Ed Harcourt has always had a continuous output of releases since his Mercury-nominated debut Here Be Monsters, with six studio albums and two EPs to his name this century. None of his back catalogue is quite as adventurous as this new record, however, with Beyond The End a purely instrumental record which adds another string to his vast bow.
Completely redundant of vocals, each of the 12 tracks are deeply emotional and piano-led. Perfect in isolation or as a soundtrack to a pivotal moment in the listener’s life, the LP is mesmerising yet repetitive in equal measure, whilst adding to the sonic enigma of Harcourt.
The artist took a ‘step back’ to record Beyond The End, explaining how he was exhausted by the internet, social media and “The sheer barrage of news and vomit being rained down us on a daily basis. You can’t avoid it, and it’s tiring. So this record came from taking a step back – it’s something that’s trying to be beautiful. My hope is that people might choose to swim amongst this music when it all gets too much.”
Written and recorded at his Wolf Cabin studio in Oxfordshire, the majority of the songwriting came from his newly acquired 1910 Hopkinson Baby Grand piano – exactly the same as the one he started learning the instrument on in his formative years. “I needed a break from singing and lyrics so I began writing instrumental music. I grew up listening to and playing Debussy, Satie, Mozart, Grieg, as well as modern composers like Max Richter, Philip Glass, Arvo Part. I also loved Warren Ellis and Nick Cave’s score for The Assassination Of Jesse James.”
“So from around February I’d get up on the cold mornings, have a coffee after the kids had gone to school, then come in here, shut the door, just play, with the snow coming down outside the window. When I found something I thought worked, I’d play it over and over again.”
The resulting 12 tracks still carry the Harcourt melancholic trait; with his output always having darkness at its essence. It’s easily his most adventurous effort yet, with each expansive composition intersected with classical nuances that remain inconspicuous.
Highlights include ‘Wolves Change Rivers’ and the brilliantly named ‘Whiskey Held My Sleep To Ransom’. Both of these are captivating and atmospheric and the same could be said for the enchanting lead track ‘Duet For Ghosts.’ ‘Faded Photographs’ and ‘Circling Red Kites’, meanwhile, slightly increase the pace whilst still sticking to the backdrop of sorrowful piano chords.
One criticism would be that it is a little one-paced, but nevertheless, it is still the perfect accomplish for a meditative moment as it carries the listener through a quiet storm.