Talking Elephant 2019
British prog-folk troupe measure temporal distances with a voyage through the sound of music.
This collective of a fluctuating line-up belong to those rare art-rock ensembles who don’t feel bound by their chosen genre’s frontiers but bend the borders until restrictions are loose enough to let their fantasies run free, if finely arranged, to most melodic pastures. The band’s sophomore offering is a fine example of such an approach, transfixing the listener with magnificently crafted tunes and telling hypnotic stories firmly rooted in British history – the tales from not so distant nor so recent past that are just as riveting. More so, the group’s creative core, multi-instrumentalists Al Nicholson and Nick Jefferson, never let a protracted passage linger for the sake of stylistic requirements, and persistently focus on deep meaning of every sound their team make. Which is why artistic grandeur never gets in the way of simple delights here, rendering “Depth Of Field” an ever-shifting tableau where small elements form, little by little, a much larger picture.
Of course, in order to see this detailed image one will need what the album’s mercilessly brief title track – its delicate finale or, rather, postscript – suggests, following the second part of “Rosherville” that otherwise bookends the record and brings it from ethereal start to a poem recited by Ian Anderson via captivating variety of moods in which memorable pop songs are woven into a blend of folk sensibilities and prog liberties. As ex-VDGG David Jackson’s flutes, saxes and whistles circle around Al and Nick’s acoustic strum and electric soaring, Bill Jefferson vocals welcome all open to wonders to a pleasure garden, with Mike Westergaard’s piano promising a new sort of grace before heavier riffs and Dorie Jackson’s voice move the experience along temporal lines to infectious disco, affectionate serenade and medieval fair. Further on, the epic unfolds into a series of pastoral pieces – sung and played as emotionally as any farewell number should to leave a follower flabbergasted and longing for a fresh spin of the platter.
Housed under the arc of this sprawling panorama are both lesser and greater journeys through time – as lyrical as “Holywell Street” whose sublime guitar harmonies paint an exquisite landscape of Victorian London place that hosted a hub of dirty literature trade, and as dramatic as the 24-minute “White Star’s Sunrise” which expands on the fate of “Titanic” and its sister vessels over an array of triumphantly polyphonic, orchestrally enhanced shanties – not once crossing the sweet line between bombast, beauty and romantic sway. Yet then there’s the tragically jolly rocking of “Ghost Planes”: a synthesizers-propelled glance at the World War II’s human factor wherein snippets of spoken word set against serene backdrop amplify a sense of horror to fetch the hymn to hope and glory at the end and lead into the velvet balladry of “The Nightwatchman” – a different look at the pull of gloom, a different method to fathom depth of field.
There’s no pretense of perceiving the invisible; there’s only the adventure towards melodic and meaningful miracles.