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


Mice On Stilts


Crossover Prog

4.04 | 86 ratings

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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

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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