Hope was recorded in Peel Hall, which is a concert venue that resides on the Salford University campus: generously high ceiling, candle chandeliers, 500 tiered cushion seats, sun blazing through three large windows at the back. I’ve seen pictures of it, but I could quite easily trace the dimensions of the space simply by listening to how the instruments on Hope interact with it; violins swooping up toward the ceiling beams, guitars and piano cradled in the warm reverb that wafts back off the padded chairs. It’s an incredibly lively recording. Every time the volume drops toward silence – say, in between the soft piano chords on “Stillness” – I can hear the rustle of the air circulating the microphones, or the shuffling of production crew members as they creep around the edge of the hall. Or am I hearing the quiet concentration of a live audience? The culmination of 500 restful nasal breaths, the unconscious crumple of coat sleeves, the sensation of eyes and mouths lulled half-open in restful transfixion?
Brave Timbers are astutely aware of space in which their music hangs. Frequently, the instruments drop back to reveal it, with piano sustain gazing into the emptiness as violins retire to the wings. This spatial sensitivity characterises how the instruments interact with eachother as well. I feel as though Sarah Kemp and Andrew Scrogham understand one another with the intimacy that they understand themselves, anticipating movement and responding to every nuance of timbral shape. On “Hands In The Earth”, Kemp’s swerving violin harmonies sound like a ribbon wrapping around the gift of Scrogham’s humble piano. On “First Light”, bowed strings elaborate upon the melodic movements of the guitar like beams of radiance pouring out from plucking fingers. All of these compositions are simple and slow, twirling between chords with the elegance of a weathervane in idle, tranquil rotation, channelling sentiments of tender love and mourning through fateful navigations of major and minor key. The imprint of Hope may only be gentle, but it lingers.