Is the best kind of progressive band one where you can hear their original roots, while seeing, hearing and following a progression within their new music, able to celebrate their newest music’s freshness, innovation and new direction? If so, this is the best kind of progressive music.
This is the new Pure Reason Revolution album, the successor to ‘Eupnea’.
Conceptually, this album started to come about at a time when not only was (and is) the world radically changing before their (and our) eyes, but Courtney had seen the band release a personal record about the premature birth of his daughter and her breathing malady, while the world at large was facing the threat of a virus that threatened the lives of millions by way of the respiratory system. As world events unfolded, shows kept getting pushed back further and further, and so work on ‘Above Cirrus’ began.
Courtney reflects the start of the creative process while experiencing fatherhood for the first time during the advent of a global pandemic, seeking a better environment for the safety and happiness of his home. “The family, we were in Berlin when we had the first lockdowns – and we’re in a small apartment; maybe fifty square meters. It wasn’t a great spot to be in. We found this garden out in the Brandenburg woods, and it was a place that we could go to and have some outdoor space. The city’s not a great place to be in a pandemic, so to go out with what was then a two-year-old, it was amazing to get out into the countryside and nature.”
‘Above Cirrus’ is about exorcising the isolation and uncertainty in search of something greater. The band continues many of the musical through lines that fans have come to expect; maintaining a balance between somber reflection and intrepid exploration, leading listeners through a shapeshifting collection of seven tracks that evoke a range of emotions. But ‘Above Cirrus’ is far from a narrative driven concept record. As Courtney explains, each song, while fueled by his personal journeys and the condition of modern times, stands alone. Reflecting on the lyricism of the record, he adds: “Often my writing occupies itself with relationships; how we can be so tender/loving with each other in one instance, days later or even in a few flashes we’re tearing each other apart. The sublime & the savage/vicious. The music reflects this light & shade dynamic shift too. Our world shrinks through lockdowns/restrictions & strain is intensified. However, the end message is one of optimism – affirmation we’ll get to the end of this surreal chapter & be stronger together. Through the turbulence, we’ll help each other through the darkness.”
Another change on the new album was the recording process. While Courtney made early use of the Berlin studio in which ‘Eupnea’ was produced, along with some of the earlier sessions taking place during a two-week stint in the UK accompanied by Chloe & Greg, he soon found a studio space that neighbored his family’s new ‘cabin-hut’ abode in Brandenburg out in the town of Frankfurt Oder, on the Polish border. As for the title of the new record, he shares how that was inspired by a conversation with guitarist Greg Jong, who returns to the band as a full-time member for the first time since the ‘Cautionary Tales For The Brave’ EP. “We were recording at Greg’s folks’ place. We took a break, sat outside, and we’re looking at interesting cloud formations. And, to my amazement, Greg knew the names of the types of clouds. So he’s going through them, and he gets to the one at the top, which is called ‘Cirrus’. And I ask him, ‘what’s above Cirrus?’ to which he replies ‘well, nothing’s above Cirrus.’ And so that combination of words led to the existential questions of ‘well, what’s in the beyond up there?’”
Here, a commonality is found between Above Cirrus and Eupnea, with the band once again featuring the work of artist Jill Tegan Doherty for the album’s cover – this time in the form of her piece “Deaf Mute”. The art depicts a polar bear that’s out of its normal environment and partially covered in slow thawing ice. As Courtney confesses, it draws an interesting parallel with the state of life with the Coronavirus, and that things aren’t always as dire as they first appear. “To me it depicts a sorrowful polar bear out of habitat, melting ice, in discomfort & pain – but adapting to change & surviving. It’s not a gruesome end for our bear, the picture for me displays hope too, perhaps just through the vibrancy & beauty in the work. That resonated with the COVID situation. This destroyed environment connects with our destroyed norms. Huge changes. Life became drastically different & we find ways to deal with it, cope and adapt. We stride into the paradox that positives & growth will come/have come out of adversity, no matter how uncomfortable.”
“Our Prism” has an astonishing level of energy, tribal drumming leading into a veritable wall of guitar-led sound seemingly providing some cathartic release. Oh and how fantastic to hear those classic PRR harmonies! Elements of Porcupine Tree or Tool may be heard, but this is a definite PRR sound.
“New Kind of Evil” continues a magnificent level of performance, at eight minutes long an opportunity to explore, develop, lead and invest in a gorgeous tune and song structure. Languid yet emotionally deep, excellent guitar and keys explorations, classic vocals with a melody at one point seeming to hark back to some bright ambassadors, it closes by scaling a hard guitar mountain and over into the distance. Exhaustingly impressive.
“Phantoms” throbs with the industrial beat of later PRR, understatedly catchy yet cleverly anti-establishment, harsher half-time rhythms and breaks before the intensity kicks back in. A decidedly and impressively retro keyboard lead that is mixes it with a harsh guitar wall, or a heavenly melodic vocal choral section. So much to enjoy in less than 4 minutes.
“Cruel Deliverance” takes us on a gorgeously lush journey, a clever rhythm section underpinning one of their more melodic tracks, vocal harmonies and attractively, interactive sections to the fore. A tribal drum provides menace underneath a slightly Floydian break, ethereal voices floating and gathering momentum before serious guitars take over 4 minutes in. I really enjoy how PRR build layer upon layer either up to a climactic point or a clever break, in this case the latter another harkback to their early vocal beauty.
“Scream Sideways” is a ten minute epic. Time to sprawl. Time to create. Time to set the scene, the mood, the intent. Ethereal vocals and keys drift into a wonderfully addictive groove that itself allows for that classic PRR layering and guitar-led build and choral build, touching PT territory around 4 minutes in before cutting back to a delightful descending chorus. Mid section it becomes a chattering, clattering PT-esque rise back to the chorus before changing (to my glee) into an all too brief Floyd-ish funky section (think DSOTM or WYWH). The head-nodding continues until the song inexplicably fades out to a final 3 minutes that’s almost like a different song. Hypnotic to start, the use of angelic, subdued vocals and bare piano is subsumed back into the escalating guitar wall touched on earlier in the song, which itself gives way to a choral close and an ending that reminds me of how 10cc’s One Day in Paris ended! Awesome.
“Dead Butterfly” makes a melancholic entrance with delightful classic PRR choral vocals before cutting, solid guitars make a powerful and pounding entrance. Throbbing synth carries the song onwards a la John Green. Seven minutes of gorgeous blend of The Dark Third and Hammer & Anvil, with added vigour and maturity.
“Lucid” has a similarly reflective opening before pounding rhythmic choral passion swaps with an emotional release in verse and bridging sections. Individual vocals shine here, giving a more personal feel. That pounding rhythm adds a dark layer whilst the guitar soars above. Dark fights against light, calm contrasts with menace in an epic battle.
This album has it all – heights of guitar-led catharsis mix with keyboard-centric song-structures to create vast, epic soundscapes. This is my kind of progressive band.
This is one of those albums which, on first listening, each track becomes your favourite until you hear the next one. The band are reunited and reignited. This new chapter in the history of Pure Reason Revolution is marked by an understanding that the outer world and the inner individual life require new perspectives. From my perspective, this is an album of the year.
- Our Prism 03:33
- New Kind of Evil 08:32
- Phantoms 03:50
- Cruel Deliverance 05:55
- Scream Sideways 10:09
- Dead Butterfly 07:08
- Lucid 06:48
Jon Courtney – guitar, vocals, keys
Chloe Alper – bass, vocals, keys
Greg Jong – guitars, vocals