Again, independent music thrashes corporate factory product. Floyd-influenced, Mostly Autumn have created tune-based songs with space and emotion. Proggy? Yes. Noodly? Not one bit.
Label: Mostly Autumn Records
Time: 10 tracks / 74 Minutes
Mostly Autumn have been around a fair while now and seem to have worked out how to make a living outside the corporate death zone. This release is a superb advert for how to take prog into a mainstream direction without losing its soul.
For a band with seven, mostly multi-instrumentalist members, their sound is remarkably open and clear. They have stripped away all the unnecessary layers – unusual in itself with this genre – and what is left is pure melody, interspersed with some emotional guitar solos and anthemic spells.
Take the title track. To my mind, it’s three only vaguely-related parts masquerading as one, but we’ll happily forgive them for that deception – they have to provide at least one fourteen-minute opus to keep their prog credentials. If “Eye of the Tiger” had a far more intelligent and sociable nephew, the first part could be it. It breaks somewhat abruptly into a guitar solo (like the end of "Layla," starting over a solo piano and building) and then resumes in acoustic mode, with vocals again, without reprising the opening tune (or lyrical concept) and it’s engaging all the way through.
Follow-up track “Once Round the Sun” is equally compulsive and equally accessible. Mostly Autumn seem to stick to major chords and simpler songs than you would expect, but imbue them with a sonic richness, emotion and singablility that make you want to play them over and over.
The Pink Floyd influence is probably much to thank for this, after all, Dark Side of the Moon was eminently singable and made up of several short tracks and just a few instrumentals. Mostly Autumn are on YouTube covering Floyd, and it’s a good match, as Bryan Josh’s guitar work is on the David Gilmour end of a short spectrum that reaches as far as Barclay James Harvest’s John Lees in the other direction. You can hear both in a single solo in “Changing Lives” and you can’t hear the solo in “Native Spirit” without bringing Gilmour to mind.
Where the sound particularly differs from Floyd is the (mostly) female vocals. For much of the band's life, Heather Findlay was the popular lead singer, but now Olivia Sparnenn has an astounding presence. Try her unwavering power on the other biggest standout track “Tomorrow Dies” (actually about seven of these tracks are the standouts, such is the consistent quality on this release).
Proving the band’s range, “Rain Down” is what was once called a metal ballad: slow, tender, cinematic and wistful, the sparse, tinkly piano augmented by a keys wash and flute. Following it, and closing the disc, “Forever and Beyond” opens up a chink in their sound to reveal some of their Celtic influence. They have something of the nineties’ band Big Country here.
Not everything is brilliant though: someone should set them some homework on getting endings right. Several songs, or part-songs, just stop limply or change abruptly. And although they have the taste to regularly use Troy Donockley from Iona / Nightwish, they don’t seem to appreciate how much he can add to a track if you give him minutes, rather than seconds with his Uilleann pipes, or get a duet out of him with guitar.
Plainly, these are miniscule niggles, especially given the consistent excellence of this, across a whopping 74 minutes.
This is currently very high up a shortlist of eight contenders for my album of the year. It just keeps getting better, listen after glorious listen, and is highly recommended.