Rhian Sheehan – Stories From Elsewhere (2013)

Wellington’s Rhian Sheehan has been constructing intricate and gorgeous instrumental (mostly) music for a while now, both for albums under his own name and for a number of film and television projects.   His 2009 album Standing In Silence was a masterpiece, propulsive electronic elements carrying forward an album tied together by sampled musical boxes, hints of guitar, and massive symphonic emotional heft.

"Stories From Elsewhere" cover art by Kieran Rynhart.

“Stories From Elsewhere” cover art by Kieran Rynhart.

Sheehan’s latest album, Stories from Elsewhere, is a more organic thing.  The electronica elements are still there – loops of bells, chimes and music boxes[1], but they’re further subsumed within great swirls of strings, piano, guitar and bass, and drums.

Drums.  When I first heard the live drums played by Steve Bremner roll into track two, “The Upper Sky,” I was taken aback by the unexpected new element in Sheehan’s sound. Deep and laden in echo, cymbals splashing white noise throughout the mix.

Almost distracting, quite unexpected, carrying a sense of organic space that was quite unlike the intimate closeness that lay within the sound of Standing in Silence.  But utterly representative of where Sheehan was going with Stories from Elsewhere.  If the prior album was a step away from Sheehan’s earlier electronica style, this was a massive leap into an orchestral style of post-rock, a further diving into the concept of a “soundtrack without a movie.”

One, track, “Nusquam,” is almost entirely the string section alone.  It is gorgeous.

Stories from Elsewhere is very much a complete album – perhaps even more so than Standing in Silence.[2] The album builds and explores themes, and carries textures (most notably certain chimes, bells and pulses of almost-natural white noise) through repeating motifs, all buoying piano and string phrases that build over the tracks and the entire album.

I’ve got a huge soft-spot for music that builds from quiet to loud, from melancholy to triumph.  This is an entire album of that music at its best.

The album’s standout track is “Somnus,” the glorious crescendo (with a few codas to sooth the listener back into the real world ending the album proper).  It takes the album’s textures and themes and builds them to the sensual release that the last thirty-five or so minutes had been building towards.

Honestly, sometimes this album is so damn pretty it brings tears to my eyes.  I struggle to think how Sheenan could top this, but excited to know he probably could.

Beer match: An album this rich, that rises from subtlety to a crescendo, needs a beer to match.  Renaissance’s Stonecutter comes immediately to mind; a deep ruby red Scotch Ale that initially seems a bit laid back under a delicious sweet malty caramel and chocolate, but as the glass empties and the beer warms cascades more and more sensual, vibrant flavours of raisin and tangy fruit, and a long lovingly bittersweet end.

But, really, the beer I’d like to match it with is the one hinted at by this twitter conversation:

Twitter convoYou can purchase Rhian Sheehan’s “Stories From Elsewhere” and other albums from his bandcamp page.  You really should.


[1] Of course there are music boxes.  They’re a delightful element of Sheehan’s sound – but slightly disorientating, given their lurching rhythm and slightly wavering tones.

[2] The track listing on Standing in Silence was “Standing in Silence 1,” “Standing in Silence 2” etc.

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