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Strings And Beautiful Things

Craig Armstrong
The Space Between Us

Every once in awhile I pick up an album and even though it's been out for quite some time, I feel like I should write a review for it anyway (as you'll have noticed if you read the site regularly). It's not that I feel like I'll spread any particularly interesting insights on it or say something that hasn't been said before, but I simply write something on it because I enjoyed it so much and hope that even one person out there reading the review will find the disc and enjoy it as much as I have. The Space Between Us is one of those releases.

The funny thing about this release is that not only had I heard two complete songs from it, but I'd really liked them both and meant to purchase it at some point. As usually happens, though, I'd forget to look for it when I was at the music store or simply have other things I wanted more and it took me over two years to getting around to finally getting it. Let me say straight off, that if you own either Protection ("Weather Storm") by Massive Attack or the soundtrack ("Balcony Scene") to the Romeo And Juliet movie (the one with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) that you've already heard one track by Armstrong.

The album actually leads off with the flourish of strings and glug-glug beat of the aforementioned "Weather Storm." It's a partially different version of the track than what is on the Massive Attack album, but if you've heard it, you already have a good idea of Armstrong's silken style. Also calling to mind Massive Attack's recent Mezzanine is the second track from the disc "This Love." Featuring Elizabeth Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins) on vocals, the track again showcases a slow, pulsing beat and some very nice strings over the whole thing. I guess now is the perfect time to mention that every song on the entire album has stringed instruments of some sort, and some of them are stripped-down completely to them. While Armstrong definitely does have more of a classical style than most of his peers, the arrangements of the strings that he uses sound much more contemporary most of the time and for the most part end up giving the album a very cinematic feel (which is very interesting given his work for Romeo And Juliet and the more recent Plunkett And McClaine).

The third track "Sly II" is just one of those such tracks. It begins with a very soft three-minute intro in which they play off one another before things break off into what sounds like a warm-up session. Finally, the track bursts to life again full-force, with what sounds like all the strings attacking at once in a huge crescendo. It's quite amazing, and even more interesting is that it's a fully instrumental re-working of the backing orchestration that Armstrong did for the track "Sly" off Massive Attacks Protection album. After the logical follow-up to the album opener ("After The Storm"), Armstrong does three in a row without electronic elements. "Laura's Theme" sounds like it could have come straight out of Twin Peaks (it doesn't), while "My Father" is a nice, short piano piece.

If you've seen the aforementioned Romeo And Juliet, you'll recognize "Balcony Scene" within the first few notes. It's one of those tracks that fits so into place during a movie that you can't remember the scene without it. After that comes the dark alley-sounding "Rise" and the even darker "Glasgow." Both of them ooze with so much style that you'll be creating your own visuals for them (preferably of the seducto kind). Even the one track with vocals ("Let's Go Out Tonight") doesn't stumble because it's handled with such a deft touch. Overall, it's an amazing album that's sort of like a symphonic trip-hop, not unlike Portishead's Live At Roseland without the vocals and the heavier beats. The all instrumental pieces work quite well, just as do the ones that blend stringed instruments with electronic sounds. As mentioned before, it's all very lush and cinematic, which leaves you to make the movie for it.

Rating: 7.5