Hats Off, to one of the best Progressive releases of the previous year…
Broken But Still Standing is another release that has been long overdue for being presented in this blog. Although we have the promo of the album since December in our hands, the quality of it averted us from making a fast presentation and we decided to rather devote the time needed for a proper listening, appreciation and presentation.
Based in London UK, Hats off Gentlemen are consisting of Malcolm Galloway (who is the mastermind behind the band), Kathryn Thomas (flute), Mark Gatland (bass), Rudy Burrell (drums), Ibon Bilboa (guitar) and Broken But Still Standing is their third release. Malcolm and Mark have been playing together since they were at school, while Malcolm and Kathryn are married. Furthermore, the album includes spoken word and backing vocals from their children, James and Ethan Galloway with James having also co-written two of the album tracks. It is apparent that Hats of Gentlemen function more like a “family and friends” collaboration project rather than a group who works only on professional basis. And you know, it is probably this “family and friends” character of this collaboration that helps them achieving the consistency, homogeneity and quality of their material. Some proofs : Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate’s previous album ‘When The Kill Code Fails’ was recommended by Steve Hackett (Genesis) and was Beastie’s Rock Show’s Prog Album Of The Year. They were shortlisted for Radio Wigwam's Single Of The Year award, and were finalists in Banks Radio Australia's awards in the best album and best producer categories. Not bad, don’t you think?
Coming back to the album, Broken But Still Standing , has a science/science-fiction theme concept. It follows the story of human evolution, from LUCA, the last universal common ancestor of all current life on earth, via Lucy, one of the possible precursors of our species, until the conflict and eventual symbiosis with artificial intelligences. The general theme of the album is that life has progressed by forming coalitions, whether between the primitive cells that engulfed each other to become the cell and the mitochondria (the power stations of the cell), between individuals to form communities, or between different forms of life in the future.
The first song of the album (Vent) is an instrumental ambient track which with its atmospheric sound, functions as an introduction to the story. As soon as song number two (Almost Familiar) kicks-in, several things can be immediately noticed. The first one is the production of the bass and drums which provides to them a deep and clear sound. If there is something that I hate in modern albums, is the over-digitised and over-compressed mix and Hats Off Gentlemen had avoided falling in this trap. First impressions won ! The second thing that the listener can notice is the overall Pink Floyd influence which will continue to be distinct during the rest of the album. Last worth noticing thing are the vocals which remind of David Bowie.
The next 2 songs are instrumental, with Luca to Lucy being more ambient/electronic while Lucy is more melodic and introspective with the flute reminding classic prog bands like Camel. Next tune (Last Man on the Moon) can be appraised for its beautiful chorus and magnificent guitar solo. The instrumentals (which serve obviously as connection points between the songs facilitating a smooth narration of the album’s concept) continue with Advancing on Snailback where guitar and bass take the lead, creating a composition that again shows how significant influence Pink Floyd had been for Hats Off Gentlemen. Song number seven (Anywhere), brings a change in the album. From the introspective mood we suddenly move-on to a more upbeat, funky song which introduces us to the “unofficial” second part of the album which generally has a more uptempo character. In this second part we find songs that are funky (like One Day When and Lucid Assassin), songswhich can be classified underpop/electronica (like I Fell In Love With A Mechanical Dragon), songs which are heavier (like Let Me Out - the heaviest song of the album with a fantastic flute solo - and Broken But Still Standing Till I Fall) or songs which can be even called trip hop (like Under the Skin).
An atmospheric, melodic tune (All Alone Together) provides a temporary break before we return to another uptempo song (Host) where the virtuoso bass performance gives an excellent recital. If there is something that it is apparent and I have forgotten to mention so far, is how skilful players all the musicians that play in this album are. After another instrumental Transient Starts we are introduced to the last song of the album (Close my Eyes) which is the most progressive of all. In its 6 and half minutes and with all its rhythm changes, it provides the perfect epilogue to this wonderful musical narration.
Broken But Still Standing is definitely an ambitious project. The variety in the song styles gave me personally the impression that it could be potentially split in two separate albums however in the end it manages to keep its consistency and use its diversity in favour of the story instead of sounding odd and out of place. My final assessment is that we have a complete artistic creation which deserves nothing less than the listener’s admiration.