STYLE: Crossover Progressive Rock
FORMAT: FLAC (Image + Log + Cue + 5% Recovery)
SIZE: 447 Mb
THE BAND: Jan H. Ohme / vocals, backing vocals; Thomas Andersen / keys, programming; Jon-Arne Vilbo / guitars, programming assist; Roy Funner / bass; Mikael Kromer / violins; Peter Kearns / strings; Kristian Skedsmo / flute; Esther Valentine / vocals; Geir Digernes / drums; Peter Kearns, Line Baekkelund, Siv Klynderud, Sverre Andersen, Anita Mathiasen, Yvonne B Denneche, Siv Andersen / additional vocals
Opener Desert is a completely new track, which the band had not put on the web for download prior to the album's release. Starting out with a nice acoustic guitar it reminds me a bit of Mr Big while the choruses are a bit in the style of The Talking Heads. I actually quite like the synth effects and the overdubs of Jan Henrik Ohme's voice, but I do see where Ed's criticism towards the drums comes from, as there is one prominently used "open hi-hat" sample which sounds just a bit too fake.
The song cross-fades into the effects-laden opening of the melancholic Sea Of Tranquility, which I still rate as one of their best tracks, followed by the more commercial sounding Nemo and Ghost. All three of these songs were also on Get It While It's Cold (37АC)
The next 'new' track is another commercial rocker, California which the band wrote and recorded last summer and has been previewed on their website. This is probably their most commercial sounding song, which I personally rate as their weakest. Guitarist Jon Vilbo nicely alters between acoustic and electric guitars and keyboardist Thomas Andersen pulls a few tricks from his keyboard, but the whole thing just sounds a bit too straightforward.
The next two are once again songs that were also present on Get It While It's Cold (37АC): The Secret and Sun God. All the 'old' songs have been remastered for this album, and The Secret has actually been remixed as well, putting more emphasis on the guitar and giving it a less hollow sound. Unlike Ed I actually quite like both songs, which are more in the vein of Radiohead actually (with a brilliant 10CC-like middle eight in The Secret)
Next up is the song that most people will either love or hate (and I feel it's more hate than love). When the band first sent me a CDR with their track Mesmer back in October last year, they warned me about the sound of the song, which they described as "having to get some aggression out of their system". It's a bit like a Radiohead meets Smashing Pumpkins while listening to U2 (Achtung Babe era), with heavy guitars, a strong bass line and Ohme's voice completely distorted. It took me a while to get into it, in fact, longer than you normally have to for a CD review, but I have really learned to love it now. Even though I still feel they could have done with a little less distortion on O's voice, and this is the song that suffers most from the lack of a live drummer (it's a bit difficult to drum "aggressively" when using samples on drum pads). Therefore I'm particularly looking forward to hearing a live recording of this song. The lyrics of the song were inspired by painting "Dance of life" by Edvard Munch, and are, according to the band, "about extreme rage".
Tranquility returns with a stunningly beautiful track Novgorod which is actually a duet with American singer-songwriter Esther Valentine, a collaboration that was established entirely through the Internet. Gazpacho would send her musical backing tracks, to which Valentine would record her vocals. Then she'd send them back for Ohme to record his vocals. They sent the tracks back and forward across the Atlantic until both camps were satisfied and the result is remarkable to say the least. I think it is a world first that a track is composed and recorded almost simultaneously in two studios on two sides of the world, with no other communication tool than the Internet.
The track is based on the opera Sadko by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov and deals with a siren (Valentine) trying to lure Ohme into the water. The interaction between Valentine (who sings a bit of Russian in there as well!) and Ohme's own voice works really well - All in all a beautiful track.
Ease Your Mind is another transworld collaboration. This time with New Zealand producer Peter Kearns, who co-wrote and co-produced it. Kearns is a reviewer/producer who approached the band after he had reviewed the Get It While It's Cold demo. He liked the style so much that he offered to help the band with the production of some tracks (in the end he worked on Ease Your Mind and Novgorod, as well as some of the new stuff the band is working on now). Ease Your Mind starts as a simple ballad, reminiscent of A-ha's Hunting High And Low, yet it builds up more and more tension along the way.
A drawn out instrumental second half (an idea courtesy of Kearns) gives the song a bit more prog-feel.
Closer of the album is the stunning title track, which I still mark as their pinnacle. The beautiful vocal melody, the imaginative lyrics, the chorus doesn't come in until after three minutes in the song, the beautiful violin/flute solo towards the end. This un-conventional song is a perfect example of what song-writing capabilities these guys have.
The CD comes with a full-colour 16-page booklet, which includes lyrics, band photos and new custom made artwork for each song. Quite remarkable considering these guys are not signed by any label and this is a fully independent release (the label "Happy Thoughts" was just created to release this album). By far the most professional looking and sounding independent release I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing.
As for comparisons to other bands? That remains difficult, as the band pride themselves (justfully) for their diversity. I would say they are more accessible than Radiohead, more diverse than Marillion and more "prog" than Coldplay. And with that I have named the three bands that you could point out as possible reference in a "if you like those, try this" sort of way.
Other identifiable influences would be Kate Bush, Mr Bungle and A-ha. Perhaps the best way to describe their music is just "Gazpacho".
1. Desert (5:30)
2. Sea Of Tranquility (5:05)
3. Nemo (3:56)
4. Ghost (5:27)
5. California (3:49)
6. The Secret (5:38)
7. Sun God (4:29)
8. Mesmer (5:44)
9. Novgorod (5:07)
10. Ease Your Mind (5:58)
11. Bravo (6:37)
- Jan H. Ohme / vocals, backing vocals
- Thomas Andersen / keys, programming
- Jon-Arne Vilbo / guitars, programming assist
- Roy Funner / bass
- Mikael Kromer / violins on 6, 11
- Peter Kearns / strings on 9
- Kristian Skedsmo / flute on 11
- Esther Valentine / vocals on 9
- Geir Digernes / drums
- Peter Kearns, Line Baekkelund, Siv Klynderud, Sverre Andersen, Anita Mathiasen, Yvonne B Denneche, Siv Andersen / additional vocals
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