On Record – Dan Michaelson: Colourfield (Village Green Recordings)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Dan Michaelson is known principally for his work as a respected Americana singer, with five albums to his name with the Coastguards, and two as a solo artist. More recently, however, his explorations have taken him towards descriptive instrumental music, with a soundtrack for the film Blowin’ Up in 2018, not to mention three seasons’ worth of music for the three series of underground TV hit Detectorists.

Working under a self-confessed influence from the music of John Adams, Steve Reich, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Caroline Shaw, Michaelson started work on his own solo album of instrumental music, collaborating with violinist Galya Bisengalieva and Robert Ames, the violist who also conducts the London Contemporary Orchestra.

What’s the music like?

Very accomplished. Michaelson takes the name checked influences and works them really well, creating his own pictures that evolve slowly but very surely. The woodwind and piano colouring in Colourfield II is reminiscent – in a wholly good way – of Steve Reich’s work in his Variations for winds, strings and keyboards.

Coulourfield III has the most memorable theme, a suitably heroic horn line, while by contrast Colourfield IV has lovely dappled shades, with stately strings that gradually pick up more energy. Colourfield IV is atmospheric too, with shimmering harmonics and tremolo, a strong sense of the wood on these stringed instruments actually creaking.

Michaelson is equally at home in smaller and larger structures – and the second and fifth pieces extend beyond ten minutes with ease and control.

Does it all work?

Largely. Michaelson creates some vivid pictures but just on occasion the feeling persists that more melodic elements would raise the profile of the music. The textures are undeniably beautiful, as are the harmonic progressions, but it sometimes needs an extra line, such as a vocal or solo instrument, to elevate it to something truly memorable.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Even with the melodic reservation taken into account, there is some beautiful music here which really holds its own on repeated listening. Michaelson’s scoring is ideally weighted, and any of these numbers would be the ideal foil for visual material. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

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