I like to think of myself as open minded, a fan of music and its magic rather than just guitars and gritty gigs, but on receiving a copy of James McVinnie’s Cycles to review, I did think whaaaat. Thirteen organ pieces, written by labelmate and composer Nico Muhly, and performed by McVinnie, this isn’t my usual soundtrack. But some time laterI have warmed, and am maybe even enamoured. Released on Icelandic Bedroom Community, and artistic and eclectic collection of artists, the album is one of eloquence and grandeur, each track delivered with grace and gravitas. As McVinnie says, there are fewer differences than you may expect between the organ in a cathedral and a traditional studio, with the organ and its magnificent mechanics being ‘the ultimate and original synthesizer.’ The sound is certainly one of elegance, controlled heights being reached by distinct and drawn out notes that shimmer and startle in their relative consonance .
Kicking off with The Revd Mustard His Installation Prelude, which glistens and twirls like morning sun on ice, it is clear that the album is one full of magic moments. Hudson Preludes – Follow Up is pure Wurlitzer, dropping its jazzy drama in an impressive fashion amongst the solemnity that continues to resonate throughout, the notes being played in scale succession and sporadically. The album’s main section is the seven ‘O’ antiphons, Magnificat antiphons for vespers for the last seven days of Advent. As you may guess, these are the most obviously liturgical tracks, but also inspiring and artistic. Slow Twitchy Organs is exactly as its name suggests, resonating gravitas and ambling along. Brisk notation returns on Fast Cycles, performed solely by McVinnie as he picks up the speed again, and final song Beaming Music goes all Caribbean on us with the addition of marimba beats, undulating and higher and higher as it lifts up to the spires.
The use of the organ and the associated size and style means that space is used to dramatic effect, more than usual. Although technically only one instrument, it is capable of filling such space that when it doesn’t this is noted and resonant in itself. There’s no doubt that McVinnie is a talented musician, having played at Westminster Abbey for events such as the state visit of HH Pope Benedict XVI, the Passing of the World War I Generation, the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the recent Royal Wedding.
Stone walls, tumbling spires and deep colours, magnificent cathedrals and imposing resonance. Or just a welcome addition to the mp3 player in the living room of a guitar glutton like myself. Inspiring.