Every once in a while, you’ll find a great pop record in the least likely of places. And more times than not, Craig Armstrong is involved. Take, for example, Massive Attack’s No Protection or the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which was arguably one of the finest pop albums of its year. On the heels (and tailcoats) of last year’s Moulin Rouge soundtrack (for which Armstrong won a Golden Globe), the composer has released his second studio album, As If to Nothing, and continues his genre-bending trends. Some of the album follows Armstrong’s trademark cinematic blueprints (most notably, the hypnotic “Amber” and “Finding Beauty,” a track in which Armstrong apparently found what he was looking for), yet the opening track, “Ruthless Gravity,” previews the album’s stark juxtapositions of lush orchestral arrangements and percussive, industrial backdrops. The Björkian “Waltz” collates urgent, mechanical vocals by German singer Antye Greie-Fuchs with voluptuous strings and minimalist beats. Similarly, “Hymn 2” pairs Photek’s electronic flourishes with the stirring soprano of Baroque singer Catherine Bott. The lovely “Sea Song” is the epitome of folktronica, singer Wendy Stubbs’s delicate vibrato rippling atop the warm tones of Armstrong’s acoustic guitar and string arrangement. More traditional songs also made the cut, including “Wake Up in New York,” a bittersweet ode to the Big Apple featuring Evan Dando, and a pared-down rendition of U2’s “Stay (Faraway, So Close!).” The new version, with Bono reprising his anguished performance, transforms the song into an unabashed anthem; the Edge’s crunchy guitar licks are replaced with a soaring arrangement of strings, brass and choir. While individual tracks like these can certainly stand on their own, the whole of As If to Nothing is strung cohesively from the very first electronic bleep to the final, haunting “Choral Ending.”
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: