David Sheppard first conceived Snow Palms as a vehicle for music played on mallet instruments (metallophones, glockenspiels, xylophones, marimbas, etc), devices that have featured intermittently across almost two decades-worth of the multi-instrumentalist’s miscellaneous collaborative projects that include State River Widening, Ellis Island Sound, The Wisdom of Harry and Phelan-Sheppard, among a host of others.
Snow Palms’ 2012 debut album Intervals won a sheaf of approving notices for its ineffably cinematic blend of polyrhythmic percussion and richly melodic orchestration, partly achieved in collaboration with arranger-composer Christopher Leary (aka Ochre). Two years in the making, the follow-up builds on the foundations of its predecessor, with a heavy quotient of metallophones, glockenspiels and marimbas at its core, but largely eschews the latter’s chamber arrangements in favour of soaring synthscapes and a palette of spectral ambient and electronic textures.
Despite that, Origin and Echo is a more performative record than was Intervals, its eleven organic, kinetic pieces meticulously constructed by Sheppard from initial percussive skeletons largely essayed instinctively, in free time, without click-tracks and with almost no guitar. The album is loosely predicated on themes of mirroring and rebounding, whether physical or metaphorical, inspired by everything from the gravity-defying parabolas of space flight to patterns of human migration and feelings of déjà vu summoned by nostalgic journeys.
The results are, by turns, hypnotic (the dreamy, tensile White Shadows), symphonic (the ever-spiralling, near-anthemic Circling), propulsive (the inexorably escalating Rite), immersive (the harp-caressed tintabulations of You Are Here) and poignant (Vostok’s aching cosmic synth evocations, the mysterioso soundtrack undulations of Black Snow…). Along the way, there are nods to the film scores of Thomas Newman, the minimal electronics of Simon Fisher-Turner, John Luther Adams’ vibraphone-based chamber piece In a Treeless Place, Only Snow, and several works by Japanese composers, especially those of Shimizu Yasuaki, Midori Takada and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
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