. . . "Songs From Before" is haunted by rampant melancholy and swirling melodic themes, creating a dense atmospheric backdrop for more subtle ornamental elements to flourish. Richter shares a deep sense of minimalism with the likes of Steve Reich or Arvo Pärt, but there is a more cinematic and evocative feel to his compositions, at times evoking the work of Michael Nyman, or Ennio Morricone even. This contributes greatly in Richter's music being at once superbly forward-thinking and extremely accessible . . . Richter plays tricks with the mind by constantly affecting the atmospheric canvas of his compositions. Wyatt's smoky voice surfaces at regular interval, adding grain to the spellbinding aspect of the music.
This is quicker music for a quicker world, and it's Richter's most cohesive album to date . . .
There are the lush arrangements around simple chord progressions -- a trait of his minimalist heritage -- but the tone is calmer and wiser, and the staging of his work seems intentionally distant as if to reinforce the wistful text of the album, the faint outline of a memory. "Songs from Before", as the title suggests, is full of the reflective melancholy that characterizes Richter's aesthetic. It manages to be varied sonically without losing the thread of narrative. Yet for all the explicit historicity of the album, Richter never strays to the overtly nostalgic or sentimental . . . There is a story, but one that you decide . . . The grainy framing that was a feature of "Notebooks" is still there, as is the warm analogue-esque sounds that buzz and voom in the background, creating depth and texture. Phantoms whisper and crackle at the peripheries allowing each track to fold languidly into the next, emphasizing the strong cinematic parallel that Richter strives to recreate . . . Richter finds the poignant in the ordinary; the sacred in the everyday.
. . . a grand sonic gesture -- with Richter combining cello, piano, violin, and viola around a central production style that is discreet without becoming muted. Melancholic and uplifting, "Songs From Before" opens with "Song"; a stunning sweep of piquant strings and muffled soundscapes that recall Cage, Arvo Part and Glass, whilst retaining a distinct Richter flavour . . . Richter's music has a submerged quality -- as if you're hearing something that's just out of reach and thereby coaxing the ear deeper and deeper until you're totally absorbed by the music . . . drafting in Robert Wyatt to pensively narrate passages from Haruki Murakami to create a reflective focal point that bestows the music with even greater gravitas. Opening "Flowers For Yulia" with a narrative thread that discusses city at dawn, the mealy crackle of vinyl slowly melts away into some glorious strings that are both eulogistic and contained, suggesting the poignant atmosphere of day break. From here, the sleight piano of "Fragment" is the perfect juxtaposition to the proceeding grand gesture, "Harmonium" twinkles into view with a iridescence that is genuinely beautiful, whilst "Autumn Music 2" exploits the murky quality of the 16 track 2 inch analogue tape he recorded on through epic strings and a snow fall of background noise. Epic yet personal, "Songs From Before" is a joy that firmly cements Max Richter at the forefront of contemporary composition. Essential.
"Songs From Before" has the power to break your heart yet feel grateful for the experience. It is imbibed with ancient philospohies and emotions we have been trying to understand since we transformed from ape. A truly wonderful work that is powerful, emotional, glorious and seductive. A must listen.
. . . one of his most absorbing pieces of work . . . [Richter's austerely beautiful music] continues to cast a spell.
It would be too easy to label Richter's music here as "ambient" yet it does share that sense of creating a realistic environment in which to dwell for the duration. But it's the emotion seeping through Richter's melancholic keyboard work twining with string-trio arrangements, electronics flickering as background texture, which makes this such an essential early work of his.
. . . a precision remaster . . . [Wyatt's beautiful singing voice blends into] the slow-moving, sumptuously welling ambience . . .
. . . "Songs from Before" is easy on the ear . . . A varied and engaging collection.
. . . roots in and branches from folk and classical often surface, but there is so much else going on: Richter skilfully, imaginatively and (by-and-large) subtly mixes in elements of electronic music, rock, contemporary composition and the occasional nod to the fantasy of poetic recitation. Although most of the pieces develop from beguiling, elegant melodies, what makes them so special is Richter's manner with arresting textures and colours -- achieved not only with his keyboards, but also with the strings. These sonic creations stimulate mental pictures of mysterious narratives -- especially when on "Flowers for Yulia", "Harmonium", "Time Passing", "Lullaby" and "Verses", Robert Wyatt is called upon to recite sparse verses -- evoking the work of such chroniclers and visionaries as Bach and Arvo Pärt. And yet with every phrase unfolding a new mystery as if by aural magic, one is irresistibly drawn to this music because it is distinctly and uniquely a part of Max Richter's own sound world.