ProgArchives - The Perfect Map
Elephants of Scotland's "The Perfect Map" was a bit of an item a few months ago. In a single week, I encountered reviews of this album on three different forums. I was a little disappointed that the band is not from Scotland but I ordered the album anyway. From the beginning, I liked it and after several plays spread out between several other incoming purchases, I like it a whole lot more.
The general description of the music can be complex, frequently busy, and energetic progressive ROCK, with each song not only standing apart from the others in tempo and atmosphere but also receiving additional treatments to help make each song a stand-apart entity as well as a unifying part of the whole album. In short, I like that this album doesn't have a string of similar sounding songs.
"Sun-Dipped Orphans and the Wizard's Teapot". What a title! Is this a Gong album? We start with a drum rhythm intro that sounds like it would fit right in to a big band number. It quickly turns into a prog piece with synthesizer effects, piano and a kind of dancing guitar riff. Indeed sun-dipped orphans are running about. "Sun-dipped orphans ran into the castle and in the great hall did make a pyramid of ten." I'll say it right now, though the music doesn't bring anything new to the table of modern prog and even sounds similar to what a lot of bands are doing, this is a rousing first track, lively and quick and the first track for me to call a favourite.
But then "Counting on a Ghost" comes in with bursting synthesizer chords as an even faster paced number, frantic and speedy with a tinge of 80's Rush. Then just when you think you got this band sorted and labeled, they come in peacefully with "One By Sea", featuring Meagan Beaucage on vocals. It's like a sea chanty at first but then breaks into a proggy middle section before turning into a slightly more straightforward rock number. Alright. The going is good.
Now comes "Swing the Gavel" with acoustic guitar and recorder, I think. This reminds me of the Celtic folk band who became alternative rock / folk fusion, Spirit of the West. This is like their early stuff from the mid-eighties. I should say here though a word about the vocals. I'm not sure who is the lead vocalist but there are moments when I feel he doesn't have the British touch that goes into a lot of the music and lyrics. At times the music has more power than he can muster and other times it sounds like someone who doesn't do British is trying to read Shakespeare. This does not mean that the vocals are bad. Not at all. But this music has a certain sound to it that requires a little more in some songs.
"The Perfect Map" is musically simpler than other tracks so far but it has an eerie and haunting style that makes it yet another surprise. You really can't guess what this band is going to serve up track after track. Again, I like the variety!
"Random Earth" really brings in some Rush sounds again, this time more like around "Counterparts" I feel. Dan McDonald's bass and John Whyte's guitar, not to mention Ornan McLean on drums and Adam Rabin's keyboards really bring that era of Rush to life here. At one point, I was thinking the vocals need a little something extra for this style of music though, and then suddenly a second voice came in with a higher register sounding almost like Geddy Lee! Of course the music goes beyond Rush; every song goes beyond what it seems to start out doing. And then the whole musical ride slows down with a short instrumental called "Fur Buddy" which is dedicated to a pet canine.
To wrap it up, this album has been great to hear again and again and get to know each track for all their twists and turns. Excellently composed and performed music in my opinion. Anything less than impressive would be the sound of the vocals in a few places as I mentioned above and that basically what we have here is nothing that dozens of other bands aren't doing, meaning that there are a lot of talented musicians writing and playing excellent complex and exciting music. But I see it this way. You've got a chef who knows how to cook up exquisite dishes, and though you've had something like them before, these are still delectable. The chefs here are all of high calibre as their dishes prove.