Dark Angels was 2012′s second album from CN Lester, this time in collaboration with classical guitarist Toby Carr. Both musically and vocally, this is a huge departure from the restrained but beautiful tones of Ashes. Instead of whispering through many of the vocals in a tender manner, CN projects to the full extent of their mezzo-soprano ability, and the results are nothing less than spine-tingling. Anyone familiar with Ashes will also be blown away by the difference in style and arrangement of CN’s vocals.
Dark Angels is a classical album that celebrates the late 50 years of the classical repertoire, drawing on composers like Benjamin Britten and Peter Maxwell Davies, alongside compositions from new artists such as Philip Lawton. The result is a piece of work that is unique in the truest sense of the word, something that amazes the listener with its beauty and accomplishment.
There is so much that delights about Dark Angels that it is difficult to know how to begin. Nothing quite like this passed our way at So So Gay in 2012, and if 2013 were to bring something similar then it will be a good year. It is the pure simplicity and talent of the two artists which is the stunning aspect of the album. The musical setting has tension, staccato notes, and unexpected Pinteresque pregnant pauses. It is fresh, dramatic and its draw is thoroughly infectious.
The songs themselves are like their own self-contained little works of art. They vary in length, some as short as 90 seconds, others averaging 6 minutes, whilst ‘Noctural After John Dowland’ comes in at just under 20 minutes. Listening to Dark Angels is a truly emotional experience, drawing the listener in through mature themes as diverse as lust, desire and depression.
In musical style, and maybe this is more a personal reaction, we were reminded of a stripped-down baroque at times; something about the musical and vocal arrangement makes this feel delightfully timeless. This was particularly felt in the simply delightful ‘Farewell to Stromness’, a lovely musical interlude in the first part of the album that showcases Toby Carr’s extraordinary ability, and in both vocal and musical arrangement in the more energetic ‘I Had A Guinea’.
In more general terms, songs such as ‘The Drowning Brothers’ just go to show how much power can be achieved through one instrument played with such dexterity and a vocalist of outstanding talent. There are soft, low notes building up tension and drama alongside the restrained power of CN’s voice. There is a soft, dream-like quality that is juxtaposed with sudden climaxes. It certainly commands the attention; indeed, much of the album encourages the listener to close the eyes and drift away.
The sheer power and intensity of CN Lester’s vocal prowess is showcased to amazing extent by the ‘Lullabies’, a song cycle set to poems by Roz Kaveney by up-and-coming composer Philip Lawton. Aside from the glorious nature of the lyrics themselves (‘When you sleep / All the voices in your head sleep too / Maybe they tiptoe round to find somewhere to sleep’), the sudden power of the delivery is nothing short of breathtaking. Although it is a phrase which is so crassly overused today, it is no exaggeration to say that through ‘Lullaby II’ and ‘Lullaby IV’, the listener is literally carried on a ‘journey’, and a magical one at that.
This is no less than creativity at its much lucid and profound. The great beauty of this collaboration is that it feels so unforced and unpretentious. Maybe this comes unconsciously from the strong relationship between CN Lester and Toby Carr, who have been working together in some manner for over two years. Listening to Dark Angels was almost like sitting down with a great work of literature as a student, wondering what you are going to draw from it. It is a work that requires, nay commands, you to think as you listen, and isn’t that quite wonderful?
Go Get It: ’The Drowning Brother’, ‘Lullaby II’ and ‘Lullaby IV’
Forget It: n/a
Dark Angels is available to order from CN Lester’s website.