After the success of 2014’s Alium, Submotion Orchestra raise the bar yet again with their new album, Colour Theory. Renowned for their stunning live performances, for “smoky jazz, skittering live percussion and swooping synths” (Mojo), the band have this time taken a conscious decision to focus their energy and attention on to their production, shaping a record of immense poise and epic scope, where attention to detail and shape has resulted in a new dynamism and contemporary sheen. As producer Dom Ruckspin puts it, “we wanted to go somewhere radically different.”
While Colour Theory is indeed radically different, it also stays true to what made Submotion Orchestra so exciting to begin with. From the opening bars of Jaffa, it’s easy to see this record is a step up. The sheer space the band create in their music is breathtaking. A slice of broken-house groove dripping with melancholy and post-club longing, it shows the confidence and style the group have in abundance. And with Ruby Wood taking something of a sabbatical to focus on motherhood, the band have managed to mix beautiful instrumental moments like Amira with a stellar cast of guests. Billy Boothroyd uses his choral background to great effect on the sweet, poised More Than This. The wonderful Andrew Ashong (Sound Signature / Which Way) delivers one of the standout moments on Needs. But then again, In Gold, a sparse, hip hop-inflected slowburner, reminds us how just good Ruby is and the work she delivers with sometime Chase & Status collaborator Ed Thomas on Empty Love just confirms it. Red Dress, a production collaboration with Royce Wood Jr, is the kind of smooth, slick r&b, that places the band in a continuum with The XX and London Grammar, adding an epic jazz-aesthetic all their own. The album closes with Ao, a shimmering, melancholy slo-mo house groove featuring the up and coming talents of Catching Flies. There are moments of sublime poise and beauty throughout.
This is a group which has now found the perfect balance between the chops of their seven members as individual musicians and the needs of the collective to shape this into taut, brilliant, warm and elegant music. This is a band who are already well-loved and acclaimed as live performers. With Colour Theory they’re set to match and even better that as recording artists.