It would be a stretch for even the most astute, educated musicologist to make a direct correlation between the experimental instrumental compositions of Nick Storring and the soulful R&B of singer Roberta Flack. But the truth is, Storring’s latest album, My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell, is a heartfelt, yet oblique, tribute to the vocalist. He explains in an official press statement: “Much of her music feels as though it’s designed for solitary consumption… not only does her vocal timbre sound like a private conversation with you, the music feels introverted in scope and texture.”
There’s no denying that Storring’s latest album has an introverted slant. The Toronto-based musician has created a pastiche of sounds that, when gathered together, may sound knotty and complex, but when broken down and closely examined, have a somewhat melancholy, almost lonely sound. Much of the music is somewhat downbeat, but that’s mainly in the actual tempos, and the mysterious air of the music is practically an antithesis to dancefloor bangers. This is music to meditate on and get utterly lost in.
A unique aspect of Storring’s music is the instrumentation. While most composers who craft these types of widescreen, cinematic soundscapes work either in large orchestras or surrounded by banks of keyboards and sequencers, Storring takes a more organic approach, resulting in refreshing, unique results. The album’s credits state that his sixth album, recorded between 2014 and 2018, was made using “exclusively acoustic and electromechanical instruments and very little electronic processing”. Storring’s main instrument, the cello, is prominent in the mix, but there’s also tantalizing percussion effects, toy pianos, acoustic guitar chords, unidentifiable buzzing drones – and that’s just in the first song, “Tides That Defeat Identity”. This gorgeous, luminous opening track builds up its intensity ever so slowly before crashing down and building back up again, like some shiny beast awakening and reawakening.
“Pretending You and I” continues along the same path but is more atonal and idiosyncratic, like a sweeping orchestral science fiction theme, a friendlier version of Colin Stetson. It isn’t until the fourth track, “What a Made-Up Mind Can Do”, that Storring gracefully and playfully switches gears as a rubbery, funky rhythm section emerges from the fog, and soon the arty experimentalism suddenly has a more grounded, relatable backbeat. But this emergence isn’t weirdly jarring; it comes at you slowly and almost expectedly as if Storring seems to know that the listener would greatly benefit from a little stylistic dabbling.
“Now Neither One of Us Is Breaking” takes the jazzy soul that’s hinted at in the previous song even further, coming off as a sort of interplanetary slow jam complete with harps, lush orchestral cues and a relaxed, almost desultory tempo. But there’s also weird effects, mysterious pauses, haunted piano figures, and bursts of guitar shredding. Nothing is predictable in Storring’s musical world, and his restless, refreshing spirit of experimentalism is always evident.
My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell concludes with the spellbinding title track, which like most of the songs that precede it, uses a variety of musical cues and approaches. A somber electric piano intro, exotic percussion rattling, waves of intense string swells. Storring pulls out all the stops to make this sometimes gloomy, sometimes emotionally uplifting composition check a variety of boxes. It isn’t “busy” for the sake of being busy. The music is complex and multifaceted and created with meticulous care and an almost larger-than-life vision. Nick Storring’s latest album is perfectly at home amongst the roster of visionary artists on Orange Milk – music that demands repeated listenings, complex yet emotional and never dull.