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Mice On Stilts - Hope for a Mourning CD (album) cover


Mice On Stilts


Crossover Prog

3.98 | 128 ratings

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5 stars From gorgeous New Zealand, we have a new album from Mice on Stilts, a progressive crossover artist that caught the community's attention with 2014's rather engaging debut 'An Ocean Held Me' and kept us wondering if another gem would be in the cards. Two years later, this sophomore release continues from where they had left off, a mercurial and original take on the crossover style that does not mean that it's the 'poppiest' of genres within the prog spectrum but rather wishes to incorporate a certain sense of accessibility. Ben Morley's has quite a singular flair when it comes to forging his own musical persona, a heady combination of various influences that defy the norm. Firstly, he possesses a voice that is just made for melancholic and heartfelt music, with a definitive yearning for emotional release and lyrical expression. At times, I was reminded of a modern-day Jim Morrison in terms of delivery though not necessarily tone. The musicians he chooses are closer to jazz and chamber, with lots of woodwinds, cellos and violas, way closer to Penguin Caf' Orchestra than your archetypal neo-prog line-up. The heavy use of piano and choir is another lucid clue into the Morley musical psyche, a deliciously intense universe of artistic seduction that deserves to be further noticed by the prog community. This is a major talent, proggers!

The tracks are impressively astute canvases on life, from the sweeping opener 'Kandallah', a piece that really sets the melancholic mood with reflective piano dispositions from the talented Brendan Zwaan and a soaring vocal delivery from Ben Morley, anointed with clever pastoral meanderings and a delicate sense of orchestral structure, swelled by a wall of sound effects that seek to blur the senses.

The splendid 8 minute 'Orca' is a different fish altogether (oops), the acoustic guitar taking the spotlight as Ben navigates the aching whitecaps of his tempestuous soul, Rob Sanders' slick drumming pushing the wavy brass section into an aquatic frenzy. There is a tremendous mid-section that first seeks out ambient paradigms, only to let the sax brave the seas and let the shrill synthesizer scour the sprays. A truly magnificent opus that has cinematographic tendencies as well as immense depth and sonic boom.

'The Hours' is short and sombre, 'a moment on my own' delivered in that fatigued, pillow-infected voice that is sleepy but despondently insistent, wholly minimalist at first with the piano and acoustic guitar in tow. That Jim Morrison impression shines through once again, a door into the past and I see it as rather unmistakable.

The next trio of songs form the core of this amazing piece of work, a trilogy of essence and creative genius, starting off with the 'And We Saw His Needs'', again the piano being the orchestra conductor, decorating the lush arrangement, along with some sensational trumpet work from guest Guy Harrison. When the celestial choir work kicks in, the proverbial jaw has hit the floor, as both Catherine Walker and Esther Tetlow elevate this to unforeseen heights! The resonant Zwaan piano is sheer brilliance, crystalline pearls of reverence and despair, furthered by the persevering choir. The very calm 'YHWH' keeps the agony ongoing, perhaps more soporific and psychedelia- induced at first. The guitars come clanging in rather brutally, slashing and slicing through the clamorous veil of sound, hinting somehow at those 90s bands that specialized in Gothic doom (Swans, Lycia, Black Tape for A Blue Girl, Love Spirals Downwards, His Name is Alive etc'). Again, sheer brilliance! The title track serves as a reversal of mood, very sinewy and obscurely swerving in ambiance, a slick vocal duet between Morley and one of the ladies, spurred on by thrilling brass and jazzy drumming. The agony and the ecstasy is plainly heard and ably expressed as the ethereal mood rolls forward like some grayish cemetery mist, momentarily chilling the senses.

All this impressive music is nothing compared to the magnificence of the incredible 11 minute epic 'Funeral', a fittingly somber reptile of a track full of sorrow and regret, nearly on the threshold of surrender. Ben offers up a heartfelt expanse of emotions that pulls at all the heartstrings, cello, violins and viola in tow. There is a definite Swans feel here, loads of dramatic interface, bellowing brass and furious drumming that swell ultimately into a rather obvious and expected apotheosis, with all musicians involved up to the hilt. A masterpiece of progressive rock music. Amen.

Hard act to follow such genius but so is the butterfly morphing from the caterpillar, as 'Monarch' sets the sun down on another stellar production from a musician that is truly carving out new territories. The song feels like a finale, a bittersweet and yet tender au revoir. This is the perfect lights-out, candles-lit, glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in the goblet type of recording, definitely nocturnal and perhaps even autumn-esque. Truth is the quality is so great that anytime, anywhere and anyway will work fine.

The cover art is once again a winner, deeply melancholic and childlike in its pure sensibility, as if designed to be a prog pastel coloring book. There is no doubt that Steve Wilson is a genial producer, composer and musician but the prog world needs to make some room for Ben Morley and his Mice on Stilts.

5 Courageous Bereavements

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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