Let me just say before I start, this album somehow transported me back in time! I think it was the initial synth sounds that grabbed me, and reminded me of the Trevor Rabin 90124 demos and Human League sounds. Now there’s a mix to conjure with.
Released in March 2021, this follows the self-titled release of duo Rory Holl and Simon Elvins back in October 2017, with additional guitar work of Luke Stephen Smith. Apparently that first release was guitar heavy, not that I would know.
This is more synth and keyboard based, and as I said above, has such an ’80’s feel, where opener ‘Heart of Earth’ gets me off on the right foot with them, melodic hooks, catchy groove and atmospherics aplenty. And then comes ‘In Ahab’s Nightmare’, guitars thrashing and far more driven. Apparently the lyrics were inspired by Moby Dick, narrated from Captain Ahab’s point of view. This band have an ear for a tune, hook, riff and mood. A great bridge shift mid-track gives it a nice prog touch and the multi-track vocal section within it is sublime, bringing us back to the Pure Reason Revolution goes psychedelic close.
Black Tulip has that cleverly relaxed yet textured vibe, again a strong element of PRR reminiscence for me, but this time I also got a bit of a blues groove memory of old solo Peter Green in it! Then comes the seven minutes of ‘Sleeping in The River’, retro drum synth rhythms and sounds, initially evoking a bit of Japan, and what a fantastically retro keyboard riff and then solo to raise the song midway! Love it.
And then you get ‘Sorrows’, a gorgeous track, so melodic, so atmospheric, so well constructed and emotive. Imogen Heap came to mind this time, alongside PRR. The Wisp is haunting and cleverly written, a song given space to breathe and evolve like a later Talk Talk or solo Mark Hollis track.
Johan, Do It has a deft lightness, retro sense and pop sensibility. Maybe a bit of Prefab Sprout or Deacon Blue in its dual singer approach. And what a delightful shift in its final part, to pure songwriter a la Boo Hewardine. And then the album closes with the other 7 minute mini-epic ‘Looking Down At The Moon’, a nice combination of the previous tracks in terms of songwriting structure, mood creation, song-building, and ebb & flow. A gentle guitar riff leads to a musical crescendo; a shimmering guitar solo provides an awesome climactic moment and offers a touch of Steven Wilson as the song drives onward to its satisfying musical conclusion.
This is an assured and astute album, clever in its songwriting, catchy in its many hooks, rhythms, riffs and grooves. Haunting and emotive pieces of music, cleverly drawn together through enticing sounds, sampled effects, and multiple mood creation. It is an album that warrants repeat listens to draw out the tricksy complexities that are subtly hidden just below the surface. And just the work of two people? Really??
Poppily effervescent and artily attractive yet subtly deep and evocative, this is a thoughtful and powerful album.
- Heart of Earth
- In Ahab’s Nightmare
- Black Tulip
- Sleeping in the River
- The Wisp
- Johan, Do it
- Looking Down at the Moon
Produced and Performed by Rory Holl and Simon Elvin
Additional Guitar by Luke Stephen Smith