I may be using genres to describe music in this review…
If you’re not familiar with John Bassett then you are missing out on a prolific and varied output in a number of guises from this talented multi-instrumentalist. Check out the links below and you will see just how prolific. Though he seems to be able to get music out of many instruments, John’s weapon of choice seems to be the guitar, his roots being in a guitar based progressive rock idiom, with more than a hint of metal. I first came across him a few years ago when I found a video on YouTube and was intrigued and amused by the band’s name, King Bathmat, and became taken with the music. Since then John has re-invented himself as Arcade Messiah, put out albums in his own name and now further re-invented as SΔCRED ΔPE.
This latest project takes a surprising step away from the guitar based progressive metal of King Bathmat or Prog-metal of Arcade Messiah and uses a collection of synthesised sounds. This might be synthpop or electronic rock. (O.K. – don’t expect me to know the actual genre – the tags on his Bandcamp site read “80s electronic, progressive rock, chillwave, darkwave, eighties experimental, retro electro, retrowave, synth, synthpop, synthwave, vaporwave”.)
Mr Bassett’s gone some way off-road with this one. There seems to be very little guitar, though when it is used it is to good effect, and the synth sounds he has used have led John in a refreshing, different musical direction. John has a track record as an extremely good singer, and his vocals and harmonies are always used to great effect in his varied projects, but such is his sense of adventure he even uses pitch correction as a special effect, not attempting to hide the fact in any way. This is incredibly brave given the demographic of his listeners, most of whom, I would guess, would be horrified at the prospect – associating it with the kind of Radio 1 pop that offends their Prog sensibilities. During As Birds Fall Out Of The Sky he reminds me of – even sounds like – Marc Almond, except John’s capable of perfect pitch, even without corrective tuning aids and at one point I found an uncanny resemblance to the voice of the late George Michael. I mean that in a good way – and you can argue with me on Facebook about that one, if you like.
There are also melodies and catchy little hooks that mean that even when I’m away from my players I can still hear the tunes in my head. Where that can sometimes prove unbelievably irritating (like when you’ve heard Aqua’s Barbie Girl – after an hour of that ear worm I want to kill myself) in the case of SΔCRED ΔPE I want to find a player and play the album again.
I do have some criticism but it is mild. Mr B. sets a high bar for himself across all of his projects, and yet I think John is perhaps not always at his best with his instrumental songs. The opening track, Horn, has a great hook and a catchy bass line. Even so, I felt like John was in danger of milking it – a little – and for some people the track may be bordering on repetitive. Having said that, I was reminded of the way I would be mesmerised by the combination of Brian McGee’s drums and Derek Forbes’s Bass on the Simple Minds album Sons and Fascination. There was that elusive groove and I could listen to it for hours. I think John uses the seven minutes to explore lots of mini-melodies, sounds and riffs throughout the track and after a few listens I found that it does successfully sustain its groove for the full 7 minutes.
I have had this album on a constant loop in the car on the way to and from work for over a week now and have become pretty familiar with it. It is easy to listen to, if not easy listening. It was only replaced this week by the extended, instrumental remix version of the album. This is a free/name-your-price download from Bandcamp (though I always feel that the ethical thing to do with these is make at least a small donation – the artist deserves it and we don’t have any right to free music even if the artist is happy to give it away). John proposed this release on his Facebook page in the form of a “should I or shouldn’t I” vote thingy. I made a donation and downloaded it. I have to say that whilst I enjoyed the SΔCRED ΔPE album, I did find that the instrumental versions of the songs missed John’s voice and were in danger of being taken out of context and seeming repetitive. Although it gives some insight into the way the tracks are built up I found it added little to the party so I would recommend listening to the original, non-extended with vocals version before exploring the free/pay-what-you-like download.
I’ve taken to highlighting a track as a favourite. Think of it as the track that makes buying the album worthwhile. This is actually tough as I Want To Go Back To The Happy House had a nostalgic feel that made me think of the bands I was listening to in the 1980s. Season Of The Damned comes close and made it to my short-list, and the second part of Asleep At The Wheel has an appeal in being as progressive as it is pop. But for me it would be Birds Fall From The Sky. I like the pace of it, the staccato keyboards and driving drums. Lyrically it paints a little picture and it breaks the groove at the “middle eight” to enter a short, half speed minor epic interlude. Or is it Season Of The Damned? Yes – That one. Oh wait, the haunting first part of the last track; Asleep at the Wheel (Part 2) is eerie and beautiful. So my favourite? Yes – Season of the Damned. Wait…
Adventurously breaking away from expectation, this is yet another album that was a great pleasure to review and I recommend that you go to Bandcamp and download it.
01. Horn (7:10)
02. Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) (2:40)
03. Birds Fall From The Sky (5:46)
04. I Want To Go Back To The Happy House (5:08)
05. Season Of The Damned (5:40)
06. Walking On Ice (6:16)
07. Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2) (5:29)
Total Time – 38:09
John Bassett – Everything
Record Label: n/a
Country of Origin: Ireland
Date of Release: 21st April 2017