Review: Alexander Berne and the Abandoned Orchestra – Flickers of Mime / Death of Memes

Something about the album’s first disc – Flickers of Mime – feels deceptive. It toys with listener expectation as turns in the narrative emerge and collapse within seconds. It meddles with recollection as new textures fade into nothing quickly enough to feel as though they might just be figments of the imagination; momentary lapses in common sense that sneak false memories into listener retrospect: drumbeats that squelch into life then fade instantly, or clarinet sirens that whirr faintly round the edges and evaporate. Everything feels in flux – mercurial and difficult to trust – as each “Flicker” sends an eclectic assortment of sounds flying out of the fog, toward a listener naïve to every next turn.

Death of Memes feels decidedly more sedated in comparison. Groans of woodwind settle into drones, long enough for images of sweltering Arabian plains to shift into focus, as the music collapses into its landscape and merges with it instead of actively manipulating it as in the previous disc. There’s still a sense of mystique, but it’s less explicit – it lurks within the blankets of sound as a supernatural haunt, present in atmosphere rather than in the sound itself. Arguably it’s the less engaging of the two halves, lacking the dizzying bewilderment that cuts the listener off from his of her comfort zones.

The same eclectic array of components (woodwind, brass, percussion, electronics, guitars, vocals, noises, plenty more) remains a constant, and acts as the primary cohesion point between both parts. But something happens between parts A and B that makes the music switch focus from sharper, more personifiable movements into the slower sways and drifts of nature. Mime’s crisp, detailed portraits blur and stretch into expanses of landscape consisting of bigger, weightier gloops of colour once Memes settles in, and while the cause of this change exists only in the void of silence that is the disc transition, its impact sees the Abandoned Orchestra suddenly enlightened to the gravity that burdens their every movement, as each note slurs and wheezes in exasperation.