What’s to like?
Spin-off project from TesseracT’s singer that takes the music in a more ambient and experimental direction, and has resulted in an album that I’ve found to be an uplifting and incredibly rewarding experience with each successive listen. An unexpected contender for one of my albums of the year!
The low down
Things have been a bit quiet on the Kscope label this year, with only a handful of releases so far, so it’s good to see them ramping up their schedule for the second half of the year, what with Paul Draper’s Spooky Action album (reviewed here), and now taking White Moth Black Butterfly under their wing and releasing that project’s second album Atone.
One of the reasons I threw my lot in with Kscope, was that the label has a knack for introducing me to bands that have previously passed me by, and while I’m very familiar with Daniel Tompkins as the singer with prog-metallers TesseracT, I assumed the Atone album was brand new side project. Not so, apparently. White Moth Black Butterfly previously released a debut album four years ago, albeit on a different label, so once again I arrive late to the party!
But having listened to their newly released album Atone, perhaps the party has wound down into the wee small hours, because this is one of the most relaxing and uplifting albums I’ve heard in a while.
It’s a world away from the more intense vibe of TesseracT, but still has the same melodic sensibility, and you can quickly recognise Tompkins’ voice and way of phrasing his lyrics. But this isn’t a solo project, as he’s brought his Skyharbour collaborator, guitarist Keshav Dhar on board, and the pair of them have worked up an album that is much more than the sum of its two principals.
From the eye-catching artwork on the album cover, to browsing through the photography in the booklet, and then listening to the actual music, this feels like a work of considerable thought and substance.
It feels like a complete set of songs, which flow from start to finish, and has an underlying theme of how we experience loss and hope. The front cover represents the beauty of nature balanced against the harsh reality of life, and for me it felt like a strong metaphor for how I approach music, as an escape from the sometimes impenetrable and unfathomable difficulties of the real world. And perhaps I’m pushing the envelope here, but my experience of Atone, after a lot of listening, is that it’s a healing album.
However, it’s not some fluffy new age knock-off with a few ambient beats thrown in for good measure. You can clearly hear the hard work that the writers have put in to give each song exactly what it needs to make its impression on the listener, but without over-working the song’s sound and arrangement. While the pre-release PR has played up the ambient nature of the album, I think the description falls somewhat short of the finished work and does it a disservice.
Tompkins has an exceptional voice, already used to great effect in the TesseracT, and my admiration for his talent has just gone up a notch after listening to this album. He takes his voice as his instrument and has used it in new ways to create a different style of music. You can hear him exploring and stretching his ability in a way that brings a warmth and humanity to the music. And that vibe is enhanced by the contributions of co-vocalist Jordan Turner, who brings a breathy, dreamy quality to the music.
Here’s a the promo video for the track Tempest, which is a good starting point:
Given how much the PR has played up Tompkins’ role, I was expecting him to lead the vocals, with some back-up from Turner, but in fact they pretty much share it all from start to finish, and that’s what make the album such a success. Their voices perfectly complement one another – no gruff versus smooth contrasts here – and combined, their singing is adds yet more subtle layers to the sound, rather than music with singers added on as an after-thought.
Similarly, while Dhar’s guitar work underpins a lot of the music, but is so deeply immersed within the mix that it becomes part of the overall sound. It’s so deceptively understated that there are times when you wonder if there’s any guitar playing at all, and then you’ll hear a delicately picked phrase rising to the surface. Bass and drumming contributions are also sympathetic to widescreen nature of the music, underpinning the melodies but very much layered into the overall sound.
And the music is a real treat on the headphones. It’s been so well mixed, with a fine balance between clarity and detail, and deep bass adding presence. If you’re familiar with the sound mix on TesseracT’s albums, you’ll know what I mean. Atone has a rich, almost ethereal sound to it that brings out ever more detail each time you listen to it, and hearing the vocal duets panning from side to side on the headphones is incredibly enjoyable and relaxing.
The other interesting aspect of this album is its running time – only 37 minutes, even though there are eleven tracks. Some might feel that this is a little on the short side, but after several listens, my feeling is why extend an album that clearly feels complete as the closing track fades out.
Atone is a mature piece of work that sounds great as soon as you start listening to it, but grows on you with continued listening, in a way that is natural and organic. The more you play it the more it becomes entwined in your sense of well-being, and it can become addictive. I found myself drawn to it again and again, in the same way that I did with the Storm Corrosion collaboration between Steven Wilson and Mikael Akerfeldt (reviewed here). Yet while that album mixed beauty and darkness, Atone has been a completely positive and uplifting experience for me.
A surprise contender for my album of the year, and highly recommended