Rhian Sheehan: Stories From Elsewhere
Loop Recordings Aot(ear)oa

New Zealand-based composer Rhian Sheehan brings a formidable reputation to his fifth full-length release. Renowned for the work he's produced for film and television (among others, the BBC, The Discovery Channel, the National Geographic channel, the drama series The Cult, and the Emmy Award-winning series Reservoir Hill), he's also garnered acclaim for electronica recordings such as his 2001 debut album Paradigm Shift and the 2009 and 2011 releases Standing in Silence and Seven Tales of The North Wind. But it would be misleading to classify Stories From Elsewhere as electronica; if anything, the fifty-minute release shows Sheehan purposely branching away from the genre. Its material is hardly computer-generated, for starters; instead the album's soundworld is largely acoustic in nature, with the greater emphasis on guitars, piano, and strings. In keeping with its title, Sheehan's lullabies evoke moods of innocence and wonder that one associates with childhood and storytelling, moods that are strengthened by the inclusion of music boxes and other playful sounds.

Sonically speaking, his music is opulent, filled as it is with a broad range of luscious sonorities. A typical piece threads a huge number of instrument sounds into its fabric, and his music goes down easily, too, especially when its style is so melodious. Stylistically, his music resists pigeonholing, though one might characterize it as a dreamy fusion of post-rock and soundtrack music. To create the album's sound, Sheehan complemented his own guitar and piano playing with guitar work by Jeff Boyle and Andy Hummel, piano by Raashi Malik, bass by Ryan Prebble, and strings by members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

“Sileo” is Sigur Rós-like in the degree to which it derives the greatest amount of emotional mileage from a series of simple melodic figures, while “Somnus” suggests that comparing his music to Hammock's wouldn't be out of order either when the song inhabits an emotive post-rock terrain oft-explored by the latter outfit. Sheehan adds an interesting wrinkle to the album in working tinkling music boxes into the strings-heavy arrangement of “La Boite a Musique” and the lilting “Creation Myths,” while “Little Sines” conveys a child-like joy in a rambunctious setting featuring glockenspiel, electric guitars, and electronics; there's a melancholy side to Sheehan, too, as exemplified by the piano-based “A Thimble Full of Sorrow.” But while the tracks individually might nod in different directions, Stories From Elsewhere holds together as a total work when each track flows into the next without pause.

There's much to recommend about Sheehan's music, though there are moments when it starts to come a bit too close to sounding like generic soundtrack music, specifically when a given arrangement becomes overburdened with drums and strings. As lovely as “Nusquam” is, for instance, there are moments where its strings playing verges on overwrought. That caveat aside, Stories From Elsewhere impresses as an enchanting and high-quality collection of genre-defying instrumental works.

June 2013