In spite of being somewhat disappointed with “Archangel“, because “Invincible” was such a strong album and the Amazon preview snippets were sufficiently interesting, I decided to give TSFH another chance and bought “SkyWorld,” their fifth publicly released album. Not having heard what came in between (or knowing it came in between, even), it’s hard to analyze the evolution of the group with much authority or accuracy, but this is most definitely an evolution.
For starters, there are a lot of vocal tracks, and in a variety of styles. There is also a lot more variety to the music styles across the album. There are quite a few of their more typical, driving orchestral firework pieces, but there are also some quieter pieces, and some quirky genre-mixers, such as “El Dorado” and “Big Sky”. The opening to “Winterspell” is stark and haunting. “All the King’s Horses” sounds like it could have been done by Adiemus. “Back to the Earth” is like nothing I’ve heard from them before–a blend of Copland-esque nostalgia and a vocal performance reminiscent of Randy Newman’s “I Will Go Sailing No More” from Toy Story. It’s unusual, and it works.
My personal favorite is “Sun & Moon”, a vocal duet set in Japanese techno-ballad style (I believe the lyrics are in Japanese, also) that blends solid vocals and lush orchestration with rock/techno undertones, along with the TSFH ability to ratchet the melodic tension in poignant ways. It’s the longer treatment I wish they’d done with “Enigmatic Souls” from “Invincible”.
I think what I enjoy most about this album over-all is that they seem to have discovered there is a dynamic range between pianissimo and fortississimo. This album spends more time exploring the spaces in between–and for longer periods of time. Not every artist/group can evolve, and not everyone that does can evolve well. In this case, I believe TSFH has not only evolved well, but perhaps even found their stride. They achieve a level of musicality in this album that was missing in their earlier work and, I believe, was necessary for them to continue viability as stand-alone music. Their trailer/incidental music business could perhaps endure on high-power shorts, but those listening for the music itself need variety to keep them interested after awhile. “SkyWorld” delivers. This album shows they have the depth to, if they want, move from movie trailers to movie soundtracks.
Had “SkyWorld” been another “Archangel” it probably would have been my last purchase from TSFH. Instead they’ll likely get me for another album or two at least.
Incidentally, it’s rather fun to read some of the Wikipedia entries on their albums and see just where some of their songs have been used. I knew some of them sounded familiar! Or their website can show you video of specific trailers they’ve been used in.