Certain labels, I always have the utmost of respect for, due to the consistency in quality of the bands they sign. Sweden's Progress Records is one such label, although it's been a while since anything's been submitted for review. So, it was with a degree of delight when a new Progress release turned up in the post, albeit over two months after its release date. And, what we have here is the debut album, 'Momentum', from Elephant Plaza, featuring onetime Magic Pie member, Gilbert Marshall.
Hailing from Norway, it's fair to say that this Scandinavian sextet love elephants. As if band name blatancy wasn't enough, they've slapped a picture of the African species of this mammal on the cover to 'Momentum'. It's also fair to say that Elephant Plaza make great music, that fuses retro prog influences with a more modern dynamic and, at times, heavier edge. Aside from obvious reference points like Pink Floyd and Yes (both of which get a mention in press blurb), I can also hear nods to the likes of Goblin (look no further than album opener, 'Naked') and even the minimalist side of John Carpenter's film scores such as 'Prince of Darkness' (the resonantly pulsating intro to the second track 'Southwest'). Generally, though, their aesthetic has been designed around expansive, atmospheric, prog-fuelled soundscapes, where emotions run deep through both vocals and instrumentations.
Aside from the guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals of the core band members, several other musicians guest on the album, including lead/backing vocalists (male and female), strings, additional guitars, mandolin, and even a choir. However, with such a plethora of elements, it's a fine achievement that songs are never overloaded... or, at least, they never feel overloaded. Instrumentations, instead, have been skilfully layered with enough breathing space for songs' emotional essence to develop and flourish, be that through vocals or the instrumentations themselves, or a combination of the two. And, with all band members contributing singing, plus the likes of Anett Lunde, Maria Bentzen, and Magic Pie's Eirikur Hauksson, 'Momentum' is diversely polyvocal in constitution.
'Momentum' achieves a great balance in its contrasting elements too, which are, on occasion, fused as one; notably, through heavy/mellow shifts and melancholic/upbeat moods. Heaviness has been expressed through differing modes and moods throughout - traditionally on 'The Quested - Page 2', for example, and more astutely on certain tracks, such as 'The Human Race', which explodes into an emotionally heavy crescendo, after a slow-burning build. And the melancholy of the sublimely gentle 'Wishful Thinking' also has an undercurrent of optimism.
Although there is an overwhelming feeling of "heard it all before" throughout 'Momentum', as Elephant Plaza haven't set out to reinvent the wheel, or be radically or innovatively progressive, there is still something refreshing and thoroughly engaging about their debut. I guess it comes down to some fine songwriting and great performances. In this sense, the album excels.
Review by Mark Holmes
23rd June 2016
1) Naked; 2) Southwest
3) Paralyzed; 4) All the Way
5) The Quested - Page 1
6) The Quested - Page 2
7) The Human Race - Prologue
8) The Human Race; 9) Wishful Thinking
10) Momentum Part 1 - Momentum
11) Momentum Part 2 - Moments of Emotions
12) Momentum Part 3 - The Dream
13) Momentum Part 4 - Struggle Within
14) Momentum Part 5 - Redemption
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Although...Elephant Plaza haven't set out to reinvent the wheel, or be radically or innovatively progressive, there is still something refreshing and thoroughly engaging about their debut."