level of thoughtfulness that separate the Hidden Orchestra from their peers. The tracks run like the tides, building up and receding gracefully with layer upon layer being introduced and creating a bold tension; the dual drum kits playing off each other, teasing and coaxing the music forward. It’s brilliantly clever stuff and a pleasure to listen to, this isn’t a record to be relegated to background music but one to take the time to learn its nuances and be utterly absorbed by.
It’s varied throughout with other double AA single Vorka being positively playful and contrasting with tracks such as Reminder which have distinctly darker tones before straying close to a sound reminiscent of ex label mate Bonobo on Seven Hunters. It’s also worth mentioning Archipelago is overflowing with guest talent. Czech musician/composer Floex joins cellist Su-a Lee, Mary MacMaster and Phil Cardwell who accompany core members Joe Acheson, Poppy Graham, Tim Lane and Jamie Graham. Each bring their own element to Archipelago and sound perfectly suited.
On its own Archipelago is an absolutely fantastic record. Executed with both skillful musicianship and talented song writing it is without a doubt one of the more beautiful, poetic and downright cinematic albums you will hear this year; however taken as a companion to Nightwalks it really shines as one of the most focused and exciting records on the UK music scene. You could accuse the Hidden Orchestra of staying a little too true to their template but think of the considered evolution of their sound combined with Joe Achesons overall vision for Hidden Orchestra and it brings the tantalising imagery of the greatest trilogies of our culture to mind. Let’s hope this is the Hidden Orchestras Empire Strikes Back and not the Godfather Part II (we all know where that trilogy went after that).