The Heritage Orchestra- The Heritage Orchestra


Heritage, something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth, refers to many different “somethings”: estates, heirlooms, genetic diseases, but most importantly, traditions. If Tevye did not teach us already, traditions build cultures, yet it is always those who break tradition that we remember. We call it innovation. The aptly named Heritage Orchestra, however, have discovered the key to combining tradition with innovation, pushing boundaries through reverting to old techniques.

First, one must understand that The Heritage Orchestra is truly an orchestra, 45 strong with a deep string section and powerful brass. Mingled inside the orchestral set up lies a jazz rhythm section, with guitar, bass, drums, vibes, keyboards, and other various instruments. Unlike an unbalanced mesh of two completely different styles (e.g. Trans-Siberian Orchestra), this group manages to mix jazz and classical music perfectly, where the modern rhythm section does not dominate the strings or vice versa. They truly play like one group, a remarkable achievement for the wide variety of instruments played at the same time. Under the leadership of Jules Buckley, conductor and composer, as well as co-founder Chris Wheeler, The Heritage Orchestra takes the best young musicians of London and crams them together into a gigantic force thus far unknown to music. The music sounds as much like Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” as it does Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat,” (more commonly known as the Napoleon Dynamite dance song). The stunning amount of variety is the album’s strongest point by far.

Obviously, upon listening to their music, The Heritage Orchestra makes more of a live band than a studio band. Mixed with the energetic rhythm section, improvised solos, and beautiful string chorales thrown into the music, they leave a lot open to interpretation. Therefore, it is not surprising to discover that the band actually formed at a club-night event called Heritage, designed to showcase jazz and classical music. Unfortunately, the event ceased in 2005, and the orchestra decided to make the orchestra a full-time job as they set out to record their debut album. The result- six brilliant compositions that fully immerse into the fields that artists like Jaga Jazzist and The Cinematic Orchestra merely touch. Each song is sure to include a gorgeous string and brass chorale section that grows into an acid jazz jam, although sometimes this process is reversed or inverted. Chris Bowden gives an outstanding performance on alto sax in “Mothers and Daughters Now Mothers” and the second movement of “The 1890 Affair”, while Natalie Williams provides her brilliant voice on album centerpiece “Sky Breaks” and “Tell Me Stories.”

To describe the music of The Heritage Orchestra in depth would be redundant. Everything they play has been done before, but no one has combined everything they do quite like this. The overall concepts stun on this album, not the finer details. Certainly a strong debut, The Heritage Orchestra has a rich future ahead of them, even while they keep looking to the past for inspiration.

I Hear Sirens- EP


When judging anything artistic, whether it is figure skating, marching band, ballroom dancing, or obscure post rock, many cannot balance two hugely important factors: level of performance and level of difficulty. Personally, I believe more in weighing originality and difficulty of repertoire higher than the actual level of performance. I will listen to (and rate higher) more challenging music with a few mistakes over more cliché music played perfectly any day. After all, if artists keep employing the same techniques and creating the same works over and over, are they truly creating art? Yet we must praise those who perfect an already attempted art, for striving to perfection is honorable enough as well, and it is for this reason that the post rock genre continues to thrive. The genre begs for its first truly perfect album, devoid of pretentiousness and senseless filler. Have I Hear Sirens achieved that? No, but their debut EP shows certain promise.

I Hear Sirens continues along the lines of instrumental, guitar-based post rock much like Caspian, This Will Destroy You, and Explosions in the Sky. However, if they can claim any originality, they can claim the contraction of song ideas into more concise nuggets of music, all well executed. In fact, the worst part of the album passes quickly in the first 8 seconds, a pointless fade in of ambient noises that transition awkwardly into the first crushing chord. A wall of distorted guitar and synth, the band’s two melodic weapons, powerfully opens the album musically until the sound masterfully draws back, building to the next climax. Where many bands compose each song with the intention of building to one immense climax, I Hear Sirens knows better. Although shorter than the average post rock song, the band uses more than one climax to make the entire song interesting rather than a constant build that never surprises.

Still, most of the I Hear Sirens EP is fairly predictable. The sound, while full and well-rehearsed, brings nothing new to the table. The distorted guitar picking backed with powerful piano chords might get repetitive, but they sound like true professionals. They use a variety of different structures, such as letting the bass lay out the opening chord progression in “Like a Leaf from a Tree in it’s Dying Season” or the unexpected piano outro of opening song “This Is The Last Time I’ll Say Goodbye.” The biggest surprise, however, comes in the middle of album where vocals suddenly appear at the end of “September Isn't Too Far and I'm Not Sure I'll Return.” Airy and atmospheric, they fit perfectly inside the sound, not too overbearing yet certainly noticeable. The rest of the band lulls in volume and intensity, the last resting point before the push to the end. Despite these slight anomalies throughout the EP, the bulk of the album demonstrates the true strengths of the band. “Everything Was Black and White Except the City Lights” masterfully rises and falls, one of the most perfected demonstrations of guitar post rock of the year. The intense crescendo into the dragged out, huge chord progression shows that a little intensity and vigor doesn’t hurt.

Despite the clichéd sound, song titles, and unoriginal band name (The Receiving End of Sirens?), I Hear Sirens conveys their sound well. Still, the music needs something more to stick out from all the other well-executed post rock. Or maybe they can continue with this sound and perfect it to the point of no return, and the indie world will celebrate, but shouldn’t we ask for more from our music?