- Though Paradise 94 is London-based cellist Lucy Railton's first solo release, she's already established herself as a formidable presence in the city's experimental scene. She's appeared on records from ECM affiliate Kit Downes, played on Mica Levi's Oscar-nominated score for Jackie and reinterpreted the work of the unsung Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. In the live setting, she's as comfortable interpreting Schubert as she is summoning harsh soundscapes with Russell Haswell or improvising alongside Beatrice Dillon. As the cofounder of London Contemporary Music Festival, she presented events that did away with the avant-garde's highbrow/lowbrow split, giving Stephen O'Malley and James Ferraro equal footing with old-guard figures like Pauline Oliveros and Morton Subotnick. Simply put, Railton has the panache and broad-mindedness to transcend the vacuum-like worlds of academic music and contemporary composition.
The question, then, is whether Paradise 94 is a convincing synthesis of Railton's Royal Academy Of Music training and her divergent interests in hair-raising modern composition, corroded noise and techno. There are echoes here of her time spent jamming alongside Haswell in a working shipyard—the album has frequent samples of breaking glass, and violent processing of bow on cello. But she's equally interested in exploring more refined ideas. The tracks that work best find a perfect balance. "Pinnevik" begins with waves of harsh feedback before a denouement of soft, funereal organ tones. On "Critical Rush," a truly jaw-dropping track, an orchestra seems to tune up over a belching motor before taking a rickety journey to what sounds like a dreamy intro to a Timedance record.
At key moments, Paradise 94 is explicitly referential. "For J.R."'s string fragments pass by before we're confronted with some noise and reversed spoken-word samples. The track's moody conclusion comes from Bach himself, with Railton quoting the Baroque master on organ. Same goes for the last track, "Fortified Up," a nearly 12-minute piece that takes up the entire B-side. Not unlike a piece I heard Tim Hecker play recently, it's the sound of dread, like ascending to the drop on a rollercoaster and never quite reaching it. It's also an old idea, an auditory illusion called the Shepard-Risset glissando, a staple of Hans Zimmer scores.
Railton's whip-smart sound design and classical chops lend an initial shock and awe effect to Paradise 94, a remarkably polished debut. Once that wears off, though, some of the album's key elements seem like old ideas in shiny packaging. Still, the LP has a lot going for it. Paradise 94 shows some of the far-flung sonic zones Railton traverses as a player, curator and fan. It's a warning shot from an artist we're likely to hear much more of.
02. To The End
03. The Critical Rush
05. For J.R.
06. Fortified Up