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ESP - 22 Layers Of Sunlight CD (album) cover

22 LAYERS OF SUNLIGHT

ESP

 

Crossover Prog

3.84 | 48 ratings

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Agnenrecords
4 stars I am a big fan of the original Tony Lowe ? Mark Brzezicki ESP collaboration and after the launch of the debut album Invisible Din (2016) I pronounced that I wanted to hear more from them. A year and a half later 22 Layers of Sunlight is the product of a more settled outfit, with Lowe and Brzezicki being joined by Peter Coyle (ex-Lotus Eaters) on vocals plus bassist Pete Clark and keyboard player Richard Smith; ESP Invisible Din was more of a collective which though showcasing the talents of a variety of guest musicians including David Cross and David Jackson (whose collaboration CD Another Day coincidentally arrived on my doormat the same day as 22 Layers) and vocalist John Beagley, would have been a nightmare to organise as a touring entity.

Coyle brought the concept with him, an original, cautionary tale of global tech-monopolies and AI that has increasing relevance in modern society. It was good to hear the instrumental layers are all still there, with the opening track God of Denial and its subsection The Code shifting seamlessly from angular post-rock guitar riffs to a couple of bars of lead synthesizer that wouldn't be out of place on a proggy Steven Wilson album and then to orchestrated soundscape, all neatly tied together by Coyle's clever lyrics.

Algorithm contains some post-Hackett Genesis drum sounds and a dual vocal passage that strongly reminds me of Sigur Rós, then the title track has a cinematic orchestrated movement that gives way to a quality prog workout before reprising the chorus and main melody, though overlain with some gorgeous guitar soloing.

Ride through Reality allows the players to let rip, it's an instrumental with a little vocalising, partly jazzy but also reminiscent of Lamb Lies Down-era Genesis instrumental blows, brief but not short on quality. Smiling Forever is another post-rock composition, laden with Mellotron string patches before it also goes full-Floyd with beautiful, tasteful slowburn guitar and after a vocal reprise blends into the laid-back Don't Let Go section of the longest track on the CD Butterfly Suite with flute Mellotron patches. Traveling Light is the excellent instrumental part of this track, harking back to the sounds and complex rhythms of Genesis circa 1973 with some great synthesizer and organ work and more tasteful guitar, which eventually resolves into a very Hackett-like, disturbing riff before Sensual Earth continues with similar sounding themes, alternating analogue synthesizer lines and expressive guitar.

Gunshot Lips is a more modern-sounding track, its urgency dissolving into trance grooves before the driving beat resurfaces, though it retains the multiple layers of the more cinematic and prog pieces. When he introducing the song at a gig at the Half Moon in London, Coyle confessed he didn't know why it was called 'Gunshot Lips'. Final track Ballad of Broken Hearts is an orchestrated, melodic piece with a deceptively pop-y structure overlain with harmonic splashes of guitar and lead synth. It's quite optimistic sounding until about three quarters of the way through when it slows and becomes more proggy and reflective as Coyle sings 'is this all I can hope for?'

You can tell it's an ESP album ? there are certain similarities in quality of voice between Coyle and his Invisible Din predecessor Beagley ? with the same degree of originality and a greater feeling of consistency on 22 Layers, though there are probably more excursions away from the undeniably symphonic prog feel of Invisible Din. It's certainly a worthy sophomore effort, expertly crafted with excellent writing and musicianship, impeccable production and once again, a beautiful presentation.

I think of ESP Invisible Din as a Lowe/Brzezicki band but after seeing ESP 2.0 live, where Coyle may have played the part of front man, the group appeared to be more democratically organised than its predecessor. Invisible Din would get an easy 4 stars from me because it's something I played quite a lot shortly after its release. 22 Layers of Sunlight still gets 4 stars although I think it's less proggy than Invisible Din

Agnenrecords | 4/5 |

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