Message to Bears:
First released in 2009 on CD, Message to Bears' Departures now receives a deluxe re-issue treatment from Dead Pilot Records in the form of a 250 limited-edition vinyl pressing and—just like the old days—a lovely full-colour sleeve. None of which would matter a whole lot if the music weren't up to snuff, but there's no need to worry on that count: Departures is one certifiably fine album, and will go down as smoothly as mother's milk to a newborn if you're a fan of pastoral electro-acoustic music that collapses the gaps separating classical, folk, and ambient forms (folktronica, for those less resistant to the oft-maligned term).
The songs generally found themselves on a bed of multi-layered acoustic guitar splendour, which Bristol/Oxford, UK-based Jerome Alexander then enhances with classical strings, resulting in an emotive music that's both poignant and melancholy (if it is the case that the strings are computer-generated, they nevertheless sound natural, with the strings-heavy “Hope,” which calls to mind Max Richter in a particularly ruminative mood, merely one example of many arguing as much). Characteristic of the album is the brooding opener “Running Through Woodland,” which wends a path through a crystalline lattice-work of acoustic guitars until the clouds part and strings and melodica add their sad voices to the chorale. Elsewhere, the rain-soaked “November” merges piano and strings so romantically it could pass for Alexander auditioning to score some future Jane Austen adaptation, and the serenading “At the Top of This Hill” sprinkles Alexander's soft murmur alongside sounds of children playing.
The Message to Bears sound has much in common with that of Richter, Balmorhea, and Peter Broderick—which isn't to mean that Alexander's music is derivative of theirs, more that all four till similar fields, so to speak. One could easily picture “Autumn,” as lovely a marriage of strings and acoustic melodies as one might wish to hear, as a Balmorhea production, for instance. Though Departures is essentially a solo affair, he's helped out on a couple of songs, the first “Hidden Beneath” an uptempo romp that sees Tim Gill adding viola to the song's rich blend of percussive gallop and glockenspiel tinkles, and the second “Snowdonia,” which blends Alexander's wordless singing with Gemma Alexander's. As a final plus, the album format complements the ten songs nicely, too, with the second side's five songs a collectively softer grouping than the first side's.