Patchwork Cacophony is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Ben Bell, (keyboard player with Fusion Orchestra 2, and now keyboard player with Gandalfs Fist) in fact it was Stefan Hepe (Fist drummer) who passed my details onto Ben who dropped a nice little note asking if I’d be kind enough to listen to this, his second ‘solo’ excursion under the Patchwork Cacophony name.
I duly downloaded the album, and was blown away by what I heard.
Bit of background first, Ben, as a multi-instrumental plays pretty much everything on here, apart from a couple of guest guitarists (more about them later) and in a small genre like ours, it’s easier for albums like this to slip out unnoticed and slowly build up their reputation by word of mouth, particularly if bigger bands have new releases out there.
I am always astounded by those self funding guys, who whilst doing a day job can also hold down the dedication to produce works of musical art like this, and then have the tasks of self promotion without a record label budget, and using all the tools at their disposal, which is where having a strong social media presence comes in, it was via Facebook where Ben contacted me, and where he sent me this album before Christmas.
As the keyboard is Bens main weapon of choice, this album is drenched in sublime keyboard sounds, from mellotron to Hammond and synth sounds, which add such warmth, and lush textures to the tracks that you think you’ve discovered a lost Wakeman in your attic.
Starting with the Four part suite Fairytale pts 1-4, clocking in at over 16 minutes, you are in for an absolute treat as Ben starts how he means to continue, with some amazing keyboard work, and one of the things that sets Patchwork Cacophony apart is that the drums, guitars, basses are all played rather than synthesised so you get the full band feel throughout the record.
With instrumental openings Are you sitting comfortably? Fairytale is a narrative song with a definite start and finale, and when we hit Once Upon a Time, Bens warm and emotive vocals kick in, whilst The Wonder of it all is a masterclass in keyboard wizardry that should put Ben right up there in the keyboard gods section, whilst the closer Life is Not a fairytale rounds the suite off with a more reflective and melancholy air, a fantastic opening to a record.
Choices is fine slice of contemporary prog rock, with a cheeky Hammond running through the record like Scarborough through a stick of rock and the musical interplay between the drums, the keys and the vocals show a master at work, whilst the instrumental Counting Chickens allows the keyboard work to shine as Ben stamps his personality all over the record.
The Floydian Maybe see’s the keyboards taking more of a back seat as Marcus Taylor guests on guitar, and with Bens vocals inject some real passion and rage into the lyrics, as the Hammond and guitar interplay add a funky driving edge to the music, and Marcus brief has obviously been go for it, as the guitar solos cut through the track and really rock it up.
My favourite piece on the album, and one that I keep returning to is the wonderful 9 minutes of Every Day, that starts with a hypnotic repeating keyboard motif that returns again and again before the Hammond kicks in, I have been listening to this album on the bus to work, and I think Every day is made for the headphones, you can lose yourself in this piece of music, as Ben takes the pace down, and it has that jazzy vibe to it that is enhanced by the piano motif and some fantastic lyrics about slowing down, looking round and appreciating the world, the irony of which, listening to it as I did on my regular commute, was not lost on me, time taken to look out of the bus window instead of down at my phone, or up at the sky instead of grey rain sodden streets. With a minimalist, almost Oldfield/Glass esque interlude leading back into the main theme and more of that lush Hammond and proper old school squelchy synths, that put a smile on your face before returning to that haunting hypnotic motif.
Ben is a master keyboard player and is in tune with the classic prog sound, whilst having the skill and style to bring it firmly up to date, this is no homage; this is a celebration of the best the genre can offer.
Upping the tempo after the pause is Chasing Rainbows, with some harder sounds, more frenetic keyboards and a great vocal from Ben, I’ve mentioned his keyboard playing a lot but his vocals do deserve a mention as well, as he proves a most versatile vocalist being able to switch from contemplative, to melancholy to angry and to forceful throughout the album, switching vocal moods to ably match the mood he’s conveying in the sons.
Instrumental From a Spark suddenly pares everything back to the egg, a delicate and hauntingly beautiful piece of classical piano playing, it soars and then the Hammond subtly and tastefully joins in to create a neo classical piece of music, that brings Jon Lords solo classical excursions to mind, and is almost like a musical equivalent of an amuse bouch, cleansing the palate ready for the final musical course.
This comes in the rousing finale of the 12 minuter Brand New Day, which takes every trick Ben has, and then some, pulling out all the stops, with some rousing powerful keyboard and some exquisite guitar work from guest Tim Hall, this is an intense and intricately performed track, with some intelligent lyrics, some great vocal work, and a perfectly executed musical performance, that bristles with verve and brio, and showcases all of Bens many musical talents in one expertly performed progressive track. It switches moods and tempos, and kicks in with a positive upbeat message to look to tomorrow and stop worrying about yesterday, there’s more of that wonderful piano work, that has a great jazzy laid back sound to it, whilst he switches between piano and Hammond like we’d change TV channels.
This is his second solo excursion (which means when it’s payday I will be drifting over to his website to find his first album) and is an absolutely sublime piece of pure progressive rock, it’d be easy (and lazy) to write a list of bands here that I would compare it to, instead I won’t.
I will say it showcases a talented and exciting new name to the scene (for me anyway) and I suggest that you head over to www.patchworkcacophony.com forthwith (tell Ben, James sent you!) to purchase this album and find out for yourself that Patchwork Cacophony sounds like no one other than Patchwork Cacophony.