Introducing The Band
A couple of weeks ago I received a recommendation for a band called EBB who were described as “art/prog rock”. I checked out a couple of tracks, was very impressed and a few days later I went to see them play in a pub/club in Edinburgh which is not a pay-in venue. Folks go there, drink and wait to see what band plays (most of the time).
A lot of the acts are cover bands which explained why lead singer and guitarist Erin Bennett started by informing those in the building (some who were on a night out after a big rugby game in town) that the band does not do covers, they don’t play pop or rock and that things might get “very strange” as the night continued. To be honest I was blown away by their performance. I was pleased to have a chance to speak with most of the band.
Due to my telling them I wished to review their new album they kindly offered to send a copy. That kindness came through! Now before I talk about this fine piece of work, Mad & Killing Time, I will give a little detail about the band themselves. The band comprise of the previously mentioned Erin who plays electric and acoustic guitars as well as trumpet along with Anna Fraser (drums, tabla, percussion), Suna Dasi (sequential and Moog analog synths, backing vocals), Nikki Francis (Hammond, various synths, grand piano, mellotron, flute, alto sax, clarinet), Kitty Biscuits (bingy-bongy(!) percussion, bones and frogs, spoken word, backing vocals), and finally the one gent amongst the ladies Bad Dog (electric and fretless bass).
As you can tell from that list their music is eclectic and interesting as well as very entertaining. The album gives some story to the band (whether it is all true or not is up for guessing) and the story of the album. Oh yes, it is a concept. Don’t panic non prog heads, they have songs and melodies and none of the songs are over 7 minutes and the album is around 47 minutes long with 9 original songs, one of which is an instrumental. The music ranges from progressive rock (there are definitely some neo-prog influences here) through space or acid rock and even folky pop!
The concept or story revolves around an old soldier who ends up sharing his house with a young female sex worker. There is nothing sexual in this, rather the relationship is kind of one where they help each other, one with accommodation and the other by helping him out as he is struggling to get by. The story is about friendship and redemption. Now I haven’t quite managed to follow the full arc of the story as of yet (early days) but I found plenty of moments that resonated, with both the music and words captivating me for the duration.
It opens with a prelude called “Vorspiel/Grieg’s Diner“. For those who don’t know “Vorspiel” is simply an introductory piece of music, as for the latter I have listened to see if I can hear a connection with “Hall Of The Mountain King” by the composer Grieg but outside of the old guy singing a tune to himself (which could be it) I haven’t so far. This instrumental piece is quite discordant like they are warming up the orchestra with flute and (I think) trumpet up front.
This style made me think of some of King Crimson‘smore out there material. It sounds at points quite threatening, the bass at one point really has a doomy vibe to it. The way they weave from the warming up into the main melody, which in itself is part lovely, part ominous is clever, you hardly spot it happening. This is a strange, interesting and rather engaging track.
Stunning And Classy
“The Animal Said I” is wonderful. I really love everything about this song, from the piano opening with the guy chattering away in the background, to the build-up as instruments slowly come in along with a wonderful vocal. The rhythm section shows such subtlety only pushing at the right moments moving the song forward when urgency is needed. The mid-eight causes a nice change of pace and the guitar tone on the solo made me think of the work of 1980s neo-proggers Twelfth Night (who I am a massive fan of). In fact there are 2 or 3 moments where I was reminded of them (no idea if one of the band is a massive fan or if it is just co-incidence).
The song’s chorus comes back in heavier before the end, and it is so powerful, emotional and beautiful. Stunning and classy with a marvelously simple but effective chorus.
They follow this up with “Tension” which opens up with some fine bass work followed by the Hammond organ before the drums and synths join in. There is a spoken word section about a “Seahorse and a Hummingbird” which are I think metaphors for the 2 characters in the story. It is the sort of thing Hawkwind would have done if they sang about humans and nature rather than space!
Again there is at points a strange mixture of danger and jauntiness going on musically, perhaps in some way representations of the characters. It takes 3 minutes for any vocals (well singing) to come in. I do love the lyric line “I can’t wake you up enough to take away your pain” which is wonderfully evocative. I imagine the young lady is saying this to the old man as he slumbers, or at least that’s how I see it.
A Little Floyd In There
“Hectate” I guess is so-called due to the goddess of the name who oversaw not only magic and spells but both illumination and doors. Perhaps the young female is listening to the old man, and whilst “inside of your pain” he says things that shine a light on life going forward as he “illuminates“. At least that is my interpretation. This is so atmospheric and has both feelings of despair and urgency (perhaps he is nearing his end?).
There are some very Floydian moments, especially around the 4-and-a-half-minute mark. The use of vocals nearer the end, moans, screams and wails (all very melodic though) become louder, and you feel the pain without the use of words.
“What Under What” has a lovely opening, flute, some keys and acoustic guitar before a soft and tender vocal comes in. It is almost pop or folk, but being in the context of the album, still very much prog, especially with some of the bass work under it all being something you are unlikely to hear on the top 40. About halfway through it heavies up with the drums reminding me of the track “Assassing” by Marillion. Lovely stuff. When the vocals come in over this section they are more powerful of course, but the song does drop down again and once again there is a Pink Floyd vibe going on, although with some flute in there as well. The flute and vocals bring the song to a delicate end.
Bloody Hell, The Drama
The very strangely titled “Violet Is Tits” is an instrumental break in the story. When I saw them live they did say it was about a friend called Violet who has largish breasts. Still feel weird typing the title though! It builds up slowly and has a bit of a Celtic feel just before it hits the heavier section. There is a playfulness about the piece and it uses synths very effectively. The way it floats through different passages, each allowing a different instrument to come to the fore is impressive. There are moments of space rock and neo-prog to enjoy.
“Krystal At The Red Light” follows on, opening with synths/effects and acoustic guitar before the bass and drums come in followed by a guitar line over the top. It drops down to allow the organ to come through and a vocal that made me think of a clean Janis Joplin. Moments of whispered vocals add to the drama. This is another song that features plenty of harmony vocals. The main theme is quite fast compared to other tracks. It goes all jazz when the saxophone comes in. In this you hear the girl say “Shut Up” at one point and the guy saying “Bloody hell” amongst other chat. I am not sure if we are meant to make out all the spoken words or not, maybe I need longer to focus on that.
I made out on “Confess” that the old man is talking about being in the army, reminiscing away. With the use of keys and the man speaking there is once again a Floyd vibe. The melody that follows is familiar, for the life of me I can’t work it out, and that line repeats at various points in the song. (I will say that of course there are moments of familiarity, there are only so many notes, but what they do is very much of their own, they have a definite sound going on).
Strangely the lyrics “all that shall come, and all that is gone, it bleeds into one, creates a new song” seem appropriate not only in the story but in what the band achieves in their own music. The second verse has a lyrical message that made me think of the last track on the last ever Rush album called “The Garden” with Ebb‘s lyrics saying “The fullness of time on your face unwinds, amongst all these lines, your life’s confession“. Compelling and thoughtful stuff. Another stand-out track for me.
Album closer “Mary Jane” is acoustic guitar-based with synths playing in the background and a plethora of backing vocals and harmonies (no need for backing taps here with so many singers), whether they be lyrical or just “oooohs”, making the song have a richness of sound. Possibly a simpler song but it has plenty of heart and an enticing refrain.”Scared, toiling in the dark, I don’t care, This fear ain’t who you are, if one moment speaking steals your pain away… hold on” they sing before concluding “you‘re more beautiful than summer night”. No matter how different the 2 people are, they see betterment in their friendship, supporting and learning from each other, each has something to give rather than take. Very astute writing.
Final Thoughts, A Great Mix Too
“Mad & Killing Time” is an album to savour. Listening through headphones is simply the best way to get the most out of it in my own opinion. It is progressive and arty, but it never becomes too clever for its own good or to put it a cruder way disappears up its own arse! There is so much melody, which was proved when I saw them live in front of a crowd that many of whom wouldn’t be natural prog fans. They stayed and enjoyed the sets. Hell, there were even folks dancing to some parts.
Prog fans should love this, but it is also in large parts easy on the ear for those who are not. The playing is of course terrific, the vocals and harmonies enchanting and powerful. The way the whole thing is mixed and produced helps (shout out to both Bad Dog and Ed Woods for those). They allow all the instruments to be heard, nothing is overpowering and they are not scared to lower the volumes to make the listener pay attention that little bit more at times.
If you haven’t guessed already I think this is a fabulous album and if you think I have gone on a bit then all I can say is be thankful I didn’t use all my notes as there is so much more to be enjoyed than what I have already said. Terrific album and from that one time so far a terrific live band. Do yourself a favour and check these talented folks out!
Album Out NOW: Purchase Via Bandcamp
Check out my other reviews here. Tom.