IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.
There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Høiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.
The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track Protagonist which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Høiby’s pliant opening bass riff, Dream a Life inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and Rain That Falls conjures ‘007’ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. Bridge is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.
Fragile Ground is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat Two Roads; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into Rolling Clouds, an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.
Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).
Dionne Bennett lyricist, vocals
Dave Stapleton composer, Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ
Deri Roberts producer, sound design, electronics, trombone, additional saxophone
Elliot Bennett drums
Jasper Høiby double bass
Chris Montague guitar
Mark Lockheart tenor and soprano saxophones
Neil Yates trumpet
Matt Robertson synths
Jon Visanji violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Katy Rowe violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Rebekah Frost viola
Alice Hoskins cello
Sarah Stevens cello
Edition Records – EDN1048 (2014)