I've been listening to this album a lot over the past week and it's become a real gem in my mind, a mostly calm and peaceful work that ought to sit wonderfully in the background but somehow isn't ever content to do so and keeps me listening actively. It's a prog rock album from Omie Wise, from Braga in Portugal, their second after 2019's To Know Thyself.
It's enjoyable but deceptively light from moment one. It's folky, it's pastoral and it's free. And if a description like that makes you think of English folk prog, then you're not entirely wrong but the opening song, Arroyo, ends up middle Eastern. It's difficult to place the band's influences because they're as much countries and genres as bands and they're woven together. There's definitely lots of English folk here, which is probably most evident at the beginning of Crown Flash, an odd track because it's not heavy in the slightest but often feels reminiscent of a Black Sabbath interlude.
However, Omie Wise's looks around the globe go much further than the English countryside. The middle eastern sound is probably most obvious on The Boy and the Wind, through the use of vocal wavers but made even more obvious by the djembe. And there's some real energy in this one, so if folky, pastoral and free makes you think quiet and inoffensive, this will cure you of that idea, if an escalation in Arroyo didn't already. This one escalates much earlier and keeps on going for longer. I should mention that the first three songs are all reasonably long because they're patient.
The Celtic influence is most overt on Shoals, a neat instrumental interlude performed mostly by a synthesiser that sounds like flutes. It has a soft, lilting melody that's very Celtic but there's more here that I don't recognise from my travels through world music. I'd already wondered early on if the stringed instrument in Crown Flash that sounds like a harpsichord is the braguesa, an acoustic guitar with ten steel strings that's from Omie Wise's home town. Here I wonder what else they're trawling into their sound.
And sometimes, especially as the album runs on, the sounds move away from prog rock. If we keep the folk sound as a common component of prog, then it's Sow the Wind that starts the departures as it's really an alternative rock track as much as anything else, a genre that's hinted at earlier in The Boy and the Wind. The characteristic way the chorus is delivered is very familiar to me, but I'm unable to place it. I'm thinking more experimental music, maybe Captain Beefheart. Pyre is the smoothest piece here, with a lot of loungein the music and exotica in the vocals and a soft saxophone. And the album wraps up in singer/songwriter style with Aurora, meaning that the second half is all over the map musically but without ever losing coherency and consistency. That's a neat trick to pull off.
I liked this album on a first listen. It's a very hard album not to like, I think, because it's so smooth and so easy on the ears even when it's doing some surprisingly deep and complex things. However, I didn't expect that it would grow on me the way that it has. I thought it would be a pleasant listen that would pass me by, as I moved on to the next album to review and the next.
However, this isn't planning on leaving me alone any time soon. It's seeping into my soul, even though it's hard to call out any track for special mention or any musician above his peers. Everyone and everything does exactly what's needed at every point. Now I need to listen to that earlier album!