February 16, 2013 by Dan Swinhoe
Progressive music is at the crossroads. Bands such as Opeth, Mastodon and The Mars Volta have made the idea acceptable to the masses (and the press) but usually when used as a prefix for other types of music. But as a standalone the term still gets bad rep. Aside from the odd exception such as Porcupine Tree, it brings to mind men with long beards, twenty-minute synth solos and bands trying to sound like Pink Floyd.
So today we bring you a special treat; a double progressive review. At one end of the spectrum is KingBathmat and their more traditional prog sound with a hard rock edge, on the side is Andrew Danso with his laid back, ambient approach in the vein of Devin Townsend’s Ki & Ghost.
KingBathmat- Truth Button
Despite the questionable band name and artwork, Hastings-based KingBathmat have some good prog credentials- this is their sixth albums in a ten years, led by their ever-present vocalist/bassist John Basset.
As all good prog albums, there’s an underlying concept that binds everything together. Truth Button deals with technophobia, social disconnection, transparency. So for those who like their music with some brains there’s plenty to get your ahead around. What KB have avoided however, is to make the concept the most important thing on the record- there’s no spoken word passages, no overarching narrative,
Nods to the genre’s big boys can be found in passing, but not without sounding derivative. KB weave the classic prog expectations into their own sounds nicely; usually a combination of vintage pop vocals and melodies over grungy hard rock guitars, with the occasional sign of synth solo.
Every track, from opener ‘Behind The Wall’ right through to the ten-minute climax of ‘Coming to Terms With Mortality in the Face of Insurmountable Odds’, the tracks travel through a maze of meaty riffs, dreamy psychedelic passages and harmonious vocals. On ‘Abintra’ the band switch from grunge to soft hypnotic symphony seamlessly. ‘Book of Faces’ is an education of hard rock through the ages, while ‘The End of Evolution’ is half Phil Collins, half seventies rock akin to the kind of riffs Witchcraft use to pump out with added keys.
With six songs clocking in at 50 minutes, there’s a lot to take in, especially on the first listen. This long, winding kind of music requires at least a few listens to fully comprehend and appreciate everything that’s going on. This is a good update of the traditional prog sound, not an easy thing to do by any means.
Andrew Danso- FIND
Though he hasn’t been around for as long as KingBathmat, Andrew Danso has created something equally impressive. It may be the complete opposite in sound and structure, but it is still a good listen. Based in Belfast, FIND is Danso’s third release; One previous riff-orientated solo album and a very decent-sounding record with his band Tera. Both are far heavier than this latest effort, which focuses less on the guitar and more on mood.
FIND is a step away from his previous work. Danso has said it’s “way out of my comfort zone” compared to his previous releases, and he intended to make it ‘flow like water’. Meant as more of an experiment into ambient and electronic music, it combines simple beats with soundscapes, soft samples (rain, city sounds etc) with sparse but enjoyable guitar playing.
It’s a mostly quiet album, the songs often the songs swell from a whispering start to an intense swirl of sounds. Dano’s soft vocals are mostly weaved into the background noise, and on the whole feels like a halfway points between Devin Townsend’s Ki & Ghost albums; bringing the simple guitar work of the former and mixing it with the hypnotic soundscapes of the latter.
Album opener ‘Go Again’ and ‘Walk Walk Sunshine’ are the only two tracks that could be considered full ‘songs’, ‘Go..’ opens with a sparse drum beat and rhythmic bass before electro pulses and Danso’s simple chanting vocal line. ‘Walk…’ is a distorted pop number, an enjoyable, if short, jaunty tune, but these two are the minority. The rest of the time waves of synth wash over sparse, looping beats and ethereal noise. There’s no real high or lowpoints as it meshes together in a smokey haze, but it feels like that’s part of the intended ‘water’ effect.
With this kind of intangible, unstructured mood music, it’s a fine balance between relaxing lull while still being interesting & engaging, and just being dull. Impressively, Danso manages to always stay on the right side of the line. The overarching effect is very mellowing, warming, and unusually for an ambient album, cheerful.
FIND is full of lots of little ideas, snapshots of soundscapes that draw you in but often disappear before you can make sense of it all. In a way it’s very endearing, it makes you want to listen to it again and again, but you’re also left feeling the ideas could be developed even further. As an album it works very well; it doesn’t outstay its welcome and you’re left wanting more. Well worth checking out.