CD Review – Downes Braide Association (DBA) – Halcyon Hymns

You have to tread carefully when approaching a progressive pop album. You can be so incredibly disappointed with the blandness and inanity that you wonder how they can call it progressive in any way. Definitely not what it says on the tin! This release will come as something of a gentle surprise then.

This is the fourth studio album (fifth overall) from DBA. Geoff Downes is, of course, well known in prog circles as the keyboard player with Yes and must be well fed up by now of the “former Buggle” tag that always seems to accompany his name. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Braide is probably less well known in these circles, but has a healthy musical history. He has worked on film soundtracks, advertising campaigns, and has worked with a host of well-known names in the music world including Beyonce, Marc Almond, Sia, Lana Del Ray, Christina Aguilera, Paloma Faith, and Britney Spears amongst others.

The songs are a bucolic reverie based around a poignant summer’s day. Introduced by a poetic narration on the opening tune Love Among The Ruins, the songs take on a reflective and moving portrait of some golden times. The emotions move through love, loss and meditative rumination to contemplative deliberation on the losses of childhood. The sorrow of missed opportunity stands proud.

The music itself is very gentle and centres around keyboards and piano for the most part, although there is some very nice guitar work at times. Chris Braid has a very suitably emotive voice for the songs, and there are guest appearances by Marc Almond and Dave Longdon.

In fact, Marc Almond was most instrumental in the album being created in the first place. Following two successful concerts at Trading Boundaries in February of 2020, Geoff Downes returned home to Wales and his projects while Chris Braide returned to LA but struggled to find motivation with the unfolding events of a world in lockdown. Inspiration would return following a call from his close friend. “Marc Almond suggested I ‘get stuck into another DBA record’ to lift the malaise,” say Braide. “Somehow It was hard to muster any enthusiasm for it. We had all been so upbeat at the recent shows and now here we were in a collective, creative void. It’s odd the way inspiration strikes though and it never ceases to delight and surprise me when the muse comes to play and it can happen at any time and without warning. I opened up a folder of new DBA ideas Geoff had sent to me a while back and which I’d listened to briefly and had made a note to do something with them at a later date. I can’t say why it happened but one day in the studio as I listened to the bits and pieces of ideas suddenly the songs started tumbling out as if by magic. I’m not exaggerating or being melodramatic. These new songs sounded like personal reflections; they just wrote themselves. It was so easy, so enjoyable and so meant to be. Like a gift.”

The resulting music may not be prog rock for purists, but the combination of pop with prog works well. There are no dramatic shifts in tempo or ostentatious musical displays. The songs are well crafted and aim at telling a narrative. The music remains decidedly in a classy pop vein. There are hints of the Beatles here and there, with the song Today taking on a decidedly Paul McCartney feel. Geoff explains; “It was so great to witness Chris’s creativity making my fundamental ideas come alive.   He took the bare bones of melodies, harmonies and textures I sent him, and somehow crafted these into something way beyond my expectations or imagination.  ‘Love Among The Ruins’ is one of the many examples on the album of his rare genius at work.”

Jolly is not a word you hear used much these days, but at times this is what this album is before it moves into more rumination. In less capable hands this could be a saccharine affair, with the pleasantness of the music overwhelmed by bathos. It is sentimental, but not in a sickening way. The release is a nice package too, with its cover painting by Roger Dean. Indeed, the CD/DVD package also includes video footage of legendary artist Roger Dean’s painting sessions as he creates the album cover artwork for Halcyon Days along with lyric videos for three tracks from the album. An easy listen then, but none the worse for that.

DBA, Downes Braide Association, photographed in Sussex, UK

Disc 1

01. Love Among The Ruins

02. King Of the Sunset

03. Your Heart Will Find The Way

04. Holding The Heavens

05. Beachcombers

06. Warm Summer Sun

07. Today

08. Hymn To Darkness

09. She’ll Be Riding Horses

10. Late Summer

11. Remembrance

12. Epilogue

Disc 2: DVD

01. Roger dean Painting Sessions

02. Love Among The Ruins

03. Your Heart Will Find A Way

04. Today

Line Up

Geoff Downes

Chris Braid

With guests:

Marc Almond (ex-Soft Cell)

Dave Longdon (Big Big Train)

The CD/DVD is out on 5th February 2021, and 2LP White Vinyl edition on 26th March 2021.  

Label: Cherry Red Records

The opening track Love Among The Ruins is viewable here: https://youtu.be/vNrrQo5-L0Q

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