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Breathing Space - My Dark Surprise CD (album) cover

MY DARK SURPRISE

Breathing Space

 

Crossover Prog

3.95 | 3 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
4 stars I deeply enjoyed Bryan Josh, when he founded Mostly Autumn and blessed us with their first three spectacular recordings but as soon as he took over the entire direction, they have sputtered, in my opinion. The reason is that Josh cannot make attractive prog-pop music because he is better at writing epic soundtracks. All along, save for a brief moment, was perennial keyboard and composer Iain Jennings, a true master of the ivories who began his solo career with a debut album called Breathing Space, introducing a new band by that name that featured the magnificent Oilivia Sparnenn. She subsequently became MA's lead lung, replacing the cocky Heather Findlay and fit in nicely upon Breathing Space's abrupt ending. Iain has rejoined the Josh train and Olivia has now married Mr.Josh ! His second solo album is most welcome as it's just a newer, more modern version of Breathing Space. What I do not get, is that Iain's work (4 albums in all) is way beyond the current Mostly Autumn, a spinning wheel band that has lost its original identity. I guess Jennings was keeping his best material for himself, since Josh kept rejecting them, preferring his own gravelly arrangements.

"Take Control" is as apt a title to kick off this jewel, a tremendously appealing track that has a way more urbane feel, recalling the finer neo-prog acts in recent memory, whilst showcasing a new talent in lead vocalist Mark Chatterton, hitherto unknown to this reviewer but with a definite Ray Wilson feel. There is a certain brash confidence that exudes from the groove, a dense, monolithic barrage of sound, screaming guitars, brooding bass undertow and wild drum patterns. Taking control, indeed!

"Change the Shape" just takes the next step a tad forward, mentioning "computer control'' and "creating chaos" within a driving chorus, bashing forward with unmitigated sheen., all players clearly involved in gelling. The fast and furious metallic tinges illustrate a very futuristic sound, a new found version of power-prog, relentless, moody and aggressive. A whistling synth solo defines the author as a studied soloist and not just a clever composer.

"Hidding My Fears" is ballad territory, a brief respite "far beyond the madness", vocal and piano intertwined in a common embrace. There is a palpable propensity towards sheer emotion and passion, when presented in the simplest vessel can only be successful if the delivery and the message are utterly believable. This is just plain beautiful, no other words are needed.

The killer track here is the robotic, dance-vectored, power-pop extravaganza title track, flashing hints of Ultravox, Depeche Mode, OMD, Kraftwerk all thrown into the pot, with a magnetic trance-like intro that winks at recent Galahad. A stretched out Roxy Music-like saxophone floating in its exotic juices spices up the flow, choir wailings resonate deeply. The glorious vocals from newcomer Mark Chatterton are soulful yet also wrapped in a veil of ennui that is quite intoxicating. Very cool indeed, Ferry, Gahan, Ure and company would be proud.

"Stand inside the Shadow" is raunchier rock with Blue Oyster Cult styled histrionics, punchy, groovy and delirious. The fret boards are front and center and certainly call attention to themselves. The spirit is liberated from any constraint, which only provides even more quality to the melodies and the playing. The hypnotic onslaught is further enhanced by another welcome sax blast (a wonderful but rare prog detail) and a gloomy effect-laden voice. The mid-section jam elicits comparisons with Ozric Tentacles, as the players just converge towards some unseen goal, wailing female backing vocals take this into the stratosphere. Bloody brilliant!

The riveting "That's Why I fly" is brooding, desperate, highly addictive, this could be a 'hit' in a better prog-oriented world. Sentimental, malaise-ridden and decidedly European, the clanging piano lead introduces another strong vocal, the chorus soaring into the heavens and ensuring the theme's placement into one's pleasure zone. There is also a cinematographic quality that is undeniable.

The next two tracks are good but nothing comparable to the other material presented here: "A Choice to Make a Change" is a track that required a few revisits as I really missed the point the first two times. Not that it's terribly complicated, it just has a different feel, more urgent and poetic though the lyrics impressed from the get-go. "Nowhere in my Head" is the only track I did not enjoy, too close to Josh's recent gravelly style and as such sounds more like MA than anything else. Iain delves into some interesting synth patches (a slight Celtic tinge) but the vocals just do not do it for me.

The other massive prize is the whimsically unpredictable "A Mirror of Me", a soothing foray into dream atmospherics, highly evocative and drenched in sad melancholia. Elegant piano leads the arrangement, slippery synths and intense vocals entering through the reflective corridor and expanding towards the heavens. Punishing drums courtesy of the stellar Gavin Griffiths (Karnataka, Fish, Panic Room and of course Mostly Autumn)! "Just your Genetic" ends this little jewel on a high note, Iain caressing the piano keys with superior restraint, the massed guitars bruising a hallowed path, painted with obvious fresh tendencies. Powerful and bombastic, the grandiose elements that make this such a joy to listen to are all highly apparent. The pummeling bass bashes along devilishly.

This rewarding release seeks to highlight a more urban feel, certainly miles away from the predictable pseudo-pop Mostly Autumn fare, suggesting perhaps that Josh should rely more on Jennings' overt talent for melody and atmosphere. As such, my mind is made up and Jennings will always be one of my prog heroes. By continuing his solo vision, Iain just provides my needed Breathing Space.

4.5 shadowy disclosures

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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