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(73:02, 10t Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Oort 8:53 2. Apathy 8:32 3. Twin of Ares 7:52 4. Emily True 7:03 5. At the End of the Day 8:42 6. Illusion of Control 9:58 7. Darvocet Eyes 8:38 8. We All Remember 4:17 9. Automatic Day 5:57 10. Escape Velocity 3:10 LINEUP: Roy Strattman – guitars; vocals; keyboards Steve Katsikas – vocals; keyboards Mark Whobrey – drums; vocals Rik Bigai – bass
Prolusion. The US band LITTLE ATLAS has been around since the late 90's, and rose to some prominence with the release of three successive albums over a period of five years, the most recent of these “Hollow" from 2007. Since then news about the band have been fairly quiet, but in 2013 they returned as recording artists with their fifth studio album "Automatic Day", released through the US label 10t Records.
Analysis. When I first got familiar with the music of Little Atlas back in 2003, shortly after the release of their second album "Surface Serene", I remember becoming quite fond of their positive spirited brand of progressive rock, exploring a sound defined by light tones and a subtly melancholic mood. Defining traits in their compositions back then were elegant wandering guitar motifs supplemented with piano and keyboard details of a similar nature, hummable music easy to like and easy to enjoy, but with nifty instrumental details maintaining tension and interest quite nicely. Little Atlas as of 2013 has actually maintained some of those characteristics. Gentle, often plucked guitar details have their place as a recurring motif throughout the compositions or in mellower toned inserts, frequently accompanied by piano or keyboard textures fairly light in tone and occasionally in spirit too. The mood and the spirit of the band's material have altered substantially however, and while the last third or so of this disc does revisit the mood from bygone years the majority of this production is of a fairly different character altogether. Brooding and fairly menacing motifs by way of keyboards, organ and Mellotron are a key feature this time around, of a kind and character that makes me think about some of the Scandinavian progressive rock bands that employ similar details to craft brooding atmospheres in their compositions. Dark toned, at times gritty guitar riffs are another essential trait this time around, supplementing and contrasting whatever tangents based instrument band leader Katsikas handles at the time as well as emphasizing the more sinister general mood of the compositions. There's plenty of room for alternating themes within this main framework too, as the keyboards also supplement the aforementioned more careful guitar motifs in the passages of a more delicate nature, and not always in a manner that comes across as sinister either. Katsikas and his band members also incorporate less brooding parts closer to neo progressive rock in style, especially from Illusion of Control and onwards. Prior to this composition the moods are generally darker though, and fairly often with quirky characteristics to them. A composition like Twin of Ares plays around with subtly atonal-oriented dual guitar motifs that gave me associations towards both Gentle Giant and King Crimson for instance, and while I have a hard time accurately placing Little Atlas of 2013 within a general context the greater majority of the compositions contain at least one element that sounds hauntingly familiar that I can't truly remember where I've heard before. There's an odd sense of familiarity in a number of different directions that is something of a unique feature here. With Katsikas emotional vocals on top this makes for a compelling listener experience, blending moods and atmospheres fairly different in nature in individual compositions on one hand yet also treating old fans of the band to a few select pieces of music that look back to the origins of Little Atlas in both sound and style.
Conclusion. Little Atlas comes across as a well developed and fairly ambitious band on their fifth studio production "Automatic Day", a production that contains brooding dark atmospheres and harder edged gritty arrangements side by side with inserts, sequences and occasional full length songs of a gentler and more frail, light toned nature. Menacing themes and melancholic flurries, with occasional lapses into purebred neo progressive territories to boot. Personally I suspect that this latter defined audience will be the main one for Little Atlas, with fans of bands like IQ and Galahad an audience I suspect will find plenty to enjoy on this album.
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