There are many studies and much evidence for the link between music and mental well-being. I definitely use music to boost my mood, and it is a welcome solace when I know I might otherwise be disappearing down that terrible spiral of depression. I do take medication, which mostly keeps my mind working as it should, but the biggest benefit it gives is that it seems to let me recognise before it happens that I’m in danger of spiralling out of control. And when that happens, for me, music is definitely the best medicine. Indeed, music has often been my saving grace and my safe space.
The catharsis of music can also happen as much in the making as the listening, and in recent years many of my favourite albums have been such works of catharsis. Gravity Machine’s debut album, Red, seems destined to join those. There’s so much in this album that resonates for me and seems to describe my own battles with depression. Gravity Machine is largely the work of multi-instrumentalist Niall Parker and, apart from the drums from Bob Shoesmith, what you hear is more often than not likely to be Niall. Red is an intensely personal album, written after Niall turned to writing music after the death of his wife, Sophie, from cancer in 2016. Niall and Sophie met in Ethiopia, and the importance of Africa in their relationship is reflected in the music.
Indeed, among the first sounds you will hear is an African beat introducing the opening number, It’s Summer. And while I can hear the Peter Gabriel influence the band proudly proclaims, there’s also an early ’80s U2 vibe, which I suspect this may be a result of the collision of William Orbit and Peter Gabriel influences. It’s a thoroughly rousing song which eases into the more folky, but still very ballsy, She’s Calling Me Home. Niall’s gruff vocals really suit this song. I love the way it begins and ends with the ambient noises of nature, which provide perfect segues from and to the songs either side.
Though Red’s Song is not really a song – there being no singer – it works as a very beautiful interlude, albeit with a building darkness that coalesces into Dreamtime. The following In the Depths is a favourite of mine. Even if I didn’t read the notes for this song on Bandcamp I’d know from the lyrics that it deals with depression. I don’t know if it’s my personal experience which gives this a track greater meaning to me, or if it’s just because it’s a great song. It’s another track that seems to take Orbit and Gabriel influences, the result being something sounding like someone else – in this case Depeche Mode or Portishead. Or even A Perfect Circle, if they were making albums at the time Portishead and Depeche Mode were top of the charts. However, while I am reminded of these bands in this track, and U2 in the opening number, at no time do either song really sound like those bands.
Standing Stones, on the other hand, starts sounding like it could be classic Stone Temple Pilots, albeit a far more progressive sounding STP. STP crossed with Amplifier, perhaps? Time Cut Short the Dance is then all funky bass and electronic sounds. There are definite A Perfect Circle sounds in this track, with William Orbit washing all over them. I love the way Gravity Machine have taken quite disparate influences, and blended them together into something quite deliciously different. I don’t normally like to make comparisons to other artists so frequently in my reviews, but as Gravity Machine is quite open about their influences I found it enjoyable to listen for them. I have found it to be a little like the jigsaws that seem to take up so much of my lockdown time, fitting the pieces (influences) that Gravity Machine has given into the overall picture.
Another thing I love about the album is how much attention has been paid to make the album one whole listening experience. As disparate as the influences might be, and as different as each song might sound from those around it, they all bleed into each other beautifully. The segues and the flow of the album is perfect. Even Pharmacopoeia, which sounds like nothing else on the album, fits flawlessly. It’s an eerie and sinister industrial track, which I suspect some listeners might not find at all comfortable to listen to. Indeed, the Bandcamp page states it is deliberately brutal and disturbing. I actually really like this track, and feel a little guilty for doing so as I’m not sure I’m meant to enjoy it as much as I do.
Lifting Mountains and The Empty Quarter (another number which is evocative of Amplifier) provide a one-two monster punch of rock that’s thoroughly enjoyable and palate-cleansing after Pharmacopoeia, before the atmospheric closing number, Nightfall, which has many similarities to It’s Summer, bookending the album gloriously and ending with the same ambient sounds of nature. The sequence from Pharmacopoeia to Nightfall is simply amazing and awesome, and provides a bold and dramatic crescendo and climax to the album as a whole. There’s only one track on Red that doesn’t interest me so much, and that’s Dreamtime. That said, while it is my least favourite, it would be a highlight on many other albums – such is the overall quality of Red. This is definitely a case of the cliché being true – all killer and no filler.
It’s well worth clicking on the individual tracks on the Bandcamp site, as you will find (as well as lyrics, and credits) information about the track. It will give you an indication of just how much of a personal and cathartic journey Red was for Niall. There are many words of interest I could have interpolated into this review – and which I was often tempted to do – but ultimately, I think they are best left to be read as you listen to the album, and take the journey with Niall.
01. It’s Summer (5:08)
02. She’s Calling Me Home (5:32)
03. Red’s Song (1:34)
04. Dreamtime (4:46)
05. In the Depths (3:55)
06. Standing Stones (4:50)
07. Time Cut Short the Dance (5:28)
08. Pharmacopoeia (3:32)
09. Lifting Mountains (3:59)
10. The Empty Quarter (4:42)
11. Nightfall (6:21)
Total Time – 49:47
Niall Parker – Vocals, Guitars (Electric, Acoustic, Slide, Drone), Fretless Bass, Synths, Piano, Juno 106, Prophet 8, DFAM, OB12, Wurlitzer
Bob Shoesmith – Drums
Kat Marsh – Backing Vocals (track 1)
Pete Miles – Percussion (tracks 1 & 2), Programming (tracks 1,2 & 7), Drums, Bass (tracks 2 & 11), Hammond Organ (track 4), DFAM (tracks 7 & 8), Synths (tracks 7 & 8), Moog (tracks 8,10 & 11)
Lucia Parker-Schweizer – Vocals (track 8)
Chris Edkins – Bass (track 10)
Lake Langano (Ethiopia) – Ambience (used by kind permission of Stella Aquilina)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 8th March 2020
Gravity Machine – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube