June 8, 2012

Friday Review: Diving Bell

As I said in my ROSFest review a few weeks ago, Sanguine Hum was one of the band I went into the festival not really knowing anything about. Seriously, I had not heard note one from this band. All I knew was that their sole release, Diving Bell, had come out in 2010 and had just been rereleased by the new Antenna imprint from Esoteric Records.

My general policy, when it comes to festival bands, is that if they have only one album out I wait until after I’ve seen them perform to pick it up. For whatever reason, my brain has concluded that buying a band’s only album ahead of time and being disappointed is infinitely worse than buying one album out of ten but being equally disappointed. It’s music, I don’t expect it to make sense to anyone but me (and, at times, that’s a stretch).

That proved more difficult at ROSFest than I anticipated. I had seen Diving Bell at a couple of vendor tables during the weekend, but they slowly disappeared as the weekend went on. By the time the band finished it’s set on Sunday morning, everybody was sold out. But not to worry! Although the band explained that they had trouble getting their merchandise across the Atlantic to Gettysburg, they did have about 40 or so CDs with them. To the post-set meet and greet I went, then, with high hopes.

As it happened, the CDs the band had with them weren’t Diving Bell, but a pair of EPs from their prior incarnation, Antique Seeking Nuns (more of them later). I picked those up, anyway, but walked away feeling like an excellent album from a great new band had slipped out through my fingers over the weekend. So I did what any semi-modern man would do in such a situation.

I ordered it off Amazon.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I really liked their set at ROSFest. Thankfully, their studio output doesn’t disappoint, either. I have a hard time pinning down just what it is about this band that I like so much. Part of it, certainly, is the continuous sonic presence of Rhodes electric piano in their tunes. It’s one thing to hear it pop up here and there on a record. It’s quite another for it to be a defining tonality, which is something you generally see in the jazzier corners of the prog world (as I write this, I’m listening to the late and very much missed Alberto Bonomi of D.F.A. work it in that style).

That aspect makes more sense in light of the band’s work as Antique Seeking Nuns, which has a lot of Canterbury influence. Indeed, it’s almost neo-Canterbury in spots. As Sanguine Hum, the band’s sound has shifted somewhat to be more “rock” and incorporate some of the style of modern quasi-prog (think Radiohead or the like), but that Canterbury undercurrent is there all the same.

Long ago in an Email conversation with Robert Pashman of 3rDegree (new album due this fall!), he explained how one of the problems they had in finding an audience was that the band wasn’t “weird” enough for prog fans, but was too weird for the mainstream. I get the same vibe with Sanguine Hum (although they do it with different influences than 3rDegree). On the one hand, there’s nothing going on here that should scare away the music loving masses – this ain’t Magma or Present, after all. On the other, there’s just enough oddness infused in the music that folks interested only in simple background music will find it too dense and, yes, “weird.”

But questions of genre classification and prog purity are pointless – this is an excellent album from an interesting and talented group of guys. Get your own Diving Bell – you won’t regret it. Listen for yourself:

Diving Bell, by Sanguine Hum
Originally released 2010, rereleased 2012

1. No More Than We Deserve (5:08)
2. The Ladder (3:56)
3. Dark Ages (4:42)
4. Coast Of Nebraska (6:15)
5. The Trial (6:06)
6. Nothing Between Us (6:10)
7. Diving Bell (5:46)
8. There's No Hum (4:50)

Bonus tracks for 2012 rerelease:
9. Tonic For The Snoring (4:19)
10. The Eternal Abyss [excerpt] (5:41)
11. Circus For A Dying Race (6:19)

Joff Winks (guitars, vocals, drum programming & samples)
Matt Baber (Rhodes, synthesizer, percussion)
Paul Mallyon (drums, percussion)
Brad Waissman (bass)

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