The Opium Cartel – Valor album review

2 05 2020

The Opium Cartel is songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Holm-Lupo’s vehicle for songs that exist somewhere between pop, art-rock and synth pop, and away from his more progressive work with White Willow.

Valor is the third Opium Cartel album, and is set to be released on June 5 2020 on Apollon Records.

In the Streets sets the scene for an album that will appeal to those who love pop and progressive music from the 80s (The Blue Nile, Roxy Music, early Talk Talk, Bill Nelson, Alan Parsons Project) as well as current bands such as neon-pop heavy-hitters The Midnight. An optimistic and innocent track, the album opener is stacked to the brim with analogue synths (not a VST in sight, baby) and is wonderfully serenaded out by an uplifting sax refrain from Ilia Skibinsky.

Slow Run sounds like a hazy summer evening, and a hint of regret is starting to seep into the lyrics.

“This is not the same town, that we left behind”

The first of two instrumental pieces, A Question of Re-entry, features the moving guitar of Airbag’s Bjørn Riis, and is driven by the analogue synth pads and pulsating solos of Holm-Lupo.

Nightwings features the studio debut of Jacob’s daughter, Ina A, who effortlessly slips in to the albums sonic palette, delivering an assured modern pop vocal performance. Nightwings has a slight hint of mid-80s The Cure in its arrangement, and will surely appeal to lovers of the Stranger Things and San Junipero soundtracks.

Fairground Sunday is my favourite track on the album, and one of the few times I am reminded of Holm-Lupo’s White Willow catalogue. The music evokes the beauty of wide open spaces, with crystal clean fresh air and sharp starry skies, but is also under-pinned with a darker sub-current that reveals itself on subsequent plays.

Under Thunder has a wonderful Alan Murphy / Experiment IV (Kate Bush) referencing guitar riff and some of the most inventive rhythm arrangements on the album.

The Curfew Bell is one of the album’s darker, more gothic pieces. Heavily reverb-infused drums and rich strings, plus Gaelic sounding multi-tracked vocals from Leah Marcu (Tillian) lead into another instrumental piece featuring Bjørn Riis, A Maelstrom of Stars, that ups the Pink Floyd / prog ante a few notches. Some fine mellotron lines, plus one of the deepest bass synth sounds ever committed to tape, push to the fore on the tracks outro.

The CD ends with a bonus track, a cover of Ratt’s 1988 song What’s It Gonna Be, with Alexander Stenerud on vocals. With the hair-metal of the original track shorn, The Opium Cartel’s take is more akin to A-ha than Europe. I swear I can heard the sound of Fairlight stabs buried deep in the mix, or maybe that was just wishful thinking. And is that a nod to Don’t Fear The Reaper at the end?

Valor sounds like a love-song to the 80s, which of course means the album sounds very current and feels extremely accessible. The down-side is that straight after playing the album, you will find yourself desperately searching for your dusty old VHS copies of The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and The Lost Boys. I hope you enjoy the album.

In the Streets
Slow Run
A Question of Re-entry
Nightwings
Fairground Sunday
Under Thunder
The Curfew Bell
A Maelstrom of Stars
What’s It Gonna Be



Buy The Opium Cartel – Valor on Amazon

Buy The Opium Cartel – Ardor

Buy The Opium Cartel – Night Blooms


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