An album of my year: Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

Hannah Peel - Mary Casio
It is, I think, fairly safe to say that there simply aren’t enough brass band/electro fusion acts around. True, Terry Wogan did have that hit with the Hanwell Band performing ‘The Floral Dance’, but I think we all know he wasn’t that kind of a DJ.

Hannah Peel’s album from this year, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is, to put it bluntly, a magnificent beast. Not content to rest with the unlikely marriage of electronica and brass bands, the album itself is a tale of the unexpected: a grandmother taking a trip into space.

There being no lyrics, the music forms something of a soundtrack to the imagine voyage. The closest we get to specifics about what is happening in the story comes in the form of track titles: ‘Goodbye Earth’, ‘Sunrise through the Dusty Nebula’ and ‘Archid Orange Dwarf’ for example.

The pieces here are dramatic and full of wonder: as they should be given the amazing sights Mary Casio is witnessing as she boldly goes where no grandmother has gone before.

Shortly after the album’s release, @residentmusic tweeting that it was ‘as if Tangerine Dream had been allowed to jam along on the score of Kubrick’s 2001’.

Hannah Peel tweet

With such a spot-on, tweet-length summary of Mary Casio, there really is no need for articles like this.  

It is, at times, mournful, elegant, triumphant, bold and elegiac. The spectacular fanfare of ‘Goodbye Earth’ could easily pass as the soundtrack for a Babylon 5 episode.  ‘Archid Orange Dwarf’ finds electronica interweaving with brass parts which interweave with themselves, rising and rising along a pentatonic scale that crescendos into something spectacular and glorious.

‘Deep Space Cluster’, meanwhile opens with grim, industrial menace – it is the brass here, not the electrickery, that provides the repetitions and pulsating rhythms.

But the best moment comes in the grand finale, ‘The Planet of Passed Souls’. Hannah Peel has form for incorporating personal memories and recordings of bygone ages in her music. Her 2016 album, Awake But Always Dreaming (which, I admit, I have yet to listen to), came out of her grandmother’s experience of dementia.

As part of The Magnetic North (two excellent albums under their belt thus far: Orkney Symphony of the Magnetic North and Prospect of Skelmersdale) she has used audio footage from times gone by to add poignancy and power to her music’s message.

Here though, personal experience and vintage recordings are found in precisely the same place within ‘The Planet of Passed Souls’, featuring as it does the sound of Peel’s own grandfather as a young boy singing a treble solo in Manchester Cathedral in 1928. It is ghostly and haunting and utterly, utterly beautiful.

Despite just seven tracks, this is an album I can play back to back to back almost all day. As I did today, in fact. Its devastating gorgeousness never fails to impress, never grates, never grows dull. It is, in short, a masterpiece.

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