Herd of Instinct - Manifestation

Herd of Instinct – Manifestation

Three years on from their last album, the rather fine Conjure, American band Herd of Instinct are back with another excursion into sinuous alt-prog instrumental territory with a selection of tunes built around a base of Mark Cook’s many guitars and Djam Karet lynchpin Gayle Ellett’s keyboards.

The album has a different, more spacey feel than its two predecessors, mainly because of the absence of founder members guitarist Mark Davison and drummer Jason Spradlin. Whatever the reasons for their departure, the result is that Gayle Ellett’s keyboards are more to the fore, and in places this sounds more like a Djam Karet album than anything else, the primecut modern spacerock of Baba Yaga being a case in point.

This is something of a problem where a band a mere two albums old and beginning to forge its own identity loses a major part of that structure for the third album, and in this case sole founder member Mark Cook seems to have been led into a direction change by the perhaps more experienced Ellett. This is merely speculation, and it does not detract from the fact that Manifestation remains a good album, but one that seems to lack a bit of focus. The guest instrumentalists, while adding nice touches – the particularly fine flute work on Manifestation Part One being a prime example – to my ears only add to the blurry overall vision of the record.

In typical prog fashion Manifestation Part Two arrives before Part One, and more thematic confusion is supplied via the thespian sci-fi narration in Saddha, an odd touch that could have come from a 1970s prog concept album. I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of narration on pieces of music. Either sing some lyrics, or play an instrumental! To be fair, Herd of Instinct have always been a primarily instrumental group, and are not known for songs in the traditional sense, but it is a shame that they never developed the promise shown by the one example of fully developed songwriting from their 2011 self-titled debut.

The moody Nocturne, with its eerie flute work being joined by some mournful violin, shows dark promise, but sadly it is less than two minutes long so never fully delivers. The following Dybbuk has some neat funky bass figures and a good arrangement that is never too predictable, reminding me of the heavier, filmic side of the band from previous albums, not forgetting Mark Cook’s restrained nod to Larks Tongues-styled ascending arpeggios made me smile. More nods to the mighty Crim follow with the toe-tapping math-rocking of Time and Again, and the album plays out in style after a less than convincing opening half. Shatterpoint is probably my favourite track on the album, and has moments that remind me of Gong, of all things.

I feel that Herd of Instinct need to establish a more focussed direction, and perhaps get back some of the edginess they appear to have mostly smoothed out on this record in favour of a kind of ‘Djam Karet Jr.’ sound. Manifestation is a good album nonetheless, but one that could easily be drowned in the sheer number of quality releases this year.

01. Manifestation Part Two (5:54)
02. Gridlock (3:37)
03. Baba Yaga (4:35)
04. Manifestation Part One (5:16)
05. Saddha (7:00)
06. Nocturne (1:48)
07. Dybbuk (6:08)
08. Time and Again (3:26)
09. Shatterpoint (6:34)
10. Waterfalls and Black Rainbows (3:46)

Total time – 48:04

Mark Cook – Warr Guitar, Fretted & Fretless Guitar, Fretless Bass, Mellotron, Thumb Piano, Synth, Samples
Gayle Ellett – Mellotron, Moog, Hammond Organ, Guitar
Mike McGary – Mellotron, Rhodes, Organ, Clavinet, Synth, Piano, Bells
Rick Read – Chapman Stick, Fretted & Fretless Bass, Taurus Pedals
Ross Young – Drums
~ With:
Bill Bachman – Drums (tracks 1,3 & 7)
Bob Fisher – Flute (tracks 4-7), Saxophone (tracks 2 & 8)
Stephen Page – Violin (tracks 2,6,8 & 9)

Record Label: Firepool Records
Catalogue#: n/a
Year Of Release: 2016

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