“Their voice is an instrument in itself”. It’s an old cliche; a way of saying their voice can carry a song as much as the drums or the guitar. It’s overused, sure, but buckle up because, with London-based Shards, it actually holds water. The vocals really are their primary instrument.
A collection of 12 singers brought together by Kieran Brunt, their choral arrangements were most recently featured on Nils Frahm’s ‘All Melody’ to spellbinding effect. But until this point, they were accompaniments to other works. Debut album ‘Find Sound’ is the group striking out on their own.
But rather than finding the sound they share collectively, the album is more open to allowing each singer to find their own. All from a different musical background, from teacher to composer, what marks them out as unique is what drives this fascinating record forwards. When the harmonies kick in, it’s beautiful, but the real joy is in hearing how each individual voice weaves among the rest.
From the opening strains of the title track, it feels as though you’ve stumbled across something intimate. As the 12 simply repeat “find sound” amid a few vocal flourishes and smatterings of percussion, you start to notice the textures and variety this process brings. Whether it’s Gaelic lilting or deep bassy tones, every voice has a role to play.
‘Dissect’ utilises them to create more abstract soundscapes, while ‘Beams’ feels heavenly in its choruses despite being distorted through guitar amps. Individual voices are used to haunting effect on ‘Lost’, where each voice seems to be searching for an escape before it all gets claustrophobic. ‘Nebulous’, meanwhile, takes as much inspiration from the intense vocal crescendo of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Star Gate sequence as it does from the likes of Four Tet and Caribou.
Somewhere between Appalachian Sacred Harp singing, Gregorian monk chants, traditional Gaelic ballads and contemporary ambient, ‘Find Sound’ is an experience you’re unlikely to forget. It’s an often overwhelming one, in fact. It revels in its unpolished nature, bringing out textures that inspire awe at the fact that this is mostly done using the human voice. You can see why the likes of Nils Frahm were clambering to work with them. Their voice, collective and individual, really is an instrument in itself, and an incredible one at that.