Thursday 21 March 2019

Liars & Lions - New Horizons (2019)

Country: Canada
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

I've talked a lot here at Apocalypse Later about different patterns that I'm finding in these new albums. One that I'm starting to notice is that there's an increasing amount of individuals who constitute, on their own, entire bands. Circlet, Saor, Ædelric and Moongates Guardian are all comprised of far less people than you might expect and Liars & Lions is no exception.

Now, if I think of "one man band", I picture a busker with a collection of instruments arrayed around his person, many of them played simultaneously. I see the Lone Cat, Jesse Fuller, who wrote San Francisco Bay Blues and even invented new instruments like the fotdella to extend his range as a one man band. Technology has changed that nowadays, of course, and the modern equivalents are based in a studio with separate recordings of instruments layered together later in software. One or two people can do a heck of a lot by themselves, then bring in guests to do anything else needed on top.

I mention all this because Liars & Lions are primarily two Canadians who do pretty much everything themselves. Nick Waterman plays guitars while Imaad Dalal provides everything else: vocals, bass, synths, drum programming and more guitars. They wrote and arranged the whole album together, recorded it, mixed it, produced it, engineered it, you name it. Clearly this wasn't done in one take. It must have involved a lot of work over a lot of time with a lot of patience, but the end result sounds like a full band.

Listening to a song like Icarus, I'm seeing a full stage, with a vocalist concentrating on his delivery, a guitarist exploring his instrument behind him, an attentive bass player underpinning it all and a playful drummer at the back reacting to what the others are doing. Even the keyboard player is busy, especially in the quieter intro and outro sections but elsewhere too. That almost none of those dynamics are really there is amazing to me.

What amazes me most isn't that technology makes this possible but that the versatility of some of these people allows them to shine in different roles on the same album. For instance, Dalal obviously takes great care with his vocals, which are delivered as if they're his one and only job. Songs like New Horizons and End Credits highlight his imaginative bass playing. Quite a few feature imaginative rhythms on the drum machine or capable runs on the keyboards. I could call all of these out as highlights but all that credit goes to the same person.

At the end of the day, even on a progressive rock album, the songs matter too and it doesn't matter how impressive Dalal is if he and Waterman can't write songs. Fortunately they can and that's why this album is memorable, even when those songs are instrumentals like New Horizons or Bubbles. The first full song, Echoes, is a great example, with a soaring chorus that's neatly tied to the guitars and a glorious slowdown a couple of minutes in that allows for a pleasing solo.

Pleasing is a good word to use here. While the riffs do often jog in that djent way, there's a lot of more mellow music here and Dalal's voice has a pleasing alternative tone to it, rather like Steve Hogarth's or even Dave Grohl's. The synths often give an old school new wave feel, especially in the Gary Numan way they kick off the album. Even when the album is loud and driving, it's not as aggressive as it could be because it clearly doesn't feel the need.

And all this makes Liars and Lions hard to categorise. I believe they call themselves prog rock, which is fair but limiting. This is often prog metal but often alternative rock too. Sometimes the songs move from one of those to the other, like the Foo Fighters had heard Meshuggah and wondered if it might be possible to take their sound and apply it to a catchy Yes song.

Here's to the one man or two man bands! I may never see you live but I do appreciate what you do in the studio to create albums like this.

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