d_rradio & Lianne Hall: Making Spaces
Sentence Records

Had one only been exposed to Leaves, the double-CD set d_rradio (pronounced ‘D. R. Radio' and short for ‘deathrowradio') released on Symbolic Interaction last year, one reasonably might have expected the Newcastle trio's follow-up, Making Spaces, to be somewhat similar—that is, an immersive plunge into long-form, instrumental soundscaping of ambient design. Well, said expectations are dashed by the new release because the material is worlds removed on many counts from that earlier opus. First of all, Making Spaces is the first release on d_rradio's own newly established Sentence Records imprint; secondly, it's an EP-long half-hour in length; thirdly, it's a collaboration with Brighton singer-songwriter and vocalist Lianne Hall; and finally there's precious little in the way of soundscaping but a whole lot of song-oriented material of wide-ranging stylistic character, and there's even beats. The project came into serendipitous being when the group —Michael Todd, Chris Tate, and Paul Patterson—and Hall met by chance at Amsterdam's Paradiso club and the idea of working together took hold.

Her vocals account for a major part of the recording's appeal. Pitched somewhere between Susanna Wallumrød and Edie Brickell, Hall's voice is a remarkably expressive and emotive instrument, whether it's waxing rapturously in “The Moral at the End” and “Up” or fragile and delicate when floating o'ertop a stuttering hip-hop base during “Under Water.” d_rradio is no slouch in the arrangement category either, with the songs boldly sewn together from a richly atmospheric blend of guitars, strings, piano, bass, and drums. Driven by a funky acoustic bass figure and swinging 4/4 pulse, “Stormy Weather” pushes the collaborators into trip-hop territory, while “Full On” strips things down to acoustic folk song form. In fact, virtually every song finds them tackling a different style—compare the dramatic torch song “Dressing Up,” with Hall's velvety voice accompanied by an orchestral backing, to the wistful, REM-like folk song “Spring” as an example of the kind of contrast that extends throughout the set. If I'm still a tad confused about exactly who and what d_rradio is after hearing its two most recent releases, I'm nevertheless enjoying both, despite their diametric differences.

May 2010