The Appearance of Colour

John Metcalfe, 2015

"This is my most rigorous album to date. It's music of big contrasts but sonically unified with the intention to create a complete album with an intense emotional arc". John Metcalfe

Composer, producer, classical violist, guitarist, and arranger to A-list pop stars, John Metcalfe has always been a name worth seeking out. The Appearance of Colour presents Metcalfe as a recording artist -- as front man, maestro and manipulator of sounds. Moreover it's a 'proper' album, carefully crafted as a listening experience with a beginning, middle and end, in which no two tracks sound or feel the same.

To make the album, Metcalfe enlisted the support of a small 'repertory company' of trusted collaborators, including drummer Andy Gangadeen (The Bays, Chase and Status), bassist Ali Friend (Red Snapper), pianist Tom Cawley (Curios, Peter Gabriel) and singer Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes). Metcalfe then meticulously assembled his arsenal of electronics, strings, guitars and layered vocals in his Oxford garage studio. The Appearance of Colour may share some of the programmed perfection typical of contemporary electronica, yet there's a 'played' feel that animates the tracks -- the sense of musicians giving everything they have in the first take.

The album unites the disparate strands of Metcalfe's musical life to date. There are repeated string motifs that evoke the work of Steve Reich. But when Metcalfe takes elements from elsewhere, he does it, not as a magpie sampler, but as an insider. (He's played Reich's Different Trains enough times to know its nuts and bolts.) Metcalfe has paid his dues as a classical string player, but he understands the excitement of playing drums in a school band, and the thrill of strapping on an electric guitar when your day job requires you to put a viola under your chin. His clean, single-note guitar lines, which he says are directly influenced by Durutti Column's Vini Reilly, are a prominent feature of The Appearance of Colour.

There are moments of affecting solo piano. There are elements of drum and bass, and of chamber music. Metcalfe's tunes mutate effortlessly: from introspective fragmentation to a calm landscape of sonorous noises; from rhythmic strings to expansive anthems. He has shared stages and studio floors with some of music's strongest personalities, but now he's striding into the spotlight. John Metcalfe may be a man of many parts, but his music is much more than the sum of those parts.

Of the album Metcalfe says; "Perhaps in the sense that colour itself has no absolute meaning but can still provoke strong reactions, my initial notion for the album was to try and write music as free as possible from conscious narrative and create a sound world that triggers more intense reactions in our non-verbal minds. In exploring this notion I created my most personal album to date. The music is inspired by many disparate things; among them a love of trees - their sounds and movements, dreams of flying and perceptions of colours for different musical keys. Additionally I searched for greater transparency between acoustic and electronic sounds and investigated the idea of 'horizontal' music - to create harmony and progression by using interwoven monophonic lines as opposed to 'vertical' chords. It's music of big contrasts but through-composed and sonically unified with the intention to create a complete album with an intense emotional arc".


  • I doubt that you will hear musicianship of this standard in many other places. You'd think this collection of people had been working together forever. Perhaps the most appropriate adjective is simply (deeply and intensely) 'satisfying.' Read the full review here.
  • If you haven't already, Metcalfe is worth discovering. ★★★★ Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)
  • Metcalfe's sound is accesssible, friendly, musically investigative... ...and more complex than a first listen will reveal. To be sure it's a progressive work, thorougly composed and somewhat unassuming in texture. Is it worldly? Indeed! Moreover, it's worth having in your world music library.

    Read more Wisconsin Public Radio (USA)

  • Het geluid was vol en dik en acties maakte een impressie (The sound was full and thick and actions made an impression...) read more Written In Music - Live from Kings Place, London (The Netherlands)
  • Il y a un sentiment grisant... ... et affolant (les compteurs), une féérie sérielle mi-Satie, mi-Glass, aux accents jazzy et world qui déconcerte autant qu'elle impressionne. En savoir plus Sun Burns Out (France)
  • The Appearance Of Colour van de Britse alleskunner John Metcalfe mag je met recht een meesterwerk noemen. (The Appearance Of Colour...can be called a masterpiece) Read more... Vinyl50 Online (The Netherlands)
  • 7/10 - Electro-classical soundscapes to incite reverie… Read more... Clash Music Online (UK)
  • * * * *'s hard not to think that now may be a good time for Metcalfe to move away from the musical shadows to a more prominent position, where his own compositions get the exposure and attention they deserve. Read more... Music OMH (UK)
  • Just let Go - Number 1 - MOJO Playlist MOJO Magazine (UK)
  • 8/10 Many reasons exist to compare John Metcalfe's forth album to Jóhann Jóannsson's IBM 1401, A User's Manual... But there's much more here... Uncut Magazine (UK)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' A sparse, piano-and string-driven song that's not so out of place in this everlasting winter the Northeast's been fending off this year. Read more... SPIN (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' AutoTuned vocals against a mystically creeping orchestral slow build and, eventually, a deconstructed trip-hop thump. It's a marvelous piece of music, so listen to it. Read more... Stereogum (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' Bat for Lashes Teams up with John Metcalfe. Read more... Pitchfork (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' The track features Khan's etheral vocals over a subtle and mysterious build, until it blossoms into something much more robust, with full strings, piano, and percussion. Read more... Pigeons and Planes (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' Read more... DIY Magazine (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' ...Add it to the "bonafide stunners" list... Read more... Bustle (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' The track begins quietly, with soft piano notes and minimal strings. The arrangement gradually becomes more lush, as electronic beats and Khan's processed vocals are joined by ornate orchestrations. Read more... Exclaim (Canada - Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' "Just Let Go" uses minimalist keys and aching strings to underpin flighty guitar melodies; there's a bizarre sense of calm flowing through the music, and it all feels hugely natural - as if listening to the world around you while locked in the great outdoors. Read more... The Line Of Best Fit (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan lends a creative hand to multi-talented musician John Metcalfe. A somber, key-and-string-driven slow-churner that showcases Metcalfe's masterful, deft abilities as a composer and arrange. Read more... Hypetrak (Online)
  • Preview 'Just Let Go' A stirring, atmospheric slow-burner that pits cinematic pianos with Khan's autotuned vocals, 'Just Let Go' is a perfect marriage of two innovative artists in harmony. Read more... NME (Online)