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The Unravelling Sean Kitching , September 30th, 2014 13:48

In the five years since Knifeworld's debut album, Buried Alone: Tales Of Crushing Defeat, ex Monsoon Bassoon, Cardiacs and current Guapo and Gong member Kavus Torabi, has transformed his principle song writing vehicle from what was originally essentially a solo project (performed with the assistance of some talented guests) into a fully formed psychedelic/progressive rock octet. The Unravelling is a far darker, more musically accomplished beast than its predecessor, due as much to Torabi's further honing of songwriting and studio skills as to his weathering of personal tribulations that time inevitably brings to us all.

That's not to say this is in any way a depressing affair. Far from it in fact, this is a stunning album full of moments of great beauty, infectious grooves and glorious tunes deployed to drive off the darkness that never quite gives up nipping at its heels. Making music of this nature, not to mention touring with such an extended line up and varied instrumentation, is a massively ambitious undertaking only rarely attempted in the British music scene. Yet this is also primarily a pop album; albeit a rather skewed and eccentric one. It takes a significant amount of bravery and unswerving dedication to one's personal vision to salvage some worthwhile sounds and techniques that others would prefer to keep locked up in the 'prog' ghetto, doubly so if you're presenting said music as pop. Whilst the album has received largely positive reviews, I must admit to being mystified as to the paucity of imagination displayed when it comes to discerning Torabi's influences. Let me set the record clear, The Unravelling does not sound like Yes, Genesis or Gentle fucking Giant, or even Cardiacs for that matter. It does, however, owe a clear debt to Steve Reich, Shudder To Think and Magma, whilst never losing its own sense of identity. In fact, such a variety and wealth of sounds are on offer here that it can initially contain elements that an individual listener might deem off-putting, but which fall into place (or unravel, if you like) after three or four listens.

Opening track 'I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight' begins softly, with ex Sidi Bou Said drummer and vocalist Melanie Woods singing lyrics that ably capture the uneasy moment when the idealism of romantic love first begins to falter: "That halo won't have far to drop/Till it becomes a noose/And I'm not gonna break you loose." Sky-scraping guitar and ascending harmonic vocals increase in intensity, briefly becoming a chaotic chorale before dissolving and reforming into another swell of melody as Torabi's vocal enters the proceedings. It would be almost too much were it not for the gentler, more understated moments and the resonant tone of the bassoon and tenor sax, which offer an effective counterpoint to the soaring grandiosity elsewhere. Shortest track 'The Orphanage' gets straight to the point with a densely woven mesh of guitars, sax and synthesiser wrapped around a wonderfully offbeat drum beat that somehow still manages to sound full of space and bring to mind the joyous ringing of bells. 'Send Him Seaworthy' is a more somber affair, both lyrically and instrumentally and for a lot of people who get where the lyrics are coming from, this is going to be a difficult listen, even given the heartfelt nature of its delivery and the loveliness of its melodies.

Easily one of the album's most triumphant moments, 'Don't Land On Me' begins ecstatically with pounding drums, swirling keyboards and an unstoppably upbeat woodwind chorus that works potent magic against the cold, indifferent fate depicted in the preceding track. Vocal interludes provide islands of relative calm from which the track repeatedly launches itself into ever more stratospheric realms, even throwing in apocalyptic "yeah"s from Chrome Hoof's Chantal Brown at the very height of its ascent. 'The Skulls We've Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes' is a sinister shanty decked out in fender rhodes, bassoon, sax, harmonium and guitar, in which the enemy described seems to be time itself. 'Destroy The World We Love' is another high point, Torabi's guitar effecting the kind of languorous sensuality that Shudder To Think perfected on Pony Express Record, snaking around a sublime crescendo of vocals, brass and keyboards before ending in a long, leisurely fade.

'This Empty Room Once Was Alive' is perhaps the album's most unsettling track, closer to Rock In Opposition style than anything else on the record, whilst closing track 'I'm Hiding Behind My Eyes' evokes both Steve Reich and Henry Cow, creating a feeling of time/gravity defying triumph that's a fitting point of departure given the struggle between darkness and light that runs through all of the tracks. Like most of the music that affects me deeply, this likely isn't for everyone. It does, however, offer enormous riches for anyone open minded enough to give it a little time and allow its full majestic scope to unfurl before them.

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