London composer Rael Jones has many film and TV credits to his name, including turns as Music Editor (Les Misérables) and Additional Composer (BBC’s Sherlock, second series). Mandrake is his personal statement, a powerful foray into the front office of modern composition.
This career might never have happened, as those who visit his Bandcamp page will discover. Jones’ earliest collection, Post-Pubescent Songs, covers 2002-2005 and alternates between troubadour folk and raucous alternative rock. It’s clearly the work of a musician searching for his sound. A second album, Red Eskimo, concentrates on 2006-2007. On this album, the vocals have vanished, while post-rock has entered. Hints of modern composition are apparent in the constructions, but there’s still nothing to indicate that the composer would soon make a quantum leap forward.
And now for Mandrake. Exciting, sure-footed and professional, this is a work from an artist who has mastered the lessons of the industry and is ready to step out on his own. Enlisting the aid of a sweet string quartet to augment the piano and guitar was a wise idea, as was the addition of double bass to the first and eighth tracks. The result is a collection of fully realized songs for small orchestra. Sheet music is already available and can be ordered through the artist’s website. We mention this because those who play music may want to own these songs for something more than passive play.
Jones’ piano is the first sound presented, but the strings enter quickly and stretch for the stars while darker tones attempt to ground them. “Lacuna” is a battle between light and darkness that ends with only tentative resolution, an uncertain note launching itself into silence. The jauntier “Feet” (which contains foot stomps) is reminiscent of Duo del Sol; the notes wink at the audience as they attempt to avoid the crashing boots. The short and reflective “High, Plain” is followed by the upbeat “Chug Up, Chug Down” (160 bpm), demonstrating the artist’s sequencing plan: slow-fast, soft-loud. The only downside to such an approach is that the mood never settles; try playing the odd-numbered tracks first, then the even, for an entirely different listening experience. Or listen for the paired pieces, including “Algernon” and “Boca Del Cielo”, that expand upon the themes of the other.
Film music carries its own constraints: time and mood are dictated by the editing and plot. Freed from directorial constraints, Rael Jones has shown what he can do with source material alone. Much of Mandrake was inspired by pre-existing literary and film works, from the album title (a reference to Pan’s Labyrinth) to the songs, especially “Silfay” (Watership Down), “Lacuna” (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and “Boca Del Cielo” (Y Tu Mamá También). Add visuals to the others if you’d like, but please don’t change them. It’s time for a promotion; this composer should be in charge. (Richard Allen)