CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX
It seems everywhere you read about Crippled Black Phoenix, music scribes would have you believe they're a post-rock supergroup, or collective if you will. Sure, personnel from CBP's current and previous lineups used to play in other named bands but with the forthcoming '(Mankind) The Crafty Ape' being their fifth album, "supergroup" is something of a misassumption appropriated by lazy journalists. So five albums in, it's safe to say that CBP have outlived casual supergroup ephemera. A word about the post-rock fallacy too (which is possibly a hang-up from the one-time Mogwai connection?). Although CBP's music does have tenuous generic links to what could be construed as post-rock (if, indeed, such a genre was easily categorisable in the first place), their musical canvas is way more diverse and aurally profound to be associated with established genre labels. A glance at their Facebook page reveals their self-proclaimed style as "Vigilante" which is more apposite on various levels, as evidenced on this latest work, a double album which eschews, progresses and fabricates both established and new musical idioms. In that sense, if a label had to be applied to '(Mankind) The Crafty Ape' then it'd be progressive but not in a generic sense, rather as a compositional attitude in that CBP re-establish what it is, and once meant when such a label carried any sincere weight, to be progressive. Throughout the two discs' playing time, songs sound epic, exhilarating and, most importantly, genuinely innovative with many moments of stylistic iconoclasm - ie. everything a genuinely progressive record at any point in time should be.
Split into three chapters - 'A Thread' and 'The Trap' on disc one, and 'The Blues of Man' on disc two - songs are thematically linked through, to quote the band themselves: "the corruption of mankind and injustice, but also ultimately in the hope that all is not lost". Admirably, both lyrics and music are inextricably bound together through said 'concept'. Tracks are perhaps melancholic sounding at core, kind of a sonic pessimism if you like, but often punctuated, both subtly and emphatically, with melodically optimistic motifs. Third track on the first disc, 'Get Down And Live With It' epitomises such dual sentiments and marries optimism with pessimism to perfection through some intelligently layered instrumentations and use of both male and female vocals (courtesy of Daisy Chapman). Without meaning to delve too deep into comparisons with other bands (as CBP are ultimately a distinct, genre-defying musical entity in their own right), certain passages are slightly reminiscent of early seventies Pink Floyd such as the final two thirds of 'The Heart of Every Country' and two and a half minutes into 'A Letter Concerning Dogheads' which sounds like a down-tempo nod towards one of the instrumental parts of 'Echoes', albeit CBP adorn their pastiche with vocals on the latter (not that it might be a pastiche at all of course, I'm probably way out in my assumption). Elsewhere, 'The Brain/Poznan' has a touch of Elton John about it à la 'Bennie and the Jets' midway through but the piano-led melody develops into something quite exquisite and is pure musical sublimity, and again representing the hope/despair dichotomy that underpins both music and lyrics on both of the discs. Also a strength of the album is that the songs within each chapter sound musically interrelated as opposed to being randomly thrown together. That is to say, tracks contain ever so subtle echoes of other songs, perhaps sometimes just rhythmically, but nonetheless are interlinked on occasion. This adds further weight to the album's conceptual essence and helps the overall flow of the thing.
The production is quite wonderful throughout as well. It has a very organic sound where the instrumentations sound 'alive'; living and breathing rather than stripped of all soul through an over-zealous use of Pro Tools. Likewise, the mix is equally magnificent with all layers in each of the instrumentations woven into a fully cohesive whole. Instruments and vocals carry the right amount of weight at all times - everything can be heard clearly in the mix whilst simultaneously combining to form a richly resonant, multi-layered sonic totality. Moreover, all of the musicians sound at one in their interactions, using their instruments to embellish each other's, whilst adding to the overall instrumentations. I could go on and on about the merits of '(Mankind) The Crafty Ape' but I'll simply conclude by saying that if you thrive on innovative, original music in the form of some melodically engaging, accessible songwriting loaded with ambient and heavy passages, plus everything in-between, then Crippled Black Phoenix's latest is a must-buy purchase. We're only in January but they've set the bar ever so high for all who follow in 2012. Album of the year? Time will tell, I guess.
Cool Green Recordings
(MANKIND) THE CRAFTY APE
Review by Mark Holmes
52:08 & 34:04
30th Jan 2012
DISC ONE: 1) Nothing (We Are...); 2) The Heart of Every Country; 3) Get Down and Live With It; 4) (In the Yonder Marsh); 5) A Letter Concerning Dogheads; 6) The Brain/Poznan; 7) Laying Traps; 8) Born in a Hurricane; 9) Release the Clowns; 10) (What?)
DISC TWO: 1) A Suggestion (Not a Very Nice One); 2) (Dig, Bury, Deny); 3) Operation Mincemeat; 4) We'll Never Get Out of this World Alive; 5) Faced with Complete Failure, Utter Defiance is the Only Response
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...epic, exhilarating and, most importantly, genuinely innovative..."