smalltape - The Hungry Heart

smalltape – The Hungry Heart

A fascinating release from a young German multi-instrumentalist Philipp Nespital, who – pandemics permitting – can also be found gigging with his band smalltape. The Hungry Heart was released in July of this year, and from what I gather the vast majority of the album has been written, arranged, performed and produced by Philipp himself, although there are numerous guest artists who, it has to be said, bring along an intriguing array of brass, string and percussion instruments to the party.

What initially struck me about The Hungry Heart was how different and distinct each of the tracks were, so a few listening sessions were needed to fully appreciate the depth and quality of this release. We start with the cinematic title track, with its ever intensifying aural landscapes, subtle layers of instrumentation and vocals. Very impressive indeed and an immediate winner. Track two, the quirky pop/rocker The Golden Siren, I have to admit threw me though, kicking in with lo-fi electronic drums and the eyebrow raising spoken vocal. The Golden Siren seemed totally incongruous to what had gone before, however the track rocks up as it unfolds and after a few runs through… yep, it works. I kept thinking of the hallowed, bare-footed one, where the unexpected is expected and embraced, and Philipp certainly does that with Hunger. Initially we have orchestral brass which soon gives way to left-hand piano notes, a steady drum beat and vocals. Then we have a Bond-like string arrangement to take us into verse two – the piano has now gone, replaced with a growly bass synth which cleverly becomes a synth solo. At this point we are still only a couple of minutes in, and there’s much more to come, so rather than labouring the changes, check out the track…

Quite stunning really and perhaps impossible to follow, other than by a total contrast, which Our Desert does rather beautifully with just acoustic guitar and a heavenly vocal. Oh yes…

First listen through the album and by this point I was convinced. Not only had Philipp written a rather special album, with a diverse and eclectic mix of music, but subsequent listens revealed a wealth of layers that added to the experience. Topping it off, the production values are spot on, all of which made me very curious, as neither smalltape or Philipp Nespital were remotely familiar. Turns out that The Hungry Heart is the third full-length release from smalltape. There was a debut release, Circles, in 2011 and in 2017 a conceptual album The Ocean. At the time of writing, I hadn’t listened to the debut, however The Ocean turned out to be a little gem.

Returning to The Hungry Heart and a word to the wise – you are not going to get the scope and depth of this album unless you listen to the whole thing, right the way through. The album cuts across genres like a knife through butter. One Day is an infectious upbeat acoustic rocker, whereas the amps get cranked up for the album’s only instrumental, Burning House, another eclectic and evolving mix of electronica, atmospherics, jazz and – dare I say – metallic overtones. Colors, erm, the America spelling, but perhaps appropriate for this Hip Hop meets Chill Rap meets prog? You are just going to have to listen for yourself. CD one concludes with another delightful acoustic/vocal Asylum.

Not entirely sure why The Hungry Heart is a double CD as timing wise it would have easily fitted on one CD. Not that it matters really and as I’m working from a single download, I wasn’t aware until I came to put the credits section together below. The downloadable version sees Asylum drifting smoothly into the mellow piano and string musings of Where We Belong. Now there’s only two tracks on CD two, so this will have some salivating, whilst others roll their eyes at the prospect of a twenty-plus-minute epic. And like the rest of the album, you are going to have to listen all the way through as it’s yet another multi-faceted piece.

To my ears, Dissolution is an epic in the truest sense, but presented in a contemporary and refreshing manner. The first three minutes are primarily sequenced keyboards with newsreel style narration, however when the piano takes over we move into more proggy territory. There’s an airy feel across the track which nicely ebbs and flows throughout its duration. There is also tension and drama to be found and more than a few nifty solos, especially in the protracted middle instrumental.

The Hungry Heart is an ambitious, compelling and absorbing album, and one that rewards multiple visits. A refreshing amalgam of styles which very effectively fuses pop, rock and jazz into a ‘progressive’ form.

CD 1

01. The Hungry Heart (4:49)
02. The Golden Siren (5:30)
03. Hunger (7:20)
04. Our Desert (4:08)
05. One Day (4:40)
06. Burning House (6:57)
07. Colors (5:18)
08. Asylum (2:44)

Time – 41:26

CD 2
01. Where We Belong (2:47)
02. Dissolution (21:15)

Time – 24:02

Total Time – 65:28

Philipp Nespital – Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Electronics
~ with:
Alexandra Praet – Backing Vocals, Bass
Flavio De Giusti – Acoustic, Electric & Solo Guitar
Omri Abramov – Tenor Saxophone, EWI
Raphael Meinhart – Vibraphone
Mark Kagan – Violins
Dorian Wetzel – Viola
Anton Peisakov – Cello
Felix Jacobs – Bass
Kelly O’Donohue – Trumpet, Trombone
Marten Schröder – French Horn
Michael Zehe – Backing Vocals
Scott Thomas – Vocals
Valgeir Dadi Einarsson – Bass

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 16th July 2021

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