If you’ve taken a look at its hideous cover art, and somehow managed to avoid having its offensively kitschy image burned permanently onto your retinas, and similarly survived a read-through of the tedious booklet without lapsing into a word-induced coma, you might finally get around to listening to the music contained in Nicholas Vines’ album, Torrid Nature Scenes. And you might even discover that, despite the visual signs to the contrary, this young Australian composer’s music is surprisingly good – damn good, in fact.

The collection comprises three of his recent chamber pieces, The Butcher of Brisbane, The Economy of Wax and Torrid Nature Scene, performed by the splendidly named American new music ensemble Callithumpian Consort and soloists. All three works are rich in atmospheric soundscapes, gestural impact, complex rhythmic overlaying, and fresh thematic ideas. Particularly impressive is the album’s title work, Torrid Nature Scene, for solo soprano, mezzo-soprano and chamber group. Described in typically vivid language in the booklet as “a squelchy, romping obscenity” (sigh), the seven-movement work plays as an inverted pastorale. Bawdy neo-Shakespearian poetry by Andrew Robbie is set to music that captivates from beginning to end, bathing us in ever-evolving textures, and steering us through a series of lush, mystical and sweeping soundworlds. 

Vines is a mere 36 years old, which isn’t much in composer years. I would dare to call him one of the most promising Australian composers of his generation, yet strangely we don’t hear much of him here. It mightn’t help that he spends most of his time in the States, teaching at Harvard and at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. In the words Mozart uttered when he allegedly heard a young Beethoven play, “Remember this boy’s name.” Indeed one day, Nicholas Vines’ music may be more familiar to us… it really is a shame about the artwork, though.