Submotion Orchestra – ‘Colour Theory’ [Review]
A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.
Over the course of three stellar albums (2011’s Finest Hour; 2012’s Fragments; 2014’s Alium), Submotion Orchestra’s signature sound has been explored in detail and depth. A peerlessly idiosyncratic mix of bass-heavy dub, soul, classical and jazz influences, it’s never been less than spellbinding, immersive, and classy. Since day one, the Submotion Orchestra sound has won over an ever-increasing mass of critics, fans, and tastemakers.
On paper, it would have been very easy for Submotion Orchestra to play it safe on Colour Theory. The normal thing for established bands to do is release three albums, then either break up or hack together a half-hearted mishmash of stagnant ideas and hope their fans will accept the results. Submotion Orchestra have reached a crucial tipping point.
When you press “Play” and Colour Theory begins, you’re going to hear Submotion Orchestra as you’ve never heard them before. With vocalist Ruby Wood taking a sort-of sabbatical to focus on motherhood, Colour Theory brings with it a heavier focus on creative production, along with a selection of prime guest spots. The result is a brand new sound that remains recognisably SubMo at its core, but introduces much more in the way of space and texture.
Jaffa kicks things off in style, carving groove canyons and filling them with throbbing bass, pulsing synths, and fragmented vocal samples. Don’t even try to remain still during this song; it’s impossible to resist, and you don’t want to end up pulling a muscle. With Billy Boothroyd on board for More Than This and its gorgeous choral intro, you’ll have no trouble staying loose; it feels odd listening to a Submotion Orchestra album kicking in properly with a male vocal, but More Than This is an absolutely spectacular song regardless.
Once More Than This drops into its cavernous chorus, we’re really off and running into brand new SubMo territory. Next instrumental cut Kimono picks up the pace with bouncy, uptempo rhythms that will have you bobbing in your seat during your daily commute – but at least if you’re on the Tube in London, everyone else in the carriage will likely continue staring into space or pretending to be asleep. So who cares? You can even keep it up while Needs pulses urgently in your ears, spicing things up with heavily effected acoustic guitars and Andrew Ashong’s sparse and perfectly timed vocal.
You may well lose it, though, when In Gold‘s time comes.
Colour Theory is a true slow-burner of an album. It draws you in effortlessly, seducing you with an early chillout session and ramping up the energy, and then it drops into an ocean of awesomeness. From In Gold onward, I really fell for this album.
I’m betting you will, too.
On In Gold, everything that makes Colour Theory fresh, vibrant, and reinvigorating gets distilled into three minutes and 38 seconds of radiant brilliance. From its none-more-open drums to sharp-edged production touches; the waves of Deep Heat synths that warm and soothe in equal measure before holding aloft a glorious pre-chorus; the way the following drop spirals back into a chilling verse…In Gold is a major-league instant classic.
Next up, Red Dress continues the full Submotion Orchestra lineup’s winning streak. Overwhelmed lyrics glide over worried layers given strength by strings worthy of a Bond soundtrack, and we’re set to pass through chirpy instrumental Amira on the way to meet my personal Colour Theory highlights…
Empty Love – a finely honed duet between Ruby Wood and second-to-last guest Ed Thomas – is a cut that cuts deep via spirit-stirring and gut-wrenching lyricism delivered with sincere passion and heart-rending soul. It is straight up immense – and then Illusions, the final vocal-led song on Colour Theory, returns us to familiar SubMo vibes, the beginning of a fond goodbye. Illusions is a guaranteed new live favourite, forming a perfect pair alongside Empty Love. Legitimately awe-inspiring.
One more song to go – and it’s Ao, digging up some final bittersweetness as Colour Theory starts to end. Crafted in collaboration with up-and-coming producer Catching Flies, it’s a dramatic and reality-filling potential floor-filler representing an energy exchange between a band who have finally achieved veteran status, and a new talent who cuts the mustard like a ninja.
Then it’s all over – and you have two options.
Move on to something else, or run through Colour Theory again, from the top.
I’m choosing the latter.
TMMP RATING: 100% (Essential Listening!)
Colour Theory is out now; buy it from iTunes here.
You can also find me on Twitter by clicking here.