by Aaron Gidney
For those you unfamiliar with Hats Off Gentlemen, It’s Adequate – they are London-based Progressive Rock band based around Malcolm Galloway and Mark Gatland – both multi-instrumentalists. In addition, Flautist Kathryn Thomas (Malcolm’s wife) contributes to the band regularly.
Broken But Still Standing was originally released in 2017 and was the band’s third album and is based around the story of humanity’s evolution. From LUCA (the last universal common ancestor) to Lucy (the name of skeletal remains of a 3.2 million year old homosapien precursor), the album takes us on an incredibly deep and detailed journey through the evolution of humanity. The musical accompaniment to the lyrical themes are suitably laid-back and the perfect landscape for the song meanings and messages to give us food for thought.
The standalone instrumental pieces and longer instrumental sections within lyrical songs are the high points throughout the album. The use of Kathryn Thomas’ flutes across the album are both melodic and melancholy, haunting the listener and taking us on a journey through time. Whilst the subject matter is incredibly deep, the pensiveness of music and lyrics gives us plenty of time to absorb and reflect – nothing feels rushed and clearly the soundscapes are designed to gently ebb and flow naturally like waves on the ocean. It’s certainly a captivating listen and designed to let the music wash over you. It isn’t all Floydian soundscapes – track 7 (Anywhere) picks up the pace to inject some variety and energy. Tracks such as Let Me Out offer suitable Prog Metal riffage to juxtapose with lighter moments such as opener Vent and Luca to Lucy. The second half of the album certainly ups the ante and the heavier tracks seem more frequent including the title track. There’s even a tinge of funk heard in the track Host. Special mention to the use of the Chapman Stick on two of the tracks too – always good to hear it being utilised as an additional instrument.
At 71 minutes, the album is quite the undertaking but there’s enough variety to please the Prog fans – none of the songs are overly long and even though there’s 17 tracks, the album flies by. It’s well worth listening along with the written commentary on the band’s website – it outlines the concept of each track and helps with explaining the deep lyrics and song title meanings.
Quite the journey.
2019’s ‘ARK’ is a 12 minute instrumental piece with two bonus tracks ‘Chasing Neon’ and ‘She’s moved Through The Fair’.
The titular tracks is based on the history of The Ark Royal – the Second World War naval aircraft carrier. Bandleader Malcolm Galloway’s grandfather had experiences on the Ark as a telegrapist/air-gunner. Evidently inspired following inheriting the flight logs following Malcolm’s Father’s sad passing and the musical themes throughout the track represent various milestones in the ship’s history – the building, launch, defence of Britain, attacking U-boats , the sinking of the Bismark and eventually it’s own sinking. Fair play to the band for their brave musical interpretation of such important historical events, not only for Britain, but for the Galloway family history. To forgo using lyrics (which would have been an easier path to tread perhaps), the band put their heart and soul into each event described above.
Bonus track ‘Chasing Neon’ is a much different affair using dance-like electronic beats and pulsating programmed synth rhythms across it’s five and a half minutes. Interestingly, it doesn’t feel massively out of place despite the huge change in feel and instrumentation. ‘She’s Moved Through The Fair’ is an Irish folk song (with lyrics!) and is a nice end to the single, particularly as none of the previous tracks have had vocals on. It’s a gentle and uplifting affair a fitting tribute to Malcom’s pre-Hats Off days.
Finally, moving on to 2020’s release and the band’s fifth full-length album…
Lead single, ‘Ark’ is covered above, but the immediacy and cohesiveness of the album is apparent from the very beginning of opener, ‘Century Rain’. The songwriting across the album is concise and the sign of band coming into their own and hitting a peak following years of work.
The lyrical themes seem to centre on the fragility of human nature and as the band point out in the sleevenotes, are within the science fiction sphere and inspired by various authors such as Alastair Reynolds.
It’s nice to hear the band experimenting with different styles and instrumentation – for example, the use of more synthesised drum loops and pulses in tracks like Chasing Neon and Glitterband. It’s a sign that the band are comfortable in their own skin and happy to expand and develop on their existing musical legacy and not become stagnant. Hats off!
My personal favourite moment of the album is the introduction of the cascading piano arpeggios towards the end of Twin Earth – absolutely stunning, and the further introduction of Kathryn Thomas’ Flute again just adds to the gorgeousness.
Incidentally, the album is longer than Broken But Still Standing, but feels shorter due to less tracks (albeit the tracks are longer) which helps with digestion of the tracks.
In addition the excellent artwork (‘A Sense of Emptiness’ by Mrs White), this album feels like the complete package from the Hats Off lads – a culmination of dedication and hard work, rightly rewarded for making many critics and Prog Radio Show top albums of 2020 lists. If you don’t own it already – make sure you do!
Broken But Still Standing (2017)
- Almost Familiar
- Luca To Lucy
- Last Man On The Moon
- Advancing On Snailback
- One Day When
- I Fell In Love With A Mechanical Dragon
- Let Me Out
- Under The Skin
- Lucid Assassin
- Broken But Still Standing Till I Fall
- All Alone Together
- Transient Stars
- Close My Eyes
- Chasing Neon
- She’s Moved Through The Fair
Nostalgia For Infinity (2020)
- Century Rain
- Twin Earth
- Chasing Neon
- Nostalgia For Infinity
- Sixth Extinction
- Nostalgia For Infinity (Radio Edit)