On Record – Erland Cooper & Shards: Egilsay EP (Mercury KX)

What’s the story?

It has been an extremely productive and musically enriching year for Erland Cooper. This four-track EP is his second collaboration with Shards, the vocal ensemble with whom he worked on a festive release last year. Once again it has a visual accompaniment, with regular collaborator Alex Kozobolis.

What’s the music like?

Beautiful. Once again we are transported to Orkney, but each time we go we either learn something new about the place or are placed in a different context. Egilsay is one of the small isles to the north of the archipelago, and the compositions here are intended as meditations on shifting time and light. The song titles are Orcadian words associated with these phenomena.

This is immediately evident in the swooping vocal lines of Glimro and Lisbealad. The deeply moving first track shows how well Cooper writes for voices nearer the extremes of their range, with an angular line beautifully sung. The second has an even wider range, with soprano soaring and a bass down low, feeling the elemental qualities of the Orkney coastline. Tullimentan has a timeless quality, like an old Mediaeval incantation set against the steadily falling rain and flowing water. It is very emotive.

There is a second take on Glimro, reclothing the song and including a John Keats poem to mark the poet’s bicentenary. Its sotto voce words are read to the accompaniment of string arrangements from Uèle Lamore and Kathryn Joseph that put the piece in a new light, looking back to the previous EP Never Pass Into Nothingness.

Does it all work?

Yes. Once again this is music transporting its listener far away from their environment and directly into the place it reflects. Egilsay has a harsh, striking beauty that feels fully reflected in these concentrated portraits.

Is it recommended?

Absolutely, as another compelling chapter in Erland Cooper’s musical evolution. The voices make for an even more complete human experience.


Switched on – Erland Cooper: Hether Blether (Phases)

What’s the story?

With Hether Blether, Erland Cooper reaches the end of his Orkney trilogy. What began as a relatively modest concept, a set of music to help him deal with the morning commute into his studio in London, has blossomed into a colourful portrait of the elements of his home island, a trilogy that tugs at the heartstrings of even the most benign observer. After Solan Goose (air) and Sule Skerry (water) comes Hether Blether (earth), where Cooper explores his upbringing through not just his own voice but those close by in the Orcadian community.

What’s the music like?

The music on Hether Blether is every bit as enchanting and intoxicating as that for Solan Goose and Sule Skerry, but it has a human element that reaches even further than its predecessors. There is a stronger vocal element here, making the stories that bit more human. Where Solan Goose evoked the bird on the wing, and Sule Skerry revelled in the power of the sea, Hether Blether – as its name implies – is about meaningful conversation, thankfulness for upbringing, and a deep respect for the joy of community.

The most immediately memorable of the ten tracks is Peedie Breeks, written with Benge. Its melody becomes a round, a softly lilting tune going round in circles that feel simultaneously old and new. Noup Head, the first track, sets the scene perfectly, giving once again the perspective of Orkney’s small place in the wide open North Sea that surrounds it. Skreevar is a study in serenity that gains power as Cooper adds melodic layers and voices, perfectly matched by the video where its author launches himself fully clothed into the North Sea!

Meanwhile the shimmering lights and recollections of Longhope – with Kathryn Joseph, John Burnside, Hiroshi Ebina and Hinako Omori – are beautifully wrought and paced.

The spoken voices bring life to the record too. You can hear the life experience, sense the twinkle in the eye. The same can be said of the violin, cello and soprano lines, but these are at a bigger distance.

Does it all work?

Yes. On the title track guest Astra Forward sings of how ‘you gave me the best days of my life’, and this heartfelt sentiment runs through the music and lyrics in Hether Blether, shouting thanks from the rooftops but also whispering in the quietest room.

The broader range of music works well here too, as does the interplay between vocals and instruments. Cooper uses quite a few guests but he has a discerning ear, and the textures never get too crowded. His scoring of the strings is beautifully judged, too, not overlaying them as many do but allowing each melodic line room to breathe. The same can be said for the voices, who add an enchanting air.

Is it recommended?

Again, as with the first two albums, there is no hesitation for putting Hether Blether forward as a wonderful piece of work. When lots of us are looking for solace in the music we listen to in these strange times, Erland Cooper gives us just that. However the poignant reminders of home add a tinge of sadness, as well as reminding of how our upbringing is what underpins our very existence. These are heady words for sure, but Hether Blether is worthy of them!



You can buy Hether Blether from Erland Cooper’s website here