Four years and two albums in, only singer Al Winter remains from the line-up that recorded 2019’s ‘A Tower Of Clocks’ (first album ‘The Man Who Never Was’ came out in 2017 btw). Joining him in the new-look line-up are guitarists Dom Bennison and Simon D’Vali , drummer Alan Wilson and bassist Dave Close. By the start of 2020 the Kites title and artwork had apparently all been agreed, initial recording sessions taken place. And then……as Winter explains: “It became clear during lockdown that not everyone wanted to go forward at the same pace….People had different ideas of what they wanted to do next and things in rehearsal weren’t really gelling. I decided that I didn’t want to carry on in the direction some of the others wanted to go. The rest of the guys have all been in bands together for 30 years so it was mutually decided that I’d bring in new blood to TWM and they would start something new. No animosity from my side at all.“
FYI I understand the others have formed a new band called Ghost of the Machine.
Meanwhile, as Winter approaches (pun intended) writing, rehearsing and recording all completed, here is the final labour of love.
‘Le Jour D’avant’ is a short instrumental opener featuring excellent classically-influenced piano from keyboard player Pat Ganger-Sanders and similarly subtle acoustic guitar by Dom Bennison before robotic repetitive messages to “stay inside of your home” herald the two-part epic ‘The Storm’. Without a direct reference to lockdown, I understand the song is about “any form of entrapment or being bogged down or trapped in your own home”. The rhythm section of Alan Wilson on drums and the bass of Dave Close launch the first part, a powerful opening with prog-metal tendencies featuring guitar and organ riffery as Al Winter’s vocals, whispery and strident in turn take the song to a mid-section break and a guest guitarist provides an emotionally rich solo (Mark Abrahams, Wishbone Ash) with excellent supporting key synths, giving a Floydian feel and release of tension to close.
Part 2 begins with Simon D’Vali’s acoustic guitar and a sense of reflective, retrospective calm. As Al Winter explains: “It harks back to when I was a child and would go to a field to watch my school play cricket. But really it was just to be able to lie in the grass and enjoy the peace and quiet. That lovely kind of release and feeling of solitude, even when there were other people around.” That calm does not stay throughout , Part 1 re-referenced initially through the synth once more, the rhythm section re-entering to provide a drive and direction. Cleverly intricate riffs build to a melodic, nicely structured guitar solo, again to a deconstructed close.
‘Limited’ is another two minute instrumental driven by simplistic drum pattern and dominant bass underpinning some interplay of dreamier keyboards and guitar reflections. I’m reminded of Rick Wright’s occasional interventions in some Floyd albums providing a pleasant interlude, albeit this is clearly a band effort.
‘Pleasure & Purpose’ begins with some crowd noise and a heartbeat of a rhythm and textured keyboard and guitar notes before a thoughtful and measured vocal performance helps the song develop in power and depth. “It’s all about lack of communication,” explains Al Winter, “and the dissolution of a relationship due mostly to misunderstanding and an inability to communicate properly.” Excellent verse and chorus breaks allow for the intensity to ebb and flow, before an impressive guitar solo break leads to a dual performance by keys and guitar propelling the music forwards to a satisfying close.
‘This Heart’s Alive’ is apparently an originally older number, a slowburn with building intensity and an earworm melody. It’s well-played with chiming guitar and layered keys, over which Al’s vocals have a yearning quality. ‘Whirlpool’ reverts back to a harder guitar riff and Lord-ish organ sound. A short instrumental, it grabs and holds the intention, tightly played, richly embellished and gloriously retro.
‘Broken’ has a positively atmospheric and rhythmic piano start before Al’s vocals reflecting “how a poor unbringing can affect adult relationships and how some people don’t move on emotionally from such a childhood.” Such a positively powerful line repeat too: “You see the world the same as me”. Excellent harmony vocals enhance the build and there’s are really positive AOR feel to this understated number. ‘Sometimes’ finds us welcoming erstwhile prog utility player Peter Jones (Camel, Francis Dunnery, Red Bazar et al) on vocals putting in an excellent performance. Other guests apparently include Reuben Jones (keys) and brief violin from Eric Bouillette Perso (Nine Skies and The Room) on a really nice, light, airy, pleasant track.
And so to album closer ‘Kites’, at just over 7 minutes the longest track, where we get a crowd pleasing retro romp. As Al describes it: “The name Kites comes from the idea that we are all too ready to grow up in our lives, but I feel it is sometimes better to allow yourself to be blown around by the wind, because you’ve always got that string anchored to the ground. We sometimes fight being buffeted, but we shouldn’t, because ‘someday we’ll be kites for the last time.’ Sometimes we look back and realise how good we had it in the past when we were younger, and they were special times we can remember. It’s so important not to be grounded and lose that magic.” It’s an uplifting piece of melodic rock, awash with those references you can’t quite put your finger on. Good guitar, tight rhythm section, neat key embellishment and a satisfying conclusion to a tasty album.
So let’s launch a few metaphors here……
This band is flying. They’re on the up. They’ve let loose, given themselves plenty of slack, and now there are no strings attached. Their ambition is taking them higher, and they’ve got the wind behind them. High flyers.
Al Winter – Vocals
Alan Wilson – Drums & Percussion
Dom Bennison – Guitar, Vocals
Simon D’Vali – Guitar, Vocals
Dave Close – Bass, Vocals
1. LE JOUR D’AVANT
2. THE STORM (PART ONE)
3. THE STORM (PART TWO)
5. PLEASURE AND PURPOSE
6. THIS HEART’S ALIVE
LE JOUR D’AVANT: MUSIC BY PAT GANGER-SANDERS
THE STORM (PART I): MUSIC BY WINTER
THE STORM (PART II): MUSIC BY WINTER & BENNISON
LIMITED: MUSIC BY CLOSE
PLEASURE & PURPOSE: MUSIC BY WINTER, BENNISON & D’VALI
THIS HEART’S ALIVE: MUSIC BY WINTER & NUMAN
WHIRLPOOL: MUSIC BY BENNISON
BROKEN: MUSIC BY NUMAN & WINTER
SOMETIMES: MUSIC BY WINTER
KITES: MUSIC BY WINTER & BENNISON
ENGINEERED BY DOM RICHMOND & DOM BENNISON
PRODUCED, MIXED & MASTERED BY DOM BENNISON
C O-PRODUCED BY AL WINTER
RECORDED AT SOUNDWORKS STUDIOS & MEDICINE ROOM STUDIOS
ALL LYRICS BY WINTER
GUITAR SOLO ON THE STORM (PART I): MARK ABRAHAMS
VIOLIN SOLO ON SOMETIMES: ERIC BOUILLETTE PERSO
KEYBOARDS ON TRACKS 1-7: PAT GANGER-SANDERS
KEYBOARDS ON TRACKS 9-10: REUBEN JONES
KEYBOARDS ON TRACKS 8: MARK NUMAN
VOCALS ON TRACK 9: PETER JONES