Well this was quite the discovery , an unexpected surprise from the USA that I found on my main French language prog source Prog Critique, with whom this FB page has a synergy and a parallel in similar tastes that are quite remarkable . Tom is essentially a three-man unit , an articulate singer in James Finn, multi-instrumentalist Derrick Mayoleth and a piano man named Jon Larson, with a few guests manning the e-guitars (Steve Lentz) and a violin by Joylin. Finn and Mayoleth run a production company in Wisconsin , setting up various stage production and , of course the musical soundtrack needed to fulfill the deal. While theatrics have certainly played a part in prog , starting with Gabriel’s foxy headgear and assorted costumes that could veer towards the grotesque (in a vividly good way), passing through the various Bowie phases to Kiss’s overblown sliver/leather/blood and fire pyrotechnical antics. This project is perhaps a modern sonic variation of theatre prog in that we see nothing but certainly can hear the dramatics in living colour. I must say I enjoyed this immediately upon first listen, as the innate cleverness, the emotional depth and the various mood contrasts really encouraged my level of appreciation.
A dripping tap for a minute or so is not Chinese water torture but a cinematographic intro that easily would stimulate the imagination as “Water is Life” sets the flow loose with immense simplicity, giving way to the title track , an immediate highlight piece that raises the bar to a gargantuan plateau from which the enjoyment will not ebb or even wane. Victims of various visions, a melancholic piano cowering in the corridors of time, bright lights and dark sky , swirling violin orchestrations amid the blooming synthesizer swells, and the funeral beat. The thirst increases as the last drop water splashes on the lead vocalist’s face as a tortuous screwing guitar unfurls its venom. Well, at least it will be the last time we suffer. The floodgates open into a tsunami of a raging, echoed voice that begs for release.
The interluding “The Quintessence of Dust” acts as a piece of operetta-style theatre whereby James can fling a series of eccentric and somewhat deranged spoken sentences that belie a sense of insanity, exhorting all who wish to listen ”What a piece of work is man!” he coughs ! The torn curtain reveals a laughing sequence that harkens back to Jon & Vangelis’ The Friends of Mr. Cairo cinematic tribute to the silver screen. Piano, wind , orchestrations and a madman’s plea.
A thumping metronome pulse announces “Mescaline” as the lysergic hallucination begins , a mushroom cloud of morose underlying synthesizer tremors as well as a playfully floating one above , then enters a James Finn hushed tirade laden with sombre echo, as they all proceed along the highway of despair. Imagine a progressive Yello , that crazy good electro pop band from Switzerland, especially when the vocoder robotic enters the fray, shouldered by some thrashing guitars and that snippy synth nibble. The eerie whispering is effective to the nth degree. Sublime track that is worth the effort of hunting this album down.
The hypnotically melodic “Leper” maintains the pummelling beat, beep-beep bass “setting the spirit free” as James shows another timbre that expresses brilliantly any theme he wishes to tackle. Imperceptible Caribbean tone, a resonating organ flurry only adds mystery to the sonic palette, another flickering guitar rant from Lentz adding size to the fire, as his slippery solo illuminates the horizon. Devine. An apocalyptic sounding narration “They Are All Gone” only serves as a set up for the foreboding instrumental “Human Devide” , a lush arrangement that is much more than a spectral soundtrack where shivering violins (Joylin) shudder amid icebergs of gloomy sounds, clashing percussive shards of chaos, it’s a masterful Neo-classical work of utter musicianship and genius.
The spotlight now shines on pure, unudulterated melancholia, a piano etude that slowly blooms into a serene , that infectious whispering James Finn telling his pool room tale of some nostalgia “swallowed in haze”, veering close to Dieter Meier’s classic hush. Vivid and poignant music. A plaintive soundscape of impeccably expressed lyrics, flush with an overt penchant for simple passion , “When the Time” seals the deal for me ,as the extraordinary melodies , the clarity of the words and the earnest delivery of a voice that doesn’t just sing but also expresses a myriad of emotions . The repetition of “there is no place to hide” swings into the moody piece into desperation , it is so intense , as expressed by a fiery guitar slither.
The velvet curtain is set to be drawn as the exasperated speakers spew out the riveting “ Playground” , a minimalist onset at first , morphing into dramatic eruptions, both vocally and instrumentally as Finn cries out :“your heart is made of ice, it never melts away”. What more than a final piano , desolate in its bittersweet solitude, a lament of deadly kisses that goes finally into surrendering silence.
5 final frontiers