- Surprising, Awesome Brass!
Scottish proggers Abel Ganz have a long history that stretches back into the neo-prog scene of the 80’s. Like many groups of that era, they too had a long period of quiet, with no releases following their The Danger of Strangers album in 86′ until their 94′ album The Deafening Silence, followed by an even more extended break (12 years) prior to the release of their definite return in 2008 with the critically well received Shooting Albatross. With so many years between albums one can expect that things will be a bit different each time around, and such is certainly the case with Abel Ganz, who’s latest direction since Shooting Albatross has been increasingly acoustic, folky, and pastoral. Not a bad thing in my estimation.
The opener, “Delusions of Grandeur,” ends up being much more than your typical instrumental intro, driving immediate interest into the album with its nostalgic, pastoral opening which soon passes to a menacing theme performed by a classical style ensemble which even manages to surprise us me in the end with the sax being chosen as the lead, giving it a very unique flavor. From here, the five part “Obsolescence” song cycle takes us deep into what the album is all about. From 12 string guitars, folky picking, woodwind interludes, and a strong celtic pop feel, “Obsolescence” takes us on a journey from light to dark and back again. The transition from the light picking of sunrise to the upbeat, even bouncy, rhythms of “Evening” is well executed, with the latter taking many elements of the former and integrating them in new ways, such as the recorders from “Sunrise” becoming integrated as harmonic counterpoint” on “Evening.” Following a a pedal steel guitar solo and plenty of conga, the transition from “Evening” to “Close Your Eyes” is actually the most fascinating due to its dramatic mood change. Shifting towards a darker sound that integrates pounding bass/drum interjections under plucky acoustics, harmonized vocals, and some roaring Hammond, “Close Your Eyes” is a track that kicks the album up a few notches with its increased intensity, strong groove, and unexpected keyboard solo before a fantastic synth sequency section followed by intense drumming that reels us back in to the main song. From here the cycle continues to evolve, this time with the advent of “The Dream.” Aptly titled, this piece actual does have a vivid dream feel, augmented by its somber mood, uncertain chord patterns, and fluttering flute. THe gorgeous use of vocals harmony over a delicate Mark II Mellotron flute is pure gold, and the theme at the end is a winner with its strong nostalgia inducing factor. The real highlight of the song, and the album for that matter, is the surprising organ solo at the end of the track, which starts off soft and pretty before suddenly becoming triumphant and even gothic, bringing in huge chords and drum accents followed by a Bach-like melody on synth over cathedral-esque atmosphere before returning to a joyful theme. Wrapping up this powerful musical suite is “Dawn,” a guitar solo that extends the main organ theme from the previous track over growling Hammond, taking us through several key changes for an uplifting conclusion.
While the rest of the album offers many elements presented in “Obsolescence,” there are a variety of tricks that Abel Ganz pulls out along the way to keep it fresh. “End of Rain” and “Heartland” were completely unexpected for me. Between their mystical atmosphere fluxes between cinematic and new age soundscapes, proving a bit of trance inducing music for your pleasure. “Unconditional,” a powerhouse song oriented piece, delivers wise use of constantly changing measures that don’t distract but add a strong sense of groove to this catchy piece featuring great motifs, nice jazzy sections, a blazing guitar solo, and loads of vocal hooks. The biggest surprise, however, was the use of brass on several of these tracks. It makes a brief appearance in “Unconditional” on the jazz section, but it especially caught my attention on “Recuerdos” and “The Drowning.” The slow, marching quality of the brass on “Recuerdos” adds an unexpected old-school vibe to this highly folky piece, while the horn section in “The Drowning” floored me with its evocative melodies. Banking on a strong, even mesmerizing sense of melancholy, “The Drowning” is about as brilliant of an album closer as you’ll come by. The lamentful brass section carefully undulates in dynamics under introspective vocals in a low register for maximum effect. Additionally, the powerful lyrics, augmented by a heart wrenching trumpet solo will just about bring tears to your eyes. Bravo.
All in all, Abel Ganz’s latest shows a keen sense for songwriting that focuses on strong melodic ideas within a consistent framework of sound. That said, there’s enough strategic deviation from the expected to really make focus key sections impactful. Add in the benefit of crystal clear production values and Abel Ganz shows themselves to be progressing quite nicely in 2014 with an album that is certainly worthy of being self-titled.