# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Sophia - De Nachten

  by John Clarkson

published: 17 / 12 / 2001

Sophia - De Nachten
Label: Flower Shop
Format: CD


From the sea to the river.... Sophia's third album, and first live recording, the neo-orchestral 'De Nachten ', is a striking and evocative affair of the heart that runs a gamut of emotions from

From the sea to the river.... Sophia's third album, and first live recording, the neo-orchestral 'De Nachten ', is a striking and evocative affair of the heart that runs a gamut of emotions from despair to hope, and from grief to intense joy. Effectively the solo project of guitarist and vocalist Robin Proper-Sheppard, an American who has lived in London for the last thirteen years, Sophia first formed in 1995. Proper-Sheppard, who comes originally from San Diego, first came to Britain in the late eighties as the frontman in a discordant rock trio, the God Machine, who released two albums 'Scenes from the Second Storey' and One Last Laugh in the Place of Dying' on the Fiction Records label in the mid nineties. The God Machine broke up abruptly when their bassist, Jimmy Fernandez, died suddenly, the victim of a brain tumour, in 1994. While the band's drummer Ron Austin subsequently became a film maker, Proper-Sheppard, after a difficult year which he spent mourning his friend and out of music , formed in early 1996 a label, the Flower Shop Recordings. It has since put out records by the likes of Elevate, Ligament, and Swervedriver , and in September is due to release Copenhagen's debut album 'Tales from the Forest.' Later on in that same year he also began to write and perform songs under the Sophia banner. While the God Machine combined together grinding metallics and rough-edged atmospherics, Sophia, although equally intense, in contrast have until now proved to be more low-key and introspective. With musical backing from some of the other artists on the Flower Shop Recordings, Proper-Sheppard has recorded two acclaimed studio albums, 'Fixed Water' (1996) and 'The Infinite Circle' (1998), under the Sophia moniker, which have drawn critical comparisions with Neil Young, Sparklehorse, Smog, Palace and Mazzy Star. Although both 'Fixed Water' and 'The Infinite Circle' were country-influenced, 'De Nachten', which was recorded over two nights in January at a Dutch/Belgium musical festival in Amsterdam and Antwerp , finds Proper-Sheppard switching direction. Reminiscent of Barclay James Harvest, and also of the Bathers and the Blue Nile, it has a similar sense of the epic to the former's 'A Concert for the People (Berlin)', and merges this together with the latter two groups' sweeping orchestrations and carefully detailed aestheticism. As well as Proper-Sheppard, 'De Nachten' also features the talents of another nine musicians, including Elevate's James Elkington on guitar ; Delicatessan's Will Foster on piano and a four piece string section which has both Heist's Calina de La Mare and Copenhagen's Ruth Gottlieb on violins. There are radical new interpretations of three old songs ('So Slow', 'If Only' and 'The River Song'), four previously unrecorded songs ('The Sea', 'Ship in the Sand, 'Bad Man' and 'I Left You') and also a cover version of John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy'. Of all the eight songs on 'De Nachten', it is ironically the Lennon classic that is least convincing and which leaves the least impression , proving to be pleasant but perfunctory, and adding little to the original. It is, however, a small flaw in what is an otherwise both inventive and engaging set. Emotive and charged, Proper-Sheppard's vocals are crystallised and sharp, and his simple, but directive lyrics tackle a powerful variety of moods with clarity and often self-deprecating honesty. The musicianship of all the ten players om the stage is also never anything than accomplished. Proper-Sheppard and Elkington's guitar work , Doug Thorp's bass and Jeff Townsin's drum provide a solid backbone, from which Foster's stabbing piano and the string section dip, weave and soar in and out. 'De Nachten' is opened by the six minute 'The Sea', which begins with a chiming, but insistent guitar solo to which the other instruments are slowly and forcefully added, and has Proper-Sheppard beckoning his love to run away with him to sanctuary of the ocean. It is closed with another redemption song 'The River Song' , a dervish Waterboys style waltz with sudden, grating guitars , which finds the vocalist, weary of himself, finding comfort and spiritual absolution in the river . In between, on the mournful 'So Slow', the first song Proper-Sheppard wrote for Sophia after Fernandez’s sudden death, Proper-Sheppard reflects upon his friend's life and demise, while on the equally dark 'I Left You', he captures in a matter of a few short stanzas the guilt, hurt and shame that he feels after running out on a relationship. 'If Only' in contrast, however, is a tender, yearning love song, while 'Ship in the Sand' has him looking positively to start all over again. Emotive, diverse, frank ‘De Nachten’ is an absolutely compelling experience. Both an excellent introduction to Proper-Sheppard’s work and also a worthy addition to the Sophia and the Flower Shop Recording's catalogue, it is, without doubt, one of the albums of the year.

Track Listing:-
1 The Sea
2 Ship in the Sand
3 So Slow
4 If Only
5 Bad Man
6 I Left You
7 Jealous Guy
8 The River Song

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Interview (2009)
Sophia - Interview
Sarah Maybank finds Jon Spencer to be in aggressive mood when she speaks to him about Heavy Trash's new album, 'Midnight Soul Mood', and how he divides his time between it and his other band, the Blues Explosion
Interview with Robin Proper-Sheppard (2004)

live reviews

Bush Hall, London, 18/11/2003
Sophia - Bush Hall, London, 18/11/2003
As a prelude to a European tour and their new album 'People are Like Seasons', both of which are due early next year, Sophia recently played a low-key gig at the London Bush Hall. From uncertain beginnings Jon Rogers finds them on fine form

digital downloads


There Are No Goodbyes (2009)
Understated and slow-growing, but ultimately rewarding fifth album from Sophia, which depicts in powerful detail the agony of a relationship having gone sour
People Are Like Seasons (2003)
Seduction Of Madness (2002)

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