A solo debut release for singer/songwriter Dan Ecclestone, last heard as part of Ember Rev on their 2019 album (see review here).
1.Half of All We See Are Shadows. The opener sets the pace and palette for the collection; acoustic instruments enhance the piano as Dan’s voice conjures up lost days, recollections and connections. The imagery is beguiling ‘….watch the lights flicker down there….as there in the shallows tiny minnows dance as if flames in a fire…’ before a soaring chorus ‘…..all the world was watching us that day….’. Unrestrained by too firm a structure the song ebbs and flows, allowing atmosphere and expression to come through.
2. Cri Du Coeur. This starts by showing how effective a simple piano/vocal structure can be then the track sends the listener into a different direction as the strings and drums create an expansive soundscape.
3. Approaching Silence. A wistful musing on regret and the passing of time, built around the opening line ‘…as I approach the age my father died…’, with minimalist keyboard before a sudden stop to this thoughtful minute and a half.
4. King of Lands of Skies and Sea. The musical centrepiece of the album, a calming opus springing from the evocative title. The unhurried verses evolve into the grand chorus with the chamber orchestra at full stretch then dying away to beautiful effect.
5. This Uphill River. Recalling the edgy polyrhythms of Ember Rev this track increases the pace of the collection, pushed on by a spiking drum pattern battling with soothing strings and brass. Dan’s restless vocal drives and binds all the elements of the song together.
6. I Forever Dream of Home. With just piano and voice the finale is a jazzy, late night meditation, tinged with melancholy but there is an undercurrent of hope. The recurring line ‘…….will you still be there when I get home…..’ lingers in the memory as this excellent album concludes.
A new album from Cambridge art/folk rockers Ember Rev, a complex mixture of acoustic mystery and thoughtful intensity. It is said there are only seven basic plots for any story, this presumably applies to concept albums too; here it is the ‘quest’ and the ‘voyage and return’ that give an arc to this set of songs and instrumentals.
‘Like Dreamers’ places the story in possibly an imaginary context, a floating ethereal landscape where the cymbals roll in and out and the accordion becomes a haunting meander. ‘From The Country ‘ describes the optimistic and youthful narrators setting off on an odyssey across the countryside into Cambridge ‘….and with our hip flask full and boots tied tight we set off to search for gold….’. The groove of this track stays restless and Dan Ecclestone’s vocals immediately pull you into the action.
‘To The City’ jumps ahead to a surreal interlude of a parade of lanterns in the capital, a metaphor for moving on. The most uptempo track here, it has a satisfyingly loose structure with a neat hookline and guitar figure, eventually dissolving into an extended workout with guest clarinet making a welcome contribution.
Two instrumentals follow, the first a short scene-setter with extra tuned percussion cameos then ‘Walk/Don’t Walk’ is a more ambitious piece, with terrific drumming driving a late seventies Brand X influenced piece of jazz fusion. ‘And So To The Sea’ hints at a tragedy to come on the final stage of the journey/quest ‘…..but I waited, I waited there at the water’s edge you never returned….’. The acoustic guitar gleams with melancholy and dominates the song. ‘Be Still’ is a wordless meditation where the mournful voice becomes a darker instrument to counterpoint the light of the accordion.
‘Ultramarine’ is a multi-sectioned piece with surreal musings on life and death with the inevitable draw of the sea for the central character ‘…let’s swim with the fishes tonight..and dance to their ebb and their flow…had you asked me jump I’d have jumped; and the waves would’ve welcomed me under…’. Instrumentally there is lots going on here – all of the band making an excellent contribution to this affecting mini-movie.
As Dan performs the Peter Gabriel-esque final track ‘Like Dolphins’ he leaves the listener in no doubt that the allusions in earlier songs reference a tragedy ‘….for though we slowly came of age you remained…and of your bones are coral made…’; one that lingers with those involved, as does this very personal and thought-provoking album.
Cambridge four-piece Ember Rev are currently finalising their third LP, but this excellent previous release from early summer this year is well worth considering first. It is a concept album inspired by the state of the nation, with a feel of reflective and thoughtful protest.
1. Bring It Right Down Based on overheard conversations during train journeys by band leader Dan Ecclestone he has distilled the sentiments and current attitudes to political developments into a disruptive, edgy opus of powerful and personal imagery. The instrumental spikes are partly tempered by the rocking accordion of Chris Peckham and Dan’s vocals remind me of Tom Robinson at his protesting finest.
2. The Fear Another track where you can’t quite pin down the time signature this one broods into a descending guitar figure and hookline of paranoia and warning. There is a good featured voice contribution from Romy Gensale too.
3. Something Almost Imperceptible Relaxing acoustic instrumental passage with guitar arpeggios, glockenspiel and piano but with a sense of foreboding threading through. It is like something from an early gothic/pastoral Genesis album (eg Trespass)
4. Papillon The title is a reference to a quotation from Alexander Pope;’Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ and famously referenced when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given a prison sentence in 1967. Mix those allusions in with a stately strolling accordion rhythm, loping bass, spacious drumming then suddenly a huge chorus crashes in. The pensive, questioning lyrics lead the song to its downbeat conclusion.
5. My Sentiments Exactly The polyrhythmic undercurrents of much of the album are given free range here, with complex drumming driving the jazzy feel of the tune and another excellent vocal performance from Dan Ecclestone.
6. England’s Finest Hour The finale of the album unifies many of the musical styles we have heard previously. The forthright lyric links a historical context to the present day with the resigned multi-lingual words expressing solidarity with the European continent.