Review: ORE – Belatedly

We invariably talk about sound as an aerial presence, but the tuba on Belatedly drives down into the earth beneath. Like a cruise liner sinking into quicksand; melancholic yet somewhat majestic in descent, executed with a graceful acceptance that the journey was always going to end this way. This record is, just as ORE as always been, a very beautiful co-option of the tuba’s traditional context. Usually this instrument leads me to thoughts of big bands and military marches, and all of the pride and onward optimism that goes with them – a trudge through the heart of human adversity, fixated unwaveringly upon the road ahead. And while the tone and depth of the instrument can’t help but gift the album a certain strength and resplendent resilience, the melodies speak to the contrary: contemplative sadness, the weariness of cruelly persistent hardship. In the album’s first half, each of these pieces centres on a duet – one tuba to the left, one tuba to the right – playing with harmonies that rub and repel as much as they push intimately into one another. They feel like two halves of a single shape, slipping between major key and microtonal dissonance as they try and negotiate themselves back into a whole, with a light distortion sometimes exacerbating the sound of jagged edges in collision. All the while, the soft patter of drums plays patient, intermittent mediator between these divorced fragments of self.

In the second half, this process of reconciliation instead takes place between ORE and a selection of collaborators, all of whom excite a different facet of the tuba’s emotional identity. The oud of Khyam Allami dances around the edge like someone scattering petals in a peripheral circle, occasionally overdriven or flipped into slurps of reverse, caging Underwood’s mantric outward breaths. When the droning brass of Sophie Cooper seeps in like a river, the tuba skulks the bank with predatory menace. And then there’s the contribution of KK Null, which begins in a cradle of tampered mains electricity before escalating into breakbeat seizure, leaving the tuba panting as it tries to keep pace; a task for the which the instrument feels wonderfully underprepared, skulking behind the rhythm, goaded reluctantly forward in inexorable, anaerobic stomps. Whereas the first half of the record feels introspective to the extreme, pulling down the blinds on the outside and allowing the most vulnerable facets of the self to unfurl in the dark, this second half feels like an act of worldly re-emergence – indulging in both socially-aided transformation and collaborative compromise, shifting from the beautiful weight of being to the flowering optimism of becoming; a hand outstretched, with tuba drones extending into the ether like fingers.