The latest releases reviewed.

Songs from Before
Fat Cat


With his third album, composer Max Richter distils the musical ideas of the previous two (the extraordinary debut, Memoryhouse, and the exquisite The Blue Notebooks). Combining readings of Haruki Murakami by Robert Wyatt with spare orchestration and brooding electronica, Songs from Before proposes a cohesive musical narrative that explores the dynamism of colour and tone as much as the drama of theme and pulse. Richter shapes and organizes his densely layered, shimmering soundscape with elegant melodies and delicate rhythms. For all its musical reflexivity and expressive originality, at its core Richter's music burns with an intense lyricism that is as exciting as it is moving - particularly the solo piano interludes Fragment, Autumn Music 1, Autumn Music 2 and From the Rue Viln (with string quartet). www.fat-cat.co.uk       Jocelyn Clarke

Harps Old Master

While their State River Widening and Ellis Island Sound music projects are better known, multi-instrumentalists Keiron Phelan and David Sheppard's eponymous album is the more intriguingly creative - their debut, O Little Sounds, was easily one of the best electronic albums of 2002. Their four-year-later follow-up mixes electro-acoustic instrumentation (Fender, viola, mallets and horns) and Ines Naranjo's warm vocals with simple melodies and bright polyrhythms to produce a superb collection of instrumental tracks. If O Little Stars showcased their giddy experimentalism as producers, Harps Old Masters displays Phelan and Sheppard's mellow maturing as composers and musicians. Hazel Wand, Weaving Song, Oriental Star and Lady Never City, in particular, boldly fuse propulsive minimalism with freeform jazz. Harps Old Masters marks an exciting new stage in Phelan/Sheppard's ongoing musical journey. www.theleaflabel.com     Jocelyn Clarke