I confess I did not remember hearing this band before receiving their new conceptual double album. Doing a little research, I discover I had come across them by the time they released “Leap into fall”, 9 years ago. This was not a good sign to start, but less impacting past albums has never been a valid excuse for doubts in what concerns my musical explorations, and then the fact that Island Noises is a conceptual album based on a famous theater play (“The Tempest”) by William Shakespeare, really grabbed my attention before even putting the CD on the tray.
Driven by the fact that I did not remember this band's musicality, I naively was expecting some Elizabethan sounds in the mix, something one would expect in any music that gets Shakespeare involved. And the discovery that the music naturally flows in another, completely different direction, did get one of my feet defensively behind. But by reading more about the band, knowing that it has the former drummer/vocalist of Alias Eye, and having, in this album, the Beggar's Opera frontman aiding in the vocal department, did put me on the right track to properly listen the album on the correct line of thought.
The music here seems to stand, in its entirety, within the parameters of the so-called Neo-Prog. The way the instruments interact, the vocals are imposed and the melodies are constructed do not allow any other categorization right from the start. But, contrary to many of the albums with those principles and aesthetics, this is one (double) album that needs sharp and concentrate listens, as there is a lot more than meets the ear. When you least expect, the band takes sudden changes in direction, the instruments shift gear and harmony and the music introduces nuances and intermissions. The more powerful and full instrumentation's give place to more atmospheric passages, sometimes punctuated by the spoken reading of “The Tempest” passages. The keyboards which serve as a mere component of the neo-pro melodic parts initiate vintage symphonic prog piano soloings and the guitars turn smoother and more inventive, counterbalancing the neo-prog standards which are used here. And as the album advances to the end of the first cd, and even more present in the second album, the overall musicality seems to fluently and successfully get rid of the neo-prog ropes and walk in other directions, more towards a rich, modern and sophisticated symphonic prog.
The album, therefore, balances and finds its equilibrium in that no-men land between the neo and the sympho. This ends up being a great deed by this band, as this sort of balance is not that many times achieved with such know-how.
The lower aspect in this album, for me, is the use of fade-out in a track or two. I have a thing against this technique, and in a concept album I find it heretic.
Framing this band, I would use such names as Alias Eye, Like Wendy, Sylvan, Violet District and Scapeland Wish on the more straightforward side, but also Cast, Inquire and (why not?!) Glass Hammer and Magic Pie on the more adventurous one.
As the album flows and grows on the listener, and as the music develops and reaches richer and richer grounds, there is the sense that this band can be on the verge of something that will definitely put their name in the forums of the proggers community and get the attention of the ever growing internet prog media. I believe that this album, as it is a good stand and one able to elucidate
the listeners about the potentialities of Poor Genetic Material, is that necessary step for reaching full maturity and compositional excellence.
Even if not quite sinking well at first listen, it keeps unveiling nice corners and joyful details in sequent listens, keeping the listener coming back to see what is yet to be discovered.
So Island Noises starts as being a nice, unnoticeable album, but ends up as a swell trip of discovery and fascination. On an apparent neo-prog simplicity, but with a symphonic prog richness. Try it!