- Album Reviews

Traffic Experiment- Blue Suburbia

“Music washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life”, an apt quote in my opinion, even the mass produced, over commercialised music that dominates the charts today will, on some level, affect individuals in a positive way, producing feelings of joy, happiness, thoughtfulness and reflection. The way that music can affect all of us at some, deep down, level is almost magical and mystical and the ability of modern recording artists to write and record pieces of work that can be as moving and beautiful as some of the most incredible poetry is a marvel to behold. Whether this is because we have experienced some of the highs and lows that are written and sung about or whether it is because we just connect with it at a base level is a question I cannot answer but, music has been relevant in all society for millennia and has always had an ability to move the soul.

Finding these gems of musical brilliance is a job I take seriously as an author and reviewer for this magazine and I could liken it to being like a treasure hunter. We, as reviewers, are always looking for that piece of work that stands out head and above anything else, that infuses us with an immediate will to write about it and spread the word to the waiting masses and, like treasure hunters, we have no real idea of what we will find until we listen to the music for the first time. Whereas treasure hunting is searching for items of value from our past history, our role is to find the hidden delights in the music of the present and, to a lesser extent, the future. I myself, find a kind of childish joy when I unearth a buried gem and that is exactly how I felt when I stumbled upon Traffic Experiment’s Blue Suburbia.

Traffic Experiment are a UK-based independent progressive art rock band, combining elements of progressive rock, electronic, funk and acoustic with experimental soundscapes, instrumentals and sound effects to create their own brand of cinematic rock music. Formed in 2006 by guitarist, vocalist and composer Stuart Chalmers, session drummer Tom Vincent and bassist Simon James White, the band are named after a temporary road sign in their home town of Guildford. Due to the complexities of accomplishing all aspects of recording, producing and funding the album themselves, Blue Suburbia took 4 years to complete and was released in 2010. The album also featured the soaring ambient vocals of Harri Norris, only seventeen when recording her parts, as well as a small string section consisting of a single cellist and violinist, recorded over and over to build up the sound. The album was created as a work to be listened to in its entirety, each track crafted so it would segue seamlessly into the next.  2013 sees it’s re-release along with a live recording of works from the album, TRAFFiC EXPERiMENT – Live at The End of the World, which was recorded at Steve Winwood’s studio with an 8 piece band.

The first track on the album is Heavy Breaking and it begins with an intro that builds up gradually into a great piece of guitar work, a seriously cool, jazz inspired riff which morphs into a Latin vibe, almost Santana like in its rhythm. When the vocals kick in they are totally laid back and mellow, Chalmers has a voice like the best malt whiskey, smooth and complex and totally in step with the delicious vibe of this track. Throw in some swirling keyboards and you could be at Ronnie Scott’s, the tempo building again until it is released in an exquisite solo, so laid back it’s almost horizontal. That Santana feeling picked up again by the effortlessly cool guitar sound. The pace is altered slightly as we hit the more frenetic intro to Once More (With Feeling), with the silky smooth vocals pre-eminent again, the guitar, bass and drums are set a little more in the background as some smooth keyboards back a great, harmonised, chorus. The whole track has a nice sixties inspired feel to it, especially those swirling keyboards which feed a well constructed counterpoint in the middle of the song. This sixties edge is the main feel throughout the song all the way to the end, keyboards ever present and that nice chorus proving the highlights. The Astronomer begins with a brilliant, chilled, guitar section, incredibly mellow vocals complementing the soft focus of the track. This is a song that you stop and listen to, it’s not background music, commanding your attention with its subtle nuances and seriously cultured guitar tone. The guitar throughout the song isn’t just cool, its super chilled and raises the little hairs on the back of your neck, turn down the lights, pour yourself something matured and mellow and disappear for the 8 minutes of brilliance this track affords. Whilst The Astronomer gives you time to chill and relax to its brilliance Vacuum is a little gem of a track, only 2 minutes long, delightful snippets of the piano gliding along and backed by some impressive drumming and bass work all tied up with more of those golden vocals. There is no pause before we are treated to the sumptuous Sirens, the great voice of Harri Norris giving us a vocal introduction, no lyrics, just a voice that soars into the clouds, guitar and drums backing the sonorous experience perfectly. The piano and superb voice of Chalmers ease things back a bit as we get into the meat of the song but it’s not long before the dulcet tones of Norris are re-introduced to the audience to harmonise perfectly. There is a strident quality to this track, always progressing, ever expressive and poignant, a nicely distorted, extended, solo fits perfectly with the feel of the rest of this track as it peters out to the end.  There is a mournful feel to Ghosts and Shadows, a sombre acoustic guitar leads us into the song before the vocals are introduced. There is an emotional, forlorn edge to them that is matched perfectly by a beautifully lilting piano. The whole song has a sorrowful feel to it but is a joy to listen to, the delicate guitar work reminiscent of Dominic Miller, the high quality of the vocals and that great piano all contributing to the feeling of melancholia.

There is more of that acoustic guitar at the start of The Weight of the World, this time with a more upbeat feel to it. Once more we revel in that great jazz feeling, gentle percussion and laid back keyboards. Fantastic harmonising between Chalmers and Norris is a highlight of the vocals. Half way into the song there is another brilliant solo, another slice of first-rate guitar playing from Stuart Chalmers and it doesn’t end there, as we get towards the end of the track we a treated to yet more of his talent as that scintillating guitar leads out to the end of the track. Enlightenment is a seriously cool slice of blues inspired prog, a recurring guitar introducing the song before some more smooth vocals provided by our duo, brilliant harmonies abounding, perfectly judged. Some swirling keyboards, smooth, nicely pared back drums and that bluesy guitar all contributing to another helping of musical excellence. Home and Dry is a lovely 44 second interlude, smooth vocals being the star. Nicely laid back acoustic guitar and another stellar vocal performance are the pointers at the start of Lucky Stars, a delicate slice of almost pop inspired prog with a heavy hint (and I hope the band forgive me for this) of Robbie Williams. A decidedly brilliant chorus, with super smooth keyboards taking a back seat in the background, is another showcase for the vocal talent on show. This is a real feel good song, the delicate tinkling of the piano keys is a great addition to the delightful vocals, especially that oh so cool chorus. All too soon we have reached the end of this musical gem, final track, The Crimson Sky at 5 A.M. starts with a easy, chilled vibe, gentle keyboards overlaid by the super silky voice of Stuart Chalmers, soon joined by a gentle accompaniment of jazzy guitar and soft percussion, Norris’ wonderful voice hiding away in the background. Someone puts their foot to the floor and an epic wah wah inspired guitar sound accompanies the increase in tempo, smooth harmonising accompanying it all the way. The pace slows as we return to the laid back vibe in evidence at the beginning of the song but, interspersed with flashes of that seriously cool jazz inspired guitar note and lift in tempo. This is one epic 70’s inspired piece of jazz/prog fusion, brilliantly undulating keyboards and flashy drumming all in evidence as the song takes an instrumental direction to the end of the track, the musicians performing a jazz inspired jam session to perfection as the album finally fades from view.

It is my belief I have unearthed another musical gem and it only adds to my disbelief that I have never heard of these guys before. That brilliant jazz vibe that is evident throughout the album is a stroke of genius. Blue Suburbia should be listened to how the band originally intended, consume it in one sitting and, trust me, you will be the lucky recipient of a totally immersive listening experience. I can only hope that my world will continue to be lit up by unexpected highlights like this, as long as there is music there will always be hope.

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