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The Cinematic Orchestra New Album: “To Believe”

Do you believe it’s been 12 years since The Cinematic Orchestra released their last studio album, “Ma Fleur” in 2007? Did you achieve what you hoped to in the time since? 12 years from now will be 2031. What will you do before then? We are powerless to answer of course, mere passengers in our own existence, improvising as events deliver themselves into our lives, struggling with the question - what to believe? Births, deaths, success, failure. Money, drugs, temptation, rejection. Trump, Brexit, fear, hope. Art, relevance, pressure, belief. It’s this that accounts for the past 12 years for The Cinematic Orchestra, it’s this that characterises the process of recording the new album and it’s this that has been distilled into a work that is not only their best and most definitive to date but by asking these questions it’s also that which best reflects the great beauty in life.

 

Founding member Jason Swinscoe and longtime partner Dominic Smith have enlisted album contributions from collaborators old and new: Moses Sumney, Roots Manuva, Heidi Vogel, Grey Reverend (vocalist on Bonobo’s 'First Fires’), Dorian Concept and Tawiah (Mark Ronson band, Kindness). Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (Flying Lotus, Anderson .Paak, Thundercat, Hiatus Kaiyote) features on strings, Dennis Hamm (Flying Lotus, Thundercat) on keys and photographer and visual artist Brian “B+” Cross collaborated with Swinscoe and Smith on the album’s concept. The record was mixed by multiple Grammy winner Tom Elmhirst (David Bowie, Frank Ocean, Adele) in Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Electric Lady Studios. The album artwork comes courtesy of The Designers Republic™ (Aphex Twin).

 

The album was announced by the release of ‘A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life’ featuring Roots Manuva, revealed via an innovative website only accessible on offline devices - a paradox illuminating the album’s core question of what to believe. The artists first collaborated in 2002 on fan favourite ‘All Things to All Men’, 17 years later the partnership has lost none of its urgency and searing insight as Roots Manuva laments how our “situation is strange to us, stranger things are claiming us” over a pounding, hypnotic rhythm section that concedes to the choruses’ soaring strings. This followed 2016 single, 'To Believe', which featured Moses Sumney, a collaboration symbolic of the band’s entire legacy, Sumney’s allegorical songwriting and zeitgeisty talent sits snugly alongside predecessors like Fontella Bass and Patrick Watson, while his connection to the prosperous pool of talent in LA captures the band’s gaze toward the future.

 

In 2019 it is easy to see the band’s influence, jazz is all around us, London and LA have recently produced scenes more prolific than anyone expected; Kamasi Washington has been nominated for both Grammy and Brit Awards, Sons Of Kemet a Mercury Prize, BADBADNOTGOOD provide jazz soundtracks to high fashion shows and Kendrick Lamar has put the jazz palette at the top of the charts. When The Cinematic Orchestra released their critically acclaimed debut album “Motion” it helped pave the way for this moment, incorporating as it did an interpretation that had been lacking in the oeuvre and encouraging a new generation of musicians to break rules. “To Believe” doesn’t shy away from this ethos - its articulation of the band’s unique sonic language, encompassing not only jazz but the sort of transcendental orchestration combined with the elegant electronics of artists like Ólafur Arnalds and Floating Points, artists they have helped forge a path for, has never been more cohesive and compelling.

 

On “To Believe”, Swinscoe and Smith continue to make music with an expansive vision, while also scaling up their ambition. Recorded on a bigger scale geographically, with the record built from sessions in New York, London and LA, the latter being where the record first started to take shape, starting with the collaboration with Moses Sumney. Album closer ‘A Promise’, is a prime example of its broad connections, featuring longtime collaborator Heidi Vogel: assured and grandiose, accompanied by LA’s Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s mesmerising string arrangements; it’s a slow-burn release of the hopeful energy that’s pent up on the record. Another highlight sees Grey Reverend taking centre stage on track ‘Zero One/This Fantasy’, a song which circles around the record’s key theme of belief. In this case, it nods to the ideas of the academic Anil Seth, whose ideas about reality – specifically, how everyone’s idea of it is socially constructed. As Reverend’s lyrics muse, “In this fantasy / Everyone is someone to believe”. Luke Flowers, a constant throughout their discography, was woven into this musical process early on. As ever, the drummer’s adept skills behind the drum kit were called upon to give the record the restrained-yet-powerful rhythmic backbone. On ‘Lessons’, for instance, the melodic, melancholy meditation is built around Flowers’ constant playing, driving the track’s ebbs and flows of energy. Also appearing on ‘Lessons' is saxophonist Tom Chant, who in many ways embodies the evolving symbiosis of the band: a friend-of-a-friend turned studio partner turned bedrock of the band’s live formation over two decades. ‘Wait For Now/Leave The World’ features soul singer Tawiah, another artist who’s entered the group’s welcoming orbit before. Her lyrics celebrate the possibilities which can come from moving and leaving your comfort zone. In the track’s opening lines, she sings, “Take my hand and see / Where we could go, when you take the leap”.

 

Although this album marks a return to the studio, the band have also never really gone away, consistently performing to larger and larger audiences and selling out the likes of London's Royal Albert Hall, Philharmonie de Paris, Rome’s Auditorium Park Della and the Sydney Opera House. Coachella, Glastonbury, Fuji Rock, Montreux and Sonar have all played host to the band’s much loved live performances. Beyond the obvious they have also appeared at the Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awards for Stanley Kubrick and New York’s Summerstage with the legendary Majavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin, they curated a series of events at London’s prestigious Barbican Centre featuring commissions from the prodigiously talented Austin Peralta (RIP) and have seen the likes of Dorian Concept, Thundercat, Moses Sumney and Gilles Peterson support them on stage over the years. They scored Disney’s feature length nature documentary “The Crimson Wing” including the track ‘Arrival of the Birds’ which featured in the closing scene of the Oscar Winning Stephen Hawking biopic "The Theory of Everything". They also released a Late Night Tales compilation featuring music from Flying Lotus, Burial and Björk.

 

The Cinematic Orchestra are back with a definitive new album that explores a timeless question of vital importance in 2019 - what to believe? The question of belief is one that has long simmered in the minds of Swinscoe and Smith. This album is a meditation on belief, an attempt to examine the shaky foundations which underpin it, while also emphasising its importance to our lives. “The prerequisite of everything in life is belief both good and bad” Smith says. “So what should we believe in...or what can we believe in and also importantly why do we believe in something”.

 

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