All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: Mark Northfield - Ascendant

Mark Northfield - Ascendant
2007, Substantive Recordings

Mark Northfield is a London based composer who writes alternative classical or Chamber Rock songs (as you prefer) with other vocalists in mind. Northfield had the revelation a few years back that he loved performing but perhaps didn’t have the front line voice required, and so resolved to write and record his songs with other vocalists out front. His most recent offering, Ascendant, takes full advantage of the vocal talents of no less than 9 vocalists (including himself) and one vocal ensemble.

Northfield takes art-pop Chamber music to a new level. Opening with Waiting For Green, Northfield paints a bleak and beautiful landscape in orchestration to counter an almost droningly depressed vocal line. This sounds like an off-off-Broadway piece. Resistance is another highly dramatic, melancholic piece that turns hopeful and back throughout. Highly melodic in dark and minor tones, the orchestration colors the vocal line. Northfield next offers an inspired Chamber Choral piece called The Calm, featuring Bryony Lang an The Pearsall Consort. It's a neo-classical exploration of melancholy bursting into expressions of beauty and stillness with an Anglican Church choir bent. This is the highlight of the CD and one of the most hauntingly beautiful choral pieces I've heard in some time.

Weight sounds like it could have been an alternate song or outtake from the Off-Broadway production The Last Five Years. You can almost hear shades of Sherrie Renee Scott in vocalist Bryony Laing (also featured on The Calm) who gives a gorgeous vocal performance. Zero lost me a bit lyrically but offers perhaps the most intricate and delicate arrangement on the disc. You'll also want to check out the faux-peppiness of Decidedly Dumb and the melancholy waltz, Luco.

Ascendant is a prickly CD. It's not easy to get to know; not an easy listen. You have to work for this one and that will turn a lot of the more casual listeners off. The effort becomes its own reward, however, as Mark Northfield has offered up several moment-stopping compositions mixed in on Ascendant. There are a couple of pieces here that get mired down in themselves, but on the whole Ascendant is a very strong listening experience. This one's for fans of Chamber music, The Cure, The Smiths and any other melancholic pop band of the last twenty years.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Mark Northfield at or You can purchase a copy of Ascendant at

No comments: