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Touchstone - The City Sleeps CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.84 | 97 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars There has been a lot of hype this past year or so about this talented British band, and, in fact, Classic Rock Presents Prog seems to have adopted them as the standard bearers of the new wave of prog. With all of this going on, the new release was always going to be a huge challenge in living up to expectations, and I bought it with a sense of both anticipation and nervousness, to be honest.

It opens in a rip-roaring fashion with Corridors, a good, radio-friendly track. Midway through, a lovely, gentle, guitar lilt kicks in, with imaginative keyboards and delicate vocals, before the main riff returns. There is a nice guitar solo at the close, with effective use of a drum machine, before Rob Cottingham (who shines throughout this album) joins in the fun with Adam Hodgson.

When Shadows Fall is the first of two epic tracks on the work, clocking in at just over ten minutes long. It starts with a lovely, dreamy, proggy intro, with a simple synth overlaying interesting sound effects. Instrumentally, this phase reminds me of later period Genesis. At two minutes in, there is an "all stop", before the main part of the track and riff commences, which is quite dark, with moments that are very much of a spirit of latter day works by artists such as Pallas & Pendragon. When Kim Seviour is introduced, she is wonderful, backed by a fast and heavy riff. As with Wintercoast, the predecessor album, the harmonies between her and the boys in the band are very effective. This is a suite of moods. The quieter passages delight, whilst the heavier ones keep you deeply alert. In the former, Cottingham shows just how well he can take the lead vocal duties. This is a fantastic track, which shouts out the band's prog roots and ambitions loud & clear. The close soars into a massive climax.

These Walls follows, and this is about the only real disappointment for me on the album. It's not a bad track by any means, but it strikes me as heavy rock by rote, especially Seviour here, who comes across as being slightly disjointed.

Throw Them To The Sky is more like it. Far more imaginative, with some good harmonies alongside a very effective wall of noise. Strangely enough, the second half of the track reminds me strongly of an old folk/punk band from Wigan called Tansads, who remain one of my favourite acts, and I mention this comparison very much as a compliment.

Sleeping Giants is delicate, with some nice string effects, and turns into one of the standout ballads of 2011. Cottingham absolutely shines here, proving this is not a "run of the mill" female fronted band. The man can sing as well as Seviour, and she is at the top of her game on this one. The synth lead is incredible, and Andre Moorghen & Henry Rogers provide a massive rhythm backdrop. This is a stunning track, and a highlight of the year for me.

Good Boy Psycho (a great title) is good power rock, with more than a passing nod to the mass radio market. It is nothing remarkable, but it moves along at a fair old pace and is very well played, whilst Seviour is a joy to listen to. When the track slows down and develops into a nice, pastoral, piece, it is far more effective. The bass line is incredible, whilst the remainder is dominated by a massive, and brilliant, guitar solo backed by a symphonic wall.

With Horizons, the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. I just adore the way Seviour manages to sing so delicately and full of fragility, whilst Cottingham takes the more aggressive male lead (I take the lyrics to denote a relationship breakdown), and it is all backed by a fine instrumental performance, the sound of a band enjoying every minute of playing together. All prog fans will adore the symphonic instrumental passages, as I did.

Half Moon Meadow, to me, again demonstrates that the band's strengths lie in the range of gentle, pastoral, to symphonic/neo sensibilities, rather than as a pseudo heavy prog band. This track plays to all of those strengths. It is exceptional, and feeling vocals blend with an ensemble creating a sound which transports you to a higher plain. All of this is transfused with an ear for a commercial appeal as well. This is a great track, with no weak moments at all, and a pulsating guitar solo is thrown in for good measure.

The title track is the longest on the album, and has epic written all over it. It commences with the type of pomp opening Arena would be proud of, before entering a more thoughtful, and almost jazzy, phase. There is a great deal going on in this track, giving a lie to the myth that all crossover bands do is play it simple and straightforward. This lot, it must be said, are a PROG band, pure and simple, and in this one, the heavier phases are, in contrast to These Walls, done intelligently. It never loses the listener's attention. It is also, by the way, the clear sequel to the Wintercoast story, and carries on some of that album's finer moments. A true highlight of a magnificent album.

The whole thing closes with Corridors Epiphany, a short instrumental which returns to the themes of the opener, but with a gentle, swaying keyboard solo and a clever bassline. There is some clever percussive work, before the guitar takes control, with the tempo rising all the time to its denouement. A very fine way to end proceedings.

So, is all of the hype justified with this band? By and large, I would say a clear and loud yes. Touchstone have released an exceptionally well produced and well performed album, one which, in terms of maturity, propels them leaps and bounds beyond the last album (and that wasn't a bad album by any mark). The City Sleeps has sold well, and deservedly, and it should prove to be the springboard for them to the top division of modern prog rock.

Four stars for this. An excellent album, which comes very highly recommended. The next one, I predict, will blow your minds away.

lazland | 4/5 |


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