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Sean Filkins - War And Peace & Other Short Stories CD (album) cover


Sean Filkins


Crossover Prog

4.08 | 409 ratings

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5 stars Sean Filkins was the lead singer of Big Big Train until the great David Longdon replaced him for the exceptional The Underfall Yard. This, his debut solo album, was released in 2011, and, I must admit, it passed me by completely at the time. Why, I know not.

That is, until one day spent perusing the top albums of that year on Prog Archives earlier this year whilst recuperating from an operation, I read the reviews, especially that of my old friend Tszirmay, and thought......this sounds just like the sort of stuff I would like.

And do I. What an album. Quintessentially English in its entire outlook and output, War And Peace & Other Short Stories captures a unique talent. Yes, in the Are You Sitting Comfortably intro piece, one could point to Floydian bits. In the two epic tracks entitled Prisoner Of Conscience you could point to a fair bit of Beard in part one, and certainly Anderson heavy Yes in part two. However, these are merely influences, because at the heart of this is Filkins as a multi instrumentalist, a man with a huge vocal range, from as heavy as it comes to achingly poetical. Further, his piano playing, especially, is as heartfelt as any classical exponent.

Passages range from the blistering, to the bombastic, to some of the most gorgeous music I have had the pleasure of listening to in many years. From the first moment I put this on, I knew it would become a lasting favourite. The English Eccentric, the first song proper, is perhaps about the best self description I have seen written by an artist, and tells a story of a man whose time is no longer here, and the the contrast between thundering sound and wistful, mournful, acoustic rather accurately reflects a life lost though conflict.

The epic right at the heart of the album, and is in two distinct phases, as mentioned above. The guitar burst at the close of part one is as 'eavy as anything you will ever hear from any so-called heavy metal band, before we then have the most dreamy, and beautifully sung, intro of part two, yet the two segue seamlessly. Quite delicious. During the varying movements, attention is never, ever, lost. The denouement brings all of these varying moods together in a huge wall of sound that deserves to shake the room of any discerning progger.

Even this, though, pales into insignificance when set against the truly exceptional Epitaph For A Mariner, twenty one minutes of the most incredible rock music I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Opening with the traditional Sailor's Hymn, beautifully sung by Abigail Filkins, to the accompaniment of a mournful organ, the track develops into quite the most wonderful piece. Abigail has a gorgeous voice, and her mournful, soulful, wail is the passage to all that follows.

I said at the commencement of the review proper that this was a quintessential English album. Well, this track, more than any other, embodies that spirit, because what could be more English than a hymn, Ode, and Epitaph to fallen seafarers, the bravest of the brave, who risk their lives daily, and, as with our hero here, often fall in the harsh environment they choose to try to tame? "But the sea's no friend to man". Written in three absolutely clear, and distinct, movements, this track embodies all that is good about a piece of music which, again, never allows the listener to drift and lose focus. The Epitaph passage gives full rein to the bombast that Filkins does equally as well as the heavy and restrained. The huge sound created gives way to a couple of minutes of lovely piano at the end, allowing the listener to reflect and, yes, grieve.

Closer, Learn How To Learn, is a fitting climax, nowhere near as intense as what came before (it would be, in truth, impossible). It has been compared by other reviewers to Drama era Yes or Flower Kings. It is, I think, far closer to the finest that the latter have produced, and brings us down from the intensity that came before in a fashion that still demands our full attention, very much in the fashion of the best of the Swedish greats. The guitar solo midway through really is gorgeous, and we are then taken down....down......down..... To a wall of vocals and gentle acoustics which re-asserts the fundamental unique Englishness of Filkins, as a fitting end to a fundamentally unique piece of work.

So, to a rating. Looking at my 2011 new album purchases reviewed, I see that this was the year I raved about the Edison's Children debut, and the wonderfully beautiful Introitus album, Elements. Well, this one is as good as these two gems. This is an album which is so representative of the best of modern progressive rock. Taking influences, and moulding them into a series of stories and soundscapes which are essentially 21st century. In other words, an album which moves the genre forward.

It is a masterpiece, so gets that rating. I, for one, cannot wait for the follow up.

For those of you, like me, who missed it at the time, this album comes very highly recommended.

lazland | 5/5 |


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