After a series of singles and EPs, New Zealand’s Lauren King has just released her first full album. Inscape is an accomplished effort that doesn’t seem at all like a debut. For this we credit the mentorship of Rhian Sheehan, the artist’s experience in short film scoring, and her natural talent. The album flows so beautifully that not a single seam is apparent, and the last track wraps back to the first; great care was taken to compose a unified work.
Very few performers are able to make an impression in the field of orchestrated, world-conscious instrumental music, and most of these have a dual interest in film. Rhian Sheehan’s latest effort is the short score for the planetarium show We Are Stars; Inscape reflects an interest in the cosmos as well. The covers of her last three releases seem to be related: sky, earth, not-quite-earth. This is the sort of music one expects to hear in series such as Blue Planet: intelligent without being bland, making full use of organic instrumentation. The Elios String Quartet adds elegance to King’s compositions, but is relaxed enough to make them accessible.
As one might expect from such a recording, the overall feeling is one of warmth and togetherness. It’s the same feeling that the first astronauts had when looking back on the earth, seeing the whole instead of the part. Strings soar over piano lines like migrating birds above rivers; glockenspiels twinkle like sunbeams off the seas. The presence of children on “Introspection” is a bit obvious, but we’ll forgive the inclusion. The world is in such bad shape that we really need such music. One might say that we need motivation even more, but a sonic balm can lead to such if it stills the racing mind, soothes the anxieties, clears away the cobwebs and frees the listener to engage with the world.
Like her mentor, King threads tendrils of hope throughout her songs. A secondary thread is a soft melancholia, which first surfaces in the strings of “Daylight”: not enough to break the heart, but enough to bend it. In these notes, King hears the hope that lies underneath the surface, and steels herself for the difficulty of drawing it out. Yet draw it out she does. Track after track begins gently and ends in power: the swirling “Dusk”, the swiftly percussive “The Overview Effect”. If there’s a lesson here, it’s to acknowledge suffering without being defeated by it.
A breaking point is reached in “Collapse”, as guitars overwhelm the sonic field. From this point on, a certain balance seems to have been reached, the dream of Koyaanisqatsi, reflected in a sonic vision. By the end, all seems right in the world. This momentary feeling is enough to glide one through the day. While Inscape may not push listeners into action, it addresses pain by reaffirming life’s goodness. (Richard Allen)