If the Frank Flight Band‘s latest album, Remains, had come out in 1975 instead of earlier this year, it would be regarded as a psychedelic cult classic today. Much of it sounds as if could have been recorded then; they absolutely nail the moment right before metal and art-rock diverged. Ten-minute epics, and one that clocks in at more than twenty! Three-minute acid blues guitar solos with no wasted notes! OMFG! The whole thing is streaming at the band’s Soundcloud page.
This is a concept album with a persistent death fixation, sort of the long-lost, doomed sequel to Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog. Bandleader/guitarist Frank Flight’s tunes shift uneasily from major to minor through spaciously stark interludes that rise to epic proportions. It wouldn’t be farfetched to describe them as a British Blue Oyster Cult. Both bands favor straight-up rhythms, anthemic choruses and a surreal lyrical side that offers a leering embrace to the darkness. Frontman/lyricist Andy Wrigley’s gravelly vocals rise over a rich, lush backdrop of Michael Woodward’s multi-keys, the dual guitars of Flight and lead player Alex Kenny anchored by Danny Taylor’s melodic bass, drummer Dave Veres propelling the beast through the waves with unexpectedly subtle dynamics.
Although the first three songs are credited to Wrigley and Flight, pretty much the whole band contributes to the songwriting, maintaining the uneasy mood so consistently it’s as if there’s a single voice behind all this. Every track here segues into the next one. The Ballad of Alice Grey opens and sets the stage for everyrthing afterward: first it’s a swaying minor blues, then it’s a surreal, chromatically-fueled Lewis Carroll art-rock epic. Woodward’s massive orchestration swirls symphonically – at one point recalling a swooping woodwind section – finally followed by the first of Kenny’s many snarling, searing yet terse guitar solos, this one with a grisly, vintage Robin Trower-style vibrato.
Dark Waters, an ominously propulsive seafaring narrative, offers a nod to Don’t Fear the Reaper, then twists your ears as the guitar solos switch channels from left to right, followed by a menacing, Doorsy organ-bass-drums interlude leading up to an absolutely incendiary guitar maelstrom over the band’s titanic sway. The roughly nine-minute title track builds gingerly up and around a lingering guitar vamp straight out of the Nektar playbook, stormy synthesized strings pulsing over a hypnotic groove. There’s anger, and maybe murder here; Wrigley narrates a litany of disquieting imagery at the end as the band reaches back to the shoreline in a whirl of cymbals. By contrast, The Island offers a triumphant view of alienation – the guy in Veres’ lyrics seems perfectly content to watch the birds leave the shore for the sky (symbolism, anybody?).
Razor Glass, by Kenny, begins jangly and swooping before it builds to an ominous, rich Pink Floydian atmosphere. Allusions to Orbison noir, resonant Nektar-ish guitar, rippling piano, cascading synth and organ – not to mention Kenny’s mean, purist soloing – fuel this bitterly elegaic, phantasmagorical barroom scenario. Sinaloa, by Kenny and Veres, tells a gothic flamenco rock tale of death and destruction in a Mexican civil war that ultimately proves futile: it’s their Conquistador.
The final track, by Flight, is Cat, weighing in at mammoth Pink Floyd Echoes proportions. There’s so much going on here that chronicling it all would take an album-length review. In brief: jangly guitar and organ echoing Rhode Island psychedelic legends Plan 9’s Dealing with the Dead; a long, waterfalling organ solo straight out of the Dave Greenfield or Ray Manzarek playbook; more allusions to Nektar and the Doors; ominous, minimalist bass/drum grooves, evil churchbell samples, and finally, finally, a series of increasingly incendiary Kenny solos that go on for the better part of ten minutes but ultimately leave you wishing for more. As far as sheer herculean energy, epic sweep and intensity are concerned, no other band has done anything this year that can match this. There will be a “best albums of 2013” page up at the end of the year here and this one will be on it.