After a brilliant opening salvo from Sound of Contact, I openly wondered what they would do to follow it up. The answer to that question may not be apparent yet, but from one former SoC member, we have a clear sign of where he is going, and the answer is, to a New World.
tl;dr Version: So, Dave “Squids” Kerzner has released his new… what? You don’t know who Dave “Squids” Kerzner is? How the… okay, let’s fix that.
‘Splain, Lucy Version: Okay, Dave was in a band called Thud, the psuedo-progressive rock act fronted by the late Kevin Gilbert, and featuring Dave on keys and Nick D’Virgilio on drums and a few guitar players, to tour off the back of his (Kevin’s) first solo album, also called Thud. Then Kevin sorta fired Thud and went off to reform Giraffe, but Dave and Nick apparently understood, and got to work with Kevin some more. And then Giraffe went away again, and then Kevin died. And that might have been the end of the story, if not for the fact that Dave actually has more than a little talent of his own.
He eventually hooked up with many, many different prog musicians over the years, and also got into the music software business, sampling his huge coolection of rare instruments. The story timeline is a little rusty here, but IIRC, around 2007, Dave found himself in the Genesis studio with Phil’s son, Simon Collins, and they struck up a partnership that lead to some brilliant work, starting with Simon’s take on the classic Genesis tune, Keep It Dark, and ending last year with Dave leaving Sound of Contact, the band he started with Simon. He’s done lots of other cool things, but those are the musical highlights, in my eyes.
Boring Version: That WAS the boring version. The cool thing was, Dave still wasn’t finished. He started recording his solo album, promoting it heavily on social media and through various other channels, and released it in December. And he still isn’t finished. More good things coming from Squids soon, I’m told.
Now, let’s get to the album itself.
Stranded (Parts 1-5) comes in with an atmospheric intro on piano and keys that reminds me a little of Dave’s work with SooC, but that stands to reason, given his influence on that sound. The piano riff also evokes some other reference I can’t quite pick out [Pink Floyd – The Final Cut ~Ed.], probably because I’ve been listening to this intro section for at least half a year, so it’s pretty much gotten burned into my head at this point. There’s a really, REALLY classic 70s Pink FLoyd sound and feel to the first part of this piece, right down to the Gilmour/Wright vocal harmony styling. The whole piece is put together with such a beautiful air which continues into the second segment, before shifting into a heavier moment that crosses a little more into Brian May/Jeff Beck guitar territory. The sound on this song, especially through my new headphones, is so lush, the only thing missing is the obligatory Hendrix Perm… err, I mean obligatory proscribed hallucinogen (maybe another time). Dave slightly revisits one of his signature riffs from SoC’s Dimensionaut album as we segue into a reprise of the Pink Floyd vocal arrangement (complete with McBroom backing vocals). Then we get a fantastic vocal chorus exercise as a heavily processed choir of Dave spews forth the bridge section at a rapid clip. Very affecting passage. Then we go into another guitar-centric section with McBroom wailing magnificently over top, and it all fades away on a few lines of reverberating piano and desert winds. Very nice opener indeed.
Into The Sun changes atmospheres with a bank of heavily-tweezed electric and acoustic guitars competing with one another, as Squids does his best Dave Gilmour vocal impression (spot on, Dave), and the drums roll in. It’s a great groove. Gorgeous song. Nice guitar solo section, too; understated, serving the song quite nicely. Bridge vocal section adds some tension, and the countdown starts, as the lead guitar goes into overdrive and the jet screams across the soundscape. Great drums here, too. Nick has actually gotten better over the years, and every outing proves it. The song fades out spectacularly on guitar histrionics and magnificent drums, like a classic Bowie tune in overdrive.
The Lie rolls down the track on a piano riff that leads into the main riff and arrives quickly at the verse, which is strong without being too hooky. The chorus, by comparison, is deliciously infectious, which is somewhat ironic given the condemning tone of the lyric. There is an excellent piece of guitar soloing (Hackett again, I presume?) over the keys and rhythm section. The song goes out on an effective use of the chorus, followed by a nice piece of guitar/piano duet instrumental, and the clock ticks away, leading us into…
Under Control has a significantly different groove, a sparsely arranged, slightly anxious verse leading to a paranoiac fantasy of a chorus. The third verse is more hysterical and belies the assertion of the chorus that the storyteller is as he says, under control. Some James Bond-esque horns, and the clock starts ticking again, with a soaring bit of synth and plodding piano. The refrain is all piano and strings and a plaintive Dave singing in a minor key. THis section has a slightly Tony Banks feel. The revery is broken with a return to the chorus, which sweeps out on heavy strings, horn blasts, and a little bit of frenetic Mike Garson-style piano, which finishes by being shoved through backwards and suddenly ends.
Crossing of Fates opens not so much gently but mysteriously, and then picks up quickly into a brilliantly choppy instrumental with breaks in the rhythm.. It goes from sections that sound like a Yes moment followed by a Jazz Fusion moment, soaring synth dueling with slashing rhythm and pointy lead guitar playing. There is a classic Genesis organ solo segment, which leads to a sharp precipice of an ending.
My Old Friend is a softly delivered piece of acoustic guitar-driven music which picks up considerably in the chorus. IT is dedicated to Dave’s former Thud bandleader, the late Kevin Gilbert, and is perhaps the most fitting epitaph of the man as anyone has ever delivered. Nick D’Virgilio delivers his best impression of the late John Bonham that I’ve ever heard, which is even more effective with the slightly exotic string section. Then the song quietly makes its exit on a strong breeze, and we are taken down to the…
Ocean of Stars washes up on the beach with a soft almost spoken-word verse. The chorus is significantly more muscular, with another Gilmouresque vocal impression. A lovely hook. The bass playing in the second verse is quite nice, and then the second chorus leads to a wall of dueling guitar solos, which leads to one more pass at the chorus melody, and a false finale that least back to the intro verse arrangement, and a strident outro that just goes to another place entirely, all wailing pedal steel and climbing guitars and synth washes. Very nicely done.
Solitude opens with a concert grand piano stuttering away atonally, while voices filter in from the ether, with wailing female vocals very much in a Dark Side of the Moon vibe. Couldn’t have been a more appropriate homage to Rick Wright if … Well, in truth, there’s nothing to compare it to. It IS a totally unabashed Wright homage. Kudos, sir.
Nothing is a peculiar number on this album, in that it is a very infectious modern pop song with a great 90s Bowiesque wall of slightly discordant, buzzing guitars and a steady rhythm section plodding endlessly. It’s a great lost Tin Machine track, if Reeves Gabrels had gotten it into his head to steal some slide guitar licks from George Harrison. The instrumental is brilliantly jangling, like Steve Howe playing in front of Smashing Pumpkins. The bridge back to the chorus is straight out of the Bowie play book, too. Tehre’s also a considerable amount of alt rock a la Sonic Youth or Sugar Cubes, and the synth is straight out of the 80s. Juno 8? Well, it might be Oberheim, but the point is, it’s got a classic feel with none of the Floydiana we’ve heard through most of the album. And it’s got that ‘built for radio’ feel that just doesn’t work anymore, because radio is broken. Shame. I’d love ot hear that one.
New World is a very Beatlesque anthem, with more than a dash of that same magic that Julian Lennon uses to great effect on his albums. Backing vocals by the amazing David Longdon (Big Big Train), and Dave Kerzner doing a more than creditable Julian Lennon impression as well. To be honest, this song was pretty much tailor made for me. It’s lovely. Just lovely. If he didn’t have the second half of a suite to go out on, this would still serve as a great album closer.
Redemption (Stranded Parts 6-10) comes in on a soft frenzy of cymbals and synths, and then settles into a bass groove that gives shape to the intro, before an almost King Crimsonesque riff kicks in, and a dissonant wall of Dave Kerzner almost chanting the verse to us, with a squall of guitar wailing and sailing between the verses. The verse returns, and I’m beginning to hear a shade of Steve Hackett’s vocal styling in Dave’s vocal performance here. Great instrumental segment. A lot of damned guitars in there. The passage softens to a piano/nuth combo, which is married to a Brian May-type guitar riff, before the track goes almost completely pastoral, and then actually does become pastoral, with a beautiful guitar solo over top. Francis Dunnery, I presume. The next section is even more gentle and reflective, like something out of a modern pop tune in a movie soundtrack. This continues to what you could reasonably expect to be the end of the film, but in fact, we’re only half way there, as the song grinds to a halt, and then turns into something slightly more menacing, with Steve Hackett wailing on guitar in the background like a banshee. An orchestra floating on the wind turns the song even more sinister, and you have to wonder if we’re being set up for a minor key finish. It certainly sounds like it, until the main hook returns, and more Hackteering drags us through to the outro. This proves to be every bit as harrowing as the section before it, and even though the moodiness of the piece threatens to suck every ounce of joy from your soul, it is implacable. Then the hot synth solo, followed by the dueling guitars, and then, yes, and then… Dave returns to sing the finale, which is elegiac. We’ll make it to the light… to the light…
Guitars guitars guitars, some piano and the rhythm section, and guitars take us away on wings of light, into the ether from which we came. Shut up, of course it’s poetic. You listen to this outro and try not to lapse into beat poetry. I triple dog dare you.
So there you have it. One man from the writing team that brought you one of the best albums of 2013, and my verdict is: Beautiful. Best thing I’ve heard in 2014. Good thing it came late in the year. I was listening to a lot of great albums last year, most of which I failed to review. There were a lot of worthy contenders, but no writing time. This album tops them all. Yes, even the final Pink Floyd album (which I loved). This album has everything I wanted from that one, except Rick Wright alive, and in as strange way, this one has that, too. Well, in spirit, anyway.
I want to take a moment to mention that, just because I draw a lot of comparisons to Pink Floyd in this review, this album in no way feels like a derivative work. It’s an excellent piece in its own right, and a marvellous homage at the same time. Maybe I’ve been listening to new prog too much. Maybe I’m too forgiving. But seriously, if this had been my first solo album, I’d be a pretty happy guy.
This album review is written with the knowledge that a deluxe double length version is due to be released soon, so I may be returning to this review in the weeks to come.
Thanks for reading. Now go buy it!
© 2015 Lee Edward McIlmoyle