The Cinematic Orchestra ‘To Believe’ 2LP/CD (Ninja Tune) 4/5

The Cinematic Orchestra’s new release ‘To Believe’ is music to reflect upon and digest. It grows and grows until it surrounds your every thought. The sound is updated and refreshed but retrospective, particularly with the characteristic merging of electronic textures with acoustic instruments. It’s been some time since this respected ensemble has released an album, but it’s not been a complete hiatus as there have been other collaborative projects since 2007’s ‘Ma Fleur’ LP. However, ‘To Believe’ is an assured and triumphant re-emergence.

The opening track (also called ‘To Believe’) is a minimalistic elegy, sung by the fragile yet sultry Moses Sumney. It’s an intimate and dramatic performance to commandeer your attention. The sensitivity and vulnerability of Sumney is augmented with his atmospheric vocal harmonies. Track two: ‘A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life’, sees The Cinematic Orchestra reunite with the prophetic Roots Manuva, its industrial groove and urgency is something akin to a piece by Hip Hop duo Run the Jewels, if a little subtler.

‘Lessons’ paints an intricate picture, inviting you to get lost. Dynamically, it shifts and cascades. The song feels human, every note a new discovery. The loose drums of Luke Flowers succeed beautifully in elevating every other instrument’s presence and furthermore, giving the piece greater purpose and invention.

Singer Tawiah’s balletic vocals take centre stage on the first half of the soothing ‘Wait for Now/Leave The World’, her ethereal melodies grow in confidence as the instruments encircle and react. It’s understated and comforting.

‘The Workers of Art’ feels like a fleeting moment from a film, something honest and real, as powerful as the tender goodbye it evokes. It begins in a familiar fashion, with a modulated marimba-type sound you’ll recall from earlier albums. Then come the lush strings (with Jules Buckley conducting) in aching response to the dispassionate uniformity of the introduction. The movement disappears, only for the emotional tone to change. It feels like a new scene in the film, one where a sense of fading away radiates from the tremolo strings.

‘Zero One/This Fantasy’ begins with anticipation and intent almost like a Radiohead track, but the saccharine lyrics (sung by Grey Reverend), though sincerely delivered, never really give the desired impact. Partnered with a lack of musical exploration and the outcome is an altogether weaker affair. Luckily however, it’s not the final act and the soaring vocals of Heidi Vogel have the last word ‘A Promise’. It’s a futuristic, digital dream (even Vogel’s voice has that autotune glitching at points) and the sparkling strings return to give a blissful context for the synthetic swells and loops. It’s a defiant and uplifting end to what feels like a special journey.

Fred Neighbour