Emiliana Torrini’s distinctive voice has always been of a piece with her albums’ distinctive sound. Their fusion of folky, nursery-rhyme-like melodies with electronic and electronic-suggestive sounds creates an atmosphere unlike any other.
A new live collaborative album by Torrini and The Colorist Orchestra reimagines some of her songs (and presents two new ones) in entirely new arrangements for an eight-piece Belgian ensemble led by Aarich Jespers and Kobe Proesmans. Her voice inhabits this new, more organic world just as comfortably, and with a touch of live-performance warmth.
Acoustic sounds dominate the new arrangements – percussion, bells, prepared piano, strings – while the beats and rhythms often suggest electronica even if they are made by physical instruments. A few of the arrangements don’t take the songs too far from their origins despite the new sounds, like the superb new version of “Blood Red.” Others, like “Speed of Dark,” bounce into surprising territory. “Today Has Been Okay” becomes a mini-suite of modern composition. In a vaguely creepy take on the regretful “Thinking Out Loud,” spare string harmonies drift over thumping drums as if asking wordless questions. A pointed take on “Jungle Drum” is one of the most lively tracks, with Torrini’s insistent but restrained vocals intensifying the tension.
“Caterpillar” is my favorite song from her most recent solo album, Tookah. Here, as a fresh introduction sneaks in, it’s not hard to believe the press release’s claim that Torrini initially “could barely recognize many of her own songs” in Jespers and Proesmans’ rearrangements. But her soft, ultra-cool vocals haven’t changed. In fact, she sounds remarkably similar singing live here and singing in the studio, with just that wisp of warmth to indicate she’s on stage.
One of the most appealing tracks is “Gun,” structurally and melodically one of the simplest songs but here turned into a cool staccato onslaught.
Both new songs are interesting. “When We Dance,” co-written with Jespers and Proesmans, ranks among Torrini’s catchiest melodies. By contrast, the cinematic ballad “Nightfall,” a co-write with Kid Koala, feels spacious and elastic despite its brevity, with a rubbery introduction, eerily wobbly vocals on its single verse, and one of those extended, abstract dénouements that Torrini and the Belgian duo both seem to take joy in.
“It’s over too soon,” she sings, but like each of its tracks, The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini feels just as long as it should be. Torrini has always been about space, but never excess. The power is in the subtlety of the music and lyrics, and Jespers and Proesmans merge their own thoughtful, inventive musical sensibilities perfectly with hers.