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(49:01, 'Big Block')
TRACK LIST: 1. Pyjamageddon 4:16 2. Blind Jack of Knaresborough 4:21 3. Yockenthwaite 3:59 4. Metal Trees 4:52 5. The Cloud of Unknowing 6:56 6. Blind Jack's Unicycle 0:59 7. The Modern Architrave 5:43 8. Kirtan in the Rain 3:55 9. Long Shore Drift 3:33 10. Rubber Road 3:16 11. Crossing the Bay 3:37 12. The Sun Unconquered 3:34 LINEUP: Alex Stone – guitars; accordion, harmonium; vocals Colin Robinson – bass; shehnai, xaphoon, tablas Mark Joell – keyboards; tumbi; vocals With: Tim Bradshaw – trombone Nastassja Joell – vocals Sean Corlett – voice
Prolusion. The UK band BIG BLOCK 454 has been around in one form or another for just over 20 years, and has a total of seven full-length productions to its name in addition to a handful of EPs and a compilation. "Bells & Proclamations" is its most recent effort, being self-released in early 2011.
Analysis. England has been one of the main countries in terms of shaping our modern music history. The list of well-known English bands is staggering, and the number of musical innovators born there impressive. But while many of these artists and composers have established themselves as household names, they have done so by letting go of some of the peculiarities of what one might call the English spirit, for lack of better words. That is, the approach to art used by the likes of Monty Python, blending the sophisticated with the bizarre and whimsical in a manner that will make most people worldwide nod and acknowledge that, yes, this is English. Big Block 454 is a musical exponent of that approach and spirit, at least as I regard them. They don't take themselves too seriously, and when taking a look on their homepage it's the first time I've seen someone credited with playing, amongst other items, junk. And have split the vocals credits into serious vocals, corrupted vocals and funny vocals, as examples. And musically they follow up these indicators of a whimsical, ironic spirit quite nicely. Of the material I've listened to by this act, "Bells & Proclamations" is actually a rather straightforward affair. The foundation for many of these compositions appears to reside in singer/songwriter and folk music, and dampened acoustic guitar-based motifs aren't hard to come by, to put it nicely. Intricate vocal maneuvers and innovative wordplays as only an Englishman can conjure them up are oft-used effects in transforming these creations into something a bit more on the bizarre side though, and detours into free-jazz territories, marching band music performed on what appear to be toy instruments and odd percussion details do add a certain emphasis to the less-than-regular parts of this band's repertoire. Sampled sounds and eerie electronic noises are more frequently used additions to the arrangements, and many of the songs sport something of a dark and brooding atmosphere too. In particular, the vocal delivery and lyrical content appear to be in something of a lighter spirit. Describing their musical endeavors is a daunting task and one where I think most fail. Not because the music as such is extremely hard to grasp, as it isn't. It’s fairly accessible if anything, but with plenty of subtle quirks and offbeat details that bring it closer to avant-garde realms than mainstream ones. Avant-tinged pop art is a description I've seen from time to time, which may be the best general description. Their material is neither pop nor avant-garde as such, but the combined wording is probably the closest one can get in categorizing this fine act.
Conclusion. If you enjoy experiencing the unexpected and take joy in listening to music that combines accessible and whimsical themes with challenging details and quirky unexpected twists and turns, Big Block 454 has made an album you should take a listen to with "Bells & Proclamations". Or as the band states matters itself: "Big Block 454’s approach also encompasses using instruments they don’t know how to play, and those that hadn’t been invented before the band made them." Which says a lot about the band and their music, and those intrigued by this self-description will know what website to check out next presumably.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: November 17, 2011
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