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

Switched On – Erland Cooper & Leo Abrahams: Seachange (Phases)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Seachange is the ambient companion to Erland Cooper’s second solo album Sule Skerry. It continues Cooper’s celebration of the raw elements of his Orkney origins, the second of a pair based on the open sea. Behind both albums, and their ambient companions, sit Cooper’s long-standing desire to present Orkney in sonic form, preserving the island’s essential parts to be with him when he is working in the city. Initially these musical thoughts were for private use, but have proved incredibly successful when shared with friends and the listening public.

Seachange is split into three ‘Tides’ but runs as one whole, featuring the guitar work and studio craft of Leo Abrahams. Cooper imagines the music ‘pulled apart by placing recyclable source material into the North Sea and watching it become torn, pulled apart, diluted, stretched, weathered and then reassembled in Orkney Geo’ (the inlet between Orkney and Shetland). ‘It creates a different form, with dissolved and overlapping melodies that eventually disappear into granules like plankton’.

What’s the music like?

The intricacies of Abrahams’ guitar are the perfect foil for Cooper’s ambient workings, giving the music an appropriate perspective to represent the vast North Sea. In the foreground the woozy atmospherics are distorted by wind and spray, yet all the while more expansive drones reveal the wide open spaces as the eye looks further.

Seachange works best on headphones, where its details can be fully appreciated, or on a big system where the depth of the bass gives real depth. There is a deeply personal, awestruck appreciation of the sea, made real through music and complemented with Abrahams’ ever-thoughtful nudges and deft musical phrases.

Those familiar with the wonderful Sule Skerry album will recognise these phrases and appreciate the journey they have been on, with bird-like sounds and the ebb and flow of rippling textures all contributing to the movement of water both close at hand in the inlets and on the vast, open sea.

Does it all work?

Very much so. As with Solan Goose, his first album, Cooper has complemented the main release with an ambient companion allowing time for deeper reflection and peace of mind. In celebrating the elements it is a subtle way of pointing us away from busy urban lives and out to the beauty of nature.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Seachange is a reminder of just how small us listeners are when set in such a vast natural expanse, a reminder not to get too far ahead of ourselves and too absorbed in technology or man-made phenomena. The sheer beauty of nature will always trump that.


You can stream Sea Change on Apple music here