One of the great things about getting to know some of the other contributors to this site is the discovery of bands that were previously missed. One such band that I had missed out on was Gazpacho, of whom I did not learn of until 2011. At that time, I took mental notes that I would check them out one day. After reading this fantastic review of their 2007 album ‘Night’, I knew it was time. Literally within minutes of finishing my reading of that review, I had purchased the album and was giving it a first of many listens. I was not disappointed, and will definitely vouch for all the good things written about ‘Night’. It is truly is one incredible album.
After such an excellent and absorbing introduction to Gazpacho, I knew I would have to explore some of their other works. I read a few reviews and asked around a little bit, and finally settled on the follow-up to ‘Night’, ‘Tick Tock’ from 2009, as my next foray into the world of Gazpacho. I knew this album would be a big challenge for the band, as is any follow-up to such a masterpiece. And once a again, I can say I was not disappointed. In fact, I can and will say a whole lot more, as ‘Tick Tock’ is an incredibly brilliant work in its own right and most certainly belongs on the shelf right next to ‘Night’, not just for being from the same band, but for being an album of the same level of artistry. In other words, ‘Tick Tock’ is an absolutely fantastic album, and could end up being the tipping point that turns me into a Gazpacho junkie.
A short summary of Gazpacho’s music is in order (at least as I know it from the two albums I have heard thus far). Unlike a lot of progressive rock, and certainly unlike most 70’s prog, you won’t hear a lot of instrumental fireworks in their music. If you are looking for self-indulgent soloing, Gazpacho is not your band. On the other hand, much like one particularly popular 70’s prog band – Pink Floyd – Gazpacho’s music give the listener a lot of room for contemplation (this is not to say they sound like Pink Floyd – they most certainly do not). ‘Spacious’ is one adjective I would use to describe their music. Two other adjectives I would use are ‘subtle’ and ‘meticulous’. Because Gazpacho relies on subtlety instead of flashy instrumentals pushed to the forefront of the mix, their music often requires more work from the listener to fully ‘get’ it. Ah, but what rewarding work it is! Repeated listens with undivided attention reveals the meticulous attention to detail in their arrangements.
One final adjective I would use to describe Gazpacho music is synergistic – the whole is much, much greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Getting back to the subject of this review, ‘Tick Tock’ is a concept album based on the story of the airplane crash of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his navigator during a Paris-to-Saigon air race, and their subsequent walk through the desert. The walk nearly ended in tragedy, but both were saved by Bedouins in the nick of time. The album is divided into four separate compositions (in order), ‘Desert Flight’, ‘The Walk’, ‘Tick Tock’ and ‘Winter is Never’. The middle two compositions are relatively lengthy, with the first being divided into two tracks, the second being divided into three.
Taking into account my basic summary of Gazpacho music above, ‘Desert Flight’ goes and makes a liar out of me. It begins as a straight ahead rocker. Musically and lyrically, it conveys an adventurous spirit:
We can be the first
Tie a ribbon all ‘round the world
We’ll make it a gift to us
From the start with a wind-flapped officer’s scarf
Like a ghost in the wind
Eventually, the mood of the music shifts a bit to give the listener a sense of trouble. Toward the end of the song, the pace picks up again in the same manner the ground would appear to move by faster as the airplane loses altitude. And suddenly, the pace grinds to a halt, with the mood of the violin and piano letting us know that we are now on the ground – but alive nonetheless.
The trek across the Sahara then starts in earnest with ‘The Walk’. Our heroes are lost, but nonetheless confident that they will get out of their predicament relatively unscathed. Musically, the acoustic guitar and drums dominate, with other instruments making brief appearances before stepping back into the shadows (a classic example of the meticulous arranging I discussed above). Midway through Part I, the violin steps to the forefront with a Middle Eastern motif, with the other instruments carrying this motif through the end of Part I. As the music segues into Part II of ‘The Walk’ we can feel the doubts creeping into the minds of our heroes, and maybe a little loss of coherency of their thought processes. We’ve now transitioned from adventure mode to survival mode.
Part I of the title track begins with the percussion indicating the ticking of a clock, and this ticking carries on throughout the entirety of the piece. The lyrics in Part I of ‘Tick Tock’ begin to really bring home the predicament our heroes are in as they trek through the sands of the Sahara:
You beg for time
She’s china white
There’s no cure
Nowhere to hide
A Gregorian-sounding chant appears near the end of Part I, and the mood becomes even darker as Part II begins. The sheer drudgery of walking through the hot desert is conveyed through the music, while the lyrics have one of our heroes (probably the pilot) beginning to question his own life. In Part III, the trek is taking its toll on our pilot and our navigator, as they apparently begin hallucinating as their survival hangs by a thread:
And what do you think they’ll do?
The ground is a pendulum
The continent is gravel
Humming in your shoe
The final track is ‘Winter is Never’, which occurs chronologically after the rescue in the desert. It is a reflective track, appreciative of the present and hopeful for the future in light of the recent past in the desert. It’s a fitting conclusion for a fantastic album.
Like its predecessor ‘Night’, ‘Tick Tock’ is a must-own masterpiece. I won’t go so far as to say this album is better than ‘Night’, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it is every bit as good. The number of bands out there that can put out an album of the artistry of ‘Night’ and ‘Tick Tock’ is small; the number of bands that can do it on two consecutive albums is even smaller. Everything about the music of ‘Tick Tock’ is utterly flawless, as is the delivery of the lyrics by Jan Henrik Ohme. It’s the kind of album you want to listen to eyes shut through headphones as you get lost and absorbed into it.
If you had previously missed out on Gazpacho, as did I, now is the time to go back and explore some of their back catalog. Start with either one of ‘Tick Tock’ or ‘Night’. Drink it in fully, and then move on to the other one. You will quickly find that what they have done as a band is to create a sound like no other. While you may hear an influence here or there, those influences have been amalgamated into something completely unique. Like the best progressive rock bands, they have pushed the boundaries back to create something new. As ‘Tick Tock’ indicates,, along with its predecessor, these guys need to be in any conversation regarding the best progressive rock bands, not only for the present revival, but for the entire history of the genre.
Now, onward to ‘Missa Atropos’!