Nottingham’s Thomas William Hill concentrates on neo-classical music; it’s sharp, on point, and dynamically awake. Hill has scored for film and television, and on Grains of Space, the composer’s soundtrack work shines through. Both active and alive, his music is able to create scene after scene. It’s alert, not passive, because there’s never a dull moment. It never checks out.
Moving at quite a lick, Hill’s melodies converge and then repeat. Strings quaver, glowing in greyscale. Harmonies grow to cover them in chains of silver ivy, and they bloom like dark flowers, secreting grey tones due to its neo-classical flavouring. A darker colour shadows a melody as it runs, its edges moving from alley to street and corner to crevice. It’s always there, living on the underbelly of the note. This doesn’t dampen the intensity of the record, though. On the contrary, the strings saw into the piece, zig-zagging with verve, and being intentional about it.
An almost frenetic sense of urgency permeates the album, occupying every single grain of space and commandeering the atmosphere. Strings engage in a violent ballet, the two of them vying for control (‘Willow’). Percussion enters, giving even more movement and power to an ancient and tribal dance, but even this track manages to slow down. Hill is able to fluctuate between power and quietude, mixing up flamboyant and fiery rhythms with softer interludes (which, by the way, have just as much of a right to be here) and brief pauses in which the piece can rest before building itself up once again in a mighty surge, and the overall mood adapts to each in turn without sacrificing the flow of the music. This is where his experience as a composer comes in.
Hill can lay out a scene before the listener, moulding it, developing it, and then rounding off its curves until the piece resembles an intelligent, instrumentally-diverse, and complete unit, usually stemming from a single strand and a lone thread which then runs into other instruments, greeting, converging, and continuing a timeless dance.
There is no stop/start feel to the album. Neither does the rapidity or the intensity override a graceful and delicate sound. The piano adds elegance, and as the different instruments come together, the piece comes into a bright focus, an unfolding of butterfly wings, its birth a display of perfect symmetry and its dissolving indicative of a natural ending. Hill balances it all and delivers a generous album.
The strings can enjoy smooth sailing, or they can succumb to a tempest, warbling and then sinking thanks to its soft manipulations. Grains of Space is an album of high drama, its strings either crying out in pain or shouting for joy in blessed relief, but Hill remains in complete control, and a sweet tenderness hides beneath the tension…a sign that, in spite of the maelstrom, everything is connected, and everything will be okay.