Sea of Tranquility - Execute and Breathe
Keen to build on the hugely positive reception their debut album Home Away From Home received, Vermont's Elephants Of Scotland return with album number two, the beautifully packaged and wonderfully named Execute And Breathe. "A Different Machine" fires the album into life, the hallmarks which made HAFH one of last year's most captivating releases immediately in evidence. Surging keyboards boost stinging guitars; somehow still leaving enough room for the vocals to add sparkling touches and idiosyncrasies as they do. Bassist Dan MacDonald, who takes lead vocals here, and drummer Ornan McLean focusing the song through intricate, although not overly indulgent patterns which bring colour without dazzling. "The Other Room" adds a poppier sheen, synth man Adam Rabin stepping up to the mic on this occasion, revealing and revelling in an ethos which underpins much of best work EofS create. An easy relaxed vibe thriving through undoubtedly Progressive themes that simply feel no need to shove overt musicianship down your throat; even while leaving no doubt that these guys can seriously play.
The album's sing along arrives in the shape of "Amber Waves", a wash of melancholy somehow lifting the spirit, as lilting guitar lines pushing to the forefront, classy keys work rushing into earshot in between times, even reminding of Vangelis during an acoustic guitar and rolling tom breakdown. Guitarist John Whyte takes ownership of lead vocals for the atmospheric slide of "TFAY", the sounds of an alien orchestra limbering up giving way to militaristic snare pulses before the most urgent song of the journey so far ups the tempo and intensity. Interestingly while MacDonald (2 songs), Rabin (3) and Whyte (2) share the lead vocals almost equally, the variance is a gentle one, the trio all having similarish voices and attacks, yet being unique enough for the ear to still pick them all out. Truth be told, none of them are the best singers Prog will ever hear, yet in the grand tradition of the genre, it is their ability to tell the album's stories that makes their performances vital to their surrounds.
"Boxless" has a Rush like unease about it, suggesting intrigue and hidden danger, jangling guitars bouncing off clattering and pinging toms, while swathes of synths add colour, before the instrumental "Endless (pt. 1) (can something that is endless arrive in parts.........?) allows Rabin to stretch out his approach behind the keys, MacDonald's bass work being at its most expansive as Whyte provides guitars work which sings as it singes. "Endless (pt. 2)" (evidently it can) again reveals a Rush flavour, although with the lightness of keyboard touch that suggests the hands of Mark Kelly of Marillion. All of which leaves "Mousetrap" to do its job, ensnaring the listener through a whole host of keyboard melodies and harmony vocals (surprisingly, something not used often, bearing in mind we have three singers here), as a grittier attack counterpointing some scintillating work from Rabin's keys.
Special mentions need go to lyricist Greg Skillman who has a hand in the words on five songs here, weaving interesting stories as he does so, as well as Yuri Kovalenko, whose aforementioned artwork really is rather striking. What this highlights though is what a team effort Elephants Of Scotland, the duo above and especially the four musicians are (Rabin also produced, mixed and mastered the whole kit and caboodle), the performances revealing no ego or agenda other than that to make the songs on this album every bit as good as they can be. The results are rather special.