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The Tea Club - Grappling CD (album) cover

GRAPPLING

The Tea Club

 

Crossover Prog

4.04 | 183 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Tea's Magnum Opus to date

The Tea Club's presence in my life coincided quite directly with the arrival of multiple mid life crises. Up to around the time of General Winter things had been humming along quite swimmingly forever, then suddenly middle age events exposed just how fragile this existence is. It hasn't stopped since so maybe it never does. But it does seem that every time I've been in need there has been a new Tea arrival to grab hold of, these little musical life preservers. This time is no different. Grappling is a perfect title for the state of my life this last decade and in 2016. Once again their music opens the door to a place of imagination that allows a bit of escape...

As far as the band I also have wondered to myself the effect of the constant revolving door of musicians they've had. Not about personal dramas, or even about the challenges to live playing when people come and go, but rather about the creative process itself. What is it like to write and create with such a revolving cast of people in the ranks. From the outside it seems to affect it very little as the quality and creativity continue to impress. But I have to believe it must be more complicated than that. Perhaps chaos of that kind is a plus to the creative process of any band. The Tea Club have thrived many years despite this issue and deserve credit for perseverance in addition to the artistic merits.

"Grappling" was the hardest Tea Club album for me to embrace initially, which almost always means it will be most rewarding later-as was the case here. My initial struggle had more to do with my own circumstances than with the music, as of late I usually crave much simpler and direct payoff. With a great desire for musical relief I was instead hit by the density and drive of hurricane Grappling. I think I was subconsciously longing for a return to the shorter, more straight up, more direct immediacy of the Teas earlier days. I confess that unlike most "proggers" I personally treasure General Winter every bit as much as the more complex material, being first and foremost a rock fan. I've since realized I didn't need to worry. Grappling rocks just fine. It rocks fiercely.

Whereas QQQ had marked an uptick in ambition and scope over Rabbit, Grappling seems more in the QQQ realm but on a different path...a more interesting, more adventurous, and more sonically cleansing piece of work. The Teas no longer feel as if they are reaching for something, rather, they've grabbed it and they now sound absolutely at ease with the plane they are residing on. I feel I'm hearing more confidence than ever. If QQQ had ascended into their own "Close to the Edge" zone (titles are just for discussion of range, not comparing material necessarily) then the Teas are now firmly entrenched in a "Topographic/Relayer/Pawn Hearts" zone, poised and ready to attack. I will say there are moments on Grappling so intense that they do recall the frenzied chaos of "Gates of Delirium" jams or the dark, sinister alleys of "Pawn Hearts."

Indeed the six tracks on Grappling are the most intense and propulsive yet with new drummer Tony Davis nothing short of scorched earth in his approach. The overwhelming vibe seems to be one of wild abandon and I believe that as musicians exit their twenties there is a certain beckoning call to roar at maximum fang. Sure, 40 and 50 year olds occasionally roar but there is no authentic substitute for youth. Not to my ear anyway. The lighter moments on the album are equally as impressive with these whimsical yet complexly woven tales, of strange things and colorful characters. Dan sounds so enthused and passionate in these moments, like a storyteller of yore, he takes on that colorful bravado in his voice which sounds a little like the actors at the Renaissance Festival, you know the ones...the guys who seek to make you look like a fool in front of your lady. You can hear the joy and confidence coming through in the vocals and the brothers truly sound as if they are channeling stories from a quest. The lyrics for each of the six stories form a conceptual work and they do not disappoint, grand tales of an epic journey of some sort. Characters striving to survive some great battle, real or psychological, mired in apocalyptic overtones? I don't know...I'm not the best at deciphering lyrics.

"Under our roof, we heard a choir / Oh to see again the choir free / And to hear again the waters sing / On pale pastures and starving streams / No signs of The King have been seen / But tonight I will be waiting alone by the sea / To read a new page in The White..." -The White Book (McGowan)

There are so many neat little curios in the bag of tricks this time around. The first three tracks have such instrumental power in the ominous, building layers of sound as well as the always-strong vocal harmonies. The Fox in a Hole introduces Jamie Wolff's strings and a bit of folk charmed melody. Amazing vocal arrangements abound in this track, pure delight to listen to and challenging to perform live I'd wager. The strings go intentionally haywire toward the end creating tension even within the ranks of the quieter song. This flavor of side folk melody returns in the outtro for The White Book, which sounds devilishly like the woodland spirit of Comus crashing the moonlit Tea Club clearing! The keyboard work in White Book deserves a mention as well. So much mood and presence is evoked by the mysterious R McGeddon. So much heart and so many fantastic worlds imagined by brothers Pat and Dan. More than ever we need a high quality pro-shot live DVD of this band in their prime. Someone in their periphery should make it their mission to make that happen, there needs to be a high quality visual document of the live Tea Club.

I'm bouncing from one tangent to another with this "review" and my apologies to the band for that--I'm not in a great reviewing state of mind much these days. I can state with ease that Grappling is the most accomplished Tea Club release to date, which is saying quite a lot. I listened with great pleasure to their four albums while writing this and the progression and musical confidence can be heard literally with each step. It is fascinating to ponder where the band goes in the future, the only thing we know for sure is that unbridled curiosity and creativity are the torches they carry in the darkness.

Grappling will go down as one of the best of 2015 without question.

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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