Monday, August 6, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Bishi - Albion Voice

By Steve Jones.

Bishi is the stage name of London-based musician Bishnu Priya. Albion Voice is her sophomore LP, containing 9 tracks and lasting 42 minutes (10 tracks and 45 minutes if you get the digital version).

Albion Voice boils down to one of the most lush collections of songs I've had the pleasure of hearing this year. It's a gorgeous synthesis of classical and traditional styles both Western and Eastern, yet it achieves a freshness of sound that helps the album stand out from the company of much music I've been hearing lately. It's a new take on the old world.

I'm certainly biased, but this record guaranteed my praise within the scope of the very first track. The aptly titled "Prologue" contains the text of The Canterbury Tales' prologue read in its original Middle English words and pronunciation, set to a backing choir of Bishi's own voice. I had to memorize those first twelve lines of Chaucer's words in high school, and I still know them by heart, so I was ecstatic to hear them set to music. It's also an appropriate start to an album which seeks to explore the history of the English language and nation, "Albion" being the oldest name of the island currently known as Great Britain.

The title track is one of Albion Voice's strongest, displaying the album's talent at arrangement, which drives the song from the modest beginnings of sitar and vox to a bombastic finish of strings and operatic stings. You hear a lot of music with denouement these days, so it's fun to hear an appeal to more classical sensibilities with an ending also acting as the song's climax. John William's string players add a warm, crescendoing texture, but it's Bishi's own voice which leads "Albion Voice" into the heights it reaches.

"Dia Ti Maria" is the record's most ambitious track, an almost entirely choral piece clocking at 9 minutes. Bishi's voice is the only one on the track, but I couldn't tell you how many different "voices" are in the piece. Suffice to say, it's a large number with a lot of overdubbing, and, again, it is a testament to the album's exquisite arrangement and Bishi's vocal talent. The track is reminiscent of sacred music, with its counterpoint-driven choir and occasional accompaniment by a pipe organ. I also like how the lyrics switch from Greek to Paradise Lost quotes midway through, including an excellent reading of the line, "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n."

Albion Voice never again quite reaches the soaring heights set by its first three tracks, but by no means is the rest of it dull. Far from it, each songs remains distinct and engaging, ranging from the medieval minstrel romp of "Saturday's Child" to the heartwrenching text setting of the poem "Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep" to the theatrical sea shanty of "Ship of Fools." Bishi belongs to the set of classically trained musicians (including Owen Pallett, Simon Bookish, and Julia Holter) who continue to make some of my most beloved and artful pop music. This record isn't what I would call "difficult" music, but it is rich and rewarding. Special mention also goes to "Gram Chara," a song by the Bengali Renaissance man Rabindranath Tagore, sung as a duet between Bishi and her mom Susmita Bhattacharya.

If you're looking for a cohesive collection of familiarity, this album will probably not be for you. But if you like your music as kaleidoscopic and multicultural as the modern metropolis, you can't do much better than Albion Voice.

Score: Strong 8

You can still stream the ENTIRE album on Soundcloud, so do it!

(Steve Jones has a Noibla voice. You can hear the dulcet tones of his text on his Twitter @vestenet.)

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