It’s been just over a year since I reviewed Nova Cascade’s debut album Above All Else and the band, spearheaded very much by Dave Hilborne, have gone from strength to strength with very positive reviews, so it was with great pleasure I received A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows to digest.
No band, I am sure, sit so much on the “Is it prog?” fence as Nova Cascade. My summary, to cut the debate short, would be that they no doubt appeal to any prog fan, but had this not been 2019, where most genres from the ’80s have morphed into others, this album would sit firmly in New Wave Art Rock. I would also imagine if it was the ’80s it could have been hugely successful. This is not to say it sounds dated or out of place, far from it, it is lush in soundscapes, melody and instrumentation that sits nicely in 2019.
Unwavering provides an upbeat start, already you can hear that the production standards from the first outing have gone up a notch, guitars and synths blending seamlessly over a sparse drum arrangement. The bass pierces through, also sparse, but in a very effective way. Antillas and vocals are introduced over a chilled out synth landscape, minimal bass very much in a Talk Talk fashion, vocals in the Steve Hogarth / Mark Hollis style – it’s a beautiful song. The last minute of the track leading us in another direction, but complementary to the overall song, with arpeggiated guitar replacing the vocal.
Rabbit Hole has a very ’80s New Wave sound. I love this track, the arrangement is complex but understated, with multiple synth layers, all ’80s sounding. Echo & Narcissus keeps us on course with more lush, retro synths under the vocals, leading the way to a truly stunning instrumental break before the vocals return, this time with slightly more malice to them. And then the drums kick in over the aforementioned instrumental break, the violin is amazing, a great close to the track.
The piano led ambient Apophis sees the happy go lucky upbeat take a sinister turn as the music becomes darker, before finishing on a happy note. Plasticine and Paint, on the other hand, sees Dave drawing on all his influences, and you can’t escape the Talk Talk vibe here, but it works so well.
Joseph is a nice little instrumental passage, with violin taking the lead. The piece is used the same way as Horizons paves the way for Supper’s Ready from the Genesis masterpiece Foxtrot, and the biggie on this album is the title track A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows – there is so much going on here, 10 minutes of interweaving instrumentation, with really strong emotive melodies. It really is very good and demands repeat listens to fully digest. And finally we land at Thaw, a nice understated, dreamy end to the album.
For me, this album is a marked improvement from their last and I won’t be surprised if it takes them much further, if the prog crowd will listen. The music can escape and be listened to by more general music fans, so those clamouring for something Talk Talk, Icicle Works or David Sylvian could have released may well be in for a treat.
01. Unwavering (3:13)
02. Antillas (4:11)
03. Rabbit Hole (2:53)
04. Echo & Narcissus (4:17)
05. Apophis (2:39)
06. Plasticine & Paint (2:52)
07. Joseph (3:16)
08. A Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows (10:19)
09. Thaw (2:04)
Total Time – 35:34
Dave Hilborne – Lead & Backing Vocals, Synths, Programming
Dave Fick – Bass
Charlie Bramald – Flute
David Anania – Drums
Eric Bouillette – Violin, Lead Guitar
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: International
Date of Release: 9th September 2019