Veteran Scottish proggers Abel Ganz, Alan Reed’s alma mater, released an album this month – their first since 2008’s Shooting Albatross.
The eponymous Abel Ganz is a whopping 72 minutes of new music and marks a deliberate attempt to move in a new direction, absorbing new influences. But the key thing you need to know is that it’s utterly splendid. Just a single listen was enough to put it squarely on my ‘Albums Of The Year’ shortlist and have me staying up late to share my excitement with you here in the hallowed pages of Progarchy.
I can’t offer much beyond some basic impressions after spending such a short time with this music, but here they are, for what they’re worth:
Delusions of Grandeur is a short instrumental opener that starts with delicate piano and oboe, then a crescendo of strings – just an orchestral appetiser for what is to follow.
Obsolescence is up next – an epic in five parts, totalling nearly 22 min. Part 1 is fleetingly reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s Narnia in a couple of places, but the acoustic guitar and harmonies are mostly of the Crosby, Stills & Nash sort, setting up the lovely summery vibe that pervades the album. Part 2 layers drums, synth and recorders on top of that acoustic loveliness, yielding some up-beat pop that is sure to have you tapping your feet and singing along. Bass guitar comes to the fore in Part 3, before some classic prog synth soloing. Part 4 returns us to largely acoustic territory initially, augmenting guitar with flute, before building to a crescendo of church organ sounds. Part 5 closes the suite with some electric guitar that starts somewhat wistfully and then develops into a more epic solo.
Spring is another short instrumental track, this time played entirely on acoustic guitar, serving as a bridge to subsequent more substantial pieces.
Recuerdos takes a leaf out of Big Big Train’s book and brings a brass band into play. Brass and acoustic guitar interweave over the soft chirrup of cicadas in this delicate and rather beautiful song, one of the highlights of the album.
As Heartland begins, the sound of insects morphs into the noises of a children’s playground and then the song develops a distinctly eastern flavour, both rhythmically and melodically, the latter due largely to some heavily treated female vocals that sound like they are being played backwards.
The album’s third instrumental track, End Of Rain, has a repeating acoustic guitar motif at its core but surrounds this with more conventionally proggy sounds, Mellotron included. The outro is unusual, played solely on bass and drums.
By way of contrast, Thank You has a warm and very traditional feel, even to the point of having lyrics that are partly in gaelic. It’s part folk and part country (complete with slide guitar), but the mash-up is surprisingly effective.
The oddly-titled A Portion of Noodles is the last and best of the album’s four instrumentals. It’s a purely acoustic track, like Spring, but is melodically more interesting.
Clocking in at over 14 minutes, penultimate track Unconditional is the longest single piece on the album (the five parts of Obsolescence being identified as separate tracks). It’s a good solid prog epic that flirts with jazz for a brief period, 4 minutes in.
Brass is at the forefront in closing track The Drowning, adding a tinge of melancholy to this understated piece.
In summary: this is gorgeous, summery, acoustic prog – and you really need it in your life. Head over to Bandcamp now to listen and buy.