Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Album Review: iamthemorning - "Lighthouse"

Russian songwriting duo iamthemorning is remarkably creative in their diversity, as the duo takes on many different faces across their new album “Lighthouse”.  Running a complete and thorough gamut between crystalline fragility and jaunty confidence, the beauty of the album lies in that very versatility.  Most albums can be diagnosed by the strengths of their great individual tracks, but “Lighthouse” is better served by addressing the album’s flow as a whole.

Which functionally begins with “Too Many Years” and it wonderfully displays all the open possibilities that iamthemorning brings to the table.  The entire piece is paced by the sanguine but pained vocals of Marjana Semkina, who sings with an elegant, effortless aplomb that shows her character.  The song as a whole is mellow but dotted with the promise of a threatening drum beat, ever-present below Semkina’s swan song.

The duo’s album is a concept, a journey that takes us through the deteriorating psyche of a woman as she struggles against mental demons both real and imagined.  Where the album really shines is in the disjointed, off-kilter pieces that fit the story while concurrently standing out from the baseline idiom of the record.  “Libretto Horror” has a certain devilish smirk in its undercurrent, the piano of Gleb Kolyadin taking on a personality somewhere between Grieg and Joplin.

We see much of the same for “Matches” a similar tune that twists and contorts as the pivotal character spirals deliriously out of control, bending rhythm and melody into a bright but tormented spiral of beautifully composed and artistic progressive music.

The one sour note of “Lighthouse” is that iamthemorning probably returns to the placid well a little too easily, returning there as a home base.  It’s not that the heavy dose of emotionally heavy music is unpleasant, it’s just that it doesn’t speak to the great variety that iamthemorning is clearly capable of.  For all that “Libretto Horror” shines, there are many more “Harmony” or “Clear Clearer” which tell much the same musical story.

Sidebar: there’s a small sticking point in the defining of iamthemorning as a ‘progressive’ act.  Not that the labels really matter, but something about the labelling of this band, based on their presentation and frequent associations with artists from Porcupine Tree and other modern prog luminaries, feels a little too easy.  Iamthemorning is both more and less than what we traditionally think of as prog, a piano duo that creates easy melodies but doesn’t necessarily create the immersive atmosphere that a full prog band is capable of.  It’s neither here nor there, but if you’re picking up this album based solely on its genre label, be warned that the experience within may not quite be what you think it is.

Iamthemorning has nevertheless produced a record that is worthy of praise because of its versatility, even if that versatility isn’t displayed as frequently as it could be.  It’s doubly rare to encounter a record that can be both a pleasant listen and haunting at the same time.  Artists of all genres could take a lesson from the artistic integrity of iamthemorning, and their new record is worth a listen just for that.

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