The path to this album was a trying one. The career of Australian singer Via Tania, known to her family as Tania Bowers, started off huge. Then living in Chicago, her 2003 debut album, Under a Different Sky, counted the likes of Prefuse 73, Tortoise and Howe Gelb among its contributors, and earned a whack of buzz from the burgeoning indie media. Her second album wouldn't appear stateside until six years later, after she followed producer Craig Ross (Emmylou Harris, Spoon) to Austin in 2007, and eventually released Moon Sweet Moon there in 2009, but it didn't capture the attention of critics quite the same way.
The roots of her third album, Via Tania and the Tomorrow Music Orchestra, were laid in Chicago back in 2011. Fifteen members of the orchestra braved a blizzard to spend the day in the studio with Bowers, recording four songs. After this, she moved back to Australia, had a kid, and chilled out for a year or so, while TMO's leader Matthew Golombisky moved to Argentina.
Then, in 2013, Bowers listened back to those early cuts, and the inspiration grew. She didn't let a partially funded Indiegogo campaign slow her down. She made it work, recorded her vocals in Sydney and then shipped off to Chicago for the orchestra to do the rest. Now that the album is finally finished, it's clear that the results of her great effort were worth it.
The arrangements are elegant and subdued, with her powerful, smoky voice laid bare in the mix, raw and vulnerable. While it's tempting to call it orchestral pop and lump it in with the likes of My Brightest Diamond and Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny, there are a lack of distinctive hooks that would fulfil the pop requirement. The tempos stay down and the tone stays serious throughout, with individual tracks functioning more like movements in a sizeable art piece than catchy singles. The whistling and plucked strings on "I See You Tiger" provide one of the only moments of true levity.
Much of the album balances on the edge of the heavy and ethereal, such as the droning cello that grounds the staccato woodwinds on "The Future" or the haunting choir and soul-searching chorus on "Where Would We Be" that contrasts its floating flute, soaring strings and acoustic guitar. From start to finish, Via Tania and the Tomorrow Music Orchestra is an emotionally resonant work of understated beauty. (Narooma)