This is an amazing debut album from a synth-based progressive rock trio from Portland, Oregon. It will be a leading contender for both Album Of The Year and Newcomer of the Year for anyone who makes the effort to get their hands on a copy.
A bold statement? Well take a listen for yourselves to the whole album from the link above and if you’ve the slightest penchant for ambient, dynamic, heavily-grooved, modern progressive rock dominated by impassioned, haunting vocals which showcases superb song-writing craftsmanship then Essence is both an Addiction and a musical Dream come true.
Unusually for me it was a case of love at first listen. The nine songs have a delightful immediacy but a compositional sophistication that will reward and sustain many years of listening. An amazing first achievement, for a young trio of musicians. In places you can hear influences from Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, Radiohead, Aeon Spoke, latter-day Opeth, the ambient passages of Floyd, and the lighter moments of Green Carnation or Thence. There’s a bit of gospel, a lot of jazz fusion texture, especially in the bass and drumming, and I even wrote down Simon And Garfunkel for some of the vocal passages.
As a whole, the biggest nods would go to Talk Talk for the synths, rhythms and vocals, and Norway’s Gazpacho for the haunting melancholy and simplistic complexity of the arrangements. You could throw in a bit of The Tea Club too. Whilst musically it is at the other end of the progressive spectrum from my favourite album from 2011, Bilateral from Leprous, it has the same underlying principal. Take a clear set of known ingredients and create an end product that is distinctly unlike anything else you’ve ever heard before.
Highlights are really hard to select as they change with each listen. The groove-laden melancholy of Magic provides a great opening. Insatiable sits around layers of haunted vocals but with a clever up-tempo synth passage at the end. It’s those clever deviations from the expected that makes this album such a delight.
Pious Greedy Few shifts through four phases tied together by more soulful harmonies. The wonderful piano opening to The Conservative is just one of Jake Savage’s gifted contributions.
The one song I keep going back to is Dark Skies. Built upon a delightful Moog Prodigy groove, this is probably as up-tempo as Addiction Dream get, but still with melancholy driving the blood through its core. The album closes with Survivor. The most `progressive’ offering, its busy drums and calm vocals offer a perfect contrast.
The production is sparkling, helped by the uncluttered arrangements that a trio generally brings to the studio. There are guitars, but they’re almost exclusively used to add texture, sitting back in the mix. The more powerful sections are accomplished through the drumming of Paul Hardie, whom is highly impressive and inventive in his playing throughout.
If you don’t like vocals which pull you in emotionally, then you’d better steer clear of The Addiction Dream. Jason O’Neill-Butler has a voice of quite remarkable depth and fragility. The harmonies with pianist Jake Savage are simply beautiful.
The band has produced a vinyl and a CD version of the album. The CD comes in a simple cardboard sleeve with lyrics available from the band’s Bandcamp page. So purists may prefer the vinyl or the download for convenience? (The vinyl comes with a digital download code inside, as there was only had enough minutes for eight of the songs, so the band had to leave off Essence).
The only track I don’t like is Promise. Its sampled drum beat, parpy synths and barber-shop-esque styling to the vocals certainly gives it a very different sound. It is just not one that I like. Compared to the sophistication elsewhere this is a bit too Stars On 45 for me. However, in the way that I disliked the cookie monster-dominated Waste Of Air on last year’s Bilateral album from Leprous, I find here that Promise also strengthens this album. For me it’s a flaw, an annoyance but I like the fact that it is there. It shows a band not happy to stay within safe or consistent boxes.
I’m certainly not going to mark the album down for it. In fact I’m not going to mark this album down in any way. In Essence this is simply one of the most impressive debut albums I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10