Tuesday, April 5, 2016

iamthemorning - Lighthouse

This review is going to be where the "mostly" in this blog's title comes in. While I'm sure all three of us would proudly describe ourselves as a bunch of metalheads, none of our tastes begin and end there. So for a slight change of pace from vikings and space operas, I figured I'd return to a hidden gem from Steven Wilson's Kscope label, Russian chamber prog duo iamthemorning.

Chamber prog might sound like a genre I just made up, but the combination of alt-prog and chamber folk/pop feels intuitive in practice. The duo of Marjana Semkina on vocals and Gleb Kolyadin on piano plus a couple of guest musicians sounds minimalist at times and closer to a full orchestra at others. And on Lighthouse they get a bit more eclectic, incorporating electric guitar and horns in unexpected places.

"Voice of an angel" is an overused cliche when describing singers, especially smooth-voiced female singers, but Semkina fits the trope to a T with an airy soprano that sounds like harps just naturally follow her. And compared to the band's last two albums, Lighthouse lets her show off a little more range. At moments her singing reminds me of Anna Murphy's art pop solo project, and at others she sounds like a less weird Joanna Newsom. With an album dedicated to the theme of mental illness, her quirky, versatile approach really gets a chance to shine. On tracks like I Came Before the Water part 1 and 2, her vocals alone can carry a whole song.

Meanwhile, Gleb Kolyadin's performance on piano and keyboards is a great lesson in how to be a virtuoso without being a show-off. Despite some complex melodies throughout the album, they never overpower the songwriting. It also helps that his style fuses well with guest musicians Colin Edwin and Gavin Harrison from Porcupine Tree, especially on Chalk and Coal and instrumental track Harmony. The latter features a fantastic build from a mellow piano piece to the kind of moody prog rocker that Steven Wilson is famous for. Try to tell me the solo at the end doesn't evoke a mix of Guthrie Govan and David Gilmour.

The standout track on this album is by far and without question the title track, which features guest vocals from Marisuz Duda of Riverside. The song builds to a powerful duet that almost makes me wish the two bands could join forces for a full album, because they complement and complete each other's sounds so well. The hardest part of listening to Lighthouse was resisting the urge to put this track on constant repeat. As of this writing this review, it's in my top 3 songs of the year so far alongside Sunburst's Symbol of Life and Steven Wilson's Happiness III.

With their third album in a short span of years, iamthemorning are getting more adventurous and evolving into everything the lighter side of modern prog should strive to be. I can only hope that, with a little exposure, some of the decades old alt-prog heavyweights resting on their laurels will take notice.

Final Verdict: 4.5/5

To end with message from the band's own bandcamp page: This album is dedicated to the subject of mental illness and we'd like to pass on the message to all the lost souls out there: you are not alone, ever.

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