Album Review: Submotion Orchestra – ‘Fragments’

Slithering out of the reach of compartmentalisation, Submotion Orchestra could never be described as a simple dubstep ensemble. Despite forming as a ‘dubstep’ band, partly in response to an Arts Council commission for a live dubstep work to be staged in Yorkminster Cathedral, their sound is remarkably diverse, swinging back and forth between a melee of genres.

At the heart of the group is noted producer and DJ Dom Ruckspin and drummer Tommy Evans, also of Gentleman’s Dub Club. The rest of the ensemble includes experimental jazz trumpeter Simon Beddoe, keyboardist Taz Modi, percussionist Danny Templeman, London based bassist Chris Hargreaves and vocalist Ruby Wood.

The release of debut album ‘Finest Hour’ in 2011 forged their identity as a band capable of flitting seamlessly between jazz, funk, electro, dub and soul. ‘Finest Hour’ was a nuanced and sensual foray, exposing Submotion Orchestra’s ability to create some seriously vibrant musical pandemonium. Their sound has drawn comparisons to the likes of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead, they’ve caught the attention of Gilles Peterson and have propelled themselves further into the limelight through extensive touring, as well as making appearances at BBC Maida Vale sessions.

A little over a year after the release of ‘Finest Hour’ and Submotion Orchestra have created Fragments, an album that from the introductory notes constructs layer after layer of sound. The outcome of a band comprised of seven members from very varied musical backgrounds is crashing cymbals, clapping hands, trumpets, horns, heavy bass lines and haunting vocals. The album is a beautiful contradiction between astounding delicacy and violent, sub-bass heaviness. The result is a sound that will stun listeners with its incredible versatility.

Fragments strikes a great balance between soft, mellow sounds with gentle, lingering vocals as well as incorporating that powerful dubstep beat and heavy bass that is so quintessentially Submotion. Tracks such as ‘Snow’ and ‘Coming up for Air’ boast reverberating vocals lightly wrapped in delicate percussion. The creeping introduction of keys and brass lounge nonchalantly in the background and are always curbed before they reach overbearing heights. This allows Wood’s vocals to be showcased against subtler melodies. These tunes are reflective and wistful – the soundtrack to rainy days.

In contrast, tracks such as ‘Bird of Prey’ and ‘Thousand Yard Stare’ are an incredible blast of sonic force, almost to the point of physical onslaught. However, the melancholic jazzy pauses which punctuate the explosion of bass lend these tracks a double edge, and are a prime example of how expertly the band dips toes in multiple genres. ‘Thousand Yard Stare’ in particular builds on layers of enchanting keyboard runs and spurts of brass and percussion, which lie behind a hefty synth generated sub-bass.

The most notable aspect about Submotion Orchestra as a band is that their music is all- encompassing. It works in virtually any venue and for a surprisingly diverse range of audiences. Having played gigs in jazz clubs, churches, club nights, festivals, concert halls, raves and reggae dances, they simultaneously belong everywhere and nowhere. Submotion Orchestra’s music translates at its best in a live context being both energetic and versatile. The band has created a beautiful record that is bold, yet evocative and unique.

Helena Murphy

…Helena has been listening to Hiatus & Shura – Lionesque…

One Comment
  • SO Fan
    25 October 2012 at 00:18
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    As mentioned in the review, I just love the heavy bass and dubstep beat sounds in this album!

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