Review: Outshine Family – Galeria De La Luz

No doubt Nicholson had grandiose intentions right from the start with this one. If it wasn’t enough to call upon 30 musicians across 12 different countries for previous release The Secret Miracle Fountain, over 80 musicians (including a full orchestra) were used to bring the vast and cinematic compositions of Galeria De La Luz into being. And yet if you peel away the thick coating of orchestral panorama and studio overdubs on each of these tracks, the album still retains a singer-songwriter core; one can imagine these pieces being initially conceived as modest acoustic workouts before the elaborate construction process started to take place.

But are Outshine Family able to incorporate its army of collaborators into the music intelligently and successfully? In this reviewer’s opinion, only to an extent. Galeria De La Luz sounds incredibly polished – every instrument sits very comfortably within the mix, arranged so as to ring out with the utmost clarity and without infringing on any other element of the record. It’s possible to pick out one element within the crowd of voices and focus on its activity; in particular, the orchestra is arranged neatly around the stereo field and granted its own space.

Yet this partly contributes towards the record’s main downfall. It’s just too clean and stiffly choreographed for the most part – for all the ambition Nicholson displays in bringing so many musicians into the process, the music itself carries a forcefully imposed grace and precision, locking Galeria De La Luz into a lot of safe and soulless movements. Outshine Family sound daunted by the scale of the materials with which they operate, scared throw too many unconventional moves, in case the looming figure of the task undertaken comes tumbling down on top of them. And so the album often works best when stripped to a simpler set-up, and left to run on the strength of core composition; “Alone With Your Tattoos” grooves like an acoustic-driven Beck jam, whilst “Natural Diamonds” weaves mandolin patterns over two chords, building until soft percussion provide the piece with forward motion.

There’s a particularly notable exception in which the textural extravagance finds a suitable place. Penultimate track “May Death Less Darkly Find Its Way” leaves the orchestra to fight through improvised drum spills and crackling distortion fireworks. It’s a loose and triumphant finale, ascending and caving in at the same time, almost like an ecstatic break into freedom or a celebrative departure from life. It would have been fantastic to hear more material along this line, but as it is, Galeria De La Luz leaves it until its closing stages to introduce a glimpse of potential – a brief dash of vibrancy, in among what this reviewer considers to be a frustratingly unadventurous palette of colours.