As you listen to On Track, the debut album from Damanek, the words and then the sentiment of an arresting lyric jump from the music and instantly capture your attention;
and the song is somehow altered and discord grows.
Man versus Man
in this crowded biosphere of choking disharmony.”
The Cosmic Score (Heaven Song Part 1)
The poignancy of the lyric is astonishing. The unexpected clarity with which the words float to prominence creates a startling emphasis which demands attention. Further, when compared to the beauty of the music against which they are delivered, the contrast punches home just how brutal and uncompromising the message is.
To be fair, this is but one of an avalanche of biting observations and On Track is remarkable for the sheer unrelenting consistency in its powerful statement of environmental, social and personal challenges created by the direction being taken by the human race. We are out of control and, unless urgent steps are taken, on track for a catastrophic future which will spell calamity for the Earth, for nature and for all the species which uneasily co-exist within it.
In Flight is no less compromising and no less direct in continuing the often painful reflections and heartrending observations which arise from daily life. With clear signals to both the past as well as the present, the same array of bewildering concerns continue to cast a haunting presence over the song writing and permeate every layer of the music. This time, however, the manner of the approach has shifted, the angle of attack is tellingly different and the delivery all the more potent as a result.
The first clue comes from the deceptively beguiling cover. A robed, monkish figure looks down on the land from the bow of what we presume, from the title, is some kind of airship. The serene vista stretches to the horizon, the hint of a technological metropolis framed against a foreground of rural beauty and tranquillity. But the echoes of On Track are alive and well: the airship, the figure, the birds are all inexorably moving in one direction. What kind of future awaits?
The second clue links to the message from the cover and is unearthed in lyrics that are simply irresistible. The sheer brilliance of In Flight lies in the triumphant move of putting story-telling centre stage and as a result, inviting imagination, compassion and empathy to spark resonances with our experiences of the world we know.
Looking down on the earth, as we do on the cover image, it is all too easy to see the ‘bigger picture’, the overarching problems and issues – all the things tackled by On Track. What we forget is that it is people, individuals – you and me – who live at the heart of these problems and experience them every day of our lives. How else is it possible to create awareness of and sympathy for the things we go through other than by telling stories?
And that is why In Flight is such a special album. Each track delivers a series of sketches, stories, vignettes which tackle different aspects of our experience. Take a look at the opening of Big Eastern:
Stretching to the far barren hills
From granite to sky I can see my home
Just being is hard, but from my hands
I pull life from the soil
My wife beside me, our child on her back.”
Big Eastern Part 1 – Cruel Skies
The genius of the song writing – and the compelling draw of this dramatic and eloquent release – lies in this almost obsessive attention to detail which brings the listener alongside the story teller and lets us see things from their point of view. It is both inspired in what it enables and strikingly vivid in the way it helps us feel and understand what is going on.
Even as we draw toward the end of the review, it is telling that nothing has yet been said of the music itself. Stories are nothing if the telling is poor or inadequate. My goodness, we need have no worries on that front! Sean Timms creates an impressive sound stage which is deliciously sumptuous and alluringly spacious, allowing the music to excite, delight and thrill with expansive clarity.
The playing is beautifully seductive and enticingly organic, more delicate and elegant than On Track, yet also more assured and precise in the way it grows progressive layers of sophisticated melodies and complex harmonies. Marek Arnold again excels in the playful interjections and teasing exclamations which are an absolute joy in the way they bridge and bind the work of the other instruments.
Keep an ear open for some thoroughly enticing bass work which brings balance, subtlety and depth to the party. The addition of the violin to The Crossing is divine in the extra texture and bite it adds. And yet, it all feels so wonderfully effortless, refined and so perfectly natural. Guy Manning has forged an album which is something truly special: it is musically distinguished, inventively creative and passionately exceptional.
01. Ragusa (5:17)
02. Skyboat (5:47)
03. The Crawler (8:50)
04. Moon-Catcher (Heaven Song Pt.2) (4:38)
05. The Crossing (7:10)
06. Big Eastern – Part 1: Cruel Skies (12:02)
07. Big Eastern – Part 2: The Shaking Earth (10:35)
08. Big Eastern – Part 3: A Life in Chinatown (7:04)
Total Time – 61:23
Marek Arnold – Saxes, Seaboard
Guy Manning – Vocals, Keyboards, Bouzouki, Mandolins, Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Percussion
Dan Mash – Bass
Sean Timms – Keyboards, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Raf Azaria – Violin (track 5)
DavidB – Backing Vocals
Kevin Currie – Backing Vocals
Brody Thomas Green – Drums
Julie King – Backing Vocals
Luke Machin – Guitars (tracks 1,2,4 & 5)
Tzan Niko – Electric Guitars (tracks 6,7 & 8)
Antonio Vittozzi – Guitars (tracks 3,6,7 & 8)
The Gospo Collective and Jones Commentary Choir
Record Label: Giant Electric Pea
Countries of Origin: U.K./Germany/Australia
Date of Release: 5th October 2018