I loved Encircled’s first album, The Gun Has Replaced the Handshake, but opined that it would be far better with drums, so now we get album two, The Monkey Jamboree, and it HAS drums. On first listen, it crosses over a bit but is Prog enough for me and I rather like it. Quite a lot in fact, it has enough complexity to lift it above pop, but it is catchy enough for the songs to hang around in the memory. The Gun Has Replaced the Handshake was clever, it dared to touch on subjects not usually found in decent music, bullies for one and the detrimental effect they have on their victims – it should be a crime. If anything at all it reminds me of the clever hooks that were coming out of Australia during the 1980s, such as Mental as Anything, it has real quality and I would pair it with Mothertongue.
The introduction gives no clues to the music to come, it is with a clever twist. Mark Busby Burrows’ vocals are as strong and rich as on the first album, and call me old fashioned but I do like his clear diction. There are Pink Floyd-like keys, a chilled entry before Alphabetically Possibly switches to a Marillion style; these references are just that, reference points as Encircled are developing a clear identity of their own. One for the next HRH Prog I think, or Summer’s End! In a world of 14-year-old angst, it is one of the few albums that have not brought the obligatory headphones when played In the car, that in itself is a recommendation. And the drums. Stuart Picken is a fine addition to the band, adding that element I felt was missing from the first album, making very good even better.
Complexity, yes it has that, both in composition and as a track title. As said previously, you can enjoy, learn the songs and sing along without removing any progressive credentials. No singular instrument dominates in a balanced mix overall, though the drums are a little forward on Magic Hour. This is, I think, a glitch, but it does not detract. Stepping back, Stereochrome has a slight eighties feel, ABC/Spandau Ballet, meeting with the assured composition of Semisonic, a band that disappeared far too soon. There’s nowt wrong with singalong prog, a theme that continues with the progressive pop of Tomorrow…; in the words of the Fast Show’s Jazz presenter, “Nice!”
Old habits die hard as the drummer is sent down to the corner shop for a bag of sweeties on A Life of Shy Perfection, a stark and atmospheric piece, more or less Mark Burrows with keyboards from Scott Evans. Old habits, etc., but with alternative percussion provided by piano, the contrast with the rest of the album works really well. It’s the slow dance at the end of the evening, when back from the corner shop drums are introduced at around 4:30, they bring a little darkness and menace before departing again for a simple guitar strings playout. A grower of a track.
Chasing the Ghosts seems to borrow a little phrasing from Jeff Wayne’s Brave New World and MacArthur Park with its soggy cake. It is epic in its own right, and in the tradition of long progressive pieces it deserves a place in that echelon. Mark Burrows combines beautifully with Kim Hart on harmonies. The time spent writing this in Bude weren’t wasted chaps. I just do not get bored of this, and each listen brings new nuances.
Now do I think you should own this…well…I think you need to get your priorities right, so okay you’ll have to go without a couple of good meals (you can do it), but then you WILL own this album; starter, main and dessert.
01. The Monkey Jamboree (1:47)
02. Alphabetically Possibly (4:31)
03. Complexity (6:32)
04. Stereochrome (5:52)
05. Magic Hour (6:10)
06. Tomorrow… (6:08)
07. A Life of Shy Perfection (6:41)
08. Chasing the Ghost (16:40)
Total Time: 54:27
Gareth Evans – Guitar
Scott Evans – Bass, Keyboards
Mark Busby Burrows – Vocals, Guitar
Stuart Picken – Drums & Percussion
Kim Hart – Vocals
Record Label: Desert Comb Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20th January 2017