Ever since multi-instrumentalist and mastermind Rikard Sjöblom called it quits for Beardfish he’s been putting all his energy into Big Big Train and his newest brainchild Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, who’s sophomore effort follows close in the footsteps of last year’s On Her Journey to The Sun. There’s no denying Mr. Sjöblom is one of the most cunning instrumentalists and prolific songwriters in progressive rock today, but as on past records, one can’t help but feel that a tad more focus and trimming along the edges would’ve augmented this release from being a good one to a great one.
The opening Ghost of Vanity is a piano-driven rocker and goes through many musical ideas in merely six minutes. Fairy-dust piano work alternates with hard rock guitar riffing and scratchy synthesizer licks while Sjöblom delivers one vocal exercise after the other. Maybe one or two falsetto passages too many though? The title track follows suit and doesn’t kid around with eight minutes of virtuoso instrumental prowess succeeded by a melancholic verse-chorus structure. This time around the falsetto makes a great entrance. The album stays in a nostalgic mood with the warmly emotional They Fade, a minimally instrumented and traditionally structured songwriter track. The vocals are in the forefront, allowing Sjöblom to insert some well-arranged harmonies, but even here the production tends to sound rushed – if not in a compositional way then sound-wise.
After the jam-packed instrumental A Treehouse in a Glade – which highlights Sjöblom’s stellar guitar work – and the mid-tempo hard rocker Stone Cold, the enchanting melody of last album’s If You Fall pt. 1 is cited on organ in pt. 2. This time around the composition turns into a whole ‘nother animal. Lyrically, Sjöblom dwells on the past in a conciliatory manner. All in all the ghosts he talks about seem to be well behaved and memories fading is just part of the process. The album closes as it opened, a piano driven affair rounding off this wholesome release. Crown of Leaves is of a quieter nature and hints at achievements of the ’70s – in composition as well as production – finishing the album on a jam and a high note. You’d think…
But then someone decided to throw three bonus tracks on top, which I decided I’ll simply ignore in this review. I will however say this: It’s been going on for a while but it now seems to be inescapable over at InsideOut Music, and it truly confuses me. While the “bonus tracks” on The Sea Within’s debut effort this year were such merely in name but were actually intended as part of the album and those on Spock’s Beard’s Noise Floor compiled as an EP entitled Cutting Room Floor, the ones at hand here clearly differ in quality from the rest of the album; compositionally as well as production-wise. To my mind a composition is either worth the album or not. If the song’s sound just doesn’t fit the concept then why not just save it for a possible future release? Of course this issue shouldn’t distract from an otherwise very worthy addition to the Sjöblom songbook.
01. Ghost Of Vanity (5:59)
02. Friendship (13:36)
03. They Fade (4:51)
04. A Treehouse In A Glade (6:47)
05. Stone Cold (6:08)
06. If You Fall (Part Two) (12:45)
07. Crown Of Leaves (6:50)
~ Bonus tracks:
08. Slow Dancer (4:59)
09. Past Generation (4:26)
10. Friendship – Utopian Radio Edit (6:30)
Total Time – 72:51
Rikard Sjöblom – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Bass
David Zackrisson – Guitar (tracks 6 & 7)
Rasmus Diamant – Bass (tracks 1,5 & 9), Double Bass (track 7), Vocals (track 9)
Petter Diamant – Drums, Vocals (track 9)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
County of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 9th November 2018