Unearth (4:22), Nothing Sacred (3:09), Murder In A Small Town (3:52), Brand New Crucifix (5:00)
The prolific John Bassett is hard to keep up with these days with his multifarious projects. DPRP are guilty in being somewhat remiss in having falling behind in our coverage of Mr Bassett's output recently which we hope to atone for by a roundup of his most recent releases. First up is Live At The Byre, an EP released under his own name at the beginning of the year. Recorded in a derelict Byre in County Sligo, Ireland, the four tracks were captured in one take with three microphones, one for vocals, one for guitar and one for ambient sound. There is no audience, well I suppose there may have been the odd sheep or cow in the area, so the attention is drawn to the ambiance which includes a lovely natural reverb, a feeling of space and almost emptiness, and at least a couple of birds perched in the rafters.
There are two tracks from Bassett's 'solo' album Unearth (review here), and two from the KingBathmat catalogue, Murder In A Small Town from 2008's Blue Sea Black Heart (review here) and Brand New Crucifix that has never officially appeared on an album before but has been available as a 2005 demo and an acoustic rendition from 2008. The quality of the recording is excellent there being an overall warmth to the sonics that suits Bassett's vocals. The performances are exemplary, with only the solo guitar providing both rhythm and melody and the sparse instrumentation drawing focus to the lyrics, which I found gave one a better appreciation of the songs. Both Unearth and Murder In A Small Town are slightly extended from their respective album versions largely due to them being played at a slower tempo.
Overall, for anyone who has listened and enjoyed any of Bassett's various projects, particularly the Unearth album, then this release is a worthy of adding to your collection, not least for the inclusion of the 'rarity' Brand New Crucifix which is worth the £1 download fee - for the complete EP that is, not just one track! - alone. Even in these days of austerity you won't get a much better bargain than this!
Dark Days (3:12), 'Tis Pity She's A Whore (5:14), Magnet To Pain (6:50), Feathers (8:53), Nihilist (7:51)
It has been four years since the last KingBathmat release Overcoming The Monster (review here), a time that has not been idle for main man John Bassett what with the release of his solo album and the two Arcade Messiah albums. With these various other musical projects I had feared that the forum in which Bassett's music was first heard had been put to bed. So it was quite a pleasant surprise to hear of a new release, and on my birthday nonetheless! KingBathmat now consists of just drummer Bernie Smirnoff and Bassett who does everything else. The tracks on the album were initially conceived in 2016 as a two piece side project but as recordings developed they took on the KingBathmat character.
It is evident from the very start which of the many of Bassett's various musical projects this music belongs to, with the first two songs being a couple of the strongest released under the Bathmat name. What is impressive is that they you couldn't come across two more different pieces of music. Dark Days is the more low key piece initially with a treated piano sound somewhat reminiscent of a hammered dulcimer, with the psychedelic flourishes associated with the band. The song expands out with the addition of a prominent and melodic bass line and upfront drums that fill the song without ever losing the essential nature of the song's opening. In complete contrast, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore opens with in-your-face electric guitar and more astringent vocals which are subjected to a degree of processing - echo, reverb and who knows what else! This one certainly rocks out and gives Bassett a chance to throw in a nice guitar solo as well.
Magnet To Pain is the weakest of the five tracks on offer, the opening in particular is rather a mishmash of different styles that don't really work together. For the first two-thirds the song never really seems to go anywhere. The change in tempo into the instrumental section improves things a bit but ultimately can't rescue the song from ordinariness. Feathers is an entirely different prospect, a more tradition song structure with a haunting melody and delightful double guitar interplay throughout. Rather melancholy, certainly grandiose and a song that feels it could go on a lot longer than it actually does. With a full band behind them this song would offer endless possibilities in the live arena. The EP is completed by Nihilist which structurally follows the template the Feathers laid down but don't be mislead into thinking that it is mere replication, sonically it is very different and both are worthy tracks in their own right.
Dark Days sees a welcome return of KingBathmat into John Bassett's ever expanding musical sphere, I hope there is more to come, soon!
As an aside, is it just me or does the male angel on the cover bear a striking resemblance to Little Stephen?!
CD 1 (vocals): Horn (7:10), Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) (2:40), Birds Fall From The Sky (5:46), I Want To Go Back To The Happy House (5:08), Season Of The Damned (5:40), Walking On Ice (6:16), Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2) (5:33)
CD 2 (instrumental extended version): Horn (7:10), Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) (instrumental extended version) (6:26), Birds Fall From The Sky (instrumental extended version) (6:56), I Want To Go Back To The Happy House (5:08), Season Of The Damned (instrumental) (5:48), Walking On Ice (instrumental extended version) (8:44), Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2) (instrumental) (5:44), Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2) (Voight-Kampff mix) (4:20)
It was with some trepidation that I learned that John Bassett was launching yet another musical project, not because of any disappointment with his previous output as KingBathmat, Arcade Messiah or under his own name, but simply because he described Sacred Ape as electronic synthpop/synthwave which seemed to be a step too far from his origins. However, considering that he hadn't failed me yet and the album was a mere £3.99 with a second instrumental extended version of the album available freely as a bonus I thought that there was nothing to be lost. In fact, it turned out to be a purchase well worthy of the minimal outlay and providing me with a couple of CDs of music that I can't stop playing.
(Although written as SΔCRED ΔPE in several places, we also noticed several appearances as Sacred Ape. We assume SΔCRED ΔPE is a styled version of the project name.)
Horn, somewhat ironically considering the title of the next track, is reminiscent of the live version of Depeche Mode's Behind The Wheel, although somewhat heavier. Calling the music synthpop does it no justice, yes it is all synths but is far beyond any pop music I have ever encountered. Cast aside any thoughts of twee synthesisers with annoying electronic sounds, this is meaty stuff indeed! There are absolutely no need for vocals on this instrumental number as the various lead synth line do all the talking necessary. Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) introduces vocals which are characteristic John Bassett although some electronic manipulation has been applied although it is not at all distracting being very subtle, actually enhancing the voice and using it as an additional instrument which is entirely in keeping with the whole project. The second part of this song appears at the end of the album and takes on an initial hue that is so different, piano rather than synths, that it is difficult to reconcile it with having any connection to the first part. It is only when the title is sung to the same melody that the song starts to take on a degree of familiarity. The song seems to come to a halt after three and a quarter minutes but a coda ensures that is more of a reprise of part 1.
Birds Fall From The Sky is another upbeat, up-tempo number that has a rather No-Man feel to it, if that particular band significantly upped their volume and BPM and Tim Bowness actually sang out loud rather than whisper! I Want To Go Back To The Happy House, another instrumental, is more of a scene setting trip through various textures and synth runs, although never lapsing into inconsequential as the synths are all layered with different elements moving in and out of the foreground to keep the interest alive. Season Of The Damned could easily be taken from a film soundtrack, given it's opening sound effects of a car door closing and then the vehicle disappearing into the distance. This song bears the most resemblance to KingBathmat or, if it was performed on an acoustic guitar could even reside alongside material from the Bassett Unearth solo album. Walking On Ice returns the Depeche Mode vibe with a greater number of lighter synth lines but with a few quirky relapses in-between. Expertly arranged and a delight from start to finish.
On the second CD both Horn and I Want To Go Back To The Happy House are present in the same versions as on the main album, not surprising as they were the only two instrumentals on that version. The remaining tracks are all present in different versions, come drastically so. Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) is extended by nearly four minutes which is perhaps a bit too much as it does tend to meander a bit midway through with perhaps a few too much repetition. Birds Fall From The Sky sees only an extra minute being added and works very well without the vocals allowing easier appreciation of the various synth parts. The filmic nature of Season Of The Damned is more obvious on the instrumental version and suggest that Bassett could have a career in soundtrack work, particularly if he embellishes the synth basis with additional instrumentation.
The extended treatment is also applied to Walking On Ice which clocks in two and half minutes longer than the song version. The extensions work better than on Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) and on the whole I think the instrumental version gets my vote as the better of the two. The album is completed with two versions of Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2), the first being essentially similar to the first CD version without the vocals (er, obviously!). There seems to be a greater degree of hesitancy in the opening section which seems to impart a degree of gravitas on the piece. The Voight-Kampff mix adds a host of different sounds to the synths which on the one hand works in beefing up the sound somewhat and doesn't on the other by adding an annoying and unnecessary rhythm track. The mix only focuses on the initial quieter section of the song [in prog terms it would no doubt be called Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2, Section 1)!] with the heavier section being excised.
Sacred Ape certainly adds another string to Bassett's bow and once again shows that he is able to delve into a different musical genre and create something that remains true to the original but also maintains an element of Bassett. There is probably no one creating such a diverse array of music as John Bassett right now and, given the asking price, at such good value. It is not always the case that a low price is indicative of poor quality, this album certainly proves that.