Nova Cascade have a curious genesis, apparently formed in an online gaming chatroom which developed into a musical project involving musicians swapping music files many miles apart in Europe and America. Eventually they gathered enough material to create Above All Else in September 2018. In preparation for their next album, A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, to be released in September 2019, The Progressive Aspect catches up with their debut release.
Nova Cascade describe themselves as an ‘Ambient Progressive Rock band’ and take satisfaction from using their limited resources creatively and intuitively, including recording guitar riffs on mobile phones overlooking a stunning view (!). This approach gives the album an imaginative but sparse and organic feel.
When one understands the origins and virtual punk ethic behind this album it makes sense of the self-proclaimed ‘unashamedly homemade’ atmosphere which permeates the work. This is not an album of sumptuous production and ornate multi-layered compositions, instead we find ourselves in rather more basic and ‘Lo-Fi’ surroundings, which gives the music a feeling of fragility and naivety tinged with heartfelt authenticity. Dave Hilborne on synths, programming and vocals appears to be the main driver behind the album, particularly the opening title song, which opens with the sound of a ticking clock and birdsong. There is a dream-like feel to the keyboards and Hilborne’s breathy vocals in a song conveying a yearning for the rapture of love to never cease:
“Can’t this night go forever?
Laying here in blissfulness, Stop the Clock, Delay the Dawn
A Never Ending wistulness, Above All Else…”
Charlie Bramald’s subtle flute and Heather Leslie’s delicate violin add to the ethereal quality of this opening piece, which sets the tone of the whole of the album. Leslie’s flute returns later in the album more prominently with a lovely melancholic solo on Lo-Fi.
Continuum gently glides along with softly chiming guitars from Alessio Proetti over a synth backwash. It feels there is something just out of reach or indistinct in the distance on Prophecy, the longest piece on the album, which gradually builds as it quietly ebbs and flows. The majority of the album floats along in a similar style with a series of short pieces that melt together as a whole.
We Never Spoke stands out from the overall atmosphere on the album, beginning with a gentle flute intro but which develops a more insistent rhythm and beat. Guitars, piano, bass and guitars weave together melodically under chanting… and then it all fades away… and that may just be what holds this album back for this listener. Ideas are initially developed and there is skill in how those ideas are expressed, but they seem to slip and fade away just as they start to engage – like being half asleep, drifting in and out of a dream with neither the satisfaction of a full-on dream-like state or being fully awake.
There could be the sense in Above All Else that whilst there is beauty in the shimmering ambient soundscapes that something more substantial is sometimes needed to give the listener a little more to cling onto in an ocean of subtlety. Epiphany does feature David Anania from the Blue Man Group on drums which gives that piece a bit more impact, but it is unremarkable. Towards the end of the album Swept Away is a welcome change in pace and atmosphere as Hilborne’s short-lived Bryan Ferry type vocals introduce a Talk Talk like piece:
“Yesterday I Fooled Myself, That all the Dreams were real
Along the way we lose ourselves, We’re Swept Away.”
Curiously distorted guitar sounds and some deft bass work from Dave Fick give the track some impetus before the inevitable fade away and we inevitably return to the dreamy hills and meadows of softly shimmering keyboards for the rest of the album.
Above All Else is an album filled with delicate and subtle sounds, particularly on the title track which aches with yearning. These sounds show promising ideas and will appeal to those with a liking for ambient synth-drenched soundscapes. However, whilst the pragmatism which inspired this new band’s more creative minimalistic and ‘homemade’ approach is to be commended there is also an inescapable sense that this album feels like a demo which could have been developed further. Nevertheless, with ideas and sounds as evocative as these, there is clearly a lot of potential and it will be interesting to see how this band develop their sound and approach for A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows in a few months.
01. Above All Else (3:30)
02. Continuum (3:06)
03. Prophecy (5:11)
04. We Never Spoke (3:36)
05. Hurtled (3:42)
06. Lo Fi (2:44)
07. ONE Hundred & Fourteen (2:22)
08. Epiphany (2.06)
09. Imago (2:23)
10. Swept Away (2:36)
11. Icarus (3:06)
12. Wilted (2:07)
Total Time – 36:21
Dave Hilborne – Synths, Vocals
Dave Fick – Bass Guitar
Alessio Proetti – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Charlie Bramald – Flute (tracks 1,4 & 5)
Heather Leslie – Violin (track 6)
David Anania – Drums (track 8)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Europe & U.S.A.
Date of Release: 10th November 2018