During tours, we do our best to cover setlists in real-time on Twitter. If you want to tweet a show in, just DM or @ us on the day and tell us to watch your stream that night.
Tori is not presently on tour.
Shiny and New, a UK-based music blog that focuses on the fairer sex’s contributions to the world of music, has reviewed Night of Hunters at length and with playful thought — or is that thoughtful play? Either way, it’s an interesting and encouraging take on the record that whets the appetite for one month from now!
Thanks to Adam and michaelgraye for bringing this to our attention!
Before we get on with the review we want you to come to terms with something. Madonna will never release an album as good as Ray of Light. Kate Bush will never release an album as good as Hounds of Love. David Bowie will never release an album as good as Aladdin Sane. Joni Mitchell will never release an album ever again. And Tori Amos will never be as fiery, insane, bruised, sparky and playful as she was in the first half of her career. It’s impossible. She is happily married now and she has a daughter and (one hopes) a lovely and fairly ordinary family life that does not involve kidnap or torture or outrage. This doesn’t mean she has to release dull music, of course. But you have to readjust your expectations.
Even a stan like this writer would admit that Amos’ last album (or two if you count her Christmas one, Midwinter Graces) was a misstep. It’s not that it was a bad album (in fact, compared to most other artists it was still weird and great) but it wasn’t up to her standard. Well her new album, Night of Hunters, is. But it’s different. Lush, sinuous, slow. It demands your patience. There are no drum beats. In fact there are no beats of any kind. There are plenty of tunes and wonderful, thick, gorgeous instrumentation, and her usual oblique lyrical touches and a wealth of musical ingenuity. But this is not Mad, Angry Tori. Nor is it Ayahuasca-dropping Tori.
The first time you listen, you may feel disappointed, or at the very least your brow may furrow. This is not an easy listen. It’s not Enya, it’s not Adele, it’s not Lady GaGa in ballad mode. Its closest relative in the world of popular music is Joanna Newsom’s 2006 harp-and-orchestra opus, Ys, but even comparing it to that is insulting and patronising to both works, as the only thing they have in common is their Ye Olde Classicale Orchestratione and their writer and performer’s possession of great skill at playing the harp or piano, respectively. Oh and the possession of a vulva, also.
Of course, if a male artist had put this much effort into a work so complex and rewarding, he would be hailed a visionary hero, but Tori is a woman and also, in the world of showbizzzz, ‘old’, so we’ll be surprised if it is greeted with much fanfare at all. Nevertheless this is a review comprised of our opinions and reactions, not a thinkpiece on sexism and ageism in the music industry, so we shall move swiftly on.
At first, despite the myriad of delicious intelligent musical and lyrical touches, that merit repeated listening (we literally notice something new every time we hear any of the expertly wrought songs) we were concerned that in actual fact, there is no true innovation here. Pop artists have done orchestral, ornate song cycles before (although now we’ve said that, we struggle to think of any other than the aforementioned Joanna Newsom work) and even if they hadn’t, this is investigating a style of music that came into fashion/being over 100 years ago: the rich, undulating music of the late Romantic period of Western Art Music. Is simply using the orchestration and arrangement techniques and applying them to complexly structured and multilayered alternative pop/singer/songwriter songs innovative? Well: yes. These aren’t just songs orchestrated lazily for kudos or effect, this is a stunningly rendered narrative cycle, hot and heavy with potent imagery and opaque enough to be intriguing and feel slightly exotic, but familiar enough not to totally disconcert.
And the stunning arrangements by long-time collaborator John Philip Shenale are not the sickly sweet, unimaginative orchestral arrangements that are usually featured in the work of pop artists, they are strange and compelling. All the instruments of the chamber ensemble: violin, viola, cello, oboe, clarinet, flute, bassoon, etc. are given equal billing, and instead of taking turns or creating quiet, background texture, they run together, in a pack, like the title’s hunters, ferocious, tangled, occasionally blurred or muddy-sounding, blending together, running alongside melodies and pushing them onwards.
Another of the most brilliant aspects is the inclusion of Tori’s daughter. Tashya doesn’t just do backing vocals, but plays the part of Anabelle, sings solos and duets with Tori. In fact, the song “Job’s Coffin”, which is practically devoid of Tori singing and a showcase for Tashya’s young but strong, willowy voice, is one of the album’s highlights, featuring the most prominent and memorable melody and a sweet lilting style centred around the lyrics: “Job’s Coffin looks down, to see what mankind is gonna do.”
Even if moments such as the dirge-like and bleak “Battle of Trees” don’t necessarily immediately inspire, there are shimmering classic Tori moments, like the up-tempo second half of “The Edge of the Moon”, middle section of “Star Whisperer” and “Nautical Twilight”. Opener, “Shattering Sea”, based on an improv from her live tours, starts dark and ominous and explodes, the ebb and flow, tension and release of Amos’ superior songwriting, always surprising and delighting, never fitting or conforming.
On “Fearlessness”, after a violent cacophony of strings and woodwind builds and builds it crests and soars, Tori singing “teams of horses of the pride, followed his cry through the fire, demons of the wild, pierced with the wind, did you listen?”. And on the eponymous “Night of Hunters”, Tori and Kelsey Dobyns, her niece, who sounds exactly like Tori, if she’d studied opera at a conservatory, pass the melody between each other, over music stately and dark. Midway through the song, though, a piano riff inconspicuously descends into a Medieval-style web and network of call and response phrases. “Carry”, the mournful, hopeful album closer, has the sound of great sheets of mist rising off cold, grassy, planes as our heroine laments: “in the procession of the mighty stars, your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart, here I will carry, carry, carry you… forever”.
This is evocative music of total euphoria, with frenzied, mournful, lulling and baying networks of harmony and melody. There are sections, subsections, movements, drones, themes and variations, recurring motifs, pauses, peaks and troughs. As Tori puts it herself in the aforementioned “Carry”: “Cathedrals of sound are singing”. To attempt to describe it is to do it a disservice.
We have waited years for Tori to return to music this tearfully punch-packing, difficult, soaring and brave and she has delivered. Her best work for a decade.