Tom Hickox: Orchestral Manoeuvres

Songwriter/composer Tom Hickox gets expansive on Monsters In The Deep

Tom Hickox’s first album, 2014’s well-received War, Peace And Diplomacy, was a fair effort by a songwriter whose smart lyrics and resonant baritone voice garnered frequent comparisons to Morrissey and Leonard Cohen.

Musically speaking, follow-up Monsters In The Deep (Family Tree/Warner Chappell) is as hard a left turn as you could imagine, a spectacular carnival of styles and production settings after the manner of Pet Sounds and 1960s-era Harry Nilsson, each one of which shows off the range and power of Hickox’s vocal instrument in a distinct context. It’s an ambitious gamble that pays off handsomely, from the haunting solo finger-plucked balladry of “The Plough” to the soaring, heavily layered global pop of “Istanbul” and back again.

Hickox comes by this eclectic approach honestly—his father Richard was a celebrated English conductor, while mother Frances Sheldon-Williams was a lifelong timpanist—and he was determined to let the songs on his second album range freely over the sonic terrain they seemed to want to explore.

“Chris (Hill), my producer, and I thought, ‘Right, let’s work out what (arrangement and instrumentation) is best for each song, and not apply any limitations to what kind of world or orchestration the song should live in. We were always trying to find something searching and interesting, and also trying to give the listener a rich and exciting journey to go on, so that you don’t get four or five tracks in and feel like you know what’s coming next.”

Like his first album, Monsters In The Deep is the work of a lyrical songwriter. But Hickox’s palette runs much deeper and broader here, an expansive quality that makes his sophomore effort feel as though all of his formidable composition and arrangement skills are on display.

“When I sit down to write, I’m usually drawn to other people’s experiences,” he says. “But inhabiting the voice of another character is intriguing because it allows you to reveal things about yourself in quite interesting ways. You’re able to layer the truth in the song. I’m able to write more truthfully about myself, maybe, when I write in character.”

—Eric Waggoner