Messenger are a multi-national troupe who came together in London in 2012. Led by guitarists and vocalists Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick, they hooked up with producer Jaime Gomez Arellano, who has worked with Ulver amongst many others, and shut themselves away in the studio, eventually to emerge with this wonderfully rich sonic tableaux.
Illusory Blues ventures far beyond the first impressions gleaned from an obvious folk-prog influence. Lulled into a false sense of security, the listener meanders on downstream, lying back in a rowboat staring up at the cotton wool clouds slowly drifting past on a cerulean sky, the blissful scene played out to the soundtrack of Messenger’s updated take on folk influenced prog. Expectations are eventually confounded when the album takes a turn into darker and more disturbing psychedelic waters of Midnight.
Well before we get to that point, the band begin by taking us down a leaf-strewn autumnal path on album opener The Return, which has the same influences that you might hear on Midlake’s Courage Of Others, but unlike that peculiarly one-paced album Messenger manage quite easily to vary the dynamic, even within the same song. The Return has a middle section that rocks quite angrily before returning to the beautifully played folky introspection it began with, the intertwining twin acoustics of Khaled and Barnaby weaving a highly intricate and lovely pattern.
The pastoral effect is heightened further on Piscean Tide, as the introductory melody is played on a violin. As I only have a download review copy to go on I cannot tell you who adds the strings to this record, but whoever it is, they add another layer of sophistication to an already well refined sound. There is also a psychedelic influence weaving its lysergic tentacles through this record, particularly on Dear Departure, serving to lend the song a spaced out feel that adds another layer to the onion.
This timeless yet ancient music calls to the soul, a theme reflected in the lyrics, more often than not sung in close harmony by Khaled and Barnaby. The lyrics are epic romantic poems and stories of love, loss, wonder and longing that are well crafted and intelligent enough to pull up well short of pretence.
The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun combines Elbow-like musical romanticism with lush Eastern flavoured orchestration and understated drama to create something quite lovely, climaxing in the joyous declaration “Freedom lies in the perpetual glow of the setting sun Freedom renounces the need for the self, rendering all as one” as the orchestration reaches the heights. Marvellous!
Midnight recounts the death of forgotten empires, war, death and lost souls to a marching folk melody that gradually gets darker before turning into a brooding folk-rock-Gothic stomp-along waiting for a ferry boat to cross the river Styx. The album has been leading up to this and it proves to be the dynamic high point.
A Somniloquist is someone who talks in their sleep, although the song itself is a cautionary tale advising us to make the most of the here and now in order to free ourselves from the dream world: “There’s a wise man once told me a long time ago, that you might not make it to the end of the road, but forge your own chains in the quivering cold and you’ll free your soul”. Set to a waltz time, a lovely guitar break precedes a pumping up of the volume before the song resolves itself in a justified wail of feedback. These chaps know a thing or two about arranging, it seems.
“Ever since my friend and colleague Jaime Gomez Arellano sent me the songs of Illusory Blues I’ve been returning to them again and again. Totally unafraid to mix it up; the flutes of prog and Americana-style violins meet hard rocking drums and pop sensible vocal work. And although you can hear quite clearly the references and influences, it all amounts to a most novel and prodigious production. F****** well done.”
Ulver main man Kristoffer Rygg has this to say about the record:
He’s not wrong, and this is a fine album indeed, and anyone into well written, played, sung, and arranged epic constructs with a folky psychedelic tinge should love it. In fact, Illusory Blues is everything Courage Of Others should have been, but failed miserably to be. It is a sad fact that while that frankly dull Midlake album sold in the hundreds of thousands, this will probably only reach the ears of those of us willing to venture beyond the mainstream. This band should be HUGE.
01. The Return (5:58)
02. Piscean Tide (5:18)
03. Dear Departure (7:54)
04. The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun (5:57)
05. Midnight (8:54)
06. Somniloquist (5:16)
07. Let The Light In (6:12)
Total Time – 45:28
Khaled Lowe – Guitars & Vocals
Barnaby Maddick – Guitars & Vocals
Jaime Gomez Arellano – Drums & Percussion
Dan Knight – Guitars & Keyboards
James Leach – Bass guitar
Record Label: Svart Records
Catalogue#: SVR 260
Year Of Release: 2014