Back in 2017, I was contacted by an artist with a project called Smalltape. Something instantly intrigued me about the album that was presented. I wasn’t sure if another album would see the light of day, but I was very happy when The Hungry Heart was announced recently. The album released on July 16th, and it has taken me a few weeks to absorb it fully.
Smalltape is Philipp Nespital of Germany, a professional sound designer. Because of his profession, you can be sure that the sound on all of his projects will be pristine, as it certainly is here. Philipp handles vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards, percussion, and electronics; while also bringing in several guests to handle everything from bass and backing vocals to saxophone, trumpet, vibraphone, cello, violin, viola, and more.
This album is an eclectic affair, one that feels like a film that addresses environmental concerns. The music is presented as an artsy experience, one that draws you in immediately. There are great contrasts between loud and quiet, organic and electronic, dark and light. I might call the genre “progressive rock”, but that would be losing the jazz, pop, classical, and filmic qualities. There is definitely rock, though, more in the acoustic vein of things, and it is all performed with both technical ability and luster. I specifically appreciate the bass and drums.
There’s just something about this record. It hovers and muses in shadowy darkness and gritty voiceovers, but also features humongous, bright climaxes and tight, addictive melodies. There are times where you might feel like a different album started, just because the tone and instrumentation have changed so much. It certainly keeps you on your toes for its 65-minute runtime, and it definitely doesn’t feel that long, even the 21-minute closing epic.
The entire album radiates pure class. That said, I have a few clear favorites: songs that really, really stand out for me. The first one is called “Hunger”, and I have to say that it is one of the best songs of the year. This song stays low and dark for much of its runtime, with breathy vocals and subtle melodies keeping my interest. Soon, though, a brilliant violin section comes in, and the song begins to build through bassy textures to something even more voluptuous and mighty. This song is absolutely stunning.
What about another? This song is called “Burning House”, and it is an experience of transition and evocation. It has jazzy accents deep within its blood, even in the quick and deft pace of the drumming, and the pealing, emotional sax in the background gives me goosebumps. This track is completely instrumental, but its appeal is instant and lasting. The song builds to a jazz-rock fusion ending that is simply riveting.
Those two songs define the album for me, but the rest of the tracklist impresses, too. From the gentle ballad “Our Desert” to the whispery “Colors” to the serene “Where We Belong”, the album never misses. The grand finale is called “Dissolution” and features some gorgeous piano and sweeping keyboard auras. The chorus is fantastic, and the building tension as humanity witnesses the beginning of a new, less hospitable world is poignant. This track also has some wonderful guitar solos that are certainly noteworthy.
“The Hungry Heart” feels like an imposing undertaking. Philipp has gone to great lengths to make this sound and feel as amazing as possible. It reaches great heights, and takes us through dark places; and it always feels full of life, color, and maybe even hope. There are moments that will have you headbanging, and others that will make you pensive. It really has a bit of everything, and I think any fan of ambitious music will love it.
Find Smalltape online: