Anathema – The Optimist

11 06 2017

The OptimistThe Optimist is the eleventh album from Liverpool’s Anathema, and a continuation of the story told in 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit album.

I hear shades of current bands such as Archive in The Optimist, and from early on its quite clear that this is a much more electronic offering than recent Anathema albums. The 5.1 mix (by Bruce Soord with Vincent Cavanagh) is enthralling – the electronic beats of Leaving it Behind scatter around the speakers – and the audio narrative that is so important to this album feels much clearer in the 5.1 version.

Endless Ways is a beautiful track – I love the Pink Floyd-esque guitar riff, and the emotive, reverb heavy vocal from Lee Douglas sits really well in the mix.

‘The dream I’m creating’

The albums title track is a standout song. Although the band have made the theme of the album clear, the lyrics on the album are open to interpretation – and suggest a story of someone running away and looking for direction, or maybe salvation. The track The Optimist builds with layers of guitar over strings and piano, and the end section is very moving.

My favourite track on the album is the instrumental San Francisco. The Run like Hell inspired guitar riff runs as a counter-play to the piano arpeggio – and when the hard sequencer riff hits, I’m simply in electronica heaven. Giorgio Moroder would be proud of you Anathema! This track has to be heard through headphones or a 5.1 setup to be really appreciated. There is joy in repetition.

The next stop on the journey is Springfield. The guitar and piano lines (with a sweet separation in the mix) evolve until the wall of guitars hit you so hard it hurts.

‘How did I get here
I don’t belong here’

Ghosts has a wonderful Massive Attack (Teardrops) beat and a lovely string arrangement.

Anathema press session © Scarlet Page

Can’t let go is the most uptempo song on the album, and sounds like a hybrid of Radiohead and Tears for Fears – that’s a good thing by the way. The lead and rhythm guitars are stunning on Can’t let go.

The simple and direct lyrics of Close your eyes match it’s atmospheric and disturbing music, as it mutates into an almost Twin Peaks like jazz arrangement. The album artwork maybe displays another David Lynch (Lost Highway) influence.

‘Close your eyes, just dream on’

Close your eyes flows directly into Wildfires, with its heavily treated vocals and percussion, as the track moves towards its powerful climax. The child’s music-box keyboard and guitar underpin the sad ‘too late’ refrain.

‘Who am I?’

The Optimist closes with a solo voice and guitar performance that comes into focus as the full band kicks in on Back to the start. The most psychedelic track on the album, with Beatles like guitar / strings and uplifting harmonies.

“They don’t understand, cos they don’t talk for me”

The Optimist is a powerful and moving album, that really resonates in these uncertain and troubling times. It is also one of Anathema’s finest albums to date.

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Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

14 01 2017

Lost In The Ghost LightLost In The Ghost Light is the fourth solo album from Tim Bowness (no-man / Henry Fool).

Lost In The Ghost Light is a concept album revolving around the onstage and backstage reflections of a ‘classic’ rock musician (Jeff Harrison of the band Moonshot).

Joining Tim on the album are Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief), Hux Nettermalm (Paatos), Andrew Booker (Sanguine Hum), and guest appearances from Kit Watkins (Happy The Man/Camel), Steve Bingham (no-man), David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Andrew Keeling (Robert Fripp/Hilliard Ensemble/Evelyn Glennie) arranging for string quartet and flute on three of the album’s songs.

Tim’s new album, as well as being a concept album, with a very clear theme, is also musically his most cohesive release.  His most recent solo albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World have both appealed to those who love progressive music. But if you are a fan of classic, first generation as well as modern prog, Lost In The Ghost Light will more than likely tick all the boxes for you. Musically, this album draws from the spirit of experimentation of the late 60s and early 70s, whilst keeping the Bowness musical identity intact.

I think its safe to say that Lost In The Ghost Light is an album that will be getting a ton of love from the (recently saved) Prog magazine, and will be appearing in a lot of reviewers end of year favourites lists.

Worlds Of Yesterday sets the scene with a backing of warm arpeggio acoustic guitar, some fascinating fretless bass and mid-70s keyboards / organs. The end section is wonderful, with flute (from Kit Watkins) and Bruce Soord‘s soaring guitar building up to a final 30 seconds that will surely melt your prog-filled heart.

Moonshot Manchild – well, Phil Collins would kill to have that feeling again. The piano and strings in the verse are solid-gold solo Collins, whilst the chorus and instrumental sections are unadulterated pre-80s Genesis.

“The days are long when you’re not working”

One of the most rewarding aspects of Lost In The Ghost Light is the multitude of instrumental passages, and Moonshot Manchild is one of the main beneficiaries of this freedom to explore the boundaries of the songs. I expect this song to be a possible Prog anthem of the year.

“You’re wearing the styles of your age.
 A slave to the whims of a phase, 
You dreamt of eternity’s gaze,
Now you’re running out of time.”

David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) and Mr Pineapple Thief handle guitar duties on Kill The Pain That’s Killing You, the albums least proggy track. It’s more akin to the sound of Tim’s previous albums, with a hint of no-man thrown in for good measure, so its obviously an album highlight for me!

Mid-way through the album, we have what I consider to be the albums jewel in the crown. Nowhere Good To Go is a delicious Bowness ballad, one that’s so good that it could easily be a song from no-man‘s Returning Jesus. It’s quite simply one of Bowness’s best songs.

An ever evolving arrangement keeps the song fresh, even after repeated plays. The moving lyric and vocals stay constant throughout the song, as the arrangement gets increasingly prog-flavoured towards the end. Nowhere Good To Go is a finely layered song, but underpinning the arrangement and the emotional performances is a beautiful and painfully sad story of the loneliness of the touring musician who is long out of touch and now forever out of time.

“The theatre’s deserted,
And there’s nowhere good to go.”

You’ll Be The Silence is one of the albums longest tracks, which gives the song time to build and explore.

“You caught the music of the moment by accident.
You caught the moments in the music by chance.”

A song of regret as the albums protagonist watches his band become largely irrelevant as the industry moves on and leaves him behind. Where would a band as out-of-time as Jeff Harrison‘s Moonshot fit into these days of a down-sized music industry, with no more excess and huge physical album sales? An industry moving toward streaming as the norm? I suppose they would say their new album is a return to their halcyon days and hope for reviews of the “best since Scary Monsters” variety.

“You went on stage together,
But you failed to find the art.”

Lost In The Ghost Light is filled with remarkable individual performances – Stephen Bennett hits a career best on the album in my opinion. Colin Edwin also gives some fine performances, the highlight being a moving bass harmonics solo on You’ll Be The Silence.

Tim Bowness

The Bowness production / arrangment and the usual high-quality mix and mastering by Steven Wilson need to be recognised in  reviews of the album. The way the Univox SR-55 drum machine slips seamlessly in and out of the percussion arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is a joy to hear. A tip of the hat must also go to Bruce Soord, who delivers a passionate solo in the outro that David Gilmour would be proud to call his own.

The album’s title track is pure no-man – glitchy electronics and a treated vocal that recalls the darkness of no-man’s Bleed or the Wild Opera period. The lyrics see our man Jeff questioning the relevancy of his music and whether there will be more, or whether he will remain on the soul-destroying roundabout of the nostalgia circuit.

You Wanted To Be Seen continues the questioning and self doubt, with a backing that recalls Fragile era Yes with a pinch of Pink Floyd added for good measure.

I love Andrew Booker‘s performance on this track, which works so well with Bruce Soord‘s multi-layered guitar. It reminds me a little of late period Porcupine Tree in it’s intensity.

The album ends with Distant Summers, with Colin Edwin giving it some Danny Thompson on the double bass, and a stunning flute solo from Ian Anderson. Tim delivers one of his most emotional vocal performances on Distant Summers, and I hear echoes of early Kate Bush in the piano / bass interplay and string arrangement.

“Third on the left,
A monster and a mess,
Back in the days that you still love the best.”

A couple of years  have passed since the last Bowness album, but the wait was definitely worth it. Lost In The Ghost Light is a rewarding album that reveals new details on each play. I cannot wait to hear what people think of this album, as for me, its the best Bowness album to date.

5.1 mixes on the CD/DVD version

The 5.1 mixes by Bruce Soord of Lost in the Ghost Light and Stupid Things That Mean The World make up the DVD section of the double-disc version.

Lots of new details come to the fore in the 5.1 mixes. The vocal harmonies in Worlds of Yesterday and the piano on Moonshot Manchild are much more prominent in the 5.1 mix.

My favourite track on the album, Nowhere Good to Go, sounds amazing in this mix, with a lovely separation between the synth and the lush acoustic strings. Old school Genesis fans with love the synth lines that really stand out in this version.

The arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is stunning heard through a 5.1 set-up. The album’s short title track sounds very different, with hidden, competing electronica making for a disturbing experience.

Another album highlight, You Wanted To Be Seen, has to be heard at volume to be appreciated fully.  The violin parts sit beautifully in Distant Summers, as does Ian Anderson’s solo.

I forgot to download (doh!) the 5.1 mix of Stupid Things That Mean The World that came as a pre-order bonus when the album was originally released, so this was my first listen to the album in 5.1. Just like Lost In The Ghost Light, new details emerge in the 5.1 mix of this album. Having the two 5.1 mixes adds real value to this package.

The first track that really stands out is Where You’ve Always Been – there is a lovely clarity in the individual performances, and it was a joy to get re-acquainted with one of the most underrated Bowness songs.

Know That You Were Loved works so well in 5.1 – no fancy tricks, no panning effects, just the power of an emotionally direct song in extremely high audio quality.

Press Reset is the real highlight of the 5.1 mixes for me. The bass notes cut through the mix, and oh man, when the heavy percussion and bass kicks in, it sends shivers every time.

“This is the day you’ll disappear”

The neighbours will be having words with me, as I have to crank up the volume on this track.

Everything You’re Not also reveals more detail of the unusual harmonies that go so well with the nostalgic strings and brass.

The short but certainly not sweet Soft William also takes on a new lease of life in this mix. Album closer At The End Of The Holiday reveals its powerful melancholy in 5.1. An emotional string intro leads to a moving arrangement, with brutal lyrics, and a proggy organ solo that almost act as a precursor to where Bowness would venture next with his new album, Lost In The Ghost Light.

Artwork

My initial review was from a digital copy of the album. Now I’ve got my physical copies – vinyl and CD/DVD – a special mention of the albums wonderful artwork is warranted. Tim has worked with Jarrod Gosling to flesh out the story of Jeff Harrison and his band Moonshot, whose story runs through Lost In The Ghost Light.

litgl

The album cover works as a perfect scene-setting statement, and really should be experienced in its full-size vinyl format. The gatefold sleeve (part of which is shown above) is stunning – with Moonshot vinyl, singles, vhs, CD and cassette artwork. The £1.99 sticker on the Moonshot Live at the Rainbow cassette raises a smile every time I see it.

Buy the album

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Lost In The Ghost Light – vinyl


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Tim Bowness – Stupid Things That Mean The World

1 07 2015

stupidthings220Stupid Things That Mean The World is the the third solo album from
no-man / Henry Fool singer Tim Bowness, and comes just over a year after his acclaimed Abandoned Dancehall Dreams release.

Stupid Things That Mean The World displays much more variety than its predecessor. A case in point is album opener The Great Electric Teenage Dream, a powerful, aggressive early 70s Bowie-esque piece driven by dirty guitars (courtesy of Bruce Soord and Michael Bearpark) and thumping drums from Sanguine Hum‘s Andrew Booker and Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson.

“Once a record, now an unpaid stream.”

Sing To Me evolved from a 20 year old previously unreleased no-man song, with Bowness adding new lyrics and an expanded arrangement. Hazy violin lines from Anna Phoebe flit amongst the performances delivered by the regular Bowness band of Stephen Bennett, Colin Edwin, Michael Bearpark and Andrew Booker.

The Celtic sounding twin-guitar solo (Thin Lizzy eat your heart out) from Michael Bearpark really lifts the end section of the song.

Where You’ve Always Been is one of the early surprises on the album. A gossamer light piece that evolves as the song progresses, its a perfect summer song. The sad lyrics with remarkably uplifting music (a co-write with Roxy Music‘s Phil Manzanera) work surprisingly well together, and the end result is a song that sounds unlike anything Bowness has released previously.

Some lovely piano work from Stephen Bennett and moving guitar lines from Manzanera transform Where You’ve Always Been into one of the highlights of the album.

“Quoting lines from books you borrowed – the way you’ve always been.”

Photo by Charlotte Kinson

Stupid Things That Mean The World sits well in the sequenced album – its always a good sign when an album is well-paced. The albums title track is a naggingly addictive song, underpinned by Run Like Hell sounding echo guitar lines, and an outro section that reminds me a little of the quiet beauty of Virginia Astley.

Know That You Were Loved is one of the most moving songs Bowness has ever recorded, up there with no-man’s wherever there is light. Underpinned by soft backing vocals from David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel) and guitar lines from Bruce Soord and Rhys Marsh, the simple arrangement reminds me of a lot of the mid 70s and the work of David Crosby (particularly If I Could Only Remember My Name…) and the sonic experimentation of bands like 10cc.

It’s my favourite Bowness vocal performance on the album, with lyrics that are very personal and touching.

The frailty of Know That You Were Loved is quickly washed away with the most brutal track on the album, Press Reset. Harking back to when no-man were flirting with the industrial, beat-driven material of Wild Opera, Press Reset takes the power of no-man’s Bleed and feeds it into my favourite track on the album.

“Tanked-up boys and weekend girls
Lying wasted on the pavement.”

A song dripping with isolation and rejection, the restraint shown by the musicians throughout the first half of the song ends abruptly and the remaining section will probably blow your speakers (and your mind) with its unbridled power.

All These Escapes drops the tempo back down, and revisits a song originally written back in the late 1980s. Sounding like it could have been included on a late 80s Peter Gabriel album, All These Escapes does not overstay its welcome and fades out as the beatless Everything You’re Not creeps in.

By far the most unusual song on the album, violins and proggy synth lines interweave the backing vocals provided by Bowness & Peter Hammill. An added bonus is the inclusion of brass in the arrangement. Whilst not exactly the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band, think more Peter Skellern and the mighty You’re A Lady. Listening to Everything You’re Not fuels my desire to hear more colliery brass in my pop music. Make it so,  Northern musicians, make it so.

Everything But You is a lyricless, short companion piece with some lively Jethro Tull-like flutes from Andrew Keeling and violins from Charlotte Dowding.

Photo by Charlotte Kinson

Soft William is a short but sweet song you might remember (in much simpler form) from the days of Tim’s Myspace page. Ah, digital nostalgia. Before you know it, the final track on the album is here.

At The End Of The Holiday is a sepia tinged shanty that ends the album perfectly. Soft acoustic guitars and gentle drums give the feel of a Martha’s Harbour for the 21st Century.

“She feels the breeze caress her skin, Wishes she wasn’t quite so thin.”

One of the saddest songs in the Bowness canon, with an almost baroque arrangement in some sections, At The End Of The Holiday is a fitting end to the most ambitious release to date from Tim Bowness.

Buy Stupid Things That Mean The World from Burning Shed – Burning Shed pre-orders come with an exclusive signed postcard and – on release day – a link to a flac download of a 5.1 mix of the album by Bruce Soord.

Buy Stupid Things That Mean The World from Amazon UK

Stupid Things That Mean The World album artwork by Jarrod Gosling
Tim Bowness photographs by Charlotte Kinson








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