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The Tea Club - General Winter's Secret Museum CD (album) cover


The Tea Club


Crossover Prog

3.77 | 44 ratings

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Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Before I begin my review, I want to thank the members of the band for contacting me and complimenting me on some of my King Crimson reviews. Even if, just like everyone else here, I do not write reviews on a professional basis, receiving kudos is always a pleasure, and even more so when it comes from quality musicians. Therefore, in spite of not being as experienced a listener of 'modern' prog as other reviewers are, I will try to do justice to The Tea Club's debut album in the best way I can.

As some of my fellow reviewers have already pointed out, 'modern' prog is anything but easy to define. There are still many bands and artists around whose main purpose seems to be imitating (though in a very proficient way) the 'classic' acts of the Seventies. However, as much as we may like that vintage sound, this is not what prog is really about. Reproducing faithfully something that sounded fresh and innovative almost forty years ago can be compared to those artists who choose to copy well-known paintings, rather than produce something original: though you cannot fault the technique, the actual content leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, being genuinely progressive does not necessarily mean being wildly experimental, sometimes to the point of inaccessibility. In my view, the truly exciting 'modern' prog acts are indeed the ones who manage to combine mainstream sensibilities (as well as disparate influences) with a genuine desire to come up with something original, something that spells out 'individual', and not 'derivative'.

The Tea Club's debut album, right from its title, "General Winter's Secret Museum", presents the listener with a rich spread of musical proficiency, interesting vocals and lyrics, and quirky, lavish artwork -an almost mandatory component of any self-respecting prog effort. The three members of the band manage to produce an impressive volume of music that is at the same time intricate and accessible enough for those who are scared away by the more avant-garde approach of other modern prog bands. In spite of the myth that sees punk and prog as polar opposites, it cannot be denied that punk and new wave have been huge influences on the formation of modern prog (as is the bastard child of both, the nebulous 'indie/alternative' galaxy). This can be heard on "General Winter's Secret Museum", though not as clearly as, for instance, in the output of the likes of The Mars Volta.

Though The Tea Club's music is undeniably energetic, it is never as outright aggressive that of those bands with a direct punk/hardcore derivation. The vocals (one of the most important factors for a band to be perceived as prog), shared by brothers Patrick and Dan McGowan, belong rather to the Thom Yorke/Matt Bellamy school of singing, though they luckily do not share the somewhat plaintive quality of either. On the instrumental side of things, what most impressed me were the deft, elegant bass lines (partly written by the band's original bassist, Jim Berger), at times reminiscent of one of the greatest influences on modern Crossover Prog bands, the mighty Rush, meshing perfectly with the drums to form a powerhouse rhythm section. Drummer Kyle Minnick's crisp, powerful style comes through right from the initial strains of "Werewolves", the album's opening track, a sweepingly dramatic piece of music, at times bordering on metal.

"General Winter's Secret Museum" is such a cohesive effort that it is not easy to single out any particular tracks for analysis. Considering the very young age of the band members, their music sounds incredibly accomplished and mature, and the compositional level is consistently high. However, like everyone else I have my own personal favourites, two songs that manage to achieve the perfect blend of accessibility and progressiveness. "Big Al" starts in a rather understated way, then abruptly turns into an intricate slice of instrumental brilliance, with especially stunning bass work; while the driving, aggressive "The Clincher" has echoes of King Crimson and The Mars Volta all over it, and could point the way to interesting further developments in the band's sound.

As I briefly remarked at the beginning of my review, I believe the album's artwork also deserves a mention, as the visual aspect has always been an essential component of prog through the years. Dan and Patrick McGowan prove themselves as excellent artists in the intriguing, slightly sinister drawings of the CD booklet, while the cover (depicting what looks like red-hued sunset clouds) is deceptively simple. On the whole, a very stylish package for an equally stylish musical product.

The Tea Club were undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of 2008, and dedicated prog fans should not miss the opportunity of listening to this album - unless, that is, they are so stuck in a time-warp that they cannot look beyond the classics and their numerous imitators. Hopefully they will continue to grow and progress, without losing the warmth and freshness of their approach. Four solid, well-deserved stars for an amazing debut.

Raff | 4/5 |


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