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The Tea Club - If / When CD (album) cover


The Tea Club


Crossover Prog

3.90 | 197 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars The Tea Club is a band I consider to be some of the peak of modern prog rock, making use of subtletly and space within their music in order to make refined, yet still complex songs without ever giving into the excess that most of prog tends to fall into. In a sense they're the antithesis to another one of my favourite modern prog bands, Thank You Scientist, which display the opposite end of the scale, revelling in the frenetic technicality that much of the genre is known for. With all this said, If / When manages to surpass not only every other album this year so far (a phrase that I've said countless times, but still), but is also easily my pick for the best album this band has put out thus far. I mentioned back in my review of the album Quickly Quickly Quickly that while the album was extremely mature, nuanced and all around incredible, that I still felt as if the full potential of the band hadn't been met, despite loving how beautiful each track was being mixed in with hints of heavier, more complex material, evident in I Shall Consume Everything. The direction they then took on Grappling, in which they highlighted the more complex side of the band through the majority of it made me question the direction the band would go on from there, as while it was a superb album, it also didn't feel like the masterpiece I had expected, unlike this. What If / When does that makes it the amazing album that it is, is the way that it hones in on those softer, more atmospheric moments on previous works, and then expands upon them, taking a core aspect of their identity even further by fully realising how much potential they had in creating such sweet melodies mixed in with the aspects of technicality and exploration that prog is known for.

After a number of months without listening to anything by this band, The Way You Call immediately reminded me of one of the defining aspects of the core sound, and why it's so good, the vocals. The delicate delivery of Patrick and Daniel Mcgowan are a central element of why the band is so great in my eyes, easily some of the best prog rock vocalists in my opinion. This track also demonstrates this increased focus on the softer elements of the music, being entirely acoustic without any sign of percussion or anything of the like, just a guitar and vocalist creating some absolutely beautiful melodies. Say Yes is a much more upbeat track, also displaying a somewhat more alternative rock edge that is brought out with the guitar tone. Despite being a very approachable song, it moves from riff to riff at a breakneck pace, extremely uplifting and energetic all around, the production being extremely clean in a way where everything is distinctive and noticeable, yet not clinical in nature, creating a lush atmosphere. The use of keyboards is also of note, as while there is a general presence of it in the background in order to fill out the sound some more, it's used sparingly throughout in order to further heighten the power and energy present, demonstrating this grasp that the band has on effective use of each instrument, even a short, accessible song such as this containing layers upon layers of nuance and complexity to pick apart. If I Mean When is a more straightforward song that hinges on an incredible vocal melody, a slight echo present making everything sound downright breathtaking, the soft bassline, the vocal harmonies, the subtle additional touches of the keyboard, just everything about this song is nothing short of perfection.

Rivermen is one of the best songs on this album filled with absolute masterpieces, starting off extremely softly, seemingly similar in style to Mister Freeze, taking on a much more low key approach to provide an eerie atmosphere. I wasn't expecting the gradual increase in volume and uneasy atmosphere to culminate in such an intense climax. An electronic beat is introduced about halfway through as the drums pick up speed, an electric guitar riff slowly comes in before everything explodes, wailing guitar solos over fast paced, complex drumming, the powerful vocals solifidying the absolutely incredible performance, all making for the heaviest song in the band's discography, and one of the greatest. Came At A Loss, as expected, is great, a much more simplistic song once again, much of the appeal coming from the beautiful vocal melodies, especially of the chorus, accentuated by the incredible vocal harmonies. Sinking Ship is another pretty song, although somewhat less remarkable than everything else on here, the melodies not hitting quite as hard, although the blissful tone of it is lovely.

When going into this album, I was intrigued about the 28 minute epic at the end, Creature, as Firebears demonstrated a talent for creating long stretches of music that are amazingly explorative, making full use of the entire length and warranting being so long, something which I can confirm happens again with this one. It begins slowly, switching between vocals and acoustic guitar solos regularly, each return of the vocals bringing in slightly more depth to the instrumentals, before the bass comes in and changes up the entire melody, which turns out being short lived, as this intro melody returns immediately, this time with more focus on the percussion while everything else ens up fading out. The bass eventually comes back in and this is where the song really starts to get going, the pace now remaining faster, great interplay between the keyboard and bass being demonstrated. The song eventually fades to near ambience, the acoustic guitar picking combined with the droning electronics evoking imagery of a cave, drops of water falling from the ceiling down into puddles, while the listener is sitting down in this tranquility, completely at peace. This right here demonstrates some great experimentation and was something I did not expect to hear in what so far was a fairly traditionally proggy album in many respects. This develops into a much heavier part that has a classic rock feel to it, also being surprisingly heavy while reminding me of The Flower Kings' Don't Let The Devil in, but even more intense and amazing. This is an incredibly dense, noisy section, everything sounding distorted and fuzzy, difficult to keep track of, perfectly juxtaposing the crystal clear sound of all that came before, heightening the impact this section has. This surprise was further increased once the band went full prog metal, the fuzzy guitar solo reminding me strongly of Dream Theater, all around being something I never expected to hear in the band's core sound, but nonetheless welcome given how much it elevated what was already a promising song. I also love the use of leitmotif that the song takes on from this point forward, melodies from If I Mean When being especially prominent. The rest of the song gradually loses a lot of intensity in lieu of more understated melodies, more use of acoustic instruments being especially effective after the intensity previously displayed. To bring everything to a close, the album ends in a cyclical way, the last minute being a reprise of The Way You Call, acting perfectly as a way to close the album off. This is honestly one of the better full blown prog epics I've had the pleasure of listening to, showing experimentation without it ever getting in the way of the song's enjoyability, while also displaying the absolute peak of talent from each band member.

Overall, any expectations I had going into this album were entirely surpassed, showing the band at their most beautiful and most intense. The lovely melodies manage to be sweet and pleasant without sounding saccharine in the process, and everything within is composed to be full of detail without it being too overt. While Quickly Quickly Quickly left me with a feeling that the band still seemed as if it was just the beginning, this one has honestly blown me away to such an extent that I'm questioning how the band would go further up than from here. That's not to say that I believe this is the peak of the band, as they haven't shown any signs of slowing down since their debut, even if I did only start loving them from QQQ onwards, there was still a constant progression. I can see the band from here, even if not making something better than this, at least hitting it extremely close, and am already incredibly interested to see where the band will go from here. I know I've said this many times already, but I feel like this is it, the best album of 2019, and I'm confident enough in its greatness that it will stay there for me.

Best tracks: If I Mean When, Rivermen, Creature

Weakest tracks: Sinking Ship

Verdict: The fact that even after releasing 2 great albums (Rabbit and Grappling) and 2 outright masterpieces, The Tea Club still haven't garnered much attention is somewhat unfortunate, as they deserve so much more. I highly recommend this album to more or less anyone who's a fan of beauty in music, as it is an absolute masterpiece front to back, and will likely not stop being the greatest album of 2019 for me, despite how many other amazing works have also come out so far.

Kempokid | 5/5 |


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