Sanguine Hum – “The Weight of the World”
by John Deasey
Back in 2002, a relatively unknown band called Lorien released an album called ‘Under the Waves’. Although a fairly low-key affair with a relatively bland Coldplay/Doves/Athlete type of vibe, there were some seriously beautiful tracks with a definite prog tilt. The album also included some of the best vocals I’ve heard from their Italian singer Fabio Ciarcelluti.
A natural countertenor, Ciarcelluti added a fantastic and unusual tone to produce some really moving and memorable songs, which still rank highly in my collection.
This same tone is brought to mind immediately on the opening track of Sanguine Hums second album, ‘Weight of the World’. The Oxford quartet are led by Joff Winks who’s elegant and understated vocals blend perfectly with the bands clever, languorous and intelligent music.
This is my first exposure to Sanguine Hum, their first album ‘The Diving Bell’ having slipped under my radar, but even on first listen it is clear these guys have been playing together for a long time. It turns out Winks, keyboardist Matt Baber and bass player Brad Waissman have been together for ten years in various guises and it shows.
They create a lovely, fluid and subtle sound that is very complex but made all the more accessible by some lovely hooks and melodies that grab your attention, fleetingly, and draw you in to investigate further. This is not music to play in the background – it is complex, tricky but ultimately very rewarding with layer upon layer to unpeel and delve into.
So, to the music.
Five seconds into opening track ‘From the Ground Up’ and the silky, gossamer layers that are to frequent this album become apparent. A gorgeous vocal over what can only be described as a spider’s web of keyboard and guitar create an immediately gentle and captivating atmosphere.
There is a lot going on here, with clever bass lines weaving in and out whilst shifting rhythms subtlety propel the track forward. It is a great opening track and sets the scene wonderfully.
‘System for Solution’ follows with a super sinuous guitar lead snaking around the languorous vocals of Winks. Languorous. A word that could neatly surmise the whole thing really. Nothing really jars, no guitars scream out of the mix, no distortions are out of place. This is a good track which shifts around, never settling, but which has about as urgent a pace as there is on the album. It also has one of the few guitar solos and it’s an absolute belter with not a note wasted or over-played. Again, subtle and languorous.
Next up we have a wonderful instrumental track – ‘In Code’ – which really showcases the musical talent on display. Something about this track reminds me of Steven Wilson’s later stuff, with it’s jazz tendencies, key changes and complex arrangement.
‘Cognescenti’ and ‘ Day of Release’ continue the general theme with the added interest of electronic elements being nudged into the mix. These are introduced skilfully here and there to add lovely sonic textures that in many cases, have you hitting the rewind button to check again.
The penultimate track, ‘Phosphor’ is beautiful and gentle and reminds me of classic Blue Nile. A neat, precise and condensed piece of beauty.
The finale, so to speak, is the title track which at 14.52 minutes long could be considered the albums swansong, a Magnum Opus, an over the top exultation of all that has gone before it. It couldn’t be further from the truth. This is yet another musically excellent, structurally fascinating and interesting track that weaves and snakes it’s way around a chorus that works it’s way into your head after a few plays.
This album surprised me. After a couple of plays in the car on the way to work, I wasn’t too thrilled about it. Nothing jumped out, nothing shouted out, no hooks leapt into my head and stayed there, but I heard enough to make me want to investigate further. Sure enough, listening to it carefully, in a quieter environment allowed a peeling back of the layers to reveal a wonderful piece of music put together by talented young English guys.
I haven’t really got under the skin of the lyrics as they are well in the mix and not clear enough to discern with any real meaning, but the tone and delivery suggests a weary, but not maudlin, take on how the world is going but not in any hectoring way, more in the way of idly contemplating and reflecting.
This is Progressive music at it’s progressive best in my opinion. There are traces of influences scattered throughout. I can hear Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, Mew and the aforementioned Lorien but it really is wrapped up in it’s own skin and provides a refreshing take on ‘Prog’ as we know it.