Lockdown has taken people to many places. Howard Boder rose from those depths with Atlantis, an exceptional album that I believe will grow on listeners with repeated listens.
A potted history of Howard: He played keyboards with a short-lived band called Bruce’s Spider (two gigs), then spent a period with The Gift, also featuring as Mellotron Maestro for The Book of Genesis (an association that continues, TBOG being, in my view, one of the better interpreters of the source band). 2020 saw Howard’s crossover rock classical album, Legend, and now in 2021, Atlantis. He is currently working with original TBOG singer Nick Wells on a concept album based on the books of Erich Von Daniken, the band’s working name currently My Dark House.
Fanfare is a neat piece that opens Atlantis with clues of what is to come. It is nice, but to my mind needs more layering. An example of what I mean would be the trumpet fanfares in those old sword and sandal classics, such as Ben Hur. A fuller piece would enhance the expectation for what is about to follow, but it is a good entrance to have. Maybe just a little cheesy, I can’t help liking it though.
Anthony Phillips would appear to have some influence on Howard’s music as the second track, Carillon, has some classic Phillips touches. It also draws on Mike Oldfield. All this is done without becoming pastiche, a Genesis fan (as well as cover band keyboardist), there is an essence of Tony Banks in the ivory flourishes. Some twelve-string embellishments and the bar on this album is beginning to rise.
REM Dreams, the first vocal track, reminds me lyrically of early Genesis, in phrasing if not in content. A short piece but a nice introduction to vocalist Nick Wells. This flows into Coda with its nice repeating melody throughout, though it could easily be placed as an album end piece. Vapitol breaks away from the nostalgic theme, it is epic and would fit nicely against a film of Arthurian legend. Just close your eyes and I hope the pageant and pennants will appear in your mind’s eye.
Ondine is a tale of myth, one I first came across via The Gift. This is Mr Boder’s take on the same legend. Again, we visit Ant Phillips territory, and get a beautiful vocal performance from Nick Wells. Here I would say the influences is early Floyd rather than Genesis, with occasional hints of the more recent Big Big Train. This and the next track, Ships, were the first that stirred the inner voice. Ondine has some stunning passages from both keyboards and twelve-string that urge me to listen again to this and my year favourite so far, The Emerald Dawn, as Howard draws you in to the music in the same way that Tree Stewart doea with that band. Prog is lucky to have so many exceptional musicians out there; we often look to define the word Progressive from the music we are hearing, every step of the 54-minutes of this album is a progression. It is an excellent album, away from the mainstream, quietly trudging on, but when found it gives moments on intense pleasure.
Ships is a favourite. Why? It appears simple, drawing you in and suddenly you are caught in the benign spider’s web. I hope this album gives Howard the recognition that is perhaps long overdue. It is an album that makes me wish latter day Genesis had continued to embrace their acoustic side. I suspect that early Genesis lover, Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales) would love it if he hear it.
In some ways the album feels like a journey through Prog, but it is more than that. It highlights musical styles of prog heroes past, but also of the now. It would be easy to copy the styles, but Howard lifts it far above that and well beyond slavish copy. There are times when I find it marvellous, it isn’t predictable progressive music, you really do delight in the chord changes.
Atlas held the world on his shoulders, here the piece that bears his name is roughly the centre point of this album. There is an air of the medieval about this track which immediately brought to mind The Amazing Blondel, purveyors of prog with a medieval twist. It’s sort of Nursery Cryme but with better recording technique and a smidgeon of Alan Parson. A little trip back with Father Tiresias through early Genesis. Being the sum of many parts, you may expect it to sound a little disjointed; it doesn’t, and as journeys go, it’s good to share. Quite anthemic, a little quirky but it has warmth that makes me smile. Nick Wells projects an early Peter Gabriel vocal style, but as the ex-lead for The Book of Genesis that is perhaps to be expected.
Machines and Mechanisation run together, the almost clockwork Machines serving as an intro. This track is quite Jarre, a rhythmic beat, some swirling keys, before a Genesis-like melody and then Nick’ vocals. It has a seventies vibe, telling, I think, a tale of the rise of machines and the resistance to them. Well, that’s what I get from it. A nice Pink Floyd-like guitar solo forms a bridge, a seventies vibe rejuvenated and fresh.
Where this album does emulate past glories, it does so respectfully, updating and bringing something that is fresh and a very enjoyable listen. Into the Sea begins the wind down, a genuinely nice song in delivery and execution of the penultimate track of the album, followed by an interesting curve ball in Siren. The male vocal is replaced by a strong female voice that, accompanied by the tinkling ivories, has a beautiful tonal quality; the piano stops, the voice holds, and what a stunning way to end an album. I feel quite exhilarated. What surprised me is that the female voice is a sample!
If enough enthusiasm is shown it may be available beyond the confines of Apple Music and Spotify. Howard hopes to have a few copies of this very enjoyable album in CD format available at The Book of Genesis gigs. I think you should buy it, if for nothing else, to encourage Howard to continue. Work has commenced on the next album, the concept album from My Dark House, and that will be a name to look for when recording becomes product.
01. Fanfare (3:14)
02. Carillon (3:39)
03. REM Dreams (2:06)
04. Coda (3:24)
05. Vapitol (2:40)
06. Ondine (9:48)
07. Ships (6:11)
08. Atlas (7:38)
09. Machines (0:43)
10. Mechanisation (8:36)
11. Into the Sea (5:05)
12. Siren (1:24)
Total Time – 55:06
Howard Boder – Keyboards, 12-string & Acoustic Guitars
Nick Wells – Vocals, Guitar
Milo Black – Percussion, Drum Programming
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st July 2021