Following the success of Fir Wave, a reimagining of Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop that was shortlisted for a Mercury Prize, Hannah Peel was not content to rest on her laurels. She’s returned with what is in many ways an ever stronger album, while collaborating with the dozen-strong Paraorchestra, conducted by Charles Hazlewood, orchestrated by Charlotte Harding. The rest of the credits are read in the final track, “The Unfolding Credits,” in a manner so lovely that one supporter names it his/her favorite track! As so much music is now digital, listeners are rarely readers; liner notes are lost in translation; the generous Peel gives credit where credit is due.
While Fir Wave bore an environmental theme, The Unfolding focuses on humanity’s shared origins, with track titles that include “The Universe Before Matter,” “Wild Animals” and “We Are Part Mineral.” The universe is essential to the universal. In this spirit, a variety of performers is invited to the table without distinction. As a result, the album yields a warmth like the early summer sun, the first tendrils of sound like the first glimmers of light. The operatic vocals of the opener, inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, seek to awaken, uplift and inspire. In retrospect, the vinyl mix-up that resulted in circles of orange rather than shades of sea seems a happy accident.
The widescreen opener is followed by the tribal, earthy “Wild Animal,” during which percussion takes center stage. Peel suggests humanity as tribe, rather than tribes, intimating that humanity’s divisions exposes its animalistic roots. As the album was recorded during a period of political fracture, the message is apt. In the face of discord, Peel offers discourse, emphasizing “who we could all be.” Leading by example, Peel makes her musical world a microcosm of her vision.
The title track is perfectly named. Wordless vocals set the stage for the violin, joined slowly by the blooming orchestra. Once most of the players are present, the song soars toward the heavens, with the xylophone implying chimes and the acquisition of angels’ wings. This is followed by the joyous explosion of “If After Weeks of Early Sun,” in which the orchestra is freed to frolic. At this point – the album’s equator – the ebullience feels earned. Even the wistfulness of “Perhaps It Made Us Happy for a Minute” does not diminish the presence of possibility, but deepens it in contrast.
While one needs the liner notes in order to identify the participants, liner notes are not necessary to interpret the mood. In the face of global trends, Hannah Peel remains hopeful, and translates her hope into sound. (Richard Allen)