The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a concerto as ‘a piece of music for one or more main instruments with an orchestra’ but the new album by Amp Live seeks to redefine what an orchestra is.
The Californian based Amp Live gives us a variety of sounds, feels, emotions and concepts with this 14 track album. Track seven, No.1 in D minor, Op. 2 Potencia is just over a minute long, but quickly moves from sounding like an old GameBoy soundtrack on steroids to include an electronic voice-over Gregorian chant and an ethereal choir. The whole album is full of different ideas, some of which don’t always to fit together.
But there are definite threads throughout the album, including the virtuostic talent of Rebecca Roudman, also known as Dirty Cello. Flight in G minor features her cello fused with a beat which again plays across ideas and concepts. Dirty Cello also features on the track ‘Penny, Nickel, Dime’ which is the most mainstream cut and a tale on the perils of excess . It also features Anya and Prof and is set to a swing electro-beat and woozy trip-hop meets big band blasts that provide a suitable backing to this modern day fable.
Even with such an ambitious kaleidoscope of influences and ideas, several tracks masterfully flow into each other. For example the the end of Run Back serves as an introduction to the 1993 style track ‘ihearthiphop’. The idea of this unconventional orchestra is mirrored in how many different artists are featured on the album. It works because even though every track is different, the idea of the concerto, or the main voice, is a consistant element on this album. The inclusion of the Canadian DJ Ill-Esha who is known for her simultaneous DJing and singing, and Dirty Cello, shows Amp Live’s desire to seek collaborations with established crossover artists.
The strings, drums and different electronic sounds are manipulated well and seamlessly layered together, to create the impression of a parellell dimensions with the ‘Headphones’ (electronica, synths) alongside the ‘Concerto’ (strings, piano, vocals) but interacting all under the control of Amp Live. There is a sonic rawness to the album with some of the piano and string sounds sounding like midi presets, but it adds to the overall charm of the record, as they are often combined with more refined electronic and vocal effects.
Amp Live himself has produced music for movies and shows, noticeably for Nicole Scherzinger, ESPN Sports Center and So You Think You Can Dance. With this heritage in atmosphere music, sometimes the instrumentals fall into the background and are easy to forget. It’s an interesting approach though, and although it might be a bit too experimental for some, it will be wonderfully refreshing for many.