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Mice On Stilts - An Ocean Held Me CD (album) cover


Mice On Stilts

Crossover Prog

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5 stars Mice on Stilts are a band who I have been following for a good while, albeit rather passively. I found the band through their vocalist, guitarist, and ringleader, Ben Morley, who I was aware of for his work with Look to Windward. Windward was a rare project in the barren wasteland that is New Zealand music, an interesting avant-garde progressive metal project, with excellent production and some very diverse influences. Although the Look To Windward project appears to be a one-off album, aside from a single track released earlier this year by other half Andrew McCully, Ben has been very busy since the release of Fortunes Haze in 2010.

Eager for more of his music, and also trying to keep in the centre of the Auckland music scene (for when I finish my damn album/the rest of my band stops being lazy), I found Ben on facebook, and we began a loose Internet friendship. We connected on our shared fandom of Steven Wilson, and more recently, Kayo Dot, and despite this EP being as far from avant-garde metal as you can imagine, the influence from Toby Driver's laid back and slow-paced form of rock music evident in Blue Lambency Downward and Coyote is definitely here, especially in the use of the saxophone, trumpet and viola. Ben commented to me that he enjoyed the way Kayo Dot's music was recorded in free time, giving each musician time and freedom to play their parts as felt, not as explicitly determined by meter. And the various solos and lines that horn player Aaron Longville and violist Sam Hennessy run over the main song-base seem to drift over and waver, like a breeze floating in its own little pattern above all the sounds.

This all adds to a distinct mood that runs throughout An Ocean Held Me, one that is evident not only in Kayo Dot's quieter times, but even the aforementioned Steven Wilson comes to mind, particularly The Sky Moves Sideways and Insurgentes, which both have slow-paced and brooding tracks, that feel like a long walk on a hot summer day, the sun is beating down and you can barely keep your eyes open. There is a haze that floats across this entire EP, like the haze that keeps your eyes shut on a hot day, the haze of tremolo-picked guitars and strings, and the distant warbling of the Rhodes organ. I normally am a huge critic of the 'classic' sound of progressive rock that comes hand in hand with the Hammond and the Rhodes and the mellotron, but the tinny vibrato on the organ simply adds to the glorious atmosphere.

The vocals here, done mostly by Ben, are rather different from the ones I am used to hearing from him on Fortunes Haze, seem to fit the atmosphere and mood of the music perfectly. In terms of style, I think they remind me most of Brett Kull from Echolyn, particularly the dated and tired sound (in a good way) he brought on the band's fantastic self-titled album from last year. A track like "Sleeping In Lampblack" wouldn't feel too out of place on An Ocean Held Me, although it is missing the occasional bursts of viola and sax that are here.

I must also give a special nod to producer Tim Burrows here as well, since this is very well produced. With its professional artwork and quaint digipak, as well as the lush production and smooth recordings, you'd imagine An Ocean Held Me to be from a respected and Pitchfork- approved artist, not a debut EP from an underground band. The production really improves the music by a lot, bringing depth to the atmosphere of organ and strings, as well as heightening great moments, like the explosion at the end of "Vulnerable Vader", and the near-shoegaze part in the first half of "Tuatara Lawn". Too many times, I have received debut EPs and albums for review that just fall so short in terms of cohesion of sound, and I can't help but drop the rating based on weak recording, but this flows so gracefully, and although it seems ridiculous to say that there are up to 8 instruments playing at any one time, but if you listen intently, they are all there, and they are all playing their own parts.

But above everything, what impresses me the most about An Ocean Held Me, and Ben as a bandleader, is the sheer ambition of the whole project. Some people may find it a bit pretentious to describe yourself as "cinematic doom folk", and it's not entirely accurate (doom? where?), but the fact that this is a nearly continuous 34-minute piece from a 7-piece band that includes a violist, saxophonist, and a member solely responsible for "vocal effects" (whatever that means), means that this aims big and it hits big. Ben hasn't gone "oh, let's just record these songs lo-fi like a quaint indie band and pretend we're Neutral Milk Hotel", he's instead gone as over-the-top as possible, bringing obvious influence from progressive rock and avant-folk, yet keeping the psychedelic indie folk basis, and not losing it in a mess of trying to be too big.

It's hard to describe An Ocean Held Me without using words like "dreary" and "tired", and yet trying to say that in a good way. This EP fits a particular mood, a particular atmosphere, and nails it so hard. The tiredness of the music is somehow refreshing and beautiful in its lethargy, and all is given up in a drastic moment of tension that is the final movement of "Vulnerable Vader". If I'm to find one nitpick with this EP (and it truly is the only one), I secretly wish they went a bit bigger with that explosion, in true Kayo Dot grandeur. It also reminds me a lot of the explosions that Steven Wilson put on his first two solo records, the noisy finish to "Abandoner" or "Get All You Deserve" definitely come in, and the horn parts not only reminding of Kayo Dot, but the spiraling avant-jazz influenced parts that Theo Travis blew into the climax of "Remainder the Black Dog" from Grace for Drowning.

Performances here are all nearly perfect, Ben has given each instrumentalist good parts in themselves, but they all have breathing room to pursue their own parts and personalities. The drumming, although it is absent during a great deal of the EP, deserves good mention, somehow bringing intricacy to the slower rhythms, scattering some nice triplets and rolls throughout. The moments of piano here are also fantastic, but that of course is down to the fact that piano is my favourite instrument, and a second of it immediately gets me praising.

I've got to admit, I'm surprised I like this so much. I purchased this sort of as a respect and courtesy purchase, because I want to support Ben (and I know how much a 7-piece band can cost), as well as the local music industry, but this is easily the best local album to come out this year, or even the last few years once I think about it. I'm proud to say that these guys come from Auckland, since I really can't think of a specific band or artists that does what they do. Sure, it sounds a bit like Kayo Dot, except it doesn't, because this is a folk album and Kayo Dot have nothing to do with folk. This is a unique release from a unique group of musicians that I hope will continue to expand out of the local scene, to bring this music to the world.


Edit (March 2014): I have sorely under reviewed this record. An undeniably fantastic piece of music this is, and I feel I just rushed to review it a bit faster, before I truly realised this. I will hopefully update the text here sometime, but for now I'm raising the rating to 5 stars.

Report this review (#1127780)
Posted Wednesday, February 5, 2014 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars When I was first asked to join the Crossover team on ProgArchives I was intrigued enough to say 'yes', the result of which has been that I now spend way too much time listening to bands and working on the site as opposed to just writing reviews. But, the huge positive is that I get to hear bands that otherwise would pass me by, and MOS is a case in point. They were recommended to us to see if we felt that they would be a worthy addition so I added them to the list and jumped over to their Bandcamp site to play the album. 34 minutes later I was in quite a state, as I had just played a debut EP that honestly is quite different to most of the music I am sent to listen to. Then the realization slowly came that these guys were Kiwi, current, and playing in and around Auckland! Now, to be fair to the local music scene I don't get out much, as I live in the middle of nowhere some 70 kms north of Auckland (although I pay rates to Auckland Council even though I'm not on the mains water or sewage system, and have a gravel road and no street lights or public transport ' of course I'm an Aucklander!! Yeah, right). But, I had never come across this band at all, and that was a loss definitely to me, and if I wasn't finding out about them when I live in a small country, who on earth would have heard this name outside NZ?

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Locally recorded and produced, this was released on the local Triple A Records (Allgood Absolute Alternative) as a digipak, with a booklet and is a great presentation, which definitely makes it worthwhile getting this instead of just the download. The band was put together by Ben Morley (guitar, vocals) and contains a large and interesting musical line-up, with the rest of the band comprising Sam Hennessy (viola), Aaron Longville (saxophone /trumpet), Rob Sander (drums), Sam Nash (bass), Nick Wright (piano/rhodes/vocals) and Joseph Jujnovich (vocal effects). Yes, you did read that correctly, here is a seven-piece band trying to make a name for themselves in small venues. Also, did you note that it contains both brass and strings? Lastly, what about having someone who provides vocal effects and what exactly does it all mean?

Only five songs, but they create a world where nothing else exists apart from the music and vocals. I have been trying to think who they remind me of, and in some ways it is early Pink Floyd, Muse, Radiohead, VDGG, Peter Hammill, Roy Harper and others, but mostly it is Mice On Stilts. Here we have a band that are a stated seven-piece but in fact are an eight-piece with that incredibly important musician, Space, used effectively and throughout. Just because there are many musicians doesn't mean that they are all necessarily playing at the same time (although they can and do), and it is this use of silence as an important musical layer that assists in the dramatic shifts that can take place. 'Vulnerable Vader' goes from sublime to chaotic and both styles are affected by the presence of the other.

Joseph is also playing an integral part, as his use of effects often brings together different styles or provides that over the top element that is just what the song needs. The longest song is the closer, 'Tuatara Lawn' at 12:36 (for those who haven't come across that word before, and to be honest I hadn't before coming here, tuatara are reptiles endemic to this country and which, although resembling most lizards, are part of a distinct lineage), and the only issue I have with the song is that it is actually way too short! The only thing that keeps my sanity is putting the whole album on repeat and playing it time and again.

Of course, once I had discovered them I had to go and see them live so last month I managed to catch up with them at a local venue, and I and 50 other brave souls saw an incredible performance with the guys hardly having any room to move on stage yet somehow managed to reproduce music that is incredibly deep, moving and emotional. The only thing that let the evening down, was when I was approached by someone who thought that the only reason someone of my age would be attending would be because my son was in the band!! But, that night I did learn that these guys are actually even more powerful in concert that on record! They definitely did remind me of a young Pink Floyd building and working at their craft, and if they had suddenly dropped 'Interstellar Overdrive' into their set I wouldn't have been surprised (they didn't). I am going to see them again in a couple of days at a rather larger festival, and I can't wait to see them in a bigger setting as if they can do that when they have to stay rooted to the spot what are they going to do when they have some freedom?

They are hoping to come to Europe at some point, but until then it is just us Kiwis who are able to catch them in concert. So, if you want to hear some of the deepest and most interesting music I have come across in a while then visit or Too often these days music can be shallow and one-dimensional, but this is multi-faceted and contains a maturity that should not be overlooked.

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Posted Thursday, March 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
5 stars I love surprises. I had never heard of Mice on Stilts from New Zealand, but after being introduced to them, I can't see myself forgetting them. These guys play an extraordinary brand of progressive rock featuring an eclectic array of instruments and a concise, inspired skill in songwriting. Their new EP is called "An Ocean Held Me", and I can't help but be drawn in by their ambition and maturity.

Like I said, the band plays an eclectic form of progressive rock. They call it "cinematic doom folk". Honestly, I don't really get the "doom" part of it, though the music is rather melancholy or even eerie. However, the other two labels are perfect, especially "folk", as it dominates in much of their sound. Their music also mixes in a decent amount of jazz, evident in the use of saxophone and trumpet. Speaking of, I really enjoy the instruments on this five-song EP. In addition to the standard instruments, Mice on Stilts utilizes the viola, sax, and trumpet. They use them liberally, too, not as gimmicks. The result is an organic touch to the music that just feels right.

The band, I must say, are excellent musicians. From the nocturnal peals of the sax to the excellent variety of keys to the well-executed drums, all of the instruments are played with respect, finesse, and a maturity that denotes love. The vocals are also wonderful, as they remind me of Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance, only with an indie influence of sorts. This slower, haunting style of vocals adds to the melancholy atmosphere. Imagine then, this mood surrounded by colorful instrumentation and personality. The cover art, then, makes sense now, right? A dark, brooding figure strolls along the beautiful, colorful ocean.

"An Ocean Held Me" is one of those albums where each song is more impressive than the last. It begins with the sublime, atmospheric sound of the saxophone. This excellent introduction begins a wonderful, yet short, journey through the velvet "Syd's Socks", the driving and lovesick "Binocular Bath", and the fuzzy, folksy ambiance of "A Moss Ocean". Just when I didn't think it could get any better, along comes the classic, jazzy "Vulnerable Vader", and, lastly, my favorite track "Tuatara Lawn", not only the longest song, but also full of atmosphere, excellent guitars, and Pink Floyd influence.

By the end of this EP, I was hooked. The sheer variety of style and expertise made ignoring this band impossible. Not only is the musical style varied, but I love the diversity of the instrumental styles. Ben Morely on guitars can be just as effective in a dark, driving format as he is in an atmospheric form. Drummer Rob Sander is amazing whether keeping time or blowing us away with some serious pounding. Bassist Sam Nash knows how to stay low key, but he also knows how to drive the music viscerally. The same goes for everyone else, too. Nick Wright on piano, Sam Hennessy on viola, and Aaron Longville on the horns all show their maturity while impressing me with their control. Folksy or pensive or moody, they can play to fit emotions and colors.

Mice on Stilts is a band that deserves attention. In a world where many have forgotten to progress and push boundaries, this band does it with ease and with class. Jazz collides with folk music and progressive rock to form a formidable and vivid backdrop to the emotions and vulnerability that the lyrics and vocals express. It's a collision of different moods and different styles to great effect every time. If you love good music and artistic integrity, support Mice on Stilts.

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Posted Tuesday, April 8, 2014 | Review Permalink
Heavy Prog Team
3 stars Short and sweet first release from Mice on Stilts, who seem to be wanting to make an emotional statement with "An Ocean Held Me". Indeed, the colourful sound of viola and especially those of the saxophone and trumpet play a dominant role in MoS's music.

Rather emotional, low-tempo, experimental, mellow progressive rock with a fairly dark atmosphere, full of (welcome) minor chords. Any - heavier - deviation from this norm is found in tiny doses (namely towards the end of "Binocular Bath" and "Vulnerable Vader"), revealing a slightly more eclectic side. The artists that came straight to mind listening to this album range from the more "alternative" scene - Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, Airbag, Radiohead - to late Marillion and legendary figures such as Peter Hammill, David Sylvian and David Gilmour.

It is worth saying that the piano of Nick Wright is the basis on which every track develops and especially the platform for Aaron Longville to experiment with his trumpet and saxophone. Very touching and warm vocals dress the whole duration of the album. The compositions seem to be based on simple ideas that evolve on a constant motif and tend to become repetitive after a while, and that would be the main downside of this release. Similar to contemporary acts in the sphere of post-rock style, MoS rely quite a lot on ambience, which may result in "dead space" at the end of the songs ("Tuatara Lawn").

Overall, a worthy and interesting first effort; I think that if MoS escape from some "modern" cliches, then we would be looking at something memorable, given the genuine musicianship and professionalism found in this album. Friends of Dead Can Dance and Radiohead will enjoy.

Best moments: Syds Socks, Binocular Bath

Report this review (#1175509)
Posted Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Although this is an EP and a debut I have awarded 'An ocean held me" by mice on stilts 5 stars. As I am often interested in the longer pieces of work, as they often take you on a journey, I played the 12.36 min track; Tuatara lawn as my introduction. I often sit trawling through a variety of new and old acts only to switch off half way through the first track. It was a rare moment to find myself sitting bolt upright with surprise as I heard the piano driven melancholy and following layers of sound make just the right sounds to my ears. I really can't write anything better than "Second life syndrome" as I agree with everything already described, so I won't try.

I hope on the album they are currently putting together they manage to repeat the same atmosphere captured on "Tuatara Lawn" and "a moss ocean" in particular. The references to Hogarth Marillion in terms of atmosphere is correct (and a good thing) alongside other acts such as Airbag and even Gazpacho.

As an Englishman in New Zealand I am looking forward to this NZ act becoming one of the next exciting bands to carry the progressive music flag.

Just turn off the lights, crank up the volume and enjoy the journey

Sweet as.........

Report this review (#1179286)
Posted Monday, May 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Great Song Crafting. Bad Band Name.

Some bands throw everything (plus the kitchen sink) into writing a song. Technique for days and days. Countless chord changes over 5/4 polyrhythms. Finger flailing with 130db guitars that can skin you from 50 yards out. Sometimes the mood calls for that motivation. But, sometimes 3 million notes in a song can come across as... well, trite. [sigh] Vacuous.

For those times that emotion, mood, atmosphere and introspection command attention Mice on Stilts provides an overabundance of all those things. The swells of various instruments and well planned dynamics paint a sonic landscape one can willingly lose oneself in for a hefty duration. The lyrics are discerning and the musicians are astute in providing ample, cohesive support to the mood that is strongly consistent (but never dull) throughout the entire album.

The production of the album parallels the gravity of this landscape. Nothing sounds overly compressed, with modern recording tricks or in-the-box computer music. It's modern and hip, but the engineers captured the essence of something old, vintage... respected. The vocals are uncanny, spacey, dreamlike. Full of reverb and mystery. The instruments are balanced and blend masterfully. It's timeless.

There is one possible hesitation with the body of work which demands brief attention. One could find themselves in question of the band's propensity for titling songs and the band name itself. It's a conundrum. One can admire the creative play of dialect, but for so many prog bands, this reviewer always finds it difficult to communicate with musical-minded friends about the prog genre as a whole. With fingers on their smartphones, dialed to Spotify "Who are you listening to?" Eagerly awaiting a response I respond: "Oh, I've just heard this great new band... [pause] I can't remember their name, though. [longer pause with brow scrunched] ...Or the names of any of their songs." Awkward silence. This scene has reoccurred so many times it has given this reviewer hesitation with eclectic band names -- to the point that one could say the glam metal bands of the 80's may have perfected the model for band brand identification. (i.e. Dream The Electric Sleep vs. ...Poison. The Twenty Committee vs. ...White Lion. Days Between Stations vs. ...Ratt.)

That aside, this is a really captivating album of Doom Folk Prog (how's that for genre splicing)! An exemplary and rewarding listen. Give it time when you want to slow things down and escape the demands of this world. You may begin to see that all the demands of the real world are as trite as 3 million notes in one song.

Report this review (#1181463)
Posted Saturday, May 31, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Hailing from New-Zealand, Mice on Stilts play a music covered in melancholy, where the complex alternative country of 16 Horsepower meets comfortably the space rock of Pink Floyd and the dark atmosphere of King Crimson. The instrumentation is rich, as, besides the usual bass/drums/guitar trio, other instruments abound, like piano, saxophone, viola and to a lesser extent accordion, mouth-organ, trumpet, Rhodes and organ. All these instruments are played slowly, thus being each a brick of of the wall of sadness. A few more luminous moments intersperse the prevailing desolation, such as the enchanting guitar backed by the jolly drums in "Syds Socks", some upbeat piano notes as well as the optimism that soars from Nick Wright's mouth in "Tuatara Lawn", and last but not least the lovely female choirs in "Binocular bath". In line with the lyrics of the closing track ("we are endlessly in torment") and the imploring cry of "Binocular Bath", the music is in the end tormented yet delivered in delicate ambiances, where instruments, staying in harmony despite their abundance, are accompanied by a beautiful pleading voice.
Report this review (#1222153)
Posted Friday, July 25, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Mice on Stilts passed through my radar undetected, perhaps due to the fact that their name somehow did not inspire me = I had pet mice when growing up but moved on and was never very impressed with stilts. Poor attempt at humor, I guess but let's face it New Zealand is not exactly a prog hotbed but this only goes to prove that prog globalization is becoming a reality. A full blown world-wide community. My previous unrequited love for the ultra-quirky Split Enz has definitely added to my evaluation. And why, not, as the instrumentation here is just as uniquely original and both sublime vocals /instrumentation.

So guitarist Ben Morley sent me their EP, something I also am generally averse to, being a stickler for full ALBUMS as opposed to songs (MP3s I am really not a fan of). And frankly, once again, I am proven to be a moronic dingbat. Hey, humility only makes you stronger! Truth is that Mice on Stilts offers masterful progressive rock music, definitely original in terms of instrumentation, though there is a flowing Floydian mood that is palpable. With a track entitled "Syd's Socks", what do you expect? But all the focus should be on the lead, harmony, backing and special effect vocals that are exemplary. Honking organ, windswept saxophone and that clanging guitar all combine to shape this brooding opening song. The unshaven voice is tired, frazzled and disconsolate.

A lamenting viola (Sam Hennessy) introduces a piano that expresses the deepest sorrow, the slowly evolving "Binocular Bath" (now that is what I call a prog title!). It's also a fabulous song, a conspicuous dirge of profoundly felt melancholia, swooning vocals, prominent Sam Nash bass, and pulsating 'drumster-isms'. The electric guitar is stormy and aggressive when needed, the melody overpoweringly effective. The lead vocalist (Ben, Is that you?) sounds eerily similar to Airbag's singer Asle Torstrup, who owns a Dave Gilmour slash Robert Smith wail.

The Nick Wright piano introduction to "A Moss Ocean" is so crushingly beautiful, I had a hard time believing my ears! The voice is breathlessly passionate, the classical-tinged orchestrations are very close to Penguin Café Orchestra's Simon Jeffes (a sadly unknown genius), with dense use of viola, saxophone and trumpet to highlight the pain. The overall mood is one of anguished reflection, a style I particularly love as it permeates deep into the soul and takes you somewhere you know well but have never been. This one really kicked me in the pants, I was one step away from crying. The final lyric "She left in a Russian car" only adds to the mystery. Love this stuff!

The loping cinematography of "Vulnerable Vader" is perhaps a tad more straightforward with winks at Radiohead as it veers into slight dissonance, the circumspect saxophone (Aaron Longville) blowing through the blustery clouds (OMG, what a sublime instrument that is, eh?). Tolling guitar chimes, piano rivulets, brooding bass and hefty drum support are all impeccable but it's that damned viola creeping forth that really nails you to the cross. The vocal effects are also exemplary giving backbone to the gritty wail of the deranged sax and the dirty guitar. This quickly veers into Mel Collins meets Bob Fripp delirium as found on "Sailor's Tale"! Tortuous, deranged and damned angry, the gruesome oil of rage is expertly expressed.

Then finish off with the larger-than-life "Tuatara Lawn", an astonishing composition spanning a dozen minutes that expertly encompasses the values of the Mice on Stilts sound, inflicting Dead Can Dance pain, releasing Anathema-like sunny angst and having it then marinate in Pink Floydian symphonics, with the added viola/sax in unison with the delicate piano. The upward vortex of specially effected voice sounds, courtesy of Joseph Jujnovich give the whole that wailing operatic flavor that hits you hard in the gut. Powerful and majestic, densely atmospheric and utterly gorgeous. Morley gives his resonating, echo- laden axe a long, simple and lovely workout, oozing emotion with a profound sentimentality. Music of this caliber should appeal to a wide swath of progressive fans and maybe even be inclined to give some outsiders a further understanding of how meaningful talents create masterful music in relative silence.

Colossal and timeless surprise, I bow in subjugated appreciation. Wow!

5 Fellini rats

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Posted Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Kiwi Prog Rock by this band from Auckland, New Zealand, which emerged in 2012 out of a more atmospheric approach on music by singer/guitarist Benjamin Morley, who had been already working with Prog Metallers Look To Windward.The band featured an original, 7-piece core with Morley surrounded by Aaron Longville on sax/trumpet, Sam Hennessy on viola, Joseph Jujnovich on backing vocals/samples, Rob Sanders on drums, Nick Wright on piano/backing vocals and Sam Nash on bass.After two singles they worked for a number of months on their debut EP ''An ocean held me'', which surfaced on bandcamp at the fall of 2013, offered as a digital download, digipack CD and in vinyl edition.

The sound is pretty hard to be described with accuracy, even if some light Post Rock ambiences, PORCUPINE TREE-like contemporary vibes and strong PINK FLOYD influences become obvious at first listening.Generally Mice On Stilts focus on tight songwriting, compact arrangements and atmospheric soundscapes more than anything else, technique has been left behind and the intense lyricism, the elaborate passages and the occasional heavy explosions appear to be the leading forces of this album.There is a feeling you are transmitted back to mid-70's and to the music of PINK FLOYD circa-''Wish you were here'' and there are a number of reasons for this: the sensitive but expressive vocals of Morley, the laid-back melodies, the light organ/piano backgrounds and the slight psychedelic atmosphere, while the band dares to throw in some strings and saxes in the process, heading for an even deeper and versatile sound.PINK FLOYD copies they are not and the powerful guitar scratches are there to remind you that Mice On Stilts are a band of the millenium.One of the presented tracks, ''Tuatara lawn'', clocks at over 12 minutes, I do not like the overstretched, psychedelic outro at the end, but I do like the rest, which is dramatic, modern Prog Rock with the fascinating, sinister strings and the orchestral depth going along with the beautiful, lyrical parts and the keyboard/piano-driven lines.The guitars are shining in this piece, which the band should use as a guide, over some minimalistic explorations, that are heard throughout the EP.

PINK FLOYD reincarnated?Sort of, but not exactly.Touches of the 70's go on to meet with modern distortions and effects in a well-composed Prog/Art Rock offering, good enough to keep an eye on this band.Warmly recommended, no matter the edition you will choose.

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Posted Friday, August 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'An Ocean Held Me' - Mice On Stilts (84/100)

Call them Anathema at their most meditative, The Dear Hunter at their most elaborately orchestrated, or even Kayo Dot at their most intimate and accessible. Either way, you wouldn't be far from the truth; Mice on Stilts have struck a golden ratio on their debut between the unique and familiar. They fit snugly into post-00's progressive trends, yet enjoy a clear sense of purpose and personal identity. I apologize if I'm sounding like a bull[&*!#]ting press release- it's altogether rare I hear a new band that truly 'gets it' from the beginning. In barely over half an hour, they've crafted a sombre, subtle and slow-to-grow opus that virtually exudes a cinematic aura others of their kind often only allude to. An Ocean Held Me is a brilliant introduction to an excellent band, and I'm eagerly anticipating the great journey they have ahead of them.

Mice on Stilts fashion themselves as part of the growing chamber rock movement. The fusion of small-scale classical ornamentation within a rock context has been around for ages in the form of artists like Univers Zero and the like, but those acts generally took a far more academic and foreboding approach to their sound. In the case of Mice on Stilts, a strong analog could be drawn between them and iamthemorning, a similarly beautiful and pop-influenced act that have seen fit to demonstrate the excitement and feeling music of this sort can stir in people when done well. Mice on Stilts have a generally darker tone to their sound than iamthemorning, but they're far too infatuated with proper hooks and alt rock leanings to be compared alongside the de facto kings of chamber rock. For what it's worth, I feel like future bands are going to take the example of Mice on Stilts and their yet-small circle of comparatives. There is too much potential here not to be noticed.

At the same time, it's sometimes hard to believe that Mice on Stilts are a young band. Musical talent has no prescribed age set to it, but the arrangements here suggest the maturity of someone, having now already spent years balancing and harnessing these ingredients. Then again, it might just as much be a matter of having the right talent and inspiration gathered in one spot. Mice on Stilts' Third Stream-ish fusion of classical viola and piano with jazzy saxophones and trumpets often overwhelms the notion that Mice on Stilts was originally a singer-songwriter bedroom project of frontman Ben Morley's design. Even so, the fact that these songs were originally devised as simple songs only serves to give added weight to the arrangements. So often, bands of this nature will let the arrangements compensate for the lack of satisfying songwriting. I could imagine An Ocean Held Me performed with a single acoustic guitar and Morley's brooding voice in a dimly lit coffee shop just as much as I could envision the entire band playing in an orchestral concert hall.

Especially given their roots in singer-songwriter tradition, the songs on An Ocean Held Me strike me as a little too reserved and consistently mellow. While it gives the EP as a whole the impression of a Floydian epic, Mice on Stilts stick to a mellow, melancholic wavelength. Whatever dynamic or (albeit restrained) fireworks we hear here are entirely in the court of the chamber arrangements. The mellowed atmosphere and leisurely pacing the songs take gives the album a pleasant consistency (culminating with the beautiful "Tuatara Lawn"- a track that deserves its growing repute), but I wonder now if Mice on Stilts would have struck me even harder with a few further-reaching moments. Their stylistic cousins in The Dear Hunter make for a perfect example as to this style could be enlivened with a few explosives. It's not at all to say that Mice on Stilts would need to lose their mellowness in order to pursue some greater mastery, but I've no doubt that An Ocean Held Me may have benefited from a few surprises along the way.

Mice on Stilts have earned a spot on my radar, and I'm pretty excited to hear where they'll go next, after having scored so deeply with this one. I will note that the album took a few times to grow; the sombre, laid-back tone doesn't rush to grab attention, and it takes some time before some helpful familiarity sets in. There's such beauty in the details and gentle harmonies Mice on Stilts have imbued these songs with, and even stripped of this gorgeous Third Stream instrumentation, we'd still have a strong singer-songwriter collection to enjoy. Keep an eye out for these guys.

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Posted Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars New-Zealand band MICE ON STILTS (MOS hereinafter), formed in 2011, explores a brand of music they describe themselves as cinematic doom folk. "An Ocean Held Me" is their debut album, released through the Kiwi label Triple A Records in 2013.

While MOS isn't a band directly comparable to any other band out there that I'm familiar with at this point, Radiohead is my chosen comparison due to the mood and overall atmosphere on this album. If one describes this band as a unit that replaces Radiohead's massive angst with melancholic and mournful tendencies, and flavors liberally with post rock aesthetics, then you should have a fairly good idea on the general scope of this production. In addition one might mention that the compositions are of a generally more laid back and tranquil nature, and that there's extensive room for the viola, for brittle trumpet details and careful saxophone textures. Still, even if rather different sounding, I still suspect that fans of Radiohead and similar bands will be the key audience for this band, especially those amongst them with a certain affection for post rock aesthetics.

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Posted Monday, February 2, 2015 | Review Permalink

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