Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography

MICE ON STILTS

Crossover Prog • New Zealand


From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Mice On Stilts picture
Mice On Stilts biography
Catharsis, the bloom of emotion, is the harbored hope for MICE ON STILTS as a sound, as symbol and a family. Life and its heaviness is not ignored in the ideology and creativity of MICE ON STILTS. Making sense of it all is the essence of what we are doing. As band members we find sound the most powerful means of expression through our instruments, and strive for a creative experience that invites others to share in what we've found to be life giving.

Reaching for the corners of musical ideas, MICE ON STILTS collects sound in diversity, hosted by seven very different and unconventional musical talents. From lush sound-scapes to crushing walls of sound, the collision of the internal experience is exposed; raw, vulnerable and with all effort, real. MICE ON STILTS has worked relentlessly for two years, culturing and conveying its compositions to a wide and well loved audience.

MICE ON STILTS started as an escape from an end for singer/writer Ben MORLEY. A dream for a different reality than one overwhelmed by the coarseness of life was seeded in Ben's mind. From a bedside passion project, it's flourished into a seven piece orchestration. MICE ON STILTS has seen members join this dream, a musical identity, and with each new contribution these songs have taken on water, and taken to the road across New Zealand.

AN OCEAN HELD ME is the first studio release from MICE ON STILTS. Adopting the DIY values of Aotearoa, this work has been refined, combed and fostered into an art that we believe in. Risking it all, the lyrical narrative built from the consequences and longings of love and the musical symbolism balanced on the edge of intensity and vacancy, which we hope will bring listeners into a beautiful listening reflection.

We're taking braver steps with each challenge. Honing in our desire to take this to the world, this wild and beautiful live show is going to dangerous places, wherever and to whoever wants to take part.

Aroha Nui

Biography provided by artist and used with permission

MICE ON STILTS Videos (YouTube and more)


Showing only random 3 | Search and add more videos to MICE ON STILTS

Buy MICE ON STILTS Music


MICE ON STILTS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

MICE ON STILTS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.05 | 94 ratings
An Ocean Held Me
2013
3.98 | 128 ratings
Hope for a Mourning
2016
4.11 | 50 ratings
I Am Proud of You
2023

MICE ON STILTS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

MICE ON STILTS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

MICE ON STILTS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

MICE ON STILTS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.50 | 2 ratings
Orca
2016
3.50 | 4 ratings
Grey Diving Bell
2021
4.00 | 4 ratings
National Radio
2023

MICE ON STILTS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 I Am Proud of You by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2023
4.11 | 50 ratings

BUY
I Am Proud of You
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars Master songwriter Ben Morley is back with his first album since 2016's masterpiece, Hope for a Mourning--an album that has steadily climbed my list of all-time favorite albums to where it has lately been sitting at number 81. Ben has apparently been going through a lot of tough times--much of which are reflected in the music and lyrics of this album.

1. "Edge of the Garden" (7:30) nighttime nature sounds precedes the entrance of Ben's guitar and voice. This is a patterns that we're going to see a lot on this album: an opening and first verse of acoustic guitar play as lone support for Ben's plaintive voice. Cello, piano, flute, and female and male harmony vocals join in during successive verses, each coming and going in unpredictable fashion. At the end of the third minute there is a coming out party for an instrumental section as low drums, cello, flutes, synths, and bass all join together to fill the auralsphere--and they stay as Ben & co. return to sing more chorus-like vocal lines. Then at 5:05 we return to the bare-bones acoustic palette of the opening minute for a spell--until at 5:38 the drums finally lay down the law with a willful pattern that encourages the joinder of electric bass, electric guitar, organ, and solo trumpet. Awesome! (13.75/15)

2. "The Wreck of the Wahine" (5:00) two picked guitars playing off one-another open this one, creating a beautiful weave, over which Ben sings a quite strong, forward vocal. What a voice! Another one of those singers who makes unpredictable and unusual note choices as he creates his melodies (reminding me of the uber-gifted chanteuse from iNFiNiEN, Chrissy Loftus). Ben's incredibly emotive voice also reminds me of the late great Robbie Wilson of AUTUMN CHORUS. The music continues to build in a Post Rock kind of way to its conclusion. (No, Ben did not really lose control.) (9.25/10)

3. "Devotion Decline" (5:21) this one reminds me so much like the vocal story-telling talents and musical delivery approach of Bristol (England)'s late great singer-songwriter, Nick Talbot (of GRAVENHURST). heavily orchestrated, this one definitely feels like a chamber collaboration as piano, picked acoustic guitars, keening cello, drums, strings synths, and multiple background "choir" vocals all contribute to the thick, lush soundscape used to carry the story. It all builds and builds until the end of the fourth minute when everything cuts away until cello and piano are the only two instruments supporting (and weaving in and around) Ben's voice. Great instrumental finish. Great composition. (9.25/10)

4. "Grey Diving Bell" (3:40) beautiful melodies and singing supported by folk guitar and, later, as the song develops, piano, double bass, cello, horns. Ben and his record company released a version of this one back in December of 2021 but I'm glad they chose to include it on this album. (9.125/10)

5. "When Will We See the Day?" (3:53) another song that opens with just Ben singing over his gently-picked acoustic guitar. Strings and simply-brushed drum kit join in during the second minute. Saxophone and full drums move forward during the instrumental second half while strings continue to lay down a beautifully flowing background. Beautiful! (9.25/10)

6. "National Radio" (7:25) the early release "hit" of the album. Again, the Nick Talbot comparisons are definitely warranted as there is a creepy feel to the sparsely percussive piano and drum support given Ben's vocal for the first 2:25. Then full band with banked horns join in--until 3:28 when everything cuts out to make way for a kind of chamber strings-and-piano interlude. The second half of the song proceeds as if a kind of jam for sax, electric guitar, drums, and Ben's vocalizations. Very cool! A top three song for me. (9.333/10)

7. "Ranges in the West" (5:16) picked acoustic guitar and Ben open this one; ben's lilting vocal so heart-wrenchingly beautiful--reminding me, again, of the kind of vocal melody choices that the late Robbie Wilson would make. Cello and background female vocal joins in for the chorus before giving way to a chamber strings bridge back to the next verse. Piano, bass, and distant background vocals are much more prominent here. What amazing key and melody shifts! And I love the cello, violin, and Uilleann pipe additions. Such a masterful composition--I feel as if I've just been witness to an Alfred Hitchcock film. Definitely a top three song for me. (10/10)

8. "Through the Kauri" (4:33) female torch singer Jasmine Balmer opens this one, singing over gentle piano accompaniment with synth and vocal incidentals contributing in the background. At 1:20, Ben and the rest of the band take the reins over, full drums at 2:20. By the time the fourth minute rolls around, a wailing violin-sounding electric guitar has entered and taken over the lead, taking the song almost to its EBERHARD WEBER-like end. Very cool song. Another top three for me. (9.333/10)

9. "Jigsaw Legs" (7:23) strummed acoustic guitars and jazzy double bass open this one giving it an almost BRUCE COCKBURN feel. But then Ben enters, singing in a lighter, higher register. A more quirky song than is typical, the lyrical content and vocal delivery, however, only serve to amp up the eerie-creep factor. Masterful in the same way Nick Talbot could sing a beautiful melody and tone to deliver a song about pyromania or other odd and disturbing mindsets. Amazing! And then there's the off-kilter instrumental finish: 90 seconds of odd reverb, space, and detuned string twangs and reverse electric guitar sounds. Brilliant! (14.25/15)

10. "Anxiety Baby" (6:08) bleeding over from the previous song definitely sets this one up for an eerie, disturbing start. And it really delivers. The music and vocal opens as if being performed by someone who's unhinged (perhaps a recollection of a suicide attempt or imagined suicide?) The music expands richly over the monotonously pounding drum and bass play with with dancing synths and layers of strings until at 5:08 the drums, bass, and organ launch into a very heavy, if brief, instrumental finale. (9/10)

11. "To Somewhere Else" (4:33) contemplative solo piano is joined by Ben's plaintive voice singing as if looking back on a life retrospectively. Background "ooo"'s and "eee"'s with floatacious flute and discombobulated strings join in for support and effect during the second minute. I guess this must be the entry to Heaven. During the third and fourth minutes, then, the music all gels a bit into some smoother, more seemless textures before dropping off and giving way to cricket sounds. Again, masterful song-structuring. (9/10)

Total Time 60:42

Due to my love of the band's previous two albums, this one arrived with rather high expectations. One of the most notable observations of my listening experience with this album was how damn fast each song passed! Nothing drags despite the slower tempos and occasionally morosely heavy music and lyrics. The music often starts out with a sparse, folk-like atmosphere--usually Ben and one other instrument--making the music feel very similar to that of Nick Talbot's final Gravenhurst album, 2012's The Ghost in Daylight, but then they build with the gradual--or sometimes sudden-- addition of other stringed and wind instruments. This is not so different from the songwriting styles as expressed on previous Mice On Stilts albums, it just that the bare bones of each song here feel much more acoustically pronounced- -even the embellishing instruments feel more "acoustic" than electronic (though I have the feeling that there is quite a bit of the latter throughout the album--disguised for the fact that they are doubling up real, acoustic instruments in the foreground.

A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of emotional Chamber-Folk prog. Highly recommended for any music lover who has the patience and time to sit and be immersed in emotion-packed beauty.

 I Am Proud of You by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2023
4.11 | 50 ratings

BUY
I Am Proud of You
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by Hokeyboy

4 stars In a New Releases discussion over at frequented music forum, a member made mention of the band's March 2023 release I Am Proud Of You, and described their music as "Chamber Progressive".

"Chamber Progressive". Now that was a descriptor that captured my attention.

There are few styles more pleasing to my particularly particular ear than the fusion of classical and rock elements. I mean, sure I'm a dyed-in-the-wool ELO fan, but if you start me talking about late era Beatles, The Left Banke, Moody Blues, Procol Harum, or hell anything related to Baroque Pop, be sure to plan an exit strategy.

Anyway, the fusion of classical and rock in progressive music is nothing new, but the "chamber" descriptor evoked images of string quartets, clockwork baroque precision, and the warmth and pleasure of sweeping melodic orchestrations stripped down to their most immediate impact.

Accordingly, one could characterize Mice On Stilts' music via their complex, multi-layered arrangements, weaving in stylistic elements such as folk, rock, and classical. Prog sensibilities make themselves apparent through intricate composition, dynamic use of time and tempo, and the use of diverse instrumentation. With the usual guitars, bass, synths, and drums, you'll hear woodwinds, cellos, violins, and piano. And God knows what else.

The unifying thematic content for I Am Proud Of You is a prevailing sense of loss, desperation, and struggle. Band founder, lead vocalist, and lyricist Ben Morley incorporated themes of addiction, incarceration, and isolation throughout the album, alongside existential reflections on relationships, abandonment, and identity.

As such, I Am Proud Of You is a somber and sobering meditation on both the immediate stinging rawness and prolonged dull ache of human desperation. And yet it is presented with lush, ornate beauty alongside tender simplicity and immediacy, resulting in a commanding and emotionally resonant work. Through Morley's haunting vocals and deeply poetic lyrics, the lush orchestral arrangements, crisp production values, and a tone that undulates between pastoral and progressive, I Am Proud Of You delivers a rich musical soundscape through a reflexive journey of redemption.

Almost instantly, the album's production and engineering command attention. This is a beautiful sounding album, creating a vast soundscape of crisp vocals and warm acoustic openness. The mix never feels loud, busy, or cluttered; this is no "wall of sound". The production gives each musical element distinct space to breathe, resulting in a wonderfully dynamic presentation that is both dramatic and ornate, yet also fresh and immediate. It's less of a production as it is a performance.

The album goes to the well with a deep sense of introspection and reflection, using imagery of New Zealand's natural landscape to convey emotional content. The towering kauri trees in "Through The Kauri", vast mountain ranges of "Ranges In The West", and devouring oceans in "The Wreck of The Wahine" generate feelings of chaos, destruction, scale, and timelessness, juxtaposing the struggles of the individual against the eternity of the human condition.

Using such transcendental imagery contrasts pain and sorrow against timeless beauty and wonder beyond our existential scope, underscored by the integration of orchestral elements with traditional rock, folk, and prog structures. The fingerpicking acoustic guitar intro to "Edge of the Garden" brings to mind a pastoral warmth, whereas the introduction of strings and piano both reinforce that notion whilst also generating dramatic conflict. By the time the song evolves into a full band piece, the emotional struggle is not just real, it feels epic.

"Wreck of the Mahine" takes root in the real-life sinking of the island ferry Wahine in 1968, in which 53 passengers were killed on the reef. The atmospheric introduction builds into a driving rhythm section, mirroring the intensity of the lyrics. With "Devotion Decline", slow and deliberate melancholic melodies give shape to haunting interfamilial struggles. This continues with "Grey Diving Bell", deliberate and haunting with comparatively sparse instrumentation and mournful vocals over a hypnotic, meditative guitar and piano. This builds towards a more cinematic ending without betraying its soulful immediacy.

Speaking of soulful, there's a slinky jazz vibe to "When Will We See The Day. Its steady tempo, seductive saxophone line, and driving drum work evoke dark, candle-lit bars, the clinks of glasses and subdued mindless background conversations. Amid all that, the music delivers soul and poignancy via its utilization of religious iconography (doves, crosses, oceans) in an eternal search for hope.

Similar to many tracks on this album, "National Radio" starts simple and builds into layers of instrumentation and harmonies. Mid-song the track pulls itself back with a swirling string instrumental interlude, before erupting into a Floyd like crescendo for its final act. This is an album standout, exemplifying the ethos for this record in its purest form.

Fingerpicked guitar returns in the introduction to "Ranges In The West", a track that seems to be equally about abandonment from both perspectives (the one who leaves, the one left behind). This is a solid track but it's right around here that you really start feeling the album's length. On its own the track is fine and worthwhile, but as an album track it flirts with repetition without adding meaningful development.

Jasmine Balmer takes co-lead vocal credit on "Through The Kauri", a wonderful take on the dynamic of delusory codependence, or maybe the breakdown of any everyday relationship. The beauty in this number is in what both singers bring to the table together, adding perspective, nuance, and mutual assurance of dread. What is more confining than heading back into the prison of a relationship gone sour.? A tasty guitar solo wails with ominous urgency, and the track ends with a tangible musical sense of drowning.

"Jigsaw Legs" features some exquisite double bass playing, sounding so natural and organic between unresolved 9th and assuring major chords on the guitar and a buzzing mist of strings blowing through. It's a curious musical tableau upon which to construct a haunting tale of addiction and its ensuing emotional fragmentation, but an engaging one.

"Anxiety Baby" opens with the closest this record has come to a straight rock bluesy feel. A deconstruction of anxiety, unbelonging, and self-loathing, it terrifies with how it does so much with comparatively little compositional movement. Delievered in abundance are the usual layers of strings, haunting vocals, and other production elements we've come to expect from this record. Yet in essence, the song stays in the realm of that single opening bluesy chord. Less is more, even with more, and "Anxiety Baby" demonstrates that with all its exuberant unified discordance.

A pleasing melodic piano line opens the album closer, "To Somewhere Else". The song features only six lines, with lyrics that are as direct as they are irresolute:

Where to? Just somewhere else All I know, I want to forget This world was never enough But the time drifts on

Look ahead, how far do you see? Now look up at the sky above

I view this as a hopeful message, one of affirmation and acceptance. Or perhaps deliverance. Others might take it to a more tragic conclusion. Either way, its a simple but effective closing track to the album, delivering the album's journey to a measure of dramatic closure.

I Am Proud Of You is a fascinating record: lush, beautiful, exquisitely produced, and emotionally brutal. It uses rich orchestrations alongside traditional rock, folk, prog, even indie elements to create something wholly unique and transporting. At about an hour in length it might tend to sag just a bit towards the middle, but any feelings of drag are quickly dissipated by Mice On Stilts' musical confidence and compelling delivery. I Am Proud Of You, as mentioned before, is a performance, not a production. It commands attention through both compositional excellence and empathetic immediacy. Delve into rough seas with this journey well worth taking.

 I Am Proud of You by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2023
4.11 | 50 ratings

BUY
I Am Proud of You
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

5 stars Some ten years ago I was a member of the ProgArchives Crossover Team (yes, to be allowed to be included on PA each band is judged by a committee). We were asked to pass our critical eyes and ears over the somewhat strangely named Mice On Stilts and I was somewhat surprised, nay amazed, to discover they hailed from Auckland. There followed a period of discovery which soon led me to TeMatera Smith and AAA Records, getting involved with the label and turning up at Red Room Studios, and of course catching up with MoS and helping them with the publicity for their debut. I was fortunate enough to catch them in concert quite a bit, and was there the night they supported Yes at the Aotea Centre. However, they were a band in flux, and not everyone who was playing at that time had been on the debut, and there were more changes afoot during and after the recording of Hope For A Mourning, and soon they had disappeared. I was deeply saddened by this state of affairs as Ben Morley (vocals, guitar) had a real presence and knack for producing wonderful songs, and they had caught the ears of the prog scene in a way which was most unusual ? as I write this in 2023, their debut is still the #2 most highly rated NZ release on PA, while Hope is #4. Then, lo and behold, I saw a post on FB raving about their new album which immediately had me contacting Ben to find out what was going on, and here I am now listening to something which is both sublime and majestic.

With seven years since the last album, and a lot of time when the band was non-operational, it is no surprise there have been major changes in the line-up, but Benjamin Morley (vocals, guitars) and Robert Sanders (drums & percussion) are still there, while Tim Burrows (synth) makes an appearance on the album although he is no longer part of the live line-up where Ben and Tim are joined by Andrew Isdale (guitar, piano), Tim Shacklock (bass, cello), Charlie Isdale (saxophone, violin), and Sam Loveridge (violin, guitars). Back in the day Ben described their music as acoustic doom, and while in many ways I could see what he was getting at, that description never really sat well with me, but with this album it makes perfect sense as while it sits across many categories and influences that is exactly what it is. For An Ocean Held Me I said, "in some ways it is early Pink Floyd, Muse, Radiohead, VDGG, Peter Hammill, Roy Harper and others, but mostly it is Mice On Stilts" and that description still holds, yet here with a majesty which is sublime. There is a real use of space in this album, arrangements which feel light yet should be cluttered given their multi-instrumentalist brass and string approach to this style of crossover proressive rock, yet somehow manage to feel both ephemeral and strong as steel at the same time.

This is deep, incredibly so, both musically and lyrically, which is described by Ben as exploring "the growing pains of addiction, sobriety and recovery. From court houses to hospital beds and jail cells to rehab, the album is an introspective offering of redemption." There are times when this is a rock album, others where it is folk or singer songwriter, yet others when it is chamber music or switching into Art Zoyd style avant, and all of this can be heard on the 7 minute plus National Radio which is a sheer delight.

Mice on Stilts are back. Oh boy are they back.

 Hope for a Mourning by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.98 | 128 ratings

BUY
Hope for a Mourning
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars With their second album release, Mice on Stilts has improved and polished their recorded sound dramatically. The music here sounds like a cross between BON IVER and THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND merged with the more atmospheric sides of ULVER and TOBY DRIVER. The songwriting is more diverse on this album and each song has far more depth in terms of sound development and exploration. This is the kind of growth and improvement one likes to see from a young band!

1. "Khandallah" (6:50) one of the most powerful album opening songs ever! (15/15)

2. "Orca" (8:10) opens with the first 90 seconds sounding like a nice DAVE MATTHEWS song. A great ULVER-like key change at the three minute mark--and then the awesome shift in which a chorale of voices join in to sing the chorus at the end of the fourth minute. An ambient section of reverse guitar notes gives a brief break before sax-led full-band section reintegrates us with the main motif. Awesome Post Rock-like finale of building sound over a repeating chord progression. (14.25/15)

3. "The Hours" (3:45) a gently picked steel string guitar opens this song before some tinkling piano notes join in as Ben sings with his lower register voice mixed quite forward of the guitar and piano. Definitely more of a folk song. (8/10)

4. "And We Saw His Needs Through The Casket" (6:43) opens with solo piano establishing a gorgeous albeit haunting and depressing song foundation. It sounds almost classical. Ben starts to sing toward the end of the first minute in a very deep, almost Tom Waits-like voice. Multiple voices and horns join in for the second verse. The lead vocal is amazing with its emotion and intent but then add in the choral voices as And then at the four minute mark the song shifts completely with upper octave shifting piano dyads, bass and guitar chords providing the new base for an all-chorale lead. Powerful and amazing! Simply has to be heard in order to understand! (14.25/15)

5. "YHWH" (7:20) opens as a quite, delicate guitar-based song before going full "metal" around the one minute mark with loud, sustained distorted electric guitar strums. This reminds me of KAYO DOT or OCEANSIZE! Especially with its sparse vocals and predominantly instrumental nature. (13.5/15)

6. "Hope For A Mourning" (6:40) The finish is very GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR-like in its orchestrated feel but then finishes with--surprise!--almost a full minute of silence allowed at the end of the song. (13.5/15)

7. "Funeral" (11:40) A wonderfully paced song in which the music and vocal and story are perfectly matched in telling this very emotional story. Reminds me a lot of sound and feel from the debut STARSABOUT album also reviewed on this page as well as some of THE CURE's more emotional music on "Disintegration" and after. A perfect song and probably my favorite on this amazing and excellent album. (20/20)

8. "Monarch" (6:20) simple, soft, spacious, atmospheric, yet amazingly melodic and emotional, this is an awesome ULVER or TALK TALK like song and a perfect ending to this beautiful and amazingly emotional journey! Thank you, Benjamin! This is exactly what music--or any art--in it's most perfect form should do! (10/10)

Total Time 56:21

What makes this album so exciting, so masterful, is the numerous "unexpecteds": unexpected key or chord changes, unexpected dynamic shifts, unexpected instrumental uses or shifts, unexpected vocal stylings, unexpected recording techniques, and, of course, unexpected lyrical directions. So refreshing and often flamboyantly breathtaking! How weird is it that the shortest and simplest song is the "worst"?!!

Five stars; an undeniable masterpiece of progressive rock music.

 Hope for a Mourning by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.98 | 128 ratings

BUY
Hope for a Mourning
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by piccolomini

5 stars Hope for a Mourning is an album that superbly mixes alternative elements with prog to form beautiful yet powerful songs that provide for some very sad and emotional moments. The single, and the opener of the album, Khandallah, is such a beautiful song with great lyrics, vocals, and piano that incorporates some gentle strings and sax. The chorus is so touching and this is definitely not the song you want to listen to on a warm, happy day, but none of the songs on the album are for that type of mood, really. Orca starts off very softly but a little before half way through it gets pretty dark and somewhat uneasy. It contains a section of repeating the line, "The good lord has his hand on me now" that slowly fades out, and then there is a brief build up and trumpet comes in strongly immediately followed by drums, and this provides for one of the best moments in the album and makes Orca another great song. The Hours is the shortest song and by far the least progressive, but it's a nice short and sweet song that is pretty enjoyable especially after the intense "Orca". And We Saw His Needs Through the Casket is another pretty dark song which is already shown through the title. It includes some powerful piano and a choir that emphasizes the creepy, haunting sound of the song. Yhwh is my favorite song on the album. It starts off soft like all of the songs do, and a couple minutes in, the guitar comes in with some angry strumming combined with unusual off-beat drumming that sounds so cool. The vocals come in just as strongly and then it transitions into a quiet excerpt only to finish the song off even angrier than before. The title track is my other favorite. The lead vocals are matched with a woman's back-up vocals from which we heard in Khandallah and probably in the choir. She has a gorgeous voice and it is perfectly matched with the lead. The harmonies are extraordinary throughout the entire song. The beginning starts with piano backed with some deep notes from the cello. Then the acoustic and drums hit simultaneously and it's backed by some great trumpet. I love the melody and harmony in this song and it's another beauty. Funeral is the longest song at a little above eleven and a half minutes. This song is pretty interesting and literally sounds like a story is being told. Like "And We Saw His Needs Through the Casket," the vocals are very monotone and is almost just talking. However, In "Funeral" there are drums, but only starting a little before the six minute mark. Monarch kind of sounds like Khandallah, but more dark. It doesn't feature any drums which is common throughout the album and replaces them with some heavy strings and even some clarinet. This song is much more powerful than one might think and needs a few listens to have the message sink in. And to me, even without the lyrics, the song sounds like the end of something that could have been great. The lyrics on this album are excellent and often depressing, but in a good way. The instrumentation is piano driven and lacks a normal amount of drums as many parts in the songs do not include drums and three songs are completely without them. This is no problem whatsoever as Mice on Stilts uses this to their advantage to emphasize the amazing piano and vocals bolstered from the back-up of thorough string sections and occasional but wonderfully used brass. Hope for a Mourning is truly an album of supreme beauty, and it shows this through melancholy and dark moments that provide for a pleasurable listen.
 Hope for a Mourning by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.98 | 128 ratings

BUY
Hope for a Mourning
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by tszirmay
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars From gorgeous New Zealand, we have a new album from Mice on Stilts, a progressive crossover artist that caught the community's attention with 2014's rather engaging debut 'An Ocean Held Me' and kept us wondering if another gem would be in the cards. Two years later, this sophomore release continues from where they had left off, a mercurial and original take on the crossover style that does not mean that it's the 'poppiest' of genres within the prog spectrum but rather wishes to incorporate a certain sense of accessibility. Ben Morley's has quite a singular flair when it comes to forging his own musical persona, a heady combination of various influences that defy the norm. Firstly, he possesses a voice that is just made for melancholic and heartfelt music, with a definitive yearning for emotional release and lyrical expression. At times, I was reminded of a modern-day Jim Morrison in terms of delivery though not necessarily tone. The musicians he chooses are closer to jazz and chamber, with lots of woodwinds, cellos and violas, way closer to Penguin Caf' Orchestra than your archetypal neo-prog line-up. The heavy use of piano and choir is another lucid clue into the Morley musical psyche, a deliciously intense universe of artistic seduction that deserves to be further noticed by the prog community. This is a major talent, proggers!

The tracks are impressively astute canvases on life, from the sweeping opener 'Kandallah', a piece that really sets the melancholic mood with reflective piano dispositions from the talented Brendan Zwaan and a soaring vocal delivery from Ben Morley, anointed with clever pastoral meanderings and a delicate sense of orchestral structure, swelled by a wall of sound effects that seek to blur the senses.

The splendid 8 minute 'Orca' is a different fish altogether (oops), the acoustic guitar taking the spotlight as Ben navigates the aching whitecaps of his tempestuous soul, Rob Sanders' slick drumming pushing the wavy brass section into an aquatic frenzy. There is a tremendous mid-section that first seeks out ambient paradigms, only to let the sax brave the seas and let the shrill synthesizer scour the sprays. A truly magnificent opus that has cinematographic tendencies as well as immense depth and sonic boom.

'The Hours' is short and sombre, 'a moment on my own' delivered in that fatigued, pillow-infected voice that is sleepy but despondently insistent, wholly minimalist at first with the piano and acoustic guitar in tow. That Jim Morrison impression shines through once again, a door into the past and I see it as rather unmistakable.

The next trio of songs form the core of this amazing piece of work, a trilogy of essence and creative genius, starting off with the 'And We Saw His Needs'', again the piano being the orchestra conductor, decorating the lush arrangement, along with some sensational trumpet work from guest Guy Harrison. When the celestial choir work kicks in, the proverbial jaw has hit the floor, as both Catherine Walker and Esther Tetlow elevate this to unforeseen heights! The resonant Zwaan piano is sheer brilliance, crystalline pearls of reverence and despair, furthered by the persevering choir. The very calm 'YHWH' keeps the agony ongoing, perhaps more soporific and psychedelia- induced at first. The guitars come clanging in rather brutally, slashing and slicing through the clamorous veil of sound, hinting somehow at those 90s bands that specialized in Gothic doom (Swans, Lycia, Black Tape for A Blue Girl, Love Spirals Downwards, His Name is Alive etc'). Again, sheer brilliance! The title track serves as a reversal of mood, very sinewy and obscurely swerving in ambiance, a slick vocal duet between Morley and one of the ladies, spurred on by thrilling brass and jazzy drumming. The agony and the ecstasy is plainly heard and ably expressed as the ethereal mood rolls forward like some grayish cemetery mist, momentarily chilling the senses.

All this impressive music is nothing compared to the magnificence of the incredible 11 minute epic 'Funeral', a fittingly somber reptile of a track full of sorrow and regret, nearly on the threshold of surrender. Ben offers up a heartfelt expanse of emotions that pulls at all the heartstrings, cello, violins and viola in tow. There is a definite Swans feel here, loads of dramatic interface, bellowing brass and furious drumming that swell ultimately into a rather obvious and expected apotheosis, with all musicians involved up to the hilt. A masterpiece of progressive rock music. Amen.

Hard act to follow such genius but so is the butterfly morphing from the caterpillar, as 'Monarch' sets the sun down on another stellar production from a musician that is truly carving out new territories. The song feels like a finale, a bittersweet and yet tender au revoir. This is the perfect lights-out, candles-lit, glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in the goblet type of recording, definitely nocturnal and perhaps even autumn-esque. Truth is the quality is so great that anytime, anywhere and anyway will work fine.

The cover art is once again a winner, deeply melancholic and childlike in its pure sensibility, as if designed to be a prog pastel coloring book. There is no doubt that Steve Wilson is a genial producer, composer and musician but the prog world needs to make some room for Ben Morley and his Mice on Stilts.

5 Courageous Bereavements

 Hope for a Mourning by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.98 | 128 ratings

BUY
Hope for a Mourning
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by shaunch

5 stars I have decided to write a short review to support the work of NZ band Mice on Stilts. I love prog and have realised that I am not in the best place in the world to experience my passion, except from a distance. Well, I have to say these guys should open the ears of many a Kiwi and should be a must listen for all you prog lovers out there!

This is a step up in my opinion. I enjoyed their approach in their first effort and in particular Tuatara lawn which has a much more of a full sound and compliments the bare bones that they often display, similar to Tim Bowness. The selection of songs here displays much of this approach which I enjoy greatly. As an Englishman living in NZ I still enjoy my old pastimes such as the Football. My team Everton have just lost at Wembley so I normally turn to reflective, gloomy music to cheer me up. I tend to pick out a couple of Stevens being either Wilson or Hogarth. In this case I read a review for Mice on Stilts here and decide to give it a go. Well I was rewarded with exactly the experience I was looking for and more. The sound is rich, minimal at times, different but in a good way with their use of instruments, such as brass, and has the rare ability to make the hairs stand up on my neck and create emotion similar to the voice of Hogarth. This was most apparent in the tracks "Kallandah", "YHWH","Funeral" and the title track where the music hits new heights and reminded me of the catchy sounds of early Coldplay without staying in that safe territory for too long before moving into more Steven Wilson like sounds found in his most recent material, mixed with a little NoMan.

I don't write reviews very often as I am not very good at them but this sort of quality music which often falls below the radar needs to be shouted about from the rooftops. I just need to get them to visit the Nelson area in the near future as I miss the live experience and have to spend massive amounts of money to satisfy my prog needs, such as Marillion weekend next year. More of a prog appreciation in NZ might encourage more bands to make the trip this way!

5 out of 5 emotional stars from me.

 Hope for a Mourning by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.98 | 128 ratings

BUY
Hope for a Mourning
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by Gallifrey

5 stars Review originally written for theprogmind.com/ and facebook.com/TheExoskeletalJunction/

It's been over two years since I first met Mice on Stilts.

I was 17, and it was out at a local festival, a fundraiser for the local primary school, out in the vast expanses of Northland, New Zealand. Being a small local band, gigs that weren't R18 were a rarity for Mice on Stilts in the beginning and this was probably going to be the only opportunity for me to see them live before I turned 18, about six months later. In December 2013 I had heard and reviewed An Ocean Held Me, their near-perfect debut EP, and upon striking up an internet friendship with frontman Ben Morley he insisted I come to see them at any cost. My friend and I got a lift out to the gig with their (now-former) pianist Brendan Zwaan, and the day was one of the most strangely surreal of my life. On that stage, in front of a few hundred people including dozens of children littered on the grass banks, Mice on Stilts played three songs I did not know at the time ? "Khandallah", "Orca" and the monolithic dirge "Funeral". And cliche as this sounds, my life hasn't really been the same since.

In the two years that have come since then, this band has become one of my favourites of all time, and its members some of my closest friends. They almost defined the year 2014 for me, as I saw them numerous times (illegally) by being snuck into venues. On my 18th birthday in late 2014, at a show I still call one of the best I have ever been to, they played "Tuatara Lawn" at my request, and even since then I have continued to love them more and more. To say I am now familiar with those three new songs they played that day, that finally find themselves on a recording in 2016, is an understatement. Seeing the same band live twenty, thirty times does something to your perception of a song, and that is no different with these tunes. I know them almost inside out, as well as more than half of this record, before it was even recorded. Hell, I'm even on this album, which still blows my mind. Hear the choirs on "Khandallah" and "And We Saw His Needs Through the Casket"? That's me there, failing to sing the bass part. This album has almost become an intrinsic part of my being over the last two years, so being in the position to review it makes me feel strangely compromised, and it's actually incredibly difficult to attempt to assess it in an objective fashion. Many of the thoughts I have on this are thoughts from being close to it for two years, which is a unique situation for me.

All of this also demonstrates just how long this album has been in the works. The band performed several tracks from this live at their release party for An Ocean Held Me back in 2013, so it's evident that these aren't all fresh pieces. Even since then ? this album was recorded with an eight-piece lineup, and five members of that ensemble have now departed for various reasons, with three new ones taking their places. This album is being performed live and promoted by almost an entirely different lineup to the one that recorded it. My choir part was recorded back in November of 2014, and the album has been meticulously pieced together since then by their resident producer (who moonlights as a bassist in the band), Tim Burrows, for the past 18 months.

For those who haven't heard An Ocean Held Me, Mice on Stilts sound like the product of piling half a dozen highly trained instrumentalists to arrange songs written by a man with an obsession with Radiohead, Kayo Dot and Swans, and a voice like that of a classic folk singer. Of course, as someone who knows the members, that pretty much sums up their group dynamic perfectly. Benjamin Morley is the heart and soul of the band, with his core vocal melodies shifting between strained and soulful and serene, perfectly complementing the stark dynamics of his backing. And there are some truly wonderful dynamics in there. Consisting of bass, guitar, piano, drums, saxophone, trumpet, viola, synthesiser and ambient noise, the Mice on Stilts collective perfectly balance Ben's songwriting by contributing smooth and pastoral atmospheres at times, and jarring, chaotic, droning and near-metal themes at others. The diversity in timbres is both unique and exciting for a band which at its core is essentially soft-spoken indie rock. Links to Arcade Fire or The Dear Hunter are undeniable in the band's arrangements, but there is an underlying theme of darkness, energy and chaos that one would generally never associate with those artists.

Hope for a Mourning is not a massively different release from An Ocean Held Me stylistically, but it does manage to shed much of the restraints needed in an EP by taking these songs to the lengths they truly want to reach. "Tuatara Lawn" from the EP is a shoo-in for my favourite song of all time, and foreshadows the sort of dramatic building that is developed on Hope for a Mourning. In my honest opinion nothing here quite reaches the heights of that individual track, but taken as a whole this is equally as good if not better than the EP. "Funeral" is the obvious discussion point of much of this excess, and is truly one of the most harrowing pieces I have heard. I remember this being performed to absolute perfection when Mice on Stilts opened for Yes at the Aotea Centre. You can just imagine the hilarity at Ben introducing it as "a prog rock song" to an audience of aging prog fanatics before moving into an 11-minute monolith of folk, darkness and Swans-ian repetition. The progression from soft-spoken folk to chaotic smashing is something I immediately linked to a song like "Get All You Deserve" by Steven Wilson, but Funeral is much more than that. It's immersing, it's gargantuan, and even though at first Ben's Mark Kozelek-esque vocal wanderings seem a bit vague at the start, the more you listen to it the more every part makes perfect sense, and the explosion in its final minutes has my vote for one of the most otherworldly live experiences on this planet.

This heavy emotional palette is one that occupies a lot of this record, particularly in the second half, but there is a lighter, folkier side to it that many will find enjoyable even without needing to have an emotional episode. "Khandallah", as Ben liked to introduce it at each performance, is "a happy song about happy things". His decision to open the album with it is fascinating and not necessarily one I am completely convinced of because it almost sets the wrong tone for the record, but the sweet smoothness of the uplifting chorus is definitely a fantastic piece of work regardless of where it sits. It's here when Ben shows his talent for pop melodies and being an indie singer, and the rest of the band show their skills at adorning a song with colourful arrangements. None of the parts bar the chords and vocals are written by Ben, with all of the horn and string players floating their parts on and around his core until it sounds complete.

The first three songs on the album carry this same folk tinge, before the album takes a stylistic deviation with "And We Saw His Needs?". "Orca" is essentially a merger of those folk tendencies with some classic progressive rock structuring. It's become a bit of a favourite of mine in recent times (pretty much ever since they stopped playing it live actually), but the combination of the smooth poppy melody, the unusual structuring and the explosive finale is something that encapsulates the Mice on Stilts sound wonderfully. The way the song takes a complete deviation after the first chorus to a different segment and eventually a full-on ambient section before returning for the second chorus is a truly inspired piece of songwriting.

But as nice as the first half of the record is, the second half is when the band truly show their talent. When this album was demoed, the only song I wasn't convinced of was "And We Saw His Needs Through the Casket", but the fully recorded version has totally changed my mind. It acts as a bridge to the album's second half, ending with a two- minute choral section that creates a gorgeously ominous mood that leads into "YHWH" brilliantly. YHWH itself is a fascinating song, and I actually told the band I thought it should open the record, but Ben said he "didn't want to scare people". It's a beast of a track, a mathy, angular dirge of sludge riffs and impossibly tight drum grooves. It's really a testament to the band's diversity that they can shove a song this heavy into their music without ever feeling like it's shoehorned or out of place.

I also must give a brief mention to pianist Brendan Zwaan, since I haven't really talked about him much. He was not with the band for An Ocean Held Me, and has since departed the band with the birth of his son, but his fingerprints are all over Hope for a Mourning. Co-writing in several of the songs, including all of the choral segments, he adds a beautiful classical touch to the ensemble, which mostly consists of jazz musicians. He is also responsible for the absolutely harrowing ending to the album, with the instrumental closing minutes of "Monarch". Coming after Funeral the song finishes the album in the darkest of places, with Zwaan, accompanied by Sam Hennessy on viola and Joseph Jujnovich's vocal wanderings, pulls out a piece of Moonlight-esque beauty to close of the record.

Honestly, I don't have any proper complaints about this record that aren't ones brought about by me having heard these songs a billion times. The only nitpick I can pull out is that I feel many of these songs are much better live than in studio, and the recording doesn't quite capture the full power of a song like "Orca" or "Funeral". The recording is far from poor, but Tim Burrows has opted for a smoother and quite dream pop-sounding production this time around, which works really well in the softer songs, but can leave the heavier ones wanting a bit more punch.

Compositionally though, there's barely a mis-step here. The group perfectly decorate Morley's indie rock croon with sections of jazz, classical, rock, drone, ambient, or The Seer-era Swans smashing when necessary, whilst never losing that melodic and soulful song-base. Hope for a Mourning is a gorgeous and heartfelt piece of music, that perfectly takes in dozens of influences without ever feeling cluttered. A long time coming, but worth it in every way.

 An Ocean Held Me by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2013
4.05 | 94 ratings

BUY
An Ocean Held Me
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by Windhawk
Special Collaborator 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.

 An Ocean Held Me by MICE ON STILTS album cover Studio Album, 2013
4.05 | 94 ratings

BUY
An Ocean Held Me
Mice On Stilts Crossover Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

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.

Thanks to kev rowland for the artist addition.

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: JazzMusicArchives.com — jazz music reviews and archives | MetalMusicArchives.com — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.