Style: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 26 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website
A minute into second track Shooting Star, Roger Lopes started singing and it caught me completely by surprise. It just hadn't registered on me, after the first eight minutes, including the whole of Robot Can Lie, that Atomic Time weren't an instrumental band. They tie more to prog rock than anything else, but there's a jazz feel too and I was intrigued as to where the instruments would go with their interaction. I just wasn't thinking about words.
Perhaps the reason I'm reviewing the album is because Lopes, with his quiet and unassuming vocal, adds another level to the music, which is otherwise as much driven by the keyboards of Gabriel D'Incao as the guitar of his father Pedro. Add in drummer Silvio Serra, who has been playing alongside the elder D'Incao for over thirty years, and you have a band whose members know each other inside out and can therefore mix things up without shocking them. João Ribeiro is the bassist tasked with being noticed in this setup and he does an excellent job. Just check out the beginning of Grey Sky for just one of many moments in the spotlight.
The band's page on Bandcamp suggests that their influences are chiefly with the old school prog bands of the seventies, like King Crimson, Yes and ELP, but with a more modern tinge of Radiohead too. I'd add Vangelis here too, as I heard a lot of his style here, as the synths drive so much of this, from the very first notes. Radiohead makes a lot of sense though, because while the band are all quite obviously talented musicians, they're most interested here in setting a tone.
I tend to think of King Crimson as experimenters, Yes as songwriters and ELP as virtuosos, while Radiohead, especially on their best and least commercial albums, are about creating moods and textures that we haven't heard before, stretching instruments far enough that they have to invent some themselves. The moods here are generally laid back, but they're more important than the songwriting and the mastery of technique.
Those moods grow too, as the album runs on. If the first couple of songs are relatively grounded, introspective explorations placing us in the mindset of a small indie coffee shop stage, then Grey Sky manages to levitate the band through the roof; they keep on playing as they float away into the distance. Gabriel D'Incao is clearly finding things to do with his Moog that I haven't heard before and that's a very welcome sign to me. The most important thing, though is that, rather than stick to a healthy elevation and finish up a hot chocolate, I chose to float along with Atomic Time without thinking.
With all distractions evaporated, Rivers is utterly delightful, initially as a vocal track and then especially as an instrumental one. I don't know how I floated with the Moog while still somehow focused on what Ribeiro's bass was and wasn't doing, but there was a point where I felt like I was listening to each of these musicians simultaneously both apart and together. It's a real experience of a track.
And, quite frankly, there's something of that thinking in almost every track here, especially when we let the album replay. That goes even on relatively conventional tracks, like The Same, which does betray a lot more of that Yes influence. The whole album manages to become rather like a hallucination or a dream. Sure, it's easy to listen to but it's easy to listen to in the way that brings us out of our own skin because its skin is more comfortable.
No Time for Angels, the epic ten minute closer, is the one exception. It's as raucous and abrasive as the band gets, and while it's highly enjoyable, it works differently to the earlier tracks. Put simply, it forces us to pay attention, while everything else entices us in. I didn't like it as much for that reason. It didn't lose me by being a nightmare instead of a dream; it lost me by waking me up from my trance.
Fortunately, I could just roll right back into the trance through the magic of repeat play. I believe this is Atomic Time's first album but I'm already waiting impatiently for the follow up.