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Mars Hollow - World In Front Of Me CD (album) cover


Mars Hollow


Crossover Prog

3.70 | 76 ratings

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4 stars When last we gathered, less than one year ago, I suggested that Mars Hollow was writing progressive rock film scores and that they had the address of our mind's eye. Since that time the band has written and recorded the remarkable "World In Front of Me" (10t Records), a more polished and assured assemblage of set pieces as songs that hones and comes closer to realizing the "cinematic vision" that I felt was introduced and displayed in their self-titled debut.

Most notably, Mars Hollow returns with a new producer; Billy Sherwood has harnessed the band's 70's progressive rock zeitgeist superbly while guiding the development of their signature sound (of which he also mixed) through 7 new robust and lush aural landscapes from within which the character driven lyrics have become more intimate and immediate, accessible and less abstract, while still maintaining the open metaphors needed for artistic distance.

There is a defined story arc to "World In Front of Me" - the art house, embarrassment of riches that was the cornucopia of subplots and themes spilled across the songs of "Mars Hollow" has been focused here into a clearer, more "linear" narrative centering on the dissolution of a relationship: there is the sneaking suspicion and despair of "Walk On Alone", the fall from grace, loss of identity and surfacing of inner demons that is "Voices", the self-preservation of "Weapon", the self-evaluation and departure of "What Have I Done?", the perseverance and realizations of "Mind Over Matter", and the transition of "Prelude" into the inner peace and ultimate redemption of the title track "World In Front of Me".

An example of that focus of vision can be seen when comparing the songs "Wait For Me" from "Mars Hollow" and "What Have I Done" from "World In Front of Me"; in the hectic, city sprawl and pell-mell rush of "Wait For Me" you can almost feel the brilliant sunshine and heat as the music scrambles along with the protagonist of the song as he loses faith and belief in the world around him (has he yet to confront the world in front of him?) ... and then 6 minutes into the song we get this wholly unexpected, poignant transition from outer world to inner world:

I'll never find someone like you

Never a brighter light for two

Where is the sunshine I once knew

Shine down and warm the darkest blue

Mars Hollow was working on a much broader canvas then and yet they had tipped their hand - incredibly, written *not one year later*, it was consummately satisfying to recognize the development of that same subplot as the premise of the entire song "What Have I Done" ... and we are rewarded with this bridge which harkens back to "Wait For Me":

Shoots of pain inside me bring me back

Adrenaline revive me from the black

Let me see the sunshine - no more night

And walk with you just one time

Give me life, give me life, give me life

It is difficult for me to put my finger on exactly how Mars Hollow accomplishes such an all encompassing sensual and cerebral experience of music, word and craft - it's a bit like trying to put your finger on a bead of mercury as it rolls across the table. It is simply the nature of the element - in this case elements. Regardless, it is wonderful and great fun to escape again under the headphones and be able to engage my imagination as I once did in my youth under the influence of the minstrel tongue-in-cheek follies of Jethro Tull, the English countryside grandeur and subsurface darkness of Genesis, the alienation and bleak inner space travel of Pink Floyd and the sideshow romp and circumstance of ELP. Here's what I heard when listening to "What Have I Done":

Int. - Kitchen - Evening

A match is struck and held down to the burnt stub of a candle sitting askew in a saucer. The flame sizzles and catches and rises revealing an empty table. A tumbler holding dark liquid is set down into the halo of nervous light quickly followed by two arms with shirt sleeves rolled up at the cuff that rest upon the table. The hands grasp, draw in and envelope the glass - caress it.

MAN (voice from the dark): My insides ... they tell me something's wrong. My outsides ... they told you all along. Get away from me - what I mean is "I love you". Now I deceive ... what's happened to me?

The hands draw the glass and slides it up off the table and out of the candle's light.

MAN: I don't know where it all went wrong. What have I done to end up like this?

The dark shape of THE MAN walks into the moonlight at the window. Awash in the night's glow, he looks out at the moon broken upon the troubled water of the river running outside.

MAN: My brain's clean - no emotion now. I'm crazy and not a lot of fun. (he drinks) So take me down and dance around the shore - the water sound it's bringing me back ... I don't know where it all went wrong. What have I done to end up like this?

He drains his drink and drops the tumbler into the sink.

MAN: Shoots of pain inside me bring me back - adrenaline revive me from the black ... let me see the sunshine - no more night - and walk with you just one time. (shaking his head) Give me life, give me life, give me life ...

He turns from the window at the sound of another person entering the dark behind him. It is the silhouette of A WOMAN just out of reach of the moonlight.

MAN: It's over. (sotto voce) Turn on the waterworks. I know her - that only makes it worse. (to her) I love you - what I mean is get away. I run from you ... (he extends a hand) it's my mistake.

The woman disappears back into the darkness of the house.

MAN: I don't know where it all went wrong. What have I done to end up like this?

A tumult and concussion of drawers and doors being opened and closed fill the air.

MAN (calling into the dark house): Shoots of pain inside me bring me back - adrenaline revive me from the black ... let me see the sunshine - no more night - and walk with you just one time ...

Then a brief moment of silence ... from which emerges a shadow that rushes past him and out the door bursting through, leaving it open as the screen door slams shut behind her.

MAN: Give me life, give me life, give me life ...

She hurries heavily down the porch steps and is away into the night. END SCENE

Or something like that. Your mileage may vary on this trip.

Of course there is a flip side to every coin ... with more polish and production value come the tendency and inherent "danger" to smooth out any edges that may have existed and, if the old adage is to believed that God (or whomsoever is in charge) is in the imperfections, therein lies the potential to buff away what makes this band so special and unique (and thereby delivering a more accessible, gasp, "commercial" work). Although I will miss the "everything but the kitchen sink" excitement and delivery of their debut album, I can confidently say that "World In Front of Me" is a more focused, mature and accomplished work of staggering growth for this band.

I'll even go a step further (which may get me into trouble but what the hell) ... let's all get in the way-back machine for a moment, shall we?

"World In Front of Me" reminds me of "Wind and Wuthering", which I think is the true bridge and turning point between the early experimental Genesis of Peter Gabriel with that of the early Phil Collins led, "commercial" Genesis (and not "Trick of The Tail" released earlier that same year) ... an underrated work, there is a more of a structured concept and honing of sound to "Wind and Wuthering" that would eventually become the band's hallmark and signature post-Gabriel, and though the lyrics on "World In Front of Me" are less abstract and whimsical than that of "Wind and Wuthering" (well, they're not Englishmen) they do brood and tend to be introspective (though in a Southern Californian way) and they have taken as much of a quantum leap forward in development and direction. I dare say, thinking in these parameters and keeping the releases in proper perspective, that "World InFront of Me" is a better and stronger *transitional* album than "Wind and Wuthering" was for Genesis - all of the songs here are exceptional and stay within themselves and remain on course developing the musical and lyrical themes in incremental ways without meandering or spilling over as was the tendency of some songs on that seminal (in my mind) Genesis release way back in 1976. What is astonishing is that Mars Hollow has accomplished this in *less than a year* and on their sophomore release. It boggles what few remaining rusted synapses that I have left to heat up thinking of this ... but then, what the hell do I know?

The music itself is no mere pastiche of references and influences, either - and I will not get into playing the reference game, there have been many fine reviews of this album already to have done so by folks far more informed than I in this matter - suffice to say that Mars Hollow has clearly loved and digested such influences and have made them their own. I will repeat what I said verbatim on my review of their debut album because it carries even more weight here: "John Baker (guitar/leadvocals), Kerry Chicoine (bass/vocals), Jerry Beller (drums/vocals) and SteveMach (keyboards/vocals) are all smart, experienced musicians who know the craft of writing progressive rock music, though their music is not a static construct, not a cathedral with architectural influences to be found, recognized and understood (with one's hands behind one's back) but a dynamic listening environment to be experienced and participated in. They could have gone the "easy" route - they could have written the equivalent to what novelists call "teaching books" (books with obvious themes and messages), they have the knowledge and ability to do so - but rather they chose to craft this album with love and honesty. There is not a cynical song on this album." Indeed. Not only that but they are playful and serious and more individually expansive in their performances this time out, too.

Though not as broad a sound stage (in my headphones anyway) as "Mars Hollow", "World In Front of Me" has a more significant depth of field than its predecessor with the usual superb clarity of tone and instrumentation present on all songs. The attention to detail and placement of sounds across the stage are exceptional and exact. John Baker plays the paradoxical part of the "protagonist" with fragility and strength - he is emotive and assured and poignant (you can't help but root for his character) - and his guitar work is subtle and deceptively simple. Kerry Chicoine lays down powerful, expressive and punctuating lines of bass that not only reverberate throughout the entire terra firma of the album but serve as the repercussion to the percussion of Jerry Beller who drums as as if channeling Neil Peart and Alan White - they both are, as usual, consistently interesting and entertaining. Last but not least, Steve Mach provides keyboards that are at once bittersweet, soaring with orchestration and flights of fancy and playful to the core while his son Trevor makes an appearance to play the mournful and fulsome cello that opens "What Have I Done".

I need to change my rating of the first Mars Hollow album to 4.5 stars - as I had said, it was not a "masterpiece" but I still consider it a "must have" for all prog collectors ... this allows me to rate "World In Front of Me" as a 4 star release; my hands are a bit tied by the paucity of rating choices in that I don't think that this is a "must have" but I do think that it is a "should have" - I truly feel that this will be remembered as a seminal work in the maturation and development of Mars Hollow and as a stepping stone to a future that can only hold that impending "masterpiece".

rustedsynapse | 4/5 |


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