It must be something of a quandary for an established band or artiste of some standing, steeped in a rich and varied history, and from any given style, to know how to pitch a new album. The options would appear to be limitless, from plain indifference to a possibly not much more cheerful “here we are, we’re not dead yet!”, and most options in between. This latest offering from prog rock veterans Yes, appears to have been produced with great positivity though. The vibes emanating from the band are quite efficacious in fact. “This is a very important album for the band,” says Steve Howe, Yes’ longest current serving member, guitar virtuoso, and producer of Mirror To The Sky. “We kept the continuity in the approach we established on The Quest, but we haven’t repeated ourselves. That was the main thing. As Yes did in the Seventies from one album to another, we’re growing and moving forward. In later years, Yes often got going but then didn’t do the next thing. This album is demonstrative of us growing, and building again.” This seems to be something that his bandmates can readily agree with. Newest recruit, drummer Jay Schellen, believes; “I feel a great harmony with us all. Being relaxed about things, maybe that’s the ingredient that just fuels the creativity. We’re definitely a team, and we feel a lot of harmony, and a lot of fondness for each other. Being around each other is great. That’s awesome.”
Mirror To The Sky follows on quite rapidly by modern standards from the group’s most recent studio album, 2021 release The Quest. It seems that the DNA of Mirror To The Sky was already planted at that time. As they were wrapping up The Quest, Yes found themselves with song sketches, structures, and ideas that were demanding attention. Yes received, critically for any band, unconditional support from InsideOut record label boss Thomas Waber, who encouraged them to keep going in the studio, months before The Quest would even go on sale. It was like throwing gasoline on their creative fire, as they say. “We felt a little melancholy that The Quest was winding down, so we said, ‘Well, why don’t we just keep going?’” explains singer Jon Davison. “I had been living in England, and it was just going so well with Steve and I meeting with (engineer) Curtis Schwartz, and working at the Yes HQ studio.”
The Quest had been generally fairly warmly received, with most commentators agreeing that it was a good Yes album. No one was ecstatic, but it was generally well thought of. It had a lightness of touch that contrasted with the full-blown dramatic approach that made the band’s name in the Seventies. That lightness is still active on Mirror To The Sky as it is a very fresh sounding release from the opening orchestral strings onwards. But this time around, the sound is lush but airy with each instrument allowed room to breathe and be heard. This lushness, though, never topples over into being overwhelmingly busy or dense. This is a great credit to Steve’s production skills, a role he fulfils for the second album running. There is a clean, clear definition between the sounds of the varied instruments.
Song sketches had carried over from The Quest sessions. “There was a lot of material floating around because the band hadn’t done anything in the studio for so long. Ideas were just copious,” says bassist Billy Sherwood. “The pace of it was fast. As soon as we were finished with The Quest, and the mix had come out, we took a couple of little breaks there to catch our breath. But there was still music flowing around in the loop. It was just constantly being looked at and worked on. As we were all home and in that mode, things started progressing quite swiftly. We just went one album into another without really announcing, ‘Hey, we’re working on a second record right now.’ We just continued to work on material. It came about pretty naturally, and then we refined it as the process went on. But the initial bursts — there was a lot of material around!”
The collective song-writing skills of this band are quite august. Here they have depth and breadth, beautifully arranged and played. There are some terrific vocal harmonisation’s throughout the album, but they stand out on All Connected particularly well. The group’s skills in this area lift what might have been a relatively mundane piece into something a little more substantial. By their standards, the fourth track, Living Out Their Dream, may have been a straight-ahead rock song, and probably would have been in the hands of any other band. The title track, Mirror To The Sky, is even a tilt at a mini-epic which progresses through a variety of swells and timbres in its course of some fourteen minutes. “The band’s really, really on fire,” states Geoff Downes. “Everyone is pulling in the same direction. It may have something to do with the fact that we were all off the grid for so long. But at the same time, we did manage to pull it together very quickly. All that work that we’d done prior to the pandemic really enabled us to dust ourselves off quickly and get back into it. We wanted to show everybody that we are still a force to be reckoned with.”
This is the first album released by Yes since the passing of drummer Alan White in May 2022, and the album has been dedicated to his memory. Alan appeared on every album by the band since Yessongs in 1973. In later years he had shared the drumming with Jay Schellen, who was his friend and whom he mentored, when playing live. Jay was announced as a permanent member of Yes in February 2023. He had been touring with the band fairly extensively in recent years, and was the sole drummer on The Close To The Edge Tour in 2022. On this release his drumming is excellent, tasteful and pertinent. He also has great skill of knowing when not to play leaving the songs free to breathe a little. Jon Davison has a very good album too. Rather than often being thought of in comparison to the ‘other’ Jon because of his vocal tones, he has settled into the band and is accomplishing things in his own right. His performances here are delicate and frangible, sounding like fragile glass or brittle ice. He has written some very interesting and nuanced lyrics too. Geoff Downes’ keyboard work is elegant, sophisticated, somewhat understated but with lithe solos popping up now and again. Billy Sherwood’s bass playing is fidgety and nimble, not propelling the songs along particularly but participating in the art. Steve Howe releases his masterful guitar work, making full use of his various instrument’s tones to produce an emphatic display of guitar playing. Collectively, the musicianship is marvelous. There is great interplay between the musicians. As with The Quest album, this release again sees the band employing the FAMES Orchestra from North Macedonia, conducted by Oleg Kondratenko, playing arrangements by Paul K. Joyce. Sensibly, the orchestra is playing in and around the band rather than with or alternatingly. The first track, Cut From The Stars, opens with the orchestra before the band takes over, but on the title track, Mirror To The Sky, the orchestra is interwoven with the band at times, as a musical tapestry. This approach means that the orchestra does not tread on the musical toes of any band member.
Again, as with The Quest, Mirror To The Sky has a second disc made up of bonus tracks. These have a different feel to the main album, being somewhat more straight melodic rockers than anything. Not being less substantial than the songs on the main album but remaining agreeably pleasant. Nevertheless, Mirror To The Sky is an album in the traditional sense rather than just being a collection of songs as many album releases have become over the years, and the inclusion of the extra tunes alongside the main album would have unbalanced it (don’t get your writer started on the inclusion of bonus tracks on the re-release of classic albums – the practice would go in Room 101 if I ever made it to that BBC programme, which seems highly unlikely!).
Roger Dean once again provides Yes with an atmospheric fantasy album cover, on this occasion featuring a man standing on a rocky terrain looking out on a star-studded sky very much as befits the music.
The album is being made available in a number of formats: a Limited Deluxe 2LP+2CD+Blu-ray Artbook with poster; a Limited Deluxe 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook; a Limited Edition 2CD Digipak; a Standard CD Jewel case; a gatefold 2LP & LP- booklet; and as a digital album. The Blu-ray editions include the album as Dolby Atmos, 5.1 Surround Sound, Instrumental Versions & Hi-Res Stereo Mixes.
There is a refined cinematic feel to the sound of this album, the music is decorous and where Yes might once have been noisy or raucous, it is rarely discordant or atonal anymore. The album seems more focused than The Quest. It is a breezy, artful album filled with great interplay of the instruments. It certainly sounds like the band is building on the base that the making of The Quest allowed them. Yes appears to be a band enjoying itself, coherent and engrossing.
1. Cut from the Stars
2. All Connected
4. Living Out Their Dream
5. Mirror to the Sky
6. Circles of Time
1. Unknown Place
2. One Second Is Enough
3. Magic Potion
Steve Howe – guitar, vocals
Geoff Downes – keyboards, vocals
Jon Davison – vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion
Billy Sherwood – bass, vocals
Jay Schellen – drums
Orchestral arrangements – Paul K. Joyce
FAMES Orchestra in North Macedonia, conducted by Oleg Kondratenko
You can view a video for Cut From The Stars here: https://youtu.be/NdEF-vMO8vc
There is a video for All Connected here: https://youtu.be/4ZJaP9ThILI
Release date: 19th May, 2023
Label: InsideOut Music
Formats: Ltd. Deluxe 2LP+2CD+Blu-ray Artbook with poster / Ltd. Deluxe 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook / Ltd Edition 2CD Digipak / Standard CD Jewel case / Gatefold 2LP & LP- booklet / Digital Album
Interestingly, no comments about the missing bassist that made YES so great, Chris Squire. His skills are still molding the music of YES. And Billy Sherwood will always be compared in terms of his ability and sound relative to Chris.
Awesome for sharing opinions !!!
For a number of years now….the art on the t-shirts is far far too busy……….the logo should be very prominent more-so…..