Elegant British chamber pop expands on its influences
This all-female trio are invariably compared to Kate Bush and Tori Amos.
While this probably drives them nuts, it’s impossible to not discern strains of those two in the voices, melodies and tone. Where they do move away from that template – and to be clear, it’s a most palatable template – is in their arrangements. Mashing up folk, soft prog and classical-tinged chamber pop, with no guitars or drums, they evoke another time, another place. Amy Birks (vocals), Amanda Alvarez (cello) and Jess Kennedy (piano, vocals), with added violins and double bass, express influences from Bach and Beethoven to Michael Nyman and Mazzy Star, and the bucolic prettiness of Shelleyan Orphan is also revived. This would be academic were it not for the fact that their best songs, probing interesting themes, possess real, sharp presence and the ability to surge. Lady Of The Lake tilts and swells to a hypnotic climax; Rushlight taps into Tony Banks tropes in a faintly kindred way to iamthemorning. Ophelia avoids pre-Raphaelite clichés, managing Jane Siberry’s gift for theatricality which doesn’t gush, while Roses bunches melodrama and redolent poise. At its best, Magnified reboots the Brontes’ spirit for our brave new world.
Chris Roberts - TeamRock + Prog Magazine: http://teamrock.com/review/2017-03-08/beatrix-players-magnified-album-review
Ostensibly a female folk trio, the Beatrix Players came as a wee bit of a surprise to me. Because they’re actually very dark, moody and cinematic.
It’s the kind of music you would expect to hear over the closing credits of Van Helsing rather than out and out folk music. So it’s more for fans of Kate Bush than Kate Rusby. There’s some striking use of a cello, lots of melancholy vibes and some rather striking songs.
It’s certainly not easy listening as they weave their way through some enchanted and mystical forests on their way to the witches house. Songs like “Lady of the Lake”, “Not For The First Time” and “Obey Me” would sit happily in a steampunk version of the Brothers Grimm. Which is a good thing by the way.
It sounds good as well with their self-produced debut album getting a mixing sheen from two-time BBC Folk Award winner, Jim Moray. An excellent start.
Stuart Hamilton - http://www.the-rocker.co.uk/
FATEA REVIEW: Beatrix Players
Label: Self Released
Beatrix Players is a London-based female trio comprising Amy Birks (vocals), Jess Kennedy (piano, flute, backing vocals) and Amanda Alvarez (cello). The trio takes its name not from the usual derivation (“she who makes happy”) but from the Latin “viatrix” (traveller). The classical sound of piano and cello – with occasional augmentation by Anna Jenkins (violin or viola on three tracks) or Robyn Hemmings (double bass on two tracks) – is surprisingly full and expansive. Somewhat akin to Heg & The Wolf Chorus perhaps, but less thrusting in the main, indeed sometimes sweeter – and with no percussion of course – despite all of which there’s no lack of drama in their music. But it may turn out to be something of an acquired taste.
The trio’s elegant, minimally florid sound operates at what the press release describes as “the interface between folk, singer-songwriter acoustica, prog and quasi-classical baroque chamber-pop”: an accurate assessment, as it turns out. My immediate response – as I’m sure will be yours too – was to invoke an all-too-ready comparison with Kate Bush – certainly on the defiant opening track Rushlight (both in the piano work and the obvious vocal department), then continuing on Never Again, Not For The First Time and Walk Away in particular. But Amy’s singing, though sometimes uncannily soundalike, stops short of replicating or imitating the eccentric wuthering (swooping and diving) that marks Kate out, and as a result Amy’s easier to accommodate since she enables the lyrics to be heard.
These (all songs being self-penned, credited to the trio as a unit) typically concern big affairs – relationship issues, moments of crisis and suchlike – and close study will reveal them to be both inspiring and intelligently crafted. Some, such as Lady Of The Lake and Roses, use specific historical models to draw parallels of experience down the ages, while Never Again takes the doughty resolve of the Brontë Sisters as a role model for how to avoid repeating past mistakes. The ambiguity of empowerment is addressed in Obey Me. While Unpolished Pearl is altogether jazzier in feel, partly due to the momentum provided by the adoption of a swifter tempo. And on songs like Mole Hill, the trio seems to derive inspiration from the new-classicism of Michael Nyman on one hand and the performance artistry of Laurie Anderson on the other. When the Kate Bush comparison is not uppermost in the ear, there’s a tendency for the listener to recall Tori Amos – albeit stylistically and not with any specific songs in mind. All of which, together with the constant, insistent layering of voices and instrumental colours, while demanding closer listening (which is good of course), also makes it trickier to assess the songs for their own sakes. Which leads me onto the real sticking point (I stress, for me personally) – which is that the music of the Beatrix Players is almost too classy (in the classic-romantic sense, almost too good to be true), and it arguably needs more in the way of light and shade (especially, perhaps, dark shade) to point up more of the latent emotional power of the lyrics.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Jim Moray’s responsible for the expert mixing of the record, so top audio quality is assured for this exquisite and sophisticated music that demands – and receives – a careful balance.
Schwäbische Zeitung, daily 166.500 - March 2017
Romance turns into pop
The Beatrix Players remind us with their debut album Magnified of Kate Bush and Tori Amos
When you listen to Beatrix Players, a comparison comes to your mind. Tori Amos and Kate Bush are some references when you review the album of Jess, Amy and Amanda. Magnified, released on March 31st reminds us of these two artist because of the mixture of folk, pop, progrock, jazz and classical. Also the spheric tunes and the great arrangements, the instruments with the main focus of the impressing piano tunes. However, both artists are peculiar loners with accompanying musicians. The sound of Beatrix Players is for sure a sound of a band with numerous influences. An English band which honors with their influences; the romance in the sense of Jane Austen or the Bronté sisters.
The clear, warm voice of singer Birks, makes the album exceptional, she loves the big songwriter of the 60’s and 70’s. Alvarez (cello) born in Madrid is the most adventerous musicians of the trio. The Spanish cello player states that she likes Bach as much as punk. And the piano player Kennedy, whose background voice is very important says that she comes from the more classical side. You can’t overhear her touch of melancholy and darkness. Their lyrics are telling stories about relationship, love, passion and death. Nothing less will do it.
Their debut album contains terrific songs like their first single ‘Lady of The Lake’. With all sadness this song has already earworm character. The wonderful ‘Mole Hill’ is infected by the great piano of Kennedy. ‘What Do You Say’ - Birks' voice is carried by piano and bass and is a small dramatic hymn of lovesickness. ‘Obey Me’ on the other hand suprises with a catchy refrain. Before the album ends with the soft and wonderful ‘Roses’ you’ll find ‘Unpolished Pearls’ and ‘High Heel Shoes’ as well on there. Everything a bit more dramatic but very romantic : classical pop!
Nothing has been copied at all but it is still appropriate to name Beatrix Players in the same breath with Bush and Amos. These artists are very talented and there is no harm at all to compare them slightly. But one things for sure, neither Bush or Amos were sounding so hauntingly like the Beatrix Players!
Album Review: Beatrix Players - Magnified
When you think about the circumstances of life back then, it's funny how we still romanticize the Victorian era. When you drive by an old Victorian house in town, you likely give it a long look and remark at the beauty of the architecture. If you've ever owned Victorian furniture, you know how uncomfortable it can be, but you also realize that few styles have ever evoked as much style and class as that one. The Victorian era was one that has endured through style and art, but not necessarily music. We don't often sit back and listen to a chamber quartet, or whatever the modern equivalent would be. But it does ask the question: what would modern Victorian music sound like?
The answer might just be the Beatrix players.
The three ladies making up the group have created a unique sound, with only a piano and cello serving as the dark backdrop to their harmonies and melodies. It's a sound that, like the old chamber music, could be performed by a group in the confines of a living room in an old Victorian house. It's a sound that is incredibly subtle, and requires a pre-internet level of attention to truly get the most from. This is not the kind of music you can put on in the background while doing chores around the house, unless you want to miss out on the details that make the music interesting.
Perhaps that is a scary proposition, needing the dedicate yourself to the act of listening. It is no longer something that comes naturally, but when something comes along to require that level of focus, it reminds you of the power music can hold. If you just casually listen to "Lady Of The Lake", as I did when I first heard about this album, you might come away with the impression that the Beatrix Players are three women with soft voices who sing somber songs. But when you listen more carefully, you can hear the way they layer their voices, running cascading melodies against one another. It's far more complex music than first glance might tell you. There might only be two instruments, but that's the great trick being played here.
Throughout the songs on this album, the ladies are able to use their voices to great effect, not letting the melodies get swallowed by the somber pacing of the songs. It's easy for slower material to lose all its energy and become static, but these songs keep the melodies enough at the forefront that the songs don't hit fallow patches. There is a reason for everything on display here.
If I'm being honest, the one thing I do have to say is that this is an album that, at least for me, is one of those that requires a very specific mood. The soft and dark mood has its place, absolutely, but this isn't an album that I could find myself putting on at any random time. That doesn't make it lesser as a work, but it does mean I might not give it the same number of listens as a similarly well-done album in a different style.
But the main point here is that if you're looking for something different, something that can evoke memories of a bygone past, the Beatrix Players have made an album that does what it aims to very well. It transports you to a different time and place, and these three ladies have shown us a way to make classically-oriented music shine in a modern sense. No, I might not be spinning "Magnified" every day, but on those occasions when my mood matches the music, it will be a welcome soundtrack.
Album Review: Beatrix Players - Magnified
There is what could be described as an adult flavour to the topics for these songs, focusing on relationships, change, childhood events, and even crisis moments. That said, Magnified does not come across as a solemn album, indeed it is most uplifting at times. The album opener Rushlight, for example, is about finding strength after being pushed around by someone, while Roses uses a historical moment to help express the love of a parent and how they would do anything for their child. Jess states, “they are not unafraid to examine the less pleasant aspects of the human condition and experience”. Amy explains the writing process as, “Jess comes up with a piano idea, song structure and some production ideas, I then come up with vocal melody lyrics before Amanda adds her cello parts”.
The songs have a bewitching effect, haunting at times with some hypnotic melodies that draw you into the musical world of the Players. Considering the minimal instrumentation used, the sound often has a full feel to it without losing that space between the musicians, with both delicate and powerful chords used to clever effect. The songs are mostly piano driven with essentially placed cello wrapping around the song. Walk Away finds the cello taking the lead, here providing some beautiful moments. In fact the piano, cello playing and the vocals are all of a high quality, and it is this that helps to lift the album to another level, indeed it is the actual absence of guitar and drums that makes Beatrix Players’ sound unique. The thirteen songs here are beautifully crafted, performed and presented, creating their own sonic universe.
Music is a wonderful thing; there are times when an album resonates with you and this has happened here for me. Their classical and folk influenced take on prog and pop/rock should be allowed to reach a bigger audience, as iamthemorning have highlighted there is success to be had in this field. I would love to be able to see these songs performed live, as I am sure this would give them an even more emotive quality. Go listen and buy it, it’s wonderful and mesmerising stuff.
Mel Allen - The Progressive Aspect
Album Review folking.com: Beatrix Players
Lining up as Amanda Alvarez (cello), Jess Kennedy (piano, flute) and Amy Birks (vocals), Beatrix Players are an London-based Anglo-Spanish trio who, taking their name from from the Latin “viatrix” (meaning traveller, though Beatrix itself means she who makes happy), combine folk, jazz, classical and progressive. With influences that range from Michael Nyman to, rather clearly, Tori Amos though Louis Jordan wouldn’t be far from the mark on some occasions either, their debut album, Magnified, addresses familiar themes such as change, relationship, childhood and moments of crisis, opening with ‘Rushlight’, wherein the female narrator refuses to be pushed around and taken for granted (“I will not be passed around like a new born child. And I cannot be given back at the end of the night”).
Dipping in, ‘Lady Of The Lake’ deals with the end of a relationship (“Your heart replaced with hate”), the folksier flavoured ‘Roses’ (which features Robyn Hemmings on double bass) would seem to concern three women during the Wars of the Roses and, referencing the Brontes, ‘Never Again’ is about finding strength after some sort of scandal.
Lyrically very much directed at a female audience, it’s potent stuff about empowerment and, as on ‘Not For The First Time’, not buckling under the pressure (“Not for the first time/Have I felt alone in this goddamn city/And not for the first time/Have I seen hearts as hard as an India-rubber ball”). Indeed, ‘Obey Me ‘(one of three numbers to feature Anna Jenkins on violin) while Birks may sing “Just say yes and I am yours”, she then qualifies this with “But you should know/That I will go crazy/If you do not obey me/Obey me baby.”
On, the other hand, you get something like the jazzier and more urgent piano riffs of ‘Unpolished Pearl’ where self-doubt creeps in as “Stuck in some kind of sleep paralysis…Only thing I can do is wait/Wait for him/Him in the shadows/To free/To free me.”
It swings between the euphoria of love on the waltzing ‘High Heel Shoes’ (“I feel like I could walk all night in high heel shoes/Just to be with you”) to the anguish of ‘What Do You Say’ which seems to be about a child witnessing the collapse of their parents’ marriage.
They may find it hard to escape the inevitable comparisons and, next time around, they might want to add some extra colours (harp, perhaps) to the sonic texture, but as long they keep coming up with numbers like ‘Mole Hill’ (which features Jenkins on both violin and viola), they’re assured of a dedicated following.
Album Review: Beatrix Players - Magnified 9/10
I don’t claim to have eclectic tastes, but I’ve been finding myself loving albums that are usually outside of my musical comfort zone lately. Well, maybe I’m embracing whole new styles and sounds, because this debut album from Beatrix Players is a gentle, uniquely beautiful affair that I can’t stop playing. “Magnified” is a brilliant piece of art that will grow on you every time you hear it.
Beatrix Players is an all-female trio hailing from the UK and Spain. The band consists of Amanda Alvarez (cello), Jess Kennedy (piano, backing vocals) and Amy Birks (lead and backing vocals). These ladies are influenced by all sorts of sources, from prog to classical to pop music. The music is almost exclusively performed through piano, violin, and cello; with some double bass and drums that are honestly faded into the background on purpose. The album is rather neoclassical and chamber in overall sound: Indeed, the band even considers themselves a “dark, classical trio”. So, if you are looking for a prog band with which to compare them, Iamthemorning is your best bet.
Right off the bat, Jess’ keys here are fantastic, reminding me (again) a little of Gleb from iamthemorning. They, along with the other instruments, form volumes and pillars of rising climaxes and flowing streams of melody. That means we get delicate piano melodies, but also roaring and writhing passages that foam and foment to emotional highs. The keys truly are a torrent at times. Amanda’s cello is also equally impressive, featuring complex compositions, as well as more baseline support that forms an atmosphere upon which the other instruments can shine in their turn. I found myself really appreciating the violins and bass, as well; as they are played with passion and class.
The vocals are very important to this album. Everything is composed to revolve around the complex harmonies present throughout the album. Amy’s vocals are beautifully performed and passionately presented without fail. The way she phrases her lyrics really feels inspired to me, as the vocal lines are expressive and put you in a state in which you can understand the lyrics better. Backing vocals also lay down accents that really elevate the songs to new levels, while also feeling playful at the same time.
“Magnified” is a refresher: a palette cleanser, if you will. It takes the overly technical stuff we are used to hearing, and turns it on its head to craft songs of beauty, emotion, and this sense of urgency. It portrays music in this adventurous, livid manner. Indeed, there is a certain amount of Romance in this music, and I do mean that in the literary and artistic sense. The album is literally gushing with stories, feelings, and ideals. Therefore, the imagery and tones in this album are darkly fantastical at times, but also intensely personal in other moments.
This is an album that explores inner worlds and transformation. It also at times contrasts blunt earthiness with divine loveliness in this fragile sort of way. What I mean is that the lyrics are often stressed or longing for something severely human, but the music flows on with incessantly ethereal beauty. It truly is like the beauty of the green earth meeting the pale blue of the heavens above us.
My favorite songs are definitely “Lady of the Lake” for its fantastical themes and rising melodies (not to mention the great video), “Never Again” for its personal lyrics, “Not for the First Time” for its slightly crass nature (I get this song stuck in my head all the time now), “Mole Hill” for its gorgeous piano, “What Do You Say” for its surreal qualities, “Obey Me” for its addictive chorus, and “Roses” for the stillness and sweeping beauty it contains. As you can see, this album does not mince words or hang on just one major track. This album is full and complete.
Overall, this debut album from Beatrix Players is one of wonder, beauty, and femininity. It’s honestly something that our musical circles need more of, just to keep us from being so jaded all the damned time. With each listen, you will find yourself drawn deeper into the worlds and passions these ladies have created, and I’m quite excited to see where they go from here. “Magnified” releases on March 31, 2017.
Gentle on the ear but strong enough to make a great impression on the mind. A waft of elegant anglicana, which hints at jazz and levels of unplugged sophistication. So good they should be declared compulsory listening for all those seeking music beyond the norm. Swoonsome harmonies to swim with, drown in…Not one gruff note or rough vocal line, recalls the likes of Pentangle and maybe even a whisper of Sandy Denny in the way they relate to homegrown musical stylings.
Incredibly captivating… Engaging and beautiful
Fascinating and tightly woven release filled with promise and endeavour.
Amazing Live Set! Very, very touching… Really beautiful
Zone One Radio – Londongigguide.co.uk