Review Summary: An excellent progressive rock record with some cool folk elements thrown in.
Female vocalists in rock are a rare, rare thing to behold when they're pulled off well. Of course, you've got your Nightwishes and your Within Tempations on the louder metal sides, but when you slow down a little, into a backing band more influenced by Blackmore's Night and Pink Floyd, how many female vocalists can you think of with such a great voice they can carry all the band's songs home effortlessly? Well, Mostly Autumn is such a band, and they have such a vocalist.
Heather Findlay is the star of the show on this British outfit's latest offering, and what a grace to these ears! She doesn't reach into overdone high notes like most female vocalists do, she keeps it either laidback and smooth with a cute little croon, or she puts in some forceful melodic singing, but never does she strain or reach for notes she can't hit. The band makes great use of this by playing moody, melodic and textured backdrops to support her great voice.
A prime example is the acoustic ballad "Half a World", a Findlay-penned number, which sees her taking the spotlight with some lightly lilting vocals, softly shimmering over some acoustic guitars playing a few chords in the background. She picks up in the chorus, but instead of reaching for the heavens, she keeps it all nice and toned down and relaxed, with a really catchy vocal melody to boot. It's all sticking in my head after I heard it for the first time, which is a really great feeling to have with a band that's been labeled "progressive rock" more often than not.
This progressive label that could be tagged onto the band is mainly due to the liberal Pink Floyd-isms on the album. Containing 11 songs but clocking in at a whopping 69 minutes, the tracks tend to take a while before the final melodic motif is unveiled. Opening track Fading Colours, only really gathers steam after a couple of minutes, preferring to leisurely wallow in a Floydish interlude, but slowly gathering steam and when the bridge goes into a crescendo of notes, the keyboard chords plonking higher and higher as an ostinato figure is repeated, Ms Findlay and Mr Josh erupt into a beautiful dual-harmony chorus that just sweeps the listener off its feet.
Another Pink-Floyd technique the band uses is re-quoting a musical theme later on in the album, and also this is featured on the album: the penultimate track "Further From Home" is a recap of the first track, complete with a four-minute intro guitar solo vaguely reminiscent of David Gilmour, Shine on you Crazy Diamond-era. Ghost uses the hammond and synth keyboards that sound oddly like mixing Deep Purple era Machine Head with early Syd-Barrett-epoch Pink Floyd, contrasted against a more rocking approach on the guitars.
Another interesting thing the band does is juxtapose two different singers to create vocal harmonies during the choruses. Effectively the band has two singers, Ms Findlay, and lead guitarist annex pianist annex keyboardist annex bass guitarist annex lead vocalist Bryan Josh, who takes the spotlight on the two best tracks on the album. First off, the short but effective straightforward rocker Pocket Watch features Josh doing the lead vocals, and when at the end he erupts into another grandiose chorus, the listener is left feeling utterly triumphant. He also shares the lead spot on the epic closer "Dreaming", which meanders between more subdued passages (with Findlay providing slow, emotional vocals), and heavier guitar-driven excerpts, on which he takes the lead spot.
And the band's trump card is yet to be revealed. So as to distance themselves from the predicate of a modern Pink Floyd wannabe (apart from the female vocals), the band liberally streaks folk touches throughout the album. Especially the use of pipes is prevalent here, and they really add to the feel of the album as well: when they're used on the album's closing track "Dreaming", they add an extra bit of specialty and mood, rather than interrupting the feel.
Of course all this meandering progressive stuff has its effect on the listener's experience as well. The gradual unfolding and reintroduction of musical themes needs time to sink in with the listener, and it's one of those albums best listened to with a lot of free time. That aside, there are some moments where this album does falter, most notably on the 8 minute long "Walk With A Storm", which is much too drawn-out for its good intentions, and Find the Sun, a tepid, slow ballad which plods more than it evokes any real emotions. Furthermore, the violin-driven Broken adds just one too many slug-tempo songs to the oeuvre on display here, and despite a great chorus at the end, it drags more than it drugs.
All taken together, this is quite a fine record by a really good and (in my opinion) underrated band that deserve more attention from the progressive crowd than they do. They are a more than worthy and unique band musically as well as lyrically, and especially with one of the strongest frontwomen in the scene, these Brits are well worth checking out. A fine effort, lads and lasses.