Kites by Submotion OrchestraRelease date: March 9, 2018
Remember when some twenty years ago or so the term ’trip-hop’ was all the rage in the musical world. Now it is more or less done and dusted and has turned into the term ‘downtempo’, or even ‘ambient downtempo’. Whatever. Still, the change in terminology does exemplify the change in the genre itself, where there was a move from the beat-oriented, sampled grooves, usually with quite a few slabs of jazz-oriented ambiance. These days it is the latter sounds of both jazz and ambient, creating an ambiance that predominates.
If you want to hear what would be an exemplary group presenting these sounds that are currently in vogue, you wouldn’t have to go any further than London’s Submotion Orchestra and their most recent, third album, Kites.
It has all the recognisable stylistic characteristics – sultry female vocals, an abundance of electronics in the arrangements, orchestral and jazz fills. Sounds like a stereotype? Sure, it is a wide open bear trap that can put any aspiring group of musicians into the area of vapid and bland.
But listening to Kites you get the impression that Submotion Orchestra are not only the careful and subtle players but also careful and subtle listeners to everything that went on in the still ever-shifting field of trip-hop/downtempo/whatever. You practically get the history of the genre throughout this album – from the late night motions, muted trumpets and orchestra of the opener “Prism” to the ‘old-school’ styles if “Variations’ with its deep synth bass sounds.
The accent though is on singer Ruby Wood, and Tommy Evans’ very jazzy arrangements (great trumpet on ’Night’, for example), which wrap up the presented music in a unified whole that is at the same time very familiar but still doesn’t turn that familiarity into musical kitsch, but something that is a very listenable and enjoyable late night/rainy day music.