Album Reviews John Bassett - Unearth & Arcade Messiah

Published on 24th February 2015

John Bassett – Unearth | Arcade Messiah

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I chose to review these two albums together, as not only do they offer two diametrically opposed sides to the music of John Bassett, but also a different slant on his work with KingBathmat. Of the latter, summer 2013 saw the release of the seventh studio album, Overcoming The Monster, which follows an ever maturing catalogue of releases which started back in 2003 with Son Of A Nun. I remember the album with fondness – an impressive debut and pretty much a solo effort.

Which neatly brings us to the first of the two albums from John released in 2014. After several band offerings, he chose to release his first solo album in March 2014. I’m not entirely sure why, but perhaps to enable himself the freedom and flexibility to explore different ground. If so, then in many respects he has accomplished this as Unearth follows a much more gentle and acoustic course than can be found on the KingBathmat albums.

What has remained intact is John’s observant lyrical content and his innate ability to pen a catchy tune. However don’t expect a collection of sugary stripped down pop songs, as although this is solo album, multi-instrumentalist John Bassett has added guitars and keyboards to flesh out the tracks. The final touch of an authentic band sound is provided by drummer Nathan Summers.

I have to admit the word psychedelic is a real turn off for me, especially when it comes to music, conjuring up pointless and meandering passages of music – best enjoyed with the help of some hallucinogenic stimulus. The P word is often attributed to the music of John Bassett, however what I hear in JB’s music may have traces of the late 60s early 70s, but it isn’t the overriding factor. What I do hear is good songs, sometimes quirky, often with a trick in tail, but for the most part, concise and listenable. This is amply displayed across Unearth and no better captured in the wonderful Survival Rate, which for me has elements of Supertramp lurking around in there, essences of the Canterbury scene, traces of The Beatles, Brit Pop (both eras) and a whole host more…

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that Mr Bassett doesn’t fit easily into any pigeonholes and if I was to say that vocally the following track, Nothing Sacred, reminded me of Ted Turner and Andy Powell – you might get the picture.

Across the album is a cornucopia of rich vocal melodies, impressive harmonies and befitting instrumentation. There’s even an instrumental in the form of Kylerhea, with its sweet intertwining guitars and subtly layered organs and keyboards .

OK, returning now to the songs on Unearth and considering the nature of the lyrics, as quoted by John…

“The emotive songs of “Unearth” encompass and depict the dark substratum of modern life. Social engineering, existential contemplation, survivalism, childhood trauma, love & despair and everything inbetween.”

… it’s surprising how upbeat the music is. Time and time again this comes down to the rich layers of both vocal and instrumental harmonisation, adding sweetness to the more melancholic lyrics. With strong hooks and memorable choruses – it works well in my book. However it does make it tricky to single out any one song for higher praise than another. Even after listening to Unearth numerous times, each time I return and as the tracks unfold – I think “yeah I like this one…”

Let’s move forward eight months and Unearth has amply prepared the ground for John Bassett’s second release for 2014, this time under the nom de plume of Arcade Messiah. Yeah… and I won the National Lottery twice last week! For starters Arcade Messiah is an entirely instrumental affair and although this is even more of a solo effort the Unearth, with everything coming from the man himself, there is little to tie the two releases together.

I suppose the album cover (also courtesy of JB) might be an early indicator. Ah well, in for a penny, as the saying goes and cue up Sun Exile. First run through of the album and cutting a long story short here, it wasn’t until I hit the respite that is Aftermath that I thought – actually this may be different, but I’m quite enjoying this.

So let’s talk about Aftermath while we are here. Layers of clean guitars, form not only the melodic structure, but also the pulse. To this John underpins with keyboards, a repeating synth line and rising choirs. With its subtle, ominous overtones, Aftermath works well and also serves as a precursor to the opening of Everybody Eating Everyone Else. Briefly – and after a short lived atmospheric soundscape we are into a mesh of heavily distorted metallic guitars. Mercifully not in a million mile an hour riffamania form, but more in a densely populated, post rock wall of sound guise. Relatively simple guitar lines add a melodic sense to the visceral riffed guitars, whilst the symphonic keyboards act as the cement to the driving, oddly metered drumming.

OK this is a heavy album, replete with a dense wall of sound, pretty much throughout and offers little in the way of respite, with the exception of the previously mentioned Aftermath of course.

This may infer a lack of depth or creativity within the music, which is not the case. Traumascope, for instance, has a hypnotic quality created through the repetitive guitar theme(s), and although not live drums per se, they are well thought out and sound good to boot. Traumascope is a track that builds and builds. Similarly Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity is cyclical piece which again pretty much bludgeons you into submission which is not a criticism, just an observation. What lifts the track is JB’s sense of melody, as increasing, pleasantly pleasing lines are harmonised and added into the increasingly oppressive mix.

Like most music, the more you listen, the more there is to find and hopefully enjoy, as is the case here and as I don’t come from a particularly metal background, Arcade Messiah did take a bit of time to sink in – but it did.

Both albums can be heard in their entirety on Bandcamp (linked here), so why not give them a whirl…

Like I said at the beginning, two strikingly different albums that would require a vivid imagination to tie to the same artist, however an amalgam of the two might offer a correlation to those more familiar with KingBathmat.

Unearth is an obvious choice for the KingBathmat admirer and those who have not dipped their toes into the waters of John Bassett. Arcade Messiah, perhaps not such an obvious choice, but one I feel sure this will open up other avenues for this talented musician.

01. Stay Away From The Dark (4:10)
02. Survival Rate (4:49)
03. Nothing Sacred (3:37)
04. Unearth (3:44)
05. Pantomime (5:44)
06. Kylerhea (4:43)
07. TV Is God (3:46)
08. Keep Dear (4:06)
09. Something That’s More Worthwhile (7:44)
10. Comedian (3:31)

Total Time – 45:54

John Bassett – All Instrumentation
Nathan A Summers – Drums

Record Label: Independent
Catalogue#: N/A
Year Of Release: 2014

Main Website: John Bassett
Social Media: Facebook
Audio: Bandcamp

01. Sun Exile (5:35)
02. Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity (6:48)
03. Traumascope (5:23)
04. Aftermath (2:52)
05. Everybody Eating Everyone Else (7:58)
06. The Most Popular Form Of Escape (4:56)
07. Roman Resolution (8:50)

Total Time – 42:22

John Bassett – All Instrumentation

Record Label: Independent
Catalogue#: N/A
Year Of Release: 2014

Main Website: John Bassett
Main Website: Arcade Messiah
Social Media: Facebook
Audio: Bandcamp

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