(Sound Swan Records)
If Eric Owyoung (who is FoF) is looking for soundtrack commissions, he could do worse than submit this collection, which mixes lush strings, oriental splashes and a dash of Isaiah.
A year ago, he released an EP of re-worked earlier tracks with the self-explanatory title The Piano and Strings Sessions. It was one step further for the classically trained musician on the route from indie rock artist to almost contemporary classical composer. This album is a far more fully realised widescreen set of songs that peak with grand orchestral sweeps of strings and choral highlights.
Awakened to the Sound almost sums up his career direction. It starts with several songs that could have fitted well into his superb Travel series of EPs (now consolidated onto one recommended disc), especially “Homeward” and “Turn,” the latter with its ship and trip references. It has a touch of Radiohead about it, with his falsetto mumbling, a drifting pace and some background white noise.
Opener “On Giants’ Shoulders” is an equally fine fit, thanks to its big chorus.
The dramatic “Horses” marks a change in the mood. While they have been present throughout, the more orchestral elements now take centre-stage. Strings riffs have given this a sense of urgency from the start, but big drums and cinema-style bass rumblings add to the drama, heightened by a choral “Ho hodie, hodie, es dies” (Today is the day) punctuating the verses. You can imagine, not just any horses, but people on white horses fleeing for their lives, like something out of Lord of the Rings.
“Rest” is a more restrained, piano based song with a significant cello introduction and some pizzicato strings, but again it features an orchestral climax once he finishes the line, “This is where I set you free.” It is one example of phenomenal production values and a huge dynamic range.
Lyrically, Owyoung covers a wide ground. He includes a take on a Lord Byron poem for a love song and freely splashes hope around. His words can be vaguely inspirational and run the risk in places of sounding dangerously like something from inside a greeting card. But elsewhere, he takes big Christian themes and translates them for a broken world.
He often sings from God’s point of view (the lovely “Covers You”) and seems to have been bathing in Isaiah. Sometimes it is a message of comfort:
“I will search for your heart /When your world is dim…
Child I won’t let you go/ We are homeward bound…
I will stay by your side/ So close that you cannot hide.”
Elsewhere there is a call to mission:
“Summoned from our cities
To spaces deep and wide
To shelter young and innocent
And gather all the wise”
Or, how about this for a manifesto in the wonderful “You are Love,”
“I’ll gather you from all the earth
And lead you to your father’s home
You’ll be a place of hope for hopeless
Where faith is born and peace is sown
You’ll trade their ashes for our roses
You’ll trade their sorrows for our joy
You’ll take their wreckage and their rubble
To build a world of truth and life…
You’re the image of grace
You are love on display”
Tunewise, some verses seem to play second fiddle to the grand orchestral backing, but that is a risk worth taking.
Throughout the disc he sprinkles his trademark xylophone tinklings and this time works throughout with Suhail Yusuf Khan, who contributes both sarangi (an Indian bowed string instrument) and vocals to give an extra exotic edge the overall sound. There are instrumental versions of many songs, too.
If you want something to take to your audio specialist when trying out a new system, this will do as well as anything.
See and hear the trailer here.