Monday 6 May 2024

Glass Island - Lost Media (2024)

Country: Poland
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

If you asked me which country's prog rock I'm most keen to hear more of, I'd have to toss a coin to decide between Norway and Poland. Both are apparently full of excellent prog rock bands and it's always a joy to discover another one. Glass Island were founded in 2019 by Wojciech Pielużek, who occasionally collaborates with other musicians but wrote and performed everything on this album himself. It's the third Glass Island album, most arriving a year apart, with a prior EP from 2020. It does rather a lot within its fifty minutes, making it an album to enjoy on a first listen but dive into deeper on multiple further times through to appreciate it fully.

The sound is fascinating because it finds an elusive balance between imaginative and commercial. Almost Human opens with chimes and builds through infectious riffs, on both guitar and bass, but also drops into neat textures here and there. It's entirely instrumental and fundamentally driven by riffs for five minutes before Pielużek briefly solos on guitar and finally adds vocals. Suddenly it becomes a song and it's one with a catchy chorus. Just trust in me, I'm almost human. I'm seeing a lot of bands open albums with ten minute plus songs lately and they keep nailing them.

There are definitely different aspects to what Pielużek is doing here. The most commercial aspect is his somoth and friendly voice, which takes the fore on False Memories but gets oddly laid back on A Different Kind of Tomorrow and Credulous, almost like he's singing Britpop and Four-Letter Words is almost perky. It's an easy voice to listen to, whatever he's doing with it, and he's fluent enugh in English that I rarely caught an accent, but I'd still suggest that he thinks of himself as a multi-instrumentalist before a lead singer, not because he's lacking in the latter department but because he particularly excels at the former.

As a guitarist, he has a knack for generating catchy riffs that would often work in a hard rock band, never mind a progressive one. There are a few of those in the first half of Almost Human, a strong one to wrap up A Different Kind of Tomorrow and others dotted around the album. These riffs are bedrock for the more experimental side of what Pielużek does. They make it all accessible, even if we start to wonder about complexity and time signatures and how straightforward this isn't. He's a good soloist too, but he doesn't spend a lot of time with guitar solos, soaring with one on Almost Human, blistering with one on Past the Truth and adding a few very different ones in Stay Under Cover.

Just as we just absorb those riffs and come back later to think about how complex they are, we see the songs in a similar way. As much as I enjoy the catchy melodies and riffs, not to forget the solos, it's the textures that really pull me in. It's those chimes on Almost Human, the weird keyboards in the middle of False Memories that sound like musical steam horns and the glitchy rhythms on Past the Truth that combine with the guitar to remind of Robert Plant's Big Log at points. The song has a completely different direction, ending up almost Pink Floyd, but that texture abides. More than anything, it's especially the entire second half of Stay Under Cover, which is joyous.

This track is a worthy bookend to Almost Human, not only because it's another ten minute gem but because the first five minutes of the album and the last five unfold instrumentally, as if they were always meant to lead us in and take us home. It's the most obviously progressive song here, with a whole slew of different sounds. It opens up slow and langurous, a liquid guitar flowing through the piece, but, after the tasty guitar solo midway, it drops into a texture section with minimal piano in a fascinating battle with the unusual rhythms behind it. Eventually that builds into a fasacinating synth outro and it left me wanting to immediately play that final track again and again.

I liked this album on a first listen, which always helps with prog rock, but liked it all the more on a few repeats, enough to move it up from a 7/10 to an 8/10. And I think that may be the norm for any listeners finding Pielużek and Glass Island through this album. The immediacy of it means that it's highly accessible, while the depth of it means that it's worth exploring too. Keep these Polish prog rock bands coming and do tell me what they're putting in the water over there, because Poland is punching seriously above its weight right now in the genre, as indeed is Norway.

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