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Meer - Playing House CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.80 | 59 ratings

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3 stars The second half of December is that time of the year when I start compiling my list of top 30 albums released in the year just about to pass by, and I inevitably look back to stuff that was released in the previous months that I might have missed. This year the honor of being my most glaring omission of 2021 goes to Norwegian progsters Meer, a young eight-piece band that have released their second LP Playing House in January, 2021. The band describe themselves as "alternative pop orchestra", playing a mix of orchestral pop, classical music, and progressive rock. It's a fitting description that however does not fully capture the eclectic spectrum of influences that are weaved into the band's music, which is moody, lush and melancholic, yet bizarrely uplifting and empowering, drawing comparisons with bands like Oak, Gazpacho, Big Big Train, Bent Knee and, closer to metal enclaves, Anathema.

Being a collective with eight players, Meer's sound can get busy. The standard rock ensemble of guitar (Eivind Strømstad), bass (Morten Strypet), and drums (Mats Lillehaug) is complemented by two string players (Åsa Ree on violin and Ingvild Nordstoga Eide on viola), a classically trained pianist (Ole Gjøstøl), and two singers (siblings Johanne Margrethe and Knut Kippersund Nesdal). Meer do a great job at tastefully dosing the various components of their sound, with songs that are carefully balanced between starkly arranged sections with only piano, strings, acoustic guitars, delicate percussions and subtle electronic programming, and edgier, more rock-oriented parts where the full band joins in. Inevitably, Playing House is an album of great dynamics ? a rollercoaster of emotions that range from bucolic serenity to engrossing exhilaration. There are several references to the sea on the album, and the ocean is indeed a fitting metaphor to describe the nearly 55 minutes of this record: the music ebbs and flows like a tide, sometimes draining away to peaceful silence interrupted only by plucked strings and piano flourishes, only to rise again spectacularly, reaching new heights of emotional intensity.

Playing House works great both at an instinctual, epidermal level, as well as for more cerebral and repeated deep-listening. I am always in awe of productions that manage to achieve this elusive balance between accessibility and sonic depth. Writing easy-listening tunes that keep their grip on the listener even after repeated listens is a sign of strong compositional and arrangement skills, which Meer clearly possess in abundance. The winning formula in this case lies in the combination of gorgeous vocal melodies and complex, layered instrumental arrangements ? where each instrument takes a life of its own, while always respecting the balance of the song.

The fantastic vocal performances of Johanne Margrethe and Knut Kippersund Nesdal are pivotal for the success of the album. Their voices perfectly complement one another, with Knut's lush low register providing an ideal counterpoint for Johanne Margrethe's theatrical, Kate Bush-esque singing (Courtney Swain of Bent Knee is another reference here). The songs where the two siblings perform together ("Picking up the Pieces", "Beehive", "Honey", "Lay It Down") are the most inspired moments of the record. I am less taken by the pieces sung entirely by Knut: while his voice is very pleasant and he can provide excellent backing vocals, his singing is just a tad too plain and uniform, while his sister is a powerhouse capable of modulating her vocal timbre and using a wide range of tones with different volumes and phrasings.

This imbalance spoils a little the pacing of the album, which sags a bit in the lengthy middle part where the songs are penned to suit Knut's more sedated vocal approach ("Songs of Us", "Child"). I am also not too fond of "You Were a Drum", a song that harks back at the band's early jazz-influenced days, but is somewhat out of place on this record. Fortunately, the record closes strongly, with fantastic tunes such as "Honey", the theatrical "She Goes" and the explosive finale "Lay It Down".

Despite this slight unevenness in the song material, Playing House is a very accomplished record, tiptoeing with class the line between sophisticated pop and progressive rock, not unlike Leprous have done in their most recent two albums (especially Aphelion). Sonically, there's no metal in sight here, so purists may want to give this LP a pass. However, the melancholic moods and absorbing atmosphere of this record will speak to fans of dark atmospheric bands such as Anathema, Katatonia and the most recent incarnation of Leprous.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

lukretio | 3/5 |


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