mobiUS are a new band which came together in the summer of 2021, formed by a group of session players led by the ‘creative architect’ Tim Newcombe. Their debut album, Make the Promise, is released by White Knight Records, which is usually a sign of musical excellence. The band suggest their influences include Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Camel, Rush and Yes from the classic progressive rock era, and Porcupine Tree and Frost* from more recent times. Those are quite some claims as influences so Make the Promise has a lot to do to fulfil those comparisons.
The musical Odyssey of this album gently shimmers in on piano and a subtle synth wash before a distinctly Floydian guitar flows in. We are definitely strolling upon the sunlit meadows of Wright, Gilmour Mason and Waters, especially with the lush keyboards, and mobiUS do it very well. However, Andy Hughes steers the piece in a much jazzier direction with free-range and scintillating (or ‘exciting’, as he is credited!) electric guitars, before Tim Newcombe slides in with his great jazz piano chops… these guys can certainly play. This extended instrumental journeys across various musical styles and mobiUS’s sleeve notes tell us that it was the first piece created by the band, describing it as an ‘allegory of the retreat from a safe established templated musical process, breaking into a world of layered sounds, changing rhythms and tempo, and an escape from the bonds of what is considered to be popular musical production’. If that was their manifesto for this piece then credit has to be given for their ambition and musical skill as Odyssey travels across the musical landscape. Alistair McCaig’s thumping bass presages a change in direction as Hughes transitions into a bluesy rock guitar style over which Newcombe lays an extended dazzling synth melody. The spotlight is then taken up by an imaginative and gritty guitar solo over a grooving bass and fluid, powerful drums from Andy Clifton. Odyssey lasts nearly 20-minutes, which is a big ask for new listeners to an unknown band, but it manages to hold the attention very well – it clearly owes a lot to their influences but mobiUS fashion a captivating opening with ambition and skill.
mobiUS go in a rather different and more emotional direction for their next extended piece, Rain Another Day, inspired by Tim Newcombe’s mother, Christine, who died of cancer in 2005. Newcombe’s lilting piano and soft emotive vocals from Hughes lay out the melancholia evocatively:
The sorrow of Winter’s gone again
And I can sing alone again”
A keyboard sax emphasises the sadness before an undulating synth line and distinctive synth drum sounds unexpectedly transform the piece and add more energy, Hughes adding an electric guitar overlay. Rain Another Day then takes another unexpected twist as a ’70s Hammond organ underpins a dirty sounding guitar lick and much more strident bluesy, swinging vocals, indicating a more defiant perspective. The guitar is skilfully played but seems curiously muted or distant at times. A delicately played tinkling rain-like piano section from Newcombe swings us back towards melancholia and introspection, and Hughes reverts to the earlier softer and sweeter vocal style as the lyrics and music rise into more positive realms. The tempo increases and there are echoes of Supertramp as the band roll along brightly, and then Hughes launches into another sparkling solo, swept along on McCaig and Clifton’s solid rhythms. Newcombe shares that the song is partly based on his memory as a young child listening for his mother to return home one night from her nursing job in tumultuous rain, and only when he heard her bike on the gravel drive could he feel able to go to sleep… and if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of a bike on gravel in the pouring rain at the end. This is an ambitious and emotional piece, although I am not always sure it fully succeeds, feeling rather over-extended – nevertheless, it is done with great skill and feeling.
mobiUS seem determined not to be too predictable and So They Tell Me takes us in a whole new direction with a song about mental health. Sampled dialogue opens into a morphing sonic backdrop of twisting guitars, labyrinthine keys, roiling bass and drums, over which Hughes sings with an impassioned and gritty Captain Beefheart-style vocal. Newcombe explains in the sleeve notes that this was a difficult track to write, both in terms of sensitivity about the subject matter and also technically with its complex structure and frequent changes in rhythm. In truth, this was also the most difficult track to listen to initially as it is challenging and uncomfortable at times, which seems totally apt considering the subject matter. However, over time this piece grew on me in its truly progressive approach as I began to appreciate Hughes’ distinctive vocals, which are an acquired taste at times. The final piece, Spider, is about how we face challenges, and that to achieve success we have to sometimes sacrifice. This is a much more straight-ahead rock song with Hughes’ now very familiar guitar styling and sometimes eccentric vocals all over it, and as such is the least captivating song on the album.
Make the Promise is an impressive debut. The range of styles will appeal to some while others will yearn for a consistent ‘golden thread’ running through to drawing the album together. The songs are not always wholly successful or fully captivating, but what is not in debate is the clear musical talent of the whole band who all contribute with skill, and the open emotional content of the pieces. Considering this was an album recorded at distance under the shadow of Covid and social distancing it is remarkable how cohesive an album it is for such a new band, which is a testament to their quality.
In mathematics, a Möbius band is formed by attaching two ends of a strip of paper with a half twist. This mobiUS band have certainly moulded together differing influences with a twist, and there is certainly a great deal of promise for the future as we look forward to further releases by this talented and imaginative band.
01. Odyssey (19:11)
– i) Farewell
– ii) Borderland
– iii) And Beyond
– iV) One Step Closer
– v) Alone
– vi) Louise’s Theme / Sunshine Eyes
– vii) Sub Fractal
– viii) City of a Million Dreams
– ix) Escape
– x) Home
02. Rain Another Day (18:00)
03. So They Tell Me (10:22)
04. Spider (5:22)
Total Time – 52:55
Tim Newcombe – Piano, Hammond Organ, Synthesisers, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Andy Hughes – ‘Exciting’ Guitars, Rhythm Guitars, ‘Scintillating’ Vocals
Alistair McCaig – Bass Guitar
Andy Clifton – Drums
Record Label: White Knight Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st March 2022