“This isn’t prog!” exclaimed my colleague on the way home from work, when this one was in the player.
Of course, I defended the genre – explaining that it has always been broad enough to encompass folk, blues, rock, classical, world music and more. But I could see why he thought it too straightforward to be prog.
The title track that we were listening to is really three barely-related parts masquerading as one, but we’ll happily forgive them for that deception – they have to provide at least one fourteen-minute opus if they want to keep their prog credentials. If “Eye of the Tiger” had a far more intelligent and lesss irritating nephew, the first part could be it. It breaks somewhat abruptly into a guitar solo (like the end of “Layla,” it starts over a solo piano, then builds and builds). Just as abruptly, it resumes in acoustic mode, with vocals again, without reprising the opening tune (or lyrical concept) – and it’s engaging all the way through.
For me, an album’s a winner if I find my face is scrunched up for much of it, because I’m lost in its emotion and vicariously feeling the guitarist’s anstg while he’s soloing, or the force of the chord changes.
By the time the equally compulsive and accessible follow-up track “Once Round the Sun” is finished, my face has been scrunched multiple times. And it carries on through the straight classic rock of “Hammerdown.” Mostly Autumn seem to stick to major chords and simpler songs than you would expect, but imbue them with a sonic richness, emotion and singability that make you want to play them over and over.
For a band with seven mostly multi-instrumentalist members, their sound is remarkably open and clear. They have stripped away all the unnecessary layers – unusual in itself with this genre – and what is left is pure melody, interspersed with some emotional guitar solos and anthemic spells.
The Pink Floyd influence is probably much to thank for this. After all, Dark Side of the Moon was eminently singable and made up of several short tracks and just a few instrumentals. Mostly Autumn are on YouTube covering Floyd, and it’s a good match, as Bryan Josh’s guitar work is on the David Gilmour end of a short spectrum that reaches as far as Barclay James Harvest’s John Lees in the other direction. You can hear both in a single solo in “Changing Lives” and you can’t hear his solo in often-anthemic “Native Spirit” without bringing Gilmour to mind.
Where the sound particularly differs from Floyd is the (mostly) female vocals. Olivia Sparnenn has taken over from the highly popular Heather Findlay, and she is an astounding presence. Try her unwavering power on the other biggest standout track “Tomorrow Dies.”
Actually, about seven of these ten tracks are standouts, such is the consistent quality on this release. “Rain Down” is one. Once it might have been called a metal ballad. It starts slow, tender, cinematic and wistful, the sparse, tinkly piano augmented by a keys wash, violin and flute. By the end it has another of those massive solos (think Camel and “Ice” for a bit of the feeling).
Following it, and closing the disc, “Forever and Beyond” opens up a chink in their sound to reveal some of their Celtic influence. The tune is extremely close to Tim Cullen’s “Hallelujah, my Father,” but the track as a whole has more than a little of the nineties’ band Big Country.
Finding anything negative is not only very difficult (the only slight flaws are loose endings and not using piper Troy Donockley enough) but pointless. To achieve such consistently powerful music across 74 glorious minutes is a considerable achievement and detraction would be churlish. Had this been released in 1973, the band would be millionaires a few times over by now.
I must have played it some twenty times so far, and it keeps getting better. In a just world, music like this would have regular airplay and be nominated for awards like the Mercury Prize. Corporate music doesn’t start to compete. Majestic and satisfying, this is the best album I’ve heard this year, and it’s one I will enjoy for the rest of my life.
Mostly Autumn have created powerful tune-based songs with space and emotion. Proggy? Yes. Noodly? Not one bit.