Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath (Bad Elephant Music, 2016)
Tracks: Gunning for the Gods (9:30), In Floods the Light (4:20), Dice (4:42), The City Revealed (6:53), Two Eyes (4:20), Wounds (4:45), Another Disguise (5:23), The City of My Dreams (7:04)
I’ve been following Mike Kershaw’s work for a few albums now, and I’m truly impressed with how he has grown as an artist over the past few years. His earlier music, while displaying excellent insightful lyrical content, wasn’t the easiest music to get into. It required a lot of effort on the part of the listener, although that effort was rewarded. What Lies Beneath, however, finds Kershaw at his best to date. Fans of Fractal Mirror will find this music remarkably familiar, yet more upbeat than FM’s music. Featuring a diverse, yet progressive sound, Kershaw’s music sounds fresh and unique.
The similarities between Kershaw and Fractal Mirror exist because FM contributed to this album, much as they did on Kershaw’s previous EP, Departure. In addition to providing lead vocals, backing vocals, and playing keyboards, Kershaw collaborated with quite a number of people on this album:
- Gareth Cole – electric and acoustic guitars, piano
- Leopold Blue-Sky – bass, pedal steel, keys, drums
- Leo Koperdraat – guitar, keys, backing vocals
- Tom Slatter – vocals (track 6), acoustic guitar
- Frank Urbaniak – drums
- Rohan Jordan-Shah – drums
- Joshua Leibowitz – drums
- Marco Vàsquez – keys
- Allyson Blue-Sky – backing vocals
- Stuart Stephens – backing vocals
- Clare Stephens – backing vocals
These collaborations have brought a breath of fresh air and diversity to Kershaw’s wonderful lyrics. This spark of energy shines clear in every aspect of the music, including Kershaw’s vocals. While I believe he still underestimates his vocal abilities, this album showcases his best vocal work to date. One of the best examples of this is on the upbeat track, “Two Eyes,” one of my favorites from the album. The lyrics to this song find the narrator searching through old family photos trying to figure out where he came from in order to find his purpose in life. The drums, courtesy of Urbaniak, set a wonderful rhythm for the song.
“Wounds” features lead vocals from Tom Slatter, whose voice reminds me of Andy John Bradford. Kershaw’s backing vocals work perfectly here, and the change up adds a nice variety to the music. Kershaw’s keyboard solo in the middle of the song is a great high point, as well, bringing back some of the sounds of his earlier albums.
While often keyboard oriented, What Lies Beneath does have its more rock-oriented elements. Throughout the album, the bass guitar keeps a steady, yet complex, flow. Excellent guitar work appears throughout, with some of the best coming at the end of the album with “Another Disguise” and “The City of My Dreams.” The instrumentation is solid throughout, although these songs are definitely lyric oriented.
“The City of My Dreams” builds wonderfully through both the music and the lyrics, and they meld together perfectly, with Kershaw’s vocals taking the spotlight towards the middle. Kershaw ends the album by contemplating on the passage of time through a city, yet it is so much more than that. The beauty of Kershaw’s lyrics is their depth – the more you listen, the more you get out of the music. Indeed, Kershaw is one of the most thought provoking lyricists of the last few years, and he is someone deserving of attention.
This album marks a wonderful step forward for Kershaw, and any fans of Fractal Mirror (whose recent album was also magnificent) should particularly take notice. Fans of prog in general should also take note, for Kershaw’s lyrics continue to impress. Now, with excellent musical collaborations, these lyrics can be appreciated by a more diverse crowd.
Don’t miss James Turner’s interview with Mike Kershaw: https://progarchy.com/2016/08/28/what-lies-beneath-bad-elephant-special-part-2-an-interview-with-mike-kershaw/