Monday, 25 January 2021

Perfect Storm - No Air (2021)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website

If you're in Perfect Storm's native Holland, then their debut album came out a couple of weeks ago; if you're anywhere else, it technically doesn't come out until 19th March, but it's worth highlighting it now because it's a worthy release and I hope it does well. Perfect Storm play modern prog rock with a slight contemporary jazz edge, as if they're a combination of Porcupine Tree and Steely Dan. The line-up of six includes three vocalists, two dedicated and one who also provides the warm keyboards, so it isn't surprising that it's so accessible.

Those keyboards, courtesy of Ard Offers, tend to lead the songs in and help them develop. It's rare for him to not be obvious here, even when he's underpinning everyone else with texture. There are seven pieces of music here, none short but none notably long either; they all fall within a comfortable six to ten minute range where they can really breathe but can't develop into full-blown suites with multiple movements to build epic stories.

Maybe a few manage two movements. The Search is one of those and it ably demonstrates the sides of the band. The first is commercial, driven by the male voice of Adel Saflou and with a smooth solo from Gert-Jan Schurer. The second is just as accessible, but it's more adventurous, led by the female voice of Hiske Oosterwijk, and with an edgier, more brooding feel to it. I should add that both these voices are very appropriate for this music. Neither sounds like a solo artist lending a hand; they're two inherent facets to this band and the result would be very different if there was only one of them here.

With that said, I think I prefer Oosterwijk, because Saflou is a little too smooth for my tastes. "Living is easier," he sings on Hope and we can believe it. He sounds like everything is easy and effortless and he's never had to suffer through hard times. Oosterwijk doesn't sound like she's had a hard life but it hasn't always been easy, so there's more depth of feeling when she's singing. They work well together in the sense that they bring different things to the band that complement each other. They work less well together when they're both at the mike at the same time, as Saflou dominates almost every time.

Schurer can work either way. His solos early in The Search and late in Hope are wildly different, neatly highlighting his versatility. It feels a little odd talking up the vocals on a prog rock album, which may underline just how this moves towards smooth jazz and soft rock. Mind's Eye, for instance, is surely as close as this gets to Steely Dan, until it mixes it up in the midsection with Schurer getting jaunty and sassy and Oosterwijk adding some more edge. Oddly, it's often right after the band get really smooth that they decide to get really edgy.

There aren't any poor tracks here, let alone bad ones, so the conversation shifts to the highlights and the consistency. I think there's a lot of consistency, however much light/dark play goes on, because it's a very mature debut album. I believe everyone in the band performs with other Dutch bands, so this is about them learning how to combine their experience and ideas not starting from scratch.

As for highlights, Mind's Eye is one of the growers for me. The title track is the one that leapt out for me on a first listen, while The Search took two, one to experience it and a second to realise how much it was doing. Mind's Eye, on the other hand, has quite the arc between beginning and end and it gets better each time I hear it as I understand it more. The epic of the album is How It Ends, and it's a good song with some great instrumental passages, both hard and soft, which also happen to gift drummer Jesse Bosman and bass player David Klompmakers with moments of their own.

How It Ends is also how it ends, as it wraps up the album, leaving us wanting more but satisfied with what we were given. This isn't a perfect storm, but it's a pretty damn good one and I live in a desert. I wonder if finding this album is why the skies have opened over the last couple of days to refresh us. If so, thank you!

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