The school of Prog has a new swot or 4.
This collective of cetaceans are young & hungry and have absorbed the last 40 years of music , digested it and produced this nugget of ambergris.
Like that semi mythical product, this is rare and smells a bit in places, but that’s part of the charm.
As you listen to the opening shot across the bow, Open Your Eyes, the years roll away. I think back to first hearing It Bites floating across the ether, then there’s a blast of Moon Safari vocal harmony, some Queen influenced guitar harmonics, all are mere constituents, base ingredients that the perfumer uses to weave a complex and pleasing fragrances that mature as they are exposed to warmth and skin.
I’m not suggesting that this CD be listened to naked, but the warmth and sheer joy it contains would have saved Baron F a fortune in electricity bills.
It starts with the most “Prog” intro – Piano, treated guitar and a drum beat underneath it, a time change sneaks in before the first words. The voice is young, kicks with a mighty tune, chorus and a thundering gallop through verse, chorus, instrumental flourishes falling by the wayside as it speeds up , before leaping up and into the night.
When ( rather than if) they decide to dip their collective appendages into the water of live performances, this is the show opener, a statement of intent topped off with a guitar solo and piano counterpoint that many bands twice their collective age would sell relatives for.
It’s not breaking new ground, has a warm familiar feel, but that’s a positive , a hook to hang the rest of the album on. It’s Prog Jim, but enthused with harmony, a tune with a great melody and a sense of a great journey just starting.
In short, a perfect debut album opener.
Pages next, an epic story that starts with Monks studiously hand writing the words , we then get the industrialisation of printing, the typesetter as revolutionary, the advent of mechanical printing, words freed up to spread by typing , all under pinned by the loftier concept of information freedom and intellectual emancipation ringing through the ages. The story flows as the years go by, then a gentle pause illustrated by an acoustic foray into BBT /Jethro Tull land, with a gentle melody that then repeats with electric amplification, underlining the journey that we have been taken on.
The piano here is gentle and refined; acting as a bridge to modern ideas of machines writing the word, the “big idea” that information being transmitted freely could change the world for the better.
As if to then reinforce that idea, the next track relates a thoroughly modern situation, addressing cyber bullying and the effect of words on children as they gro.
I find the viewpoint disturbing, as it’s neither the protagonist nor the victim, but a (not so innocent ) bystander telling the story.
Simple , effective and with instrumentation that just reeks of class, the track builds to a climatic shoot out between guitar and keyboard that deserves to be played loud .
As you can probably infer, I like this CD.
The Cetacean collective are based in my home town, and I found them via Facebook, the snippets posted there hooked my interest and I was a small part of the crowd funding for the physical CD.
A thing of beauty it is too, illustrated with haunting photographs of a deserted swimming pool, the subject of the final epic on the CD, Derelict, an ode to the forgotten glory of a neglected municipal pool.
Before that, there are 3 more classy tracks, Circle(Show Love) which pays homage to Jon Anderson’s tenure with “That Band” in terms of musical concept and lyrical theme with more great keyboard and guitar for the air instrumentalists out there , this time the Queen vibe is running under the harmony guitars as they build to the thunderous conclusion with extra keyboards and drums taking us home on our starship.
Listening again as I type this, the achievements of this band in bringing 10 years of ideas to us are many.
If you like music that has melody, choruses and space for the musicians to demonstrate their harmonic intention, then this is for you.
As I mentioned earlier, there are countless memory triggers and hooks in here, echoes of previous musical pioneers flash by, a hint Of ELP there, a bit of Yes there, a big chunk of Queen , a smatter of 10cc , a nod to the Flower Kings , something of the choral beauty of Moon Safari all add to the mix.
Clock of the Long Now is a prime example. a song about a clock , not one that’s ticking away the days or counting down to zero, but this one is a proper “Prog” clock – counting out time in centuries rather than minutes. The chorus here is a real ear worm, you too will sing along to “10 thousand years”, invoking your internal Gabriel, Collins, Lee and Anderson whilst the music crashes around you on your trip through time. The track triggers a memory of that other great Canadian rock trio, Triumph, with the harmonies and vocals on their “Thunder Seven” album’s centrepiece – Time Canon /Killing time.
Next up, a lovely piece to a son or daughter- The Mess. All finger picking and acoustic steel strings with a sentimental piece about how our children grow up too fast.
It’s at odds to the epics bookending it, but it is not out of place, it’s a very human piece about simple pleasures fitting between time and space and the big questions that we all tend to leave out of our daily lives.
This was supposed to be a short sharp shock of a review. But listening to the CD as I type, I realise that I can wax lyrically for as long as it plays and still not describe the warm , sunny morning in the warmth feeling that it generates every time.
If you want to hear a band proudly displaying their influences whilst performing melodic and memorable tunes, expertly recorded by Mr Rob Aubrey (that name might be familiar to some of you, passengers on a Big Big Train where he rides the mixing desk) then go and invest in a little slice of the future that is being written here in Reading.
My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am The Manic Whale are well worth your valuable time and a little bit of your money.
Excitingly, the whole band has now met, rehearsed and are contemplating live shows.
I for one will be there, supporting a local band, not because they’re local but because they are good. Very good indeed.
Released 6th December 2015