August 2020 : Album of the Month : Colorama : Chaos Wonderland31 July 2020 : Banana & Louie Records
Three years have passed since Colorama's last album, the life-affirming masterpiece Some Things Just Take Time, was released.
Chaos Wonderland, which is the ninth LP Carwyn Ellis has recorded under the Colorama moniker, proves his fabled songcraft is undiminished.
The new songs were recorded at American producer Shawn Lee's 'Shop' studio in 2018, in gaps found in Ellis' tour schedule with The Pretenders. Pandemic lockdown presented the free time to polish the sessions into a final form for release.
Both Shawn Lee and Carwyn are multi-instrumentalists, and they share a passion for analogue recording and compelling percussion. The album they have carved out together is rich in sinuous grooves and chock-full with glorious instrumental sounds.
Two singles heralded Chaos Wonderland - first, the rolling, shimmering pomp of And, then the easy, cinematic momentum of Dusty Road's open-highway-of-regret.
For the full release, these two songs open a set of ten - and if the singles as hors d'oeuvres have whetted your appetite for what is to come, then the rest of the album is a continuous Michelin-starred gourmet delight.
Highlighting a further trio of tracks might hint at the shape-shifting stylistic range Ellis and Lee have explored together.
Me & She is a gently-paced, funked up hymn of love, with Icelandic singer Lay Low adding sparkle to the mix.
Crosville, a song about a couple's squabbling bus-stop ennui, is a dash of first-rate acoustic pop that breezes along on an irrepressible bass line.
Reconciliation (which closes the album) offers the moves of a late-night-radio soul classic, and oddly feels perfectly placed amongst its disparate fellows.
Which still leaves, if you hate spoilers, five other gleeful surprises for a first listen.
What fashions all the tracks into a cohesive whole is the sheer strength of the music, the finely honed production and the project's grounding in a pervasive mood of hope, perhaps rooted in Carwyn's character. Explaining Chaos Wonderland's title, the Welsh songwriter said,
"I've travelled a lot this last few years and I've seen a lot of places in total flux, upheaval and yes - chaos. Nowhere more so than at home."
"But at the same time, I've seen much to make me cheerful, not least in the beautiful sights I've witnessed, along with the warmth and inherent goodness of the vast majority of people I've encountered."
In honesty, the result of that oxymoronic tension may be Carwyn Ellis’ finest work yet.
Chaos Wonderland is an absorbing trip, a magical history tour through Carwyn and Shawn Lee's fertile musical imaginations, and the most eclectic, upbeat and innocently joyful listen anyone could hope for in the darkest of times. If Chaos Wonderland doesn't lighten and gladden your heart, nothing will.