Gentle Giant release insanely giant box

Clocking in at 29 CDs plus one Blu-ray, the ‘Unburied Treasure’ box set by Gentle Giant is truly insane. But given that this band made insanely unique music, it is only fitting. The short of it is that I would recommend this box to newcomers and long-time fans alike, but if you need more convincing before shelling out what might also be seen as insanely much money for CDs in this day and age, then read on.

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When the end is a new beginning

With 30 discs in total to choose from, I am probably the only reviewer to dive directly for the June 16 1980 live set recorded at the Roxy in LA.

I fumble when trying to press the disc onto the spindle. But then, finally, it is there. ’Convenience (Clean and Easy)’ from final Gentle Giant album ‘Civilian’ blast through the speakers and it takes less than a minute for my eyes to fill with tears.

But wait a minute, that final album is crap, right? Well-known prog rock journalist Sid Smith recently asked his Facebook friends the following: “I’m writing something about when our love for an artist cools or dies completely. 

What LP caused you to part company and why? How did you feel? Was there ever a joyful reunion?”

‘Civilian’ by Gentle Giant was one of the answers he got.

And despite the members of the band defending the album even today, all I hear is a mediocre stab at mainstream 1980s rock.

The reason I am putting on this particular disc is that for more than 39 years I have believed I saw the last ever performance by Gentle Giant. That concert took place at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco on June 15th, and I specifically attended the second set starting at 11 PM, because in the tour program published at the time that was indeed the very last.

Turns out I was wrong.

Turns out they added added the Roxy in Hollywood for two more shows even though they had been there the night before the Old Waldorf, due to popular demand.

Turns out that I have even have that performance on CD already, as it was previously released as ‘The Last Steps’ in 1996; it has just been mislabeled as the ‘official’ June 14th show all these years. Probably by someone like me who had seen the originally published tour schedule.

So, one more childhood illusion shattered. Anyway, I was there at what was then the penultimate night (sigh). 

The Old Waldorf was a small venue, holding only a couple of hundred, a club with tables, creating a very intimate setting. I remember the band actually announcing that it was their last performance there on that stage (despite what then happened the following night), and there was a shock of sadness like a ripple through the room.

But they certainly went with a bang. Wow, what an emotional show!

They mixed songs from the ‘Civilian’ album with a selection from their classic albums, while they showing off their incredible musicianship by swapping instruments with each other seemingly at random during the show. And organically that led up to everyone playing their otherwise also well-documented all drums number.

Much of that can be heard on this final disc, although the sound quality suffers from having been recorded at such a small venue. I haven’t been to the Roxy but understand that it was similar to the Old Waldorf – it certainly sounds like a club recording and doesn’t breathe. As a result, the excitement I felt at seeing them unfortunately doesn’t translate onto disc.

One of those “you had to be there” moments.

From one extreme to the other

From that extreme end, the next disc to get a spin is from the very beginning, because, excitingly, we have full Steven Wilson stereo and surround remixes of the magnificent first Gentle Giant album from 1970. 

In 2017, Alucard released the ‘Three Piece Suite’ containing new mixes of a few tracks from each of the first three albums. To my knowledge, they did so because the other master tapes were lost. So, had they now found the missing masters? 

On re-reading the ‘Three Piece Suite’ liners, I realise there is no mention of lost masters; there is in fact no real explanation for combining the three first albums into one at all. Hmmm…

In fact, despite all the books, and posters and stuff that you get with ‘Unburied Treasure’ there is no explanation here either. There are in fact no mentions about the remixes at all. Very irritating.

In any case, I put on the surround mix first. And boy, does that translate to disc, just wow! 

‘Gentle Giant’ is in places rather sparse in its instrumentation and quite gentle indeed, leading one to think that doing a surround mix would be overkill. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, this mix shines light on all the nuances and magically enhances the multi-vocal parts. In fact, I think it is one of the most impressive surround mixes of 70s records I have heard – and I have heard many. 

Even in the prog rock genre, Gentle Giant’s music is effortlessly at the top when it comes to complexity, yet they are simultaneously the most melodically oriented of them all. In that sense, Gentle Giant are to prog rock what 10cc are to pop music. As a result, their music is a natural fit for surround. 

But having said that, I was not prepared for the depth such a mix would reveal in their debut album. Totally fantastic! If you are a hard core Gentle Giant fan, I would say that this mix alone is worth the (very high) price of this box alone.

The perfect middle ground

After the end and the beginning, I go smack bang to the middle since the 1975 album Free Hand is my favourite after all. For this reason, it is a great pleasure to find a classic concert performed in the wake of the release of that album here, namely in Basel on November 24th. Although there Is a professionally recorded (and filmed) performance from Germany on August 10th previously released as the ‘Giant on the Box’ DVD, this sadly seems to be the only other recording from that phase. And, it is brilliant, with engaging performances, the trademark taped breaking glass intro to ‘The Runaway’ that has the audience clapping hands before the strange time signatures quickly overwhelm them, a spinning coin introducing ‘Excerpts from Octopus’ and all in quite good sound quality. A must hear! 

Digging in

There are many other live discs here, from every phase of the band’s career. I can’t say that I have fully listened to them all yet, but at an attempted quick skip through listen I got caught up in the music on too many occasions making it a very long listening session indeed. 

Despite heavy touring as can be studied in detail in the included LP sized 97 page ‘Tour History’, Gentle Giant only released one live album, ‘Playing The Fool’. Given their incredibly high musicianship, it is not surprisingly the highest rated Gentle Giant album on progarchives.com, even though the band were beyond their peak creatively speaking. But here, for the first time, we are treated to the complete set of recordings that were used as the basis to compile that album. Although some of it has been released in bits and pieces here and there, it is great to have it all, not least because it represent the most well recorded live material they ever did – and they are indeed in blazing form throughout.

Other notable inclusions on the box are a great BBC session from 1972, lost from the BBC archives but taped off the air by a fan, and the Pinewood Studios rehearsal tapes prior to setting out on a tour of America in 1977 in full remastered (if not exactly glorious) quality. The set contains two songs from ‘The Missing Piece’ album that were never recorded live in any other way – and at least ‘As Old As You’re Young’ is every bit as good as classic era Gentle Giant.

It is easy to gush on about Gentle Giant, but who is this box for?

I really would want to recommend it to someone who is new to the band, or in fact to someone who has now experience of 1970s prog rock at all. Gentle Giant suffer from none of the pomp or pretentiousness that prog is often, and partly correctly, associated with. Instead they showcase musical invention and team spirit at its best. But would such a person shell out well above £250 for a box like this? I wonder… 

Blu-ray box next please!

So that probably leaves us to the committed fans instead. But they probably already have multiple copies of all the official albums. I had much rather seen a complete Blu-ray release of the studio albums instead, to be honest. Since ‘Acquiring the Taste’ and ‘Three Friends’ were not remixed for this release, will we they ever get a release? Although this box it is certainly great not only in its physical shape and form, I hope it won’t be the last.

So far, only ‘Octopus’ and ‘The Power and the Glory’ are available in proper, uncompressed surround editions, despite the fact that no other band I can think of, including King Crimson, gains as much from surround mixes. 

Even though surround mixes of both ‘Free Hand’ and ‘Interview’ exist, they have only been released as compressed DTS versions on that awful DVD-Video disc format. Even just thinking about a surround mix of the insanely intense experimental masterpiece that is ‘In A Glass House’ makes my mouth totally dry. How on earth hasn’t that even happened yet!?! Just asking! After all, that first post Phil Shulman album is the point were the band really should have dropped the ‘gentle’ part of their name, as what followed were quartet of albums deceptively still full of gentle sounds but at heart utterly without compromise.

In comparison, ‘The Missing Piece’ obviously would pale, but it is still a great album, and surely the master tapes at least for that album are still around?

Unlike other progressive acts from the 1970s, Gentle Giant have never reformed. As an effect, their singular legacy remains fully untarnished. And these guys truly were giants although they lost their way with the two last albums. The taller they are, the harder they fall.

That is why this box is essential. Yet we still want more!! Blu-ray box next please!

Roy Wood cuts the mustard

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In an extremely crowded field of English eccentric pop stars, Roy Wood still stands out with ease. He is very consistently strange, in a Vivian Stanshall kind of way. 

Since his time with the Move, he has been as comfortable with writing charting pop hits as with doing over-produced doo wop pastiches. And in the process he has probably managed to alienate both the hit listeners and the Americana aficionados.

Given his incredible talent and musical skill that is no mean feat. It is of course also a terrible shame.

Because, just like his one time band mate Jeff Lynne, he really has total mastery of the beatlesque pop song formula. You get the impression that he can bang out a tune that appeals equally to your feet and to your brain almost without any effort at all. Simultaneously, listening to his albums also becomes an exercise in patience since he has a tendency to fill the spaces between those irresistibly stellar pop songs with homages to 1940s swing era or rock’n’roll medleys.

That is certainly also true for his second solo album, ‘Mustard’, from 1975, which is now it is being reissued by Esoteric in remastered form. Unfortunately, the bonus tracks are the same ones as on the Edsel edition from the late 1990s and the Japanese reissue from 2006 on Air Mail Archive: Given that Roy not only recorded this completely with only the slightest of vocal help (from girlfriend Annie Haslam among others), but also had to movie studios in the middle of everything, resulting in a quite protracted recording period, I am sure that there really is a ton of unused material tucked away on a tape reel in someone’s attic somewhere. 

The first bonus track here, ‘Oh What A Shame’ was the last Roy Wood song to bother the charts. Although released in anticipation of ’Mustard’, it is not included on the album – an album that marked the fading away of Roy Wood from the public eye, even though he remained active in some form for more than another decade with his last solo album ‘Starting Up’ being released in 1987.

And listening to ‘Mustard’ now, it is easy to understand why it didn’t sell well. It is really all over the place. 

A needle violently hits the run-in groove of a 78 rpm disc, as the album kicks off with Roy expertly mimicking a 1940s swing tune on ‘Mustard’. It is as skilful as it is flabbergasting. But then on second track, ‘Any Old Time Will Do’ we get a typical Roy Wood pop number, slightly nostalgic and eminently hummable. And on ‘The Rain Came DownOn Everything’ continues with pop drama of the highest order, and comparisons with ELO are not difficult to make.

But then we are back to pastiche land again with the boogie of ‘You Sure Got It Now’, followed by a perfect beach Boys homage in ‘Why Does Such A Pretty Girl Sing’. You just have to roll with it. Granted, even that can be a challenge, as ‘The Song’ comes next, with a plaintive, melodramatic vocal couple of minutes followed by four minutes of romantic, classically inspired instrumental stuff than sounds like it was pulled out of some 50s movie.

Although the 50s touch still very much remains, the next song, ‘Look Through The Eyes Of A Fool’, again pulls us firmly back onto irresistible Roy Wood pop ground. Alas, that bliss is only short lived, as Roy ends the album with an extended potpourri that doubles as a musical workout for good and for bad.

It is easy to be confounded by this record, and it really makes you wonder why at many points.  But simultaneously, it is difficult not to get smitten by Roy’s genuine love for the various genres he visits, and, in the end, to appreciate all his eccentricity. 

Top ten albums of 2019

2019 was a year of climate crisis and political turmoil. Music was just about the only thing that held up a bit of hope, with a flood of stellar albums having been released. Here is my top pick for the year, followed by the runners up in alphabetical order. Included are also my top picks in a few other categories.

 

Lost Crowns – Every Night Something Happens

In an era where the Spotify business model has transformed the pop song into 30 seconds of content and 3 minutes of hollow repetition, it is ironic that I decided on my album of the year for 2019 after only having heard a few seconds and even though it was the first 2019 album I had heard at all.

Those first seconds contain a sustained, reedy organ tone in the bottom, rattly cymbals and a twitchy guitar on top. That’s all. But in stark contrast to the Spotify template, that intro also promises a journey ahead, a trip into the unknown and unknowable. And ‘Every Night Something Happens’ lives up to that promise.

Album of the year, plain and simple.

 

Bitw – Bitw

Despite its unassuming home recorded blend of acoustic and electronic instruments and undemonstrative vocals, already the first song hides a huge melody in its guitar lines and an irresistible lo-fi choir.

 

black midi – Schlagenheim

Sheet music so full of notes that it is beyond the capacity of computers – that is the inspiration for this young London quartet. Cacophonous, manic and frequently quite hard on your ears, while still managing to deliver beautiful melodies and poetic moments.

 

The Cold Spells – Interstitial

Forlorn and experimentally pastoral post-punk pop. Wonderfully restrained and autumnal, and yes, it does make you think of Robert Wyatt!

 

Diagonal – Arc

Van der Graaf Generator makes love to Talk Talk and gives birth to ambient prog. This is where post-rock should have gone in the first place.

 

Ham Legion – Paradise Park

Here’s an album full of power chords and metally, growly things that simultaneously dares to be light as a butterfly. The effect is stunning in a literal and visceral way. Now this list is in alphabetical order, but if I were to pick a second album of the year, this is clearly it.

 

Jouis – Mind Bahn

Mind Bahn’ starts out with a tape that is quickly wound backwards and leads to the tempered pace of ‘Collapse Rewind’. Although the tempo isn’t very fast, there is immediately a groove that turns out to be a hallmark feature of the entire album. A genuine hippie album for the modern era.

 

Led Bib – It’s Morning

A free-jazzier take on the North Sea Radio Orchestra. “Spine tingling” wrote North Sea Radio Orchestra collaborator James Larcombe and I can only agree! An easy top pick and another proof that British jazz is back with a vengeance.

 

Sean O’Hagan – Radum Calls

While only being Sean’s second solo album proper, this builds very much on his long raft of High Lamas albums. A brilliant return – and a bold step forward for experimental pop music.

 

School of Language – 45

A funk pop concept album from Field Music’s David Brewis, about the ruler of the Untidy State of America. If anything defines 2019, this album is it. Must have.

 

Best archival issue 2019

North Sea Radio Orchestra – Gap Species

As a kind of prehistory to the NRSO, these tracks mainly date from the period after the demise of the Shrubbies in 1998 and leading up to Craig Fortnam forming the NSRO whose first album arrived in 2006. It holds together very nicely as an album and certainly is no gap filler.

 

Best reissue 2019

Gentle Giant – Unburied Treasure

Unbelievably massive 29 CD + Blu-ray reissue of one of the cornerstones of 1970s prog rock. Gentle Giant suffer from none of the pomp, gloat or pretentiousness of prog and instead showcase musical invention and team spirit at its best. A band whose reputation only continues to grow, for a good reason. Recommended to newcomers and longtime fans alike! 

 

Best live album 2019

North Sea Radio Orchestra – Folly Bololey: Songs from Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom

I cannot think of anyone better to guide me through the music of Robert Wyatt in this way than the North Sea Radio Orchestra, who in their own music display a similarly English sadness and yearning melancholia. And if you think by now that with a second NSRO album this best of 2019 list is heavily biased towards my personal taste, well then you are completely right!

 

Best EP 2019

Heavy Lamb – Mintys Hill

Straight out of nowhere comes this cardiacsesque collection of amazing home recordings mixing wonderfully complex melody with walls of distorted jangle. None other than Jo Spratley guests on vocals on the track ‘Fragile’. A debut album seems to be in the works for 2020 – an as of yet unborn contender for next year’s best of list!

Update: This EP was on Bandcamp when I published the list, but has since mysteriously been taken down. Hope you managed to buy it – I did 🙂

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That’s all, good folks! Now, if I could have one wish for 2020, it is that more musicians get involved in the big political challenges facing us. Back in the 1960s, music was at the center of political change, that was again the case in the late 1970s – and that stage needs to be recaptured in the coming decade!

Take a snap of the Famous Groupies for me

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When I realised that the ‘Rehearsing The Multiverse’ album by the Famous Groupies is sold through kunaki.com I first thought it might be a project involving David Grahame, the unsung American bedroom pop heir to Emitt Rhodes and Paul McCartney. Listening to a couple of very McCartneyish clips online further strengthened that suspicion.

However, on closer inspection, it turns out that this is the work of other musicians who most likely have been involved in other homage projects in the past.

The album’s first track ‘Don’t Bury Me’ immediately confirms the homage heritage, starting off directly with an obvious reference to ‘Rock Show’ from the Wings album ‘Venus and Mars’ only to segue into a steal from ‘Mrs. Vandebilt’ now transformed into the lyric snippet “please Mr. Macabee”. 

Oh, and the whole song is about Billy Shears, the imaginary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band leader featured on said album, who was then rumoured to be the lookalike replacement in the conspiracy theory about McCartney’s alleged death in a car accident.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhCE087lVqA

To further obfuscate, the Famous Groupies are said to be a Scottish band, all with the McKenzie surname, who are stuck in some kind of time loop between 1970 and 1976. And this is how bandleader Kirkcaldy McKenzie describes himself: “I co-write and sing the songs. I sing, play guitar, play some piano, play some drums and other various instruments when needed. I am all things McCartney.”

That, by the way, is true of the band name as well, which is lifted from a song on the ‘London Town’ album.

So, with a back story as ridiculous as it is complete, we are almost in Rutles territory here. Apart from the ambitious story telling, what makes it reasonable to talk about Rutles in this context is that the music pulls together bits and pieces of McCartney & Wings material in a similar fashion as Neil Innes did with the Beatles for his Rutles songs; you constantly recognise snippets, but they are skewed out of shape, turned inside-out or put in unfamiliar context. 

As a listener, that keeps you on your toes, feeding you a constant stream of almost deja-vu like experiences when you try to put your finger on a half-remembered melody line that nevertheless slips beyond your grasp.

At best, the effect is a totally new perspective achieved by the juxtaposition of two knowns into an unknown and original thing. But maybe this is where the comparison to the mighty Neil Innes breaks down; whereas I am willing to put the Rutles on a piedestal as one of the truly great pop bands in their own right, this album by the Famous Groupies remains a homage, albeit an intriguing and well-written one. Neil Innes was famously sued by the owners of the Beatles’ catalogue, lost the case and had to share songwriting royalties with them. But the interesting part of that court case is that testimony based on minute scrutiny and comparison of the songs actually cleared Neil Innes from plagiarism technically speaking. So in the end I think it is fair to argue that the owners of the  Beatles’ catalogue followed through with the lawsuit because they feared Innes originality more than anything else. I am not sure that would be the case with the Famous Groupies.

In any case, ‘Rehearsing The Multiverse’ is really full of beautiful pop songs and goes way beyond most other albums that wear their influences on their sleeves. If you care about 70s pop music, you need to hear it!

https://www.famousgroupies.rocks

William Doyle revisits a very English wilderness

William Doyle

I never got into William Doyle’s previous records as East India Youth. And I haven’t even bothered with the ambient albums he has put out over the last couple of years. So, in that sense, his new solo album ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’ is really my first real introduction to his music. And what a mesmerising introduction it is!

One reason for me not really having listened to Doyle in the past might be that I always find more difficult to get used to synths than sounds conjured up using analogue instruments. 

However, I think Doyle really has combined the best of both worlds here. There are huge swaths of synth all over the album, some of it really massive and even pompous – but the sounds still have a feeling of analogue depth to them, and on top of that there is an oft-recurring saxophone to balance the electronics. The combination makes the sound interesting and multi-faceted, and, most importantly, somehow embodied.

And despite the heavy use of synths and drum machines, there is nothing modern about the sound, not even modernistic.

A good example of this could be the track ‘Orchestral Depth’. It doesn’t contain anything remotely resembling an orchestra, apart from a bit of piano. Instead it is literally drenched in swooning washes of synth, with Doyle’s high pitched voice on top. Just as I starting to think that this could almost spill over into prog pretentiousness, the saxophone enters and it is impossible to not think Pink Floyd. But then the sustained bed of sound fades out in a cascade of white noise and a spoken voice takes over:

“But the actual fabric of the places, where I learned about the fabric of places, has remained, has remained uncannily consistent. Stasis is still an option, and it is the one that this part of England has chosen. The world of my childhood hasn’t vanished: it’s a ghost that has no struggle to be seen behind the coarse facades that have been superimposed down the years.”

This strikes me as a key passage, because it gives context to the album – and also hints at why it has taken him as long as ten years to complete it. ‘Your Wilderness Revisited’ is a rumination of what it is like to be alive today and knowing what has passed but not what is to come. It is both starkly personal and surprisingly universal. With it, Doyle joins the hallowed ranks of eccentric pop musicians, not the least of whom is Brian Eno, featured here with another spoken passage on the track ‘Design Guide’. 

Eno opens that track with the words: “Distinctive and positive identity.” And although he is literally reading that from a list of suburban landscaping requirements for councils, those words really sum up this album as a whole; an album with a focus on describing identity, but while using bits and pieces of nostalgia never drowns in it but manages to keep spirits reasonably high. And with Doyles’ silk-smooth vocals and un-orchestrated yet sweeping pop melodies, this certainly is as distinctive as it is unforgettable.

I am also deciding right here and right now to go back and listen seriously to the East India Youth albums; something this fully formed simply does not rise out of nowhere.

Viscerally stunning debut album by Ham Legion

Ham Legion - Paradise Park

As a rule, I don’t like guitar albums, particularly if they are full of power chords or metally, growly things; but that is just because they don’t make them like ‘Paradise Park’ the debut album by Ham Legion. This album contains all of the above and remains heavy as a brick while avoiding empty shows of testosterone. And crucially, it also simultaneously dares to be light as a butterfly.

The effect is stunning; and I mean that in a literal and visceral way. In order to hear what goes on in the subdued and near-silent parts, you can’t help but turning up the volume knob – then, when the guitars thunder and the screams rip, your mind is blown and your head is physically smashed against the wall if you pull back too fast.

At the beginning of the year, I boldly announced that the Lost Crowns debut album ‘Every Night Something Happens’ was the album of the year. I knew that was a dangerous thing to do, but I couldn’t in my wildest fantasies imagine an album like this coming along. Now, this isn’t a competition and there is no need to announce a winner. Suffice to say is that if you liked that album you will love this. And there is a connection between them in the form of legendary pronk band Cardiacs: ‘Paradise Park’ has been mastered by Mark Cawthra, and William D. Drake plays keyboards on one of the tracks. (Cawthra was the original drummer in Cardiac Arrest, and Drake was in the classic era Cardiacs lineup.)

If anything, this is much more in pronk territory than the Lost Crowns. Come to think of it, this is much more progressive rock than the stuff they write about in Prog Magazine; there is no set evolution for the tracks here. On the contrary, they often seem to be made up of discarded bits and pieces of failed attempts at songwriting that are just haphazardly strung together. On paper that obviously doesn’t work, but somehow Ham Legion turn these impossible collisions of ideas and styles into journeys of discovery. As a listener you feel a strong urge to go a long for the ride to see where it all goes. Invariably, it goes off the chart, and sometimes off a steep cliff into empty space as well. But it certainly is thrilling.

Take for example the track ‘(I Would Like To Have Significantly Larger) Portions (Please)’; the title itself conjures up bits and pieces of leftovers that have been scraped from their plates and left in a big ugly pile. And that sums it up rather well. The track fades in gently with a distorted, sustained guitar tone that is then taken over by a basic heavy rock riff lumbering on until it via a finger picked bass segues into a more energetic metal beat topped by a death growley vocal. However, soon the noise disappears and there is a lone and bedroom singer-songwriter a line about something “so early in the morning”. 

Here is where you start dialling up the volume in order to hear what he is singing about… But just as you lean into the speaker, the frail vocal is replaced with a big Queen-like hard rock chorus, that then exchanges a few passes with the muted vocalist before you are carried away on a stretch of guitar rock into the sunshine. Like I said, it doesn’t work on paper!

If those where the leftovers, then ‘Oooodles’ plays like its diametrical opposite; here we get all the bits and pieces of good ideas that were saved in order to be expanded into full pieces later on. Unfortunately that never happened, and by the way the good ideas were not as plentiful, hence the track is only half as long as ‘Portions’. 

That is not to say that there are moments of exquisite beauty here. Take the first minute of ‘Moths Bugs & Bees’ for example, which is back to the bedroom poet’s frail and contemplative pop. Until the track is taken over by satanic screams, that is…

There are also more traditional song structures, proving that Ham Legion indeed are quite capable of writing catchy pop thingies if they wish, such as on ‘Curse the Weather’. Although the instrumentation is a bit wonky, the tune does have identifiable verse and chorus parts and would be a given hit in an alternative universe where good music means as much as good marketing budgets.

But picking out tracks like this doesn’t do the album justice. It is not only that there isn’t a duff moment here, but also that the tracks taken together become bigger than their sum. Simply brilliant!

Roger Heathers makes acoustic harmony pop album

Roger Heathers - Grim

After having released mini album ‘Next Week In Münster’ back in May, Roger Heathers is back again with another mini album, ‘Grim’. Looking at the cover, my first thought was that this might be a Halloween record, but more than anything it is a set of love songs that don’t seem thematically tied to the grim reaper who has fallen asleep in an armchair on the cover. Maybe the point is that we are free to go on with our lives and loves as long as he is asleep? I am probably missing something obvious…

Whereas the previous album was a heavily arranged and intricate sounding 10CCesque affair, this is a quite stripped down set with acoustic guitar and vocals in the fore, as well as additional voices in the back. In fact, rather than calling this acoustic as Heathers does, I’d go as far as to call this a vocal extravaganza with lots of multi-tracked voices all over the place, both in fore- and background.

Unashamed harmony pop, then, quite beautiful yet thankfully without any cloying sweetness – but grim? No, not at all!

The songwriting remains as creative as on the previous album, although the songs come across as less complex mainly due to the use of fewer instruments. There aren’t even drums here… But despite intricate twists and turns in the melodies, it all seems unforced and the songwriting seems inspired.

It all makes for a very enjoyable listen. I particularly like the autumnal and somewhat brooding intro song ‘Reverie’. Then there is ‘Magic Happens’ which adds a welcome bit of piano, and ‘Untitled #2’ with its propulsive rhythmic drive despite the lack of drums.

As on previous offerings, it is quite difficult not to be charmed by the energy and musical enthusiasm on offer. At the same time, you get a strong feeling that there is still a lot of untapped potential, and that Heathers is still just playing around and trying stuff out, while feeling his way towards something much more substantial. So, although this is a very good little album in its own right, it also raises expectations of what he will do next. With all the talent on display here as well as on the May release, I am expecting big things ahead.