Further Celebration: Kevin McCormick’s 1993 Masterpiece

And, progarchy continues its examination of a missed masterpiece, Kevin McCormick’s With the Coming of Evening.  This review comes from our own progarchist master of all things mathematical and stained, Tad Wert.

kevin solo guitar

Tad Wert: Kevin McCormick’s 1993 album, With the Coming of Evening, is a wonderful work that I missed when it was released. Fortunately, in this digital age nothing is lost, and hopefully this album will reach the wider audience it deserves.

The first track, Uncovered, sets the mood for the entire work, with acoustic guitar and McCormick’s tremulous vocals. At first listen, I was struck by the obvious late-period Talk Talk influence (Spirit of Eden), but there’s a lot more going on here than mere imitation. For example, there’s a lively middle section in Uncovered where a shuffling drum beat, jazzy organ and bass join in as McCormick sings the impressionistic verses,  “As the grain is wound and wound, it rings a new scar each year/Branches brace a part of me/And suns and rains, and suns and rains survive, the past completed./Few can graft the limb to soul and wind it all down to the core to cure the last, to cure the last./Waiting to be bound, waiting to be bound, ….” (I’m not sure about the exact words, since I don’t have a lyric sheet, but that’s what I’m hearing). So right off the bat, there is a very nice use of a tree’s growth rings to symbolize life’s tribulations.

Next up is an instrumental tune, Annual Ring (there’s that metaphor again!), that seamlessly links Uncovered to the third track, Summoned. While less than two minutes long, this is one of my favorite songs of the album. An insistent Eno-esque atmosphere swells up while an undercurrent of vibes and Eastern-styled percussion weave in and out. Before you know it, you’re well into Summoned, which is another Spirit of Eden-style song. However, this time around McCormick adds some nicely angular electric guitar that adds tension to the primarily acoustic mix.

Sho Song is another instrumental featuring a nice Japanese feel with flutes and arco bass. Imagine a peaceful Zen garden in the late afternoon, and this would be your soundtrack.

Ransomed is a more straight-ahead rock composition featuring electric guitar mixed up front with simple bass and drums accompaniment. It steadily builds in intensity, as McCormick delivers the evocative words, “Can’t see, but I feel, and I feel./That’s what he said up on a tree, when he ransomed me.” It’s a terrific song, and its abrupt ending lends it impressive power.

Rokudan is another linking instrumental with treated piano and an ominous underpinning of deep bass that slowly resolves into a beautiful motif that is repeated and slowly improvised upon. Think Harold Budd/Brian Eno here.

Without Breathing features an opening riff that is Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It” turned inside out. There’s a feeling of barely controlled chaos in this song, as the riff asserts itself over an energetic guitar solo.

Under the Meniscus is another nice instrumental that leads into the straight-ahead blues of Looks Like Rain.

Glimpses begins with some classically-styled acoustic guitar, which is soon joined by double bass and cello. Some tasteful electric guitar joins in as McCormick sings, “You’ve held back so long /Now is the time /In silence the pledge was taken /Relentless static is fulfilled /From the forest that I entered /To the desert where I ended /My feet have calloused /My heels are tuned in, turned on /And I hear you in great frequency.” To my ears, this is the centerpiece of the entire work, as musically it alternates between foreboding and dread to joyful anticipation.

KMPhoto1The Setting Sun is a nice little jam that recalls Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

The album closes with the beautiful and measured Elegy for the Empty Orchestra. Featuring a gorgeous melody played on acoustic instruments, this is the perfect closer.

With the Coming of Evening proudly wears its influences on its sleeve: a liberal amount of Talk Talk, a dash of Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison, sprinkle in some tasteful Brian Eno atmospherics and Japanese modes, and you have sense of who and what McCormick admires. Add to the mix his excellent classically-tinged acoustic guitar work, his evocative lyrics, and impeccable pacing, and you end up with a very mature and moving work. This is music to employ when you desire space for contemplation. This is music that unfolds to repeated and close listening. Like the best literature, this is music that rewards the listener with new and deeper insights whenever it is revisited.

With the Coming of Evening by Kevin McCormick: A Celebration

Twenty years ago, exactly, the best album you’ve never heard appeared, Kevin McCormick’s With the Coming of Evening.  Over the next several days, we’ll be celebrating the release of what should be regarded as a post-rock/post-prog classic.  “Impressionist prog” might be a good label, if we didn’t despise labels so much.

Our first reviewer, Progarchist Extraordinaire, John Deasey.–ed.

with the coming

John Deasey: I’d heard the name, Kevin McCormick before, mentioned on various websites, as being akin to Talk Talk circa “Spirit of Eden” so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find subtle percussion, carefully phrased vocals, hushed, calm mixtures of woodwind, jazz, folk and prog.

What was a surprise is to find this album wasn’t a great success when it was released in 1993 and somehow flew under the radar.

Ahead of its time ? Well, if “Spirit of Eden” is anything to go by I’d say yes, this is the case.  Maybe the music world wasn’t quite ready for such an esoteric mix of styles, textures and atmosphere.

The Talk Talk influence is well to the fore, but rather than sounding like a Mark Hollis clone, McCormick sounds more like Nine Horse-era David Sylvain. Sonorous, tender, melodic and understated.

This really is an album to play in its entirety, save for a couple of tracks which could quietly be nudged onto someone else’s playlist perhaps. For example ‘Looks Like Rain’ really doesn’t belong here, with its bluesy, roots feel and good safely be culled on any personal re-mastering !

There are two Japanese inspired instrumentals.  The first – ‘Sho Song’ – is utterly fantastic for a minute or so, but then becomes tiring and a bit jarring.  The second – ‘Rokudan’ – is a wonderful piece worthy of any Craig Armstrong album with a definite cinematic atmosphere. This track also brings to mind the beautiful Sigur Ros EP ‘Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do’ with droplets of sound, texture and light forming a sonically wonderful vibe.

McCormick is a classically trained guitarist and it shows.  Tracks such as ‘Uncovered’ and ‘Summoned’ have a lovely understated style where his skill as a guitarist shine through.

What I like about this album is the generally un-structured feel to many of the songs.  They meander. They explore. They are given space to develop and nothing feels rushed.

kevin 1There is a very organic feel, as though the tracks are streams running over a rocky river bed, or paths gently traversing a grassy moorland.

I’ve mentioned in other reviews about my fondness for Scandinavian bands and their ease at creating space and breadth in their music.  This same feel is here and the end result is a spiritual, thoughtful, impressive album that grows with each listen.

It’s is also worth mentioning it sounds as though it could have been released yesterday, such is its relevance.