A record that distorts, delights, and entrances...

A house of mirrors can be a fun and terrifying thing. At times, the images can be funny and other times grotesque. It just depends on your mood. The title also reflects Neil Cowley’s relationship with the piano. Over the years it has been his best friend, and worst enemy. The fun and the painful.

Throughout the album you can hear it be both. There are times when Cowley is gently caressing the keys. On ‘Just Above it All’ the notes gracefully glide from his fingers. The music that underpins this glorious playing is filled with frustrated synth motifs and skittering beats. Despite the ease in which Cowley plays, ‘Just Above it All’ hints that this is not always a symbiotic process. And this is the real joy to the album. Normally we are shown musicians in love with their instrument. They ease the music from it gently or thrash and bash it until it gives them what they need. Here Cowley is show that this isn’t always the case. That some days, as much as he tries, the inspiration doesn’t come.

These frustrations come to a head in ‘Souls of the S-Bahn’. The song is ultimately about weary people on the underground, the field recordings really hammer this home, but the Cowley also has a weary way about him. The playing is proficient but lethargic. On this day, his love for creating was still high, but his love of playing might not have been.

At its core ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ is about Neil Cowley’s relationship with the piano. This a delicate album filled with as many weighty pauses as it is bombastic phrases. It’s an album that show Cowley hasn’t lost his ear for a killer melody; in fact, it might have got sharper. My favourite thing about the album is how effortless it all sounds. Which means, it really isn’t. There is some complex stuff happening just below the surface and when you start to delve into it, that’s when the real joy of album comes from. Just like a real hall of mirrors some of the playing is beautiful, fun, haunting and terrifying. But this is what we’ve come to expect from Cowley.

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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