5 years on from the release of their first EP, Get it While its Cold (37C) this Norwegian band has released its 4th album, Night. It is also a very convincing contender for being the album of 2007. A big call, given new releases in the offing from Rush, Porcupine Tree, Marillion and other prog-ish heavy-weights, but Night is that good.
Whilst, generally speaking, one could categorise Gazpacho as being neo-prog, like the dish the band is named for, this group is a fascinating blend of musical flavours. Elements of post-rock, ambient, world, folk and classical music are woven into the warp threads of neo-prog. Listeners waiting for the explosive solos by virtuoso instrumentalists will be left hanging, for that is not the style of these Oslo boys. Instead one is treated to a delicious feast of aural delights, with no one flavour dominating.
Singer Jan Henrik Ohme's pure, ethereal voice, often quite refrained in the mix, sounds to me like David Sylvian (Japan) meets Thom Yorke (Radiohead) meets Steve Hogarth (latter-day Marillion). Keyboardist Thomas Andersen is no Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater). His style is more akin to the ambient and texturing sounds of a Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, OSI) or Richard Barbieri (Japan, Porcupine Tree), though his piano parts recall Sigur Ros. Guitarist Jon-Arne Vilbo also eschews the pyrotechnics of many prog string benders. When he does come forward in the mix he has bit of a Steve Rothery (Marillion) feel to his chops. The rhythm section of drummer Robert Risberget Johansen and bassist Kristian Olav Torp is ever present, underscoring and emphasising but never dominating. The role of providing the subtle and rich flavourings gently stirred through the melodies falls to a large part to the violin of Mikael Kromer, and the contributions of guest artist Kristian Skedsmo on low whistle, tin whistle, accordion, banjo, didgeridoo and mandolin.
Night has 5 tracks listed, but that's a bit of a misdirection. More accurately the album is one 53 minute plus piece broken into 5 movements. In the words of the blurb, "Night is a musical description of a dream or a stream of consciousness. It explores the question of where dreams end and reality begins and the mind as the tool that has to decide what to believe. Night is about life and the various ways of interpreting existence." Heady stuff indeed, and very prog worthy subject matter!
And it is the music that delights the senses and the realms of the mind. Take a bit each of Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Marillion, Mike Oldfield, Davy Spillane, OSI, Chroma Key, polka, a big dollop of Scandinavian sparseness, mix it up, layer it deliciously and let its nuances meld for 53 minutes and you have a dish that continues to delight the senses well beyond the first taste. This is a creation that reveals its depth bit by bit, over the course of many listenings. And, despite the number of other acts it brings to mind, Gazpacho doesn't sound derivative.
Night isn't an album for slapping into the CD player while you pick the kids up from school or while you get a bit of housework done. Night is an occasion, like dinner in a famous restaurant. You need to concentrate on it alone in order to savor every nuance and enjoy the experience completely. It's like those albums of your youth, where you lay on the floor, head between the speakers with the lights out, and just let the music take you away.
Night is a masterpiece. A magnificent soundscape of neo-prog meets post-rock that is sensual, powerful, sparse, dense, glorious, melancholy, uplifting, textured and, I should be at pains to point out, delightfully addictive.