Talking Elephant 2022
Prog-scaling Londoners set their sights on the Bernese Alps to scope tragedy and triumph of human spirit.
From the beginning, this British bunch belonged to that rare breed of bands who see a concept as a unifying factor for their songs as opposed to bending their pieces to fit a framework, which is what made the group’s sophomore effort, "Depth Of Field" from 2020, so appealing. Its follow-up may feel less varied in geographical terms, focusing on the Eiger, on whose north face perished many a mountaineer, yet there’s the same temporal extent, letting the listener shift between 1935 and 2007 and observe the events, alongside the musicians, through special telescopes. As a result, the story unfolding on the poetically titled “The Murder Wall” has to be gripping even without the tunes that tighten the narrative.
It doesn’t have to build momentum, though, as “Prologue” – where voices are passed between Dorie Jackson and Bill Jefferson – paints dramatically reserved picture right away, allowing delicate acoustic strum to get electrified and fleshed out with organ before this folksy balladry is swayed by a lush choir refracted through the prog-pop instrumental “Hall Of Mirrors” and majestic “Tall Tales By Firelight” where VDGG’s David Jackson’s sax and flute and Al Nicholson’s guitars shine. And then, the initial fragility is shattered – once the piano-encrusted “Failure Takes Care Of Its Own” and “Another Man’s Smile” infuse the flow with immense sadness only to turn the orchestral sorrow into triumph. Still, “Years To Perfect” helps Judie Tzuke surf on the crest of Nick Jefferson’s supple bass towards the inspired vocal harmonies of “Hope In Hell” and on to “Victorious” that temporarily speeds up the groove which will dissolve in the gloomy solemnity of “The Rain Shadow” and the epic uplift of “Third Man Down”: an array of the album’s most poignant melodies.
However, the elegiacally lucid “A Silent Drum” is bound to burst in sparkling shards of six-string wonder and reeds-blown rapture to contrast “The Stormkeepers Daughter” with its scintillating melancholy which the Renaissance-scented “A World Beyond Man” renders almost celestial, and the wordless “Endeavour” wraps in utter, interplay-elevated joy. But if “Mountaineers” adds pale hues to the image, there’s magnificence in this vista, and the return of “Hall Of Mirrors” in a sung form brings the view to a glorious close. Given more rhythmic variety, the aural outlook, the “life’s great adventure” the ensemble depict, could be dazzling; in the record’s present form, the alpinistic slant seems simply brilliant.