Inside Out are one of those labels who never cease to impress me with their roster of artists. And said artists never cease to amaze me with their creative output. Just take this year alone, where they've released truly stunning albums from the likes of Pain of Salvation, Bent Knee, Lonely Robot and Leprous. Now, via said label, we're treated to the latest magnificent work from Aussie crew Caligula's Horse.
Described in the blurb as "a progressive alternative rock powerhouse", that sounds like confused genre labelling, to me. "Progressive" and "alternative" have become interchangeable as descriptors; at least if the former is considered within the context of bands who genuinely progress, rather than adhere to established and generic prog idioms of yore. In that sense, "alternative" is, for me, another way of saying "genuinely progressive"... again, only if "alternative" is interpreted in isolation from any genre considerations and restrictions from bands who've previously been involved in some sort of "alternative rock" movement. It might seem counter-productive in getting bogged down with the finer details of genre labels (or "general descriptions", as I prefer to regard them), considering my disdain towards them, but I do genuinely believe the baggage associated with certain label descriptors can prove to be delimiting for a band's potentially wider appeal, in terms of who might be encouraged or curious enough to check 'em out in the first place.
Anyway, I digress... forget the "alternative" tag, as Caligula's Horse are a refreshingly progressive act... a genuinely progressive one, where "progressive" should be firmly regarded as a description for the mindset towards their compositional approach, rather than genre adherence. It feels like they're progressing something with the songs on 'In Contact'. With the album's themes based around "isolation, exodus, and the power of the human spirit", there are many different moods within the songs, and all of the stylistic divergences create, convey, reinforce and reflect the themes and specific moods during any given passage of music. Narratives and instrumentations are at one here. A definite highlight of the album is an unexpected twist for the three minute, philosophically profound and provocative, spoken-word monologue, 'Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall', delivered with a refined sense of theatrical drama, which segues into 'The Cannon's Mouth'... itself, taking on a melodramatic edge.
The level of musicianship is fantastic throughout. Frontman Jim Grey has a great range, both in terms of tonality and emotional expression. And while he doesn't hit the emotionally moving heights of singers such as Leprous' Einar Solberg or Wolverine's Stefan Zell, his voice is still a very captivating listen, particularly during passages adorned with his affectively stirring falsetto. Instrumentation-wise, there are flashes of virtuosity here and there but without ever being overly flashy. Everything has its place within the natural flow of each song. The music always seems to be heavied-up or mellowed out for a purpose; for a certain affect. Likewise, it feels as if the sporadicity of songs' stranger time signature deviations are thrown in to engender particular listening responses... a few jarring, cacophonic punctuations in songs', otherwise, more euphonically conceived structures. And, generally, the tempo and time signature shifts always feel like an inherent part of the compositions. It all flows perfectly.
My advice? Give 'In Contact' a try, free from genre expectations and any (potentially misleading) descriptions you might have read about their music. This is accessibly innovative stuff that progresses within and beyond its own musically aesthetic space. And it's an aesthetic space I thoroughly enjoyed occupying for all 62 minutes of the album's playing time. And one I'll look forward to revisiting on many more occasions.
Review by Mark Holmes
15th Sept 2017
1) Dream the Dead
2) Will's Song (Let the Colours Run)
3) The Hands are the Hardest
4) Love Conquers All
5) Songs for No One
7) Fill My Heart
8) Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall
9) The Cannon's Mouth
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"This is accessibly innovative stuff that progresses within and beyond its own musically aesthetic space."