Troyka are an experimental three-piece that hail from London and Ornithophobia is their third album, and their first to be released on niche label Naim, home to releases by such alumni as trioVD (who I once blogged about in a previous life).
Before I get on to the music, a word about the title of the album and its front cover; ornithophobia is the fear of birds (and not so conincidentally, a fear that guitarist Chris Montague has) and the cover if you have this affliction is not one that you’ll appreciate. I’ll leave it at that.
At first listen you’ll find it a mish-mash of styles, instrumentation and atmospheres that have no link. If you leave the album be after a solitary listen then you’ll kick yourself. The layers slowly coalesce with each subsequent listen. The album’s title, Ornithophobia, was first inspired by guitarist Chris’ fear of birds. This became the aptly chaotic groove of the album’s title track, which, in turn escalated into an album set in a fictionalised London; a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare in which people have contracted a form of avian flu that is slowly turning them into human-size birds and gradually making them lose their minds. If this sounds like the stuff of comics, then you’re not far off, as the album artwork encompasses a dark, comic book storyboard, featuring our heroes Troyka, created by artist Naiel Ibarrola.
OPening track Arcades starts proceedings wiht a nice, chilled piano-led intro which quickly breaks down into a chaotic, syncopated mesh of jazz – something that fits in nicely with the diagnosis of the metamorphising avian flu.
Life Was Transient follows with the title track Ornithophobia coming next. Each time I listen to this track new things become clear; the rhythm of the synths and keys hidden below the percussion; how it engenders an atmosphere of dread and fear; the interplay of the hammond organ and guitar.
Thopter is an intriguing track as it features a news report detailing the effects of the virus on the continent and the UK.
One thing that strikes is the ability of Troyka, whose members are Kit Downes (once Mercury nominated in his own right) on hammond/synths, Josh Blackmore on drums, and the previously mentioned Chris Montague on guitar/loops, is their downright gymnastic ability to switch on a penny from one musical genre into another – sometimes in the time it takes you or I to breath. You’ll go from something calm and almost soothing to a stomping jazz beat that switches to a thrashy mash a second later. It is truly remarkable.
If you like your music complex, complicated and cerebral then this is an album for you; it’s also one that for me is not something that I’d listen to – but it is firmly a favourite already.
Ornithophobia by Troyka was released on Naim Jazz records on 26th January. Sorry I’m a little late to the party.