Timothy van der Holst is primarily known as a jazz musician in the Netherlands, where he's made a slew of albums with bands like the Jazzinvaders, and he's dabbled in soul and Afrobeat, but he was a prog fan growing up in the eighties, listening to the pioneers of the previous decade. It feels like he was always going to make a prog album eventually and this happens to be it, with him playing a majority of the instruments—drums, bass, piano, synths—and British vocalist Max Gilkes on board to provide a voice to the music. Fellow Brit Frank 'Fish' Ayers wrote all the lyrics and added spoken word and slide guitar, while Edwin in 't Veld handles the guitars.
The Thoughts of Light is a thoroughly atypical opener, because it's an instrumental and it's a rigid piece, mathematically constructed and angular in its nature. The keyboards do add some curves at points and there's a pleasant guitar solo lightening the mood, but it sets a very different scene to the one that the album delivers, starting out with Time Out, which immediately puts us in mind of the Alan Parsons Project. From strictness, it softens up completely to play out with feel, brooding bass providing some weight under Gilkes's smooth voice. It doesn't do a lot but what it does is all notable, so that we listen to the vocals lead the song but take the song with us when we go.
I like Time Out a lot, but it's The Past Haunts Again after it that sold this album on me. It's a piano that kicks it off, doing the same job as the bass on the previous song, but the vocals aren't quite as smooth, making this a tasty midpoint between the angular and the smooth. There's definitely lots of the Alan Parsons Project again but there's a hefty side of neoprog, something that will creep in more and more as the album runs on, and it ends with spoken word over a cello-like bass, dancing flutes and whirling keyboards. Suddenly we're in Hawkwind territory, after a nine minute journey. It's easily the longest track on offer and it's a consistent gem.
That neoprog reaches its peak much later in the album with Between You and Me, which bounces along like Marillion. The title track that closes out, starts out like early Marillion too, with drums that punctuate in a particularly recognisable way—they've been there throughout the album as a form of punctuation, but these will feel familiar to fans of Marillion's debut—though it shifts into David Bowie territory. I believe that van der Holst is primarily a drummer, so I do find it interesting that I should focus on his bass and piano work more than his drums, but he resists the urge to show off on the latter throughout, which must be tough for someone used to jazz.
The other obvious influence I can hear is Pink Floyd, but it's the one that I feel is least successful. I should emphasise that the pieces that go there sound good, but they don't have the bite that they need to truly work. Remember feels like the Floyd filtered through Marillion, but it's a short safe instrumental, even if it ends up in a sort of Barclay James Harvest coda. The latter infiltrate Lets Laugh too, which has a little bounce to it, but The Time Stands Still goes even more pastoral with a layer of flutes and ethereal sections that sound good but don't enforce themselves, especially on an album with more vibrant songs to steal our attention.
All in all, this is an elegant prog album. While it's on the lighter side of the spectrum, with smooth, easy on the ear vocals from Gilkes and its instrumental workouts never take over fully, there's still depth to be found in the musicianship, much of it van der Holst's. It covers a lot of ground too and I would very much like to hear another album from the One, even if he decides to call it the Two on a second release, especially if he writes more songs in the epic vein of The Past Haunts Again.