Album Review: Fall from Earth (Philip Sheppard)

Every time I sit down to write about Philip Sheppard’s new album – Fall from Earth – I struggle to commit anything to the page. That’s not because there’s not anything good to say, more that there’s so much good to say about it I want to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

It would be all too easy to dismiss this album as crossover, or categorise it as TV incidental music. But listen to it a few times over – complete – and it takes on another form: a commercially savvy present-day multi-movement symphony designed for a pop-music generation. Discreet stories propel the action forward taking in euphoric expectation, epic landscapes, and resolute hope in the space of the first four tracks alone. Chosen Road is a heart-breaker. 

Breaking Light in particular treads an anxious but defiant line that can, depending on my mood, tip me over the edge into an intense and irretrievable sadness. That a three-minute track have such an impact is a remarkable thing.

Part of that is down to Philip Sheppard’s precision writing demonstrated in the multi-textured worlds his stories exist. The recording isolates distinct instrumental sounds, some familiar, others more ambiguous creating other worldly textures that avoid cliché and trigger closer attention.

This is Your Future Self is a good example. And if you’re a sucker for scurrying string lines captured by a microphone focused on the bridge of a violin, be sure to pay close attention to Chasing Thought – surely the signature tune Sheppard wished he’d written for TV medical soap Casualty.

After a reprise of the transcendent Chosen Road Alone, the album concludes with a much-appreciated resolution in Fallingwater Dawn. A renewed spirit permeates the track. Brimming with anticipation for a future not yet realised, by the time we reach Fallingwater Sheppard has marshalled whatever the tension was that compelled us to listen throughout the album, and turned into something altogether longer-lasting and more nourishing.

Clearly drawing on Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Elbow, Coldplay and possibly even Keane, Philip Sheppard’s Fall From Earth is his finest and most self-contained creation. It’s also an unexpectedly riveting listen. It’s the kind of music Augusten Burroughs would have used to escape into multiple personal montages in Running with Scissors.

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Philip Sheppard gives advice to young musicians

Composer and purveyor of a beautifully laid-out notebook Philip Sheppard has blogged some of his notes from a presentation he gave to students at Montana University recently.

Off the back of the Aldeburgh Creative Talent Conference, Philip’s advice makes for interesting reading. In particular what he calls “the difficult stuff”:

Define yourself as an artist. Many classical players will define themselves by the instrument they play – eg, ‘I’m a violinist’. It’s healthier to think, ‘I’m a musician who plays the violin…’, or even, ‘I’m an artist, who’s a musician, who plays the violin…’. You might need to keep that last one to yourself in case it sounds terribly pretentious when you say it out loud…

Read the rest of Philip’s advice to music students on his blog.