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(44:40, Crafty Hands)
TRACK LIST: 1. Fanfare 4:42 2. The Ride 5:07 3. Noodle Point 3:51 4. Catwalk 7:40 5. No Surprises 3:37 6. Re-Bootsy 3:28 7. Chapter Seven 3:35 8. Tales of Young Whales 5:53 9. Golden Feast 6:45 LINEUP: Stan Whitaker – el. & ac. guitars; vocals Frank Wyatt – keyboards; saxophone Bill Plummer – Moog, keyboards Dave De Marco – bass Chris Mack – drums
Prolusion. OBLIVION SUN is yet another new project by guitarist / singer Stan Whitaker and keyboardist / saxophonist Frank Wyatt – the founders and the primary masterminds behind Happy The Man, the only two members of the band who never left it. One way or another, the duo still continues replenishing the creative legacy of the American legend, no matter that their latest two outings each come under a different moniker. Besides them, the self-titled Oblivion Sun album features one more participant of their previous effort, “Pedal Giant Animals” (“PGE” from now on), namely drummer Chris Mack, formerly of Iluvatar. Of the two newcomers, bassist Dave De Marco and keyboardist Bill Plummer, the latter is a songwriter in addition, Frank, Stan and he each having penned an equal quantity of the pieces for this nine-track release.
Analysis. It is certainly not due to my appreciation of the artists’ general contribution to the development of our beloved genre that their previous production, “PGE”, is featured in my personal Top-20 chart of last year’s releases. I’m really fond of it, feeling pleasure each time I listen to it, and believe me or not, I play it more frequently than most of the other items from the list. In short, it is the marvelous in a way that “Oblivion Sun” shows the further improvement of the musicians’ compositional skill, in terms of resourcefulness in particular. Nothing of what makes “PGE” so appealing is lost here, while at the same time this recording has a more distinct sense of originality, often bringing me back to the musicians’ seventies work in addition. Indeed, much of the music here reminds me of classic Happy The Man – in the specific writing as well as in style which is certainly symphonic Art-Rock-meets-quasi Jazz-Fusion after the band’s exclusive pattern. Well, if you’re a neophyte whose horizon is as yet limited with a number of more than widely known prog bands, think classic Camel and ELP, which can to some degree (or rather relatively) serve as reference points concerning five of the seven instrumentals here, Fanfare, Re-Bootsy, Tales of Young Whales, Golden Feast and Noodle Point. With their twisting keyboards and guitars plaiting in and out of complex rhythms as well as dynamically evolving arrangements in general, all these are outstanding pieces of music. Inasmuch as it alternates intense and bombastic motions with softer ones with a certain periodicity, the disc opener Fanfare may at first seem to be simpler than the others, but even if so it’s an illusion which will disappear like a morning mist after the sunrise as soon as the piece is revisited. The music is almost ever-changing, and yet it never loses its melodic focus, and so remains intelligible throughout. The Moog and pianos as well as guitar (since Stan only uses old-time pedals) provide a lot of vintage colorations, the string arrangements expanding the – already lush – sonic palette. Moods shift from the romantic to the introspective to the dramatic, and of the aforesaid tracks only Noodle Point has an episode that’s filled with a disturbing aura, additionally standing out for its distinct jazz flavor, as Frank does some amazing, positively wild, improvisations on his saxophone there – in contrast to all the other tracks where he rarely plays that instrument. While musically still only referring to those behind the entire recording, with its darker keyboards and more aggressive guitars, Chapter Seven is emotionally closer to Van Der Graaf Generator. Somewhat less intricate than most of those from Happy The Man’s first two official releases, all the described tracks are nevertheless quite complex compositions, striking me with their wealth of detail. It seems the title of the remaining instrumental, No Surprises, has an ironical meaning, as the composition is full of surprises in a way: at once heavy and symphonic, it falls squarely into the classic space rock idiom. Of the two songs Catwalk and The Ride, the former is strongly reminiscent of “PGE” and is excellent, even though it’s the sole track here that reveals outside factors, depicting its makers processing the Genesis (circa “Wind & Wuthering”) influence through their own prism of vision. The latter is fairly simple Hard Rock with string arrangements. Despite its semi-traditional nature, however, the song has some inner beauty and is delivered in a way that doesn’t seem to be peculiar to anyone else besides its performers. I only think they should have used it as the opening track.
Conclusion. One of the very best recordings I’ve heard in months, “Oblivion Sun” is a definite candidate to take one of the higher positions in my final Top-20 list of the year. Mentally I take my hat off to this band. Whether you call it Oblivion Sun or Happy The Man, this is one of those few contemporary musical collectives whose inexhaustible talent as well as faithfulness to genuinely progressive ideals makes me see the future of the genre in less dark colors than I used to over the last few years.
VM: September 25, 2008
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