I admit it, I’m a bit of a sucker for music with a programme. That’s programme in the old sense: a detailed background story or a thematic device that informs the composition. (One of my all-time favourite albums, in fact, has one track for each of the world’s then-191 countries.) With this in mind, it’s none too surprising that, when I heard that Andrew Mitchell’s second release under his Andrew Wasylyk alias consisted of eight separate locations in Dundee set to music, I was right on it.
Now, this habit of mine has led to some bitter disappointments – although mainly to a pileup of dodgy second-hand concept albums. But unlike, say, Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Mitchell’s album is that gem of a programme piece that isn’t in any way dependent on its plot. Instead, Themes for Buildings and Spaces plays brilliantly from the first listen and only expands upon its pleasures once you delve deeper into the locations behind the tunes.
Take Under High Blue Skies, for instance. Here is the full set of soundscapes that characterised the first Andrew Wasylyk album, 2015’s Soroky. But now, without vocals as a dominant force, you’re able to fully immerse yourself in its all-encompassing instrumentation, led by one of the warm brass arrangements that serve as this album’s calling card. Knowing all this is intended to evoke the Matthew Building at Dundee University only provides another layer of musical detail, one which in no way limits its scope.
Perhaps it’s the curse of the modern instrumental album that it inevitably evokes the cinematic, but it’s only to Mitchell’s credit that his music elicits such a wide range of visual references. Thus, it’s easy to listen to a track like Via Crucis and picture it at the theme tune for a Scottish-set Philip Marlowe story, or to see a Dundonian De Niro emerging from a cloud of steam behind the wheel of a Tay Taxi to the strains of Come the Autumn.
With no room for prog rock noodling in these strictly-structured buildings and tightly-composed spaces, the album’s eight tracks come in at just a shade over twenty minutes altogether. And it’s a twenty minutes well worth spending on it. As they prepare to announce their latest longlist, I’m reminded that the eligibility period for the 2018 Scottish Album of the Year Award began on 1st April. By my reckoning, that makes Themes for Buildings and Spaces the first release to be unquestionably deserving of its consideration.
Photo courtesy of Fraser Simpson.
Themes for Buildings and Spaces is released on limited edition cassette, CD and digital through Tape Club Records on 28th April 2017.