Four years have passed since the last track on May Day and the first on its splendid successor Big Issues Printed Small, but Peter von Poehl needed the time. ‘I composed May Day after three years of uninterrupted touring,' he says. ‘This time I was happy I could take my time and feed off other projects.' The Paris-based Swede didn't completely abandon his fans, however. His songs played out the final scenes and credits of two French hit films Heartbreaker and Declaration of War, while he wrote the scores to two other films, Valérie Donzelli's Main dans la main and the already-cult science-fiction film Vanishing Waves.
The 10 songs on Big Issues Printed Small were written by von Poehl, before being orchestrated with his collaborator (and founding member of The Soundtrack of Our Lives) Martin Hederos. They were then ‘rehearsed,' tested and polished at a series of live shows over a period of two years. ‘It was an extremely luxurious way to put together a record,' says von Poehl. ‘I was able to try out the new songs live with different sets of musicians.' Whether playing with a single cello player or a 40-piece orchestra, however, von Poehl kept the same idea in mind: the album should sound, as he puts it, ‘like a lo-fi record with an orchestra.'
Once the songs were ready, Peter von Poehl headed up to Vallarum, just outside Malmö, and his favourite studio, Aerosol Grey Machine. There, in the Swedish countryside, he was reunited with Christoffer Lundquist, the engineer and co-producer of the first two albums, as well as Hederos and 20 musicians. The songs were then all recorded on old-fashioned tape one after the other in just one day in an effort to keep things spontaneous. ‘Because the musicians needed to have scores for the concerts, the music of each song was fixed on paper' explains von Poehl. ‘When we went into the studio I wanted to take the scores as a starting point but then make sure that the recording felt natural, embracing the unexpected and keeping in all the surprises that can pop up in this type of session.'
The fruit of this autumnal session is the graceful and moving Big Issues Printed Small, a big record of miniatures, a magnificent sum of details, on which arrangements, skill and talent all work together in the service of emotion. In 10 tracks, the album is a return to the intimacy of the unforgettable Going to Where the Tea Trees Are, but with the extra sweep of orchestration. The cascades of clarinets, oboes and trombones on tracks such as ‘Lover's Leap' and ‘To the Golden Rose' bring to mind the epic yet fragile work of Sufjan Steven, while the title track is a feat of delicacy, a little melodic miracle with graceful horns, which feels like a strange meeting between Neil Hannon and Dylan circa ‘The Times They Are A-changin'. Sweeping, yet intimate, Big Issues Printed Small is an album of heart-piercing contradictions.