Secret Project **** released, and I have to admit my personal prejudices got the better of me when the worst kept secret at Evil Pachyderm Central Lab 558 was actually announced ready for release.
My bigotry being I see Tom Slatter as a wordsmith turned musician rather than a musician who can do words too! I gave it a cursory spin to choose a track for my show on Progzilla then, as is my wont, set it aside for proper listen when I had no reviews in hand. Martin then suggested I have a go at the review so I have the reason and motivation to examine this release closer with my singular brain cell.
The opening track A Scattering begins with swelling, rising keyboard riff that introduces a distorted guitar sound then a repeating riff that I assume is from Alun on bass. The refrain is passed from instrument to instrument then devolves into a manic feeling ‘battle of the musician’s’ jam session. Imagining Tom essentially jamming with himself is something too torturous to actually retain. In the central section it transforms into a jazz improvisation and tennis match as sections are passed across the studio. Consider four versions of Tom in the studio grinning in the classic evil Professorial manner of a Verne/Wells classic and you get my imagery and should be rightfully worried. This, in all honesty, shows some real depth and texture that makes me smile and I see my prejudices were flawed and incorrect.
Crookedness has the feel of a Tom Slatter track, the “Steam Punk Skiffle” guitar and drums combo racing into the track, seeing who gets there first and unsurprisingly ending in a draw at the middle eight. This is not a bad thing and Grey Malkin is a fine piece of similar proportions of manic guitar and lilting tempos for variety. It appears there is actually a Slatter Guitar sound! You can hear his musical voice and technique in the sound and structure. Both these tracks could have been songs with words but they turned hard left at the lyrical and melody corner and the lyrical content became a guitar line with keyboard harmonies. They both have enough to keep the listener busy if they want to dig deeper but also can wash over you as whole pieces if they are on in the car or while performing those other functions that life demands.
That is the first three out of the way and they feel like what I would expect from Tom knowing his previous work in the way I do. The next 5 all show something very different and one of the reasons why I think this actually is an album that should not be forgotten in the seasonal melee that was Christmas and New year. Kettle and Cauldron sounds like it is straight of an experimental Berlin school jam between Can Neu! and Kluster and is annoyingly short at 3 minutes and a bit. It could be expanded to a 15 or 20 minute zone out percussion and synth electronic dream. Firecracker has the addition of Chrissie on Violin giving a softer feel and a drifting continuance from the previous track into that guitar sound.
Embers is, by a country Victorian Mile, my favourite on this album. The violin, atmospheric keyboards and sonic landscape understate what is going on and hide, to some degree, a complex but very easy on the ear piece of music. Think a Steam Punk Floyd Shine on You Crazy Diamond and you get some idea from words but only listening to it can you really get it! Alun does the bass line as a melody in parts and vanishes in others. Again Slatter, too short! I want a longer track with more beyond the fade.
Clamour and They Broadcast My Birthday on a Numbers Station (no, I have no idea what that means either!) flow together from Embers developing and growing almost as if they were from a common session. Clamour is a mature piece and shows insights of an avante-garde and metal combination without sounding like either. Tom has an ear for a riff and a refrain and is fond of bouncing them around and playing them to create larger works. Both tracks have that finger print on them. On deeper listening, Tom is hinting at his influences from the rock, metal, thrash, jazz (and possibly prog too) genres.
Instrumental albums are never easy, especially when you are a songwriter, and it could so easily have been and album of music “I could not find words for so let’s make an instrumental album”. Instead it shows a side of Mr Slatter that lies hidden too often in his other albums; the composer is exposed here at his most vulnerable and it is all the better for that exposure. I know there are plans afoot for Tom to play with a full band in a live setting and I think there is room for these tracks in that set. I would love to hear him experiment in some long form electronic material too.
I said I went into this with a fair amount of prejudice and expectation and I apologise for that and a slapped wrist for me. I think this is one for your collection, despite missing the inevitable end of 2017 best of lists and no doubt the forgotten of 2018 to come lists.
Released 1st December 2017