Ryan Teague released his debut EP entitled Six Preludes last year, and while it definitely had some high points, it also left something to be desired in places, as if Teague were still working out the fine points of how he wanted to combine both the organic and electronic in his sound. Coins & Crosses is his follow-up, a full length album that's far more developed and shows off much of the promise that he hinted at on his debut, with gorgeous, but not overbearing arrangements and programming, and a real ear for finely-layered melodicism and texture.
Working not only with a full orchestra (the Cambridge Philharmonic, with conductor Tim Redmond) this time out, but harpist Rhodri Davies (who has also worked with Cinematic Orchestra), Teague's palette and scope have been increased in large ways, and showing a restraint uncommon for his young age, he hones in on the subtleties of working with such a large ensemble, then adding his own touches in the studio. After the short, sparkling "Introit," the release really starts in full with the album-titled "Coins & Crosses." During a more dissonant first minute, it seems like the track might be ready to wallow in darkness, but a harp flutter later it blooms unexpectedly into something uplifting as low-end programming (that sounds something like organs) and about four layers of hushed electronics waft over and around the track, pushing it into the clouds.
"Nephesch" is slightly darker, with swelling strings that are at times overtaken by insect-chatter electronics and distorted percussive elements. Ditching the electronics completely actually makes for one of the best tracks on the entire album, and an affirmation that Teague has the ability to compose straight-up moving work. "Fantasia For String Orchestra" is a flat-out stunning album centerpiece, clocking in at almost nine minutes and moving with the sort of fluid grace that makes Arvo Pärt such a compelling composer.
Melodically, the second half of the album isn't quite as strong as the first, with more tracks relying on textural elements to push them over the top. "Accidia" is a perfect example, starting out very strong with string swoops and some nice electronic elements before dissolving about halfway through into overlapping layers of filtered strings, found-sound style percussive elements, and a repeated chime melody. The short and haphazard "Tableau II" doesn't do the release any favors either, sounding a bit out-of-place before the stunning closer of "Rounds," where Teague brings much more electronics into the mix to great effect, evoking the clean minimalism of Glass or Reich while layering in some dense programming. After the dizzying opening half, Coins & Crosses can't quite sustain itself as strongly for the second half. That said, it's a nice step up for the young musician, and definitely worth seeking out if you're a fan of modern classical or textural electronic music.