Adam Stafford – Fire Behind the Curtain

Adam Stafford's new album is a rich and haunting record of intelligence, beauty, depth and darkness – it's a monumental piece of work

Album Review by Ryan Drever | 30 Apr 2018
Album title: Fire Behind the Curtain
Artist: Adam Stafford
Label: Song, by Toad
Release date: 4 May

Adam Stafford has long produced engaging and interesting music of the highest calibre. From remarkable solo shows where he would build up tender vocal loops into maniacal danceathons while cutting shapes in a shirt and tie like Ian Curtis at an office party, to his effortless ability to create brilliant, affecting guitar pop – and all sorts of weirdness and wonder in between.

But Fire Behind The Curtain is a work of monumental brilliance. Written over the course of an eight-year period darkened by Stafford’s personal struggles with anxiety and depression, this double-length LP eschews more conventional lyrical expression for a rich and utterly haunting body of work that is mostly instrumental – save for a few spoken words and choral howls.

There are familiar elements at play here to anyone already clued up, such as his aforementioned and extraordinary use of looping, patterns and repetition to weave disparate components into beautifully layered, synergetic symphonies. There is, of course, his unique turn of phrase and gallows humour (Museum of Grinding Dicks is surely contender for best song title of 2018). Yet this album sees Stafford go full composer, taking us on a musical journey of cinematic proportions.

Opener An Abacus To Calculate Infinity with its shimmering, musical ripples slowly turning in smooth waves, and The Witch Hunt with its almost tribal crescendo, are but two examples of a collection which instantly and constantly inspires a sense of drama and colour that practically begs to be set to imagery. Maybe that isn’t much of a surprise given his background in film/scoring.

Chiming guitars, birdlike whistles, rousing choirs, indefinable vocal textures, plaintive piano and more are all used by Stafford to thrilling effect and tied together with truly breathtaking string arrangements from Pete Harvey (Modern Studies). The result is an album of intelligence and beauty, depth and darkness, and ultimately, catharsis. Take the time to absorb it and it will linger in your bones. 

Listen to: An Abacus To Calculate Infinity, The Witch Hunt, Penshaw Monument