Monochrome to Colour by Ed Harcourt

Release date: September 18, 2020
Label: Point of Departure Recordings

Ploughing through the prose which accompanies Monochrome To Colour, Ed Harcourt’s new album, there’s an initial pause for wondering what I’m letting myself in for. In amongst the helpful quotes, pointers and influences are names which don’t usually pop up on the sort of things I tend to receive, which made me wonder what I was about to listen to. Which is exactly how these things should work. So, armed with the expectation of the combined spirits of Beethoven, Mozart, Satie and DeBussy, in I went. And it’s an astounding, fascinating journey into a wordless world of classical-inspired post-rock that combines an introspective sense of self and outward embrace of everything else all at once.

The album’s title is wholly apt. There’s a bit in Faith No More’s ‘The Crab Song’; “Now I know why everything turns grey, but it’s our own world we paint. And I want the brightest, I want fluorescence every day and night for the rest of my life” – and weird as it sounds, these lines changed absolutely everything for a 16-year old me. Ed’s description of his new record “definitely has a sense of explosion and euphoria” is absolutely on the money (it would be, it’s his record), and mirrors Chuck Moseley’s 1987 sentiment perfectly.

 

Opening with a string and electronic drone, ‘First Light’ introduces the record in a gentle, melancholic manner before bringing in what can only be described as The Drums – the capitalisation totally warranted there, as there probably hasn’t been such brutal and beautiful cymbal-hitting since ‘Dayvan Cowboy’. On top of all this is a 3-note chime that hits that bit between heart and gut so well. As “Hello!”s go, this is a big one. Subsequent track ‘Ascension’ has an initial piano-led feel which takes this heightened sense of joy and loud/quiet duality towards the sort of feel and sound of the instrumental work of the Soulsavers (this album – as its predecessor – also appears on Rich Machin’s own Point of Departure label) and by that point if you’re on board with this, you’re happily with it for the duration wherever Ed decides to take us next.

Throughout Monochrome To Colour is a sense of pushing two ideas together, whether it be matching bombast with elegance or new and old instrumentation, and this works not because of any sort of opposition between a pair of apparent extremes but because of the care placed on making everything work together. Even when there is an occasional moment of chaos, it feels just fine – a favourite moment of mine comes during ‘Only The Darkness Smiles For You’ where you’d think such a dreamlike piece would be jarred by one of the piano’s keys being a bit off, but instead it’s repeated hitting just makes me smile and brings the music closer to heart.

So far this is all making it sound like “Ed Harcourt’s Post-rock” album but that’s just one facet. A long career spent going in whatever direction he wants continues here and it’s on this record where his imagination and craft flies free, far and wide. ‘Last Rites’ comes with a laid-back jazz feel that fans of GoGo Penguin will love, the uplifting innocence that pervades the remembered halls of ‘Childhood’ comes with echoes of Mogwai’s Les Revenants soundtrack but with a lighter heart and soul, the title track comes across as classic Harcourt songwriting, the duality here coming from a strange melancholy ascendancy which has been evident in his work since the very beginning.

Where the world is seeming to shrink, this record expands. Where we become more isolated, this album both empathises and reaches out to include. As with his previous instrumental outing it is a marked departure from his more vocal albums and completely different from what is to come from his Loup Garoux band, but it does not sit apart; it sits alongside and within a body of work which has always seemingly set out to include and enjoy as much life as possible and Monochrome To Colour fits that blueprint perfectly.

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