It’s not often that an album catches you off guard and rushes you back to the past. There is something about Alabaster dePlume’s latest release, To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1, that transports you back to your youth. Perhaps it’s something to do with its delicate folk melodies, hazily reminiscent of a particular Fleet Foxes album. Or maybe it’s because we are living in a time of firsts, when the world seems so fractured and fragmented. DePlume’s album represents a desired calm, each song wandering smoothly, almost like an interlude, into the next.
Before moving to London, Alabaster dePlume worked with a charity, Ordinary Lifestyles in Manchester, which gave birth to this release, To Cy & Lee. The album itself is based on two men, Cy and Lee, who both have learning difficulties. DePlume worked with them, composing music as part of their time together in an attempt to help them socialise and communicate with one another. He finds that music is a means of expression. Something that can act as a form of communication, especially for those who, in many ways, are denied it.
Alabaster dePlume has created something so fragile with these eleven songs. His rich Ethio-jazz-inspired sax melodies, heard in ‘Visit Croatia’ and ‘Whisky Story Time’, emanate a certain kind of emotion that cannot be expressed in words, but only felt in the pit of your stomach. Each folk melody, be it Japanese or Celtic, is protected by ethereal instrumental harmonisation. The piano chords in each song wrap around the melodic line like a blanket, forging a veil of orchestrated harmony. Right now, many of us are mentally, if not physically, drained and dePlume has said that this album was produced to exude a sense of quiet and calm.
Although most of these songs are taken from dePlume’s previous four albums, spanning eight years, the Mancunian has removed the vocals for this record. The lyrics in question were filled with social angst, and had his political ideologies shining through. The removal of these lyrics allows for a more intimate listening experience, welcoming a wider musical audience.
There are two new songs here, ‘What’s Missing’ and ‘If You’re Sure You Want To’, recorded with a one-off band. The band had one day to record these two songs, and dePlume was exhausted, playing a tired, worn-out saxophone. You can hear the sax struggling to reach some notes, giving the tracks an authentic, raw feel.
Alabaster dePlume has said that he believes in creating things that belong only to the present moment. This can certainly be said of To Cy & Lee. However, this album will most definitely outlive the present moment and remain among the classics.