Review Summary: Vennart's pick 'n' mix bag of goodies.
Mike Vennart’s musical career has a lot to show for it. Since the unfortunate bitter split-up of the celebrated prog rock band Oceansize 7 years ago, he has been involved with the Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro as their touring guitarist while working on 2 separate solo projects of his own. The first one, an electro-rock offshoot project British Theatre, is an experimental collaboration with Richard "Gambler" Ingram, an ex-bandmate from Oceansize. The main body of his artistic output as a solo musician, however, was produced and released under the name Vennart, a project comprising no less than three fifths of the original Oceansize lineup – Mike and Gambler were joined by the guitarist Steve Durose (also Amplifier). The remaining member of the band is a talented drummer Denzel.
While Vennart’s debut album The Demon Joke
explored his ability to write catchier songs with a hint of poppy elements mixed in, something that Oceansize already tried on their Everyone Into Position
, his newly released sophomore record makes few attempts to make the music easily accessible to a broader, undemanding audience. This is readily exemplified by its outlandish title and the conspicuous lack of obvious first-listen hit singles. The change of direction away from more straightforward songwriting is, however, by no means to the detriment of the music quality. Quite the contrary, the album artfully meanders through different moods and styles, which results in a fresh-sounding soundscape throughout the entire album’s length. Atypical song progression and structure, so characteristic for a lot of Vennart’s previous work, keep the listener interested and songs captivating. A case in point is the album opener Binary
, which starts off with a hypnotizing sound of droning guitars over a mechanical drum beat, repetitive bass tones and dreamy vocals. The song then gradually gains in urgency as it progresses, only to climax with a punchy rock riff and Mike’s energetic singing.
Vennart’s vocal performance on the album deserves a mention of its own – his powerful screams on Diamond Ballgag
or his slightly raspy and expressive singing on That’s not Entertainment
truly testify to the improvement he has seen as a singer since the early days of Oceansize. As for the instrumental side of the album, while the guitars frequently provide the rhythmic backbone of the songs, it is quite often the brilliant work of Gambler on the bass guitar in songs like Sentientia
or That’s not Entertainment
that take its place at the forefront when it comes to memorable melodies. The former song is also a standout track thanks to the powerful drumming of Denzel, who plays his beats even in heavier-sounding songs with metronomic precision. Although the albums lacks extensive guitar solos, the eccentric and to-the-point guitar interludes, as in Friends Don’t Owe
, work much better within the context of the songs.
I often like to reflect on the impression an album leaves in me after spinning it a few times in its entirety. After listening to To Cure a Blizzard upon a Plastic Sea
, however, I cannot quite seem to put my finger on it. I believe herein also lies the key problem with this album – it is too complex and varied to make the listener feel much of anything. What is a major asset of the album also turns out to be its biggest shortcoming.
Although the excellent closing track Robots in Disguise
, which is up there with other Oceansize’s epic closers, seems like a microverse of the album representing all of its variations and progressive elements, it does not do enough to help get rid of the feeling that the album is more a collection of songs rather than a coherent whole. Eccentric songs like Immortal Soldier
do not help the album in retaining at least some sense of direction. Listening to it might therefore feel like an emotional roller-coaster – going from dark and moody to rocky to quirky back to dark and anxious and then joyful with a hint of cocky – and that within the first 5 songs! This multifacetedness thus definitely makes the album a grower.
Overall, however, the album makes for an enjoyable listen and testifies to Vennart’s ability to keep producing quality music that does not get stale after several listens.