Wednesday 27 March 2019

Mostly Autumn - White Rainbow (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Mar 2019
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

Following Green Lung's debut album, here's one from an established band, the progressive rock outfit Mostly Autumn, who formed in 1995 in York, one of my favourite places in the world. They've issued at least a dozen studio albums before this, with even more live ones, and they've built something of a cult following in that near quarter century.

The first thing to note is that White Rainbow is a very long album. It would run a full hour even without the 19:11 title track and 79:12 is pretty close to limits. The reason there's so much is that this is often patient stuff. It kicks off with a quiet instrumental and that mode keeps on well into the ten minute Viking Funeral. Vocals don't kick in until five minutes in.

When they do, courtesy of founding member Bryan Josh, it's obvious that the band's sound is rooted in British prog rock of the seventies, but at the more commercial end of that genre. I heard Barclay James Harvest in his voice and in the progression of the song, but his guitarwork is much more reminscent of Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd. For all that it's patient stuff, the ten minutes of Viking Funeral whisk on by like they're half that. Once it's done, Olivia Sparnenn takes over as the lead vocalist for most of the rest of the album (Josh returns for Up and the title track) and her voice eats up the minutes as well.

Now, the repeated "Let it go" in Burn is unfortunate for a song with such a powerful female lead vocal, especially given the wintry cover art. I haven't even seen Frozen but I have heard that song. This one does go to other places but Sparnenn's voice is as crystal clear as Idina Menzel's and it soars just as well. It's odd for a prog rock album to suddenly reek of Disney.

Outside that track, they're very prog rock. While I haven't heard the band before, I have read comparisons between them and various legendary others.

Genesis are mentioned often but I didn't hear much Genesis here at all; none of Peter Gabriel's surreal experimentation and none of Phil Collins's pop stylings. Maybe there's some Steve Hackett in Chris Johnson's acoustic work.

I didn't hear Jethro Tull either, even if there's a strong folk element on offer, especially in instrumental sections with flutes and pipes. Even here, they're more Celtic folk in style than English. Really there's more Runrig here than Tull, but Mostly Autumn are too laid back to really warrant that comparison, even in more up tempo sections.

The most overt comparision is to Pink Floyd, because of Josh's guitar solos. If Viking Funeral didn't generate Dave Gilmour comparisons, Run for the Sun puts it beyond debate. Josh provides a long Gilmour style solo in front of Alex Cromarty's patient one, one two drums, which back him in a very Floyd way. Only one track further in, the same thing happens on Western Skies and that's not the last time on this album.

Otherwise, it's Barclay James Harvest or Camel that come to mind, especially on the quieter songs, such as the The Undertow and Gone, just with primarily female vocals. However, the seventies bands would have often kept the pace of songs like those slow, as Mostly Autumn do on Gone, but they more often up the tempo partway to introduce a more persistent drive. Even on slower songs, there's an eagerness that can be hard to hide and which runs out to play on faster tracks like Up, one of the more Floydian pieces on offer.

Perhaps they were saving their patience for the title track, which is epic. There's a lot going on here. I caught glimpses of Floyd, Toto and Tangerine Dream, even the Sex Pistols, which was odd, but it builds magnificently and doesn't feel remotely as long as it is. In fact, we get so used to it that the final track, Young, six minutes long as it is, feels like another part of the long song that preceded it.

White Rainbow is also notable for combining male and female vocals and doing it so well that it's suddenly surprising to find that this is the first point where it really happens at all. So there are surprises here, if few of them. It's an accomplished and mostly relaxing piece that will live or die on repeat plays. So far, it holds up well, but I'll give it a few more listens to see if it starts to fade.

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