Album Reviews

Mike Kershaw – Ice Age

No one can deny that there has been a recent revival in Progressive music. In my opinion, I think the last couple of years have signalled another golden age for this musical genre. There are some forward thinking pioneers who are expanding our innermost beliefs of what constitutes progressive music but there are some that drink deep from the well of the original 1970’s progressive high point.

Obviously we are going to get some artists who sit on the metaphorical fence between the two, drawing some influence from the early innovators yet also having one foot firmly in the camp of the modern trailblazers of this most complicated of music forms.

To me, Mike Kershaw flits in and out of the modern and classic forms of progressive rock. His music is solidly keyboard and electronic driven with a pared back, simplistic style that evokes the synth pop sounds of the 1980’s. Elements of Kraftwerk and the early synth pop pioneers like Ultravox, Talk Talk and Simple Minds (before they sold out to the almighty dollar) mingle with more modern influences.

In Mike’s own words….

“Having previously recorded under the name ‘Relocate To Heathrow’ I decided in 2011 to record all future projects under my own name. The last few years have seen great leaps musically and the new songs deserved a new identity. My music is difficult to categorise and though there are clearly tracks that are very Prog Rock influenced there are many that veer in other directions….You have to listen really to know what I mean.”

“My music is for the most part atmospheric progressive rock but I leave myself free to drift in any musical direction I choose within the structure of an album.
The songs explore a range of emotions but have a melancholy core whilst still remaining powerful and lyrically interesting.”

Mike has three previous releases to his name. In chronological order they are, Reason to Believe in 2012, This Long Night and Winter in 2013. This year sees the release of his most complete album to date Ice Age.

Stripped back and bare in places and with subject matter that is in keeping with the album’s title, Ice Age is a contrast between darkness and light. In places it can be bleak, harsh and foreboding yet, in others there is a definitive feeling of hope. The vocals are low in the mix, deliberate and downplayed. On a whole, this works well with the music but, on opener Frame and Glass they do seem too low in the mix and relatively bland. As you make your way through the album you notice this is a relative anomaly. This track as well as Guardian and Inside The Frame have a brooding melancholia, a slow and deliberate tone that is evocative. The musicianship is impressive and Mike has a way of getting under your skin with his meaningful lyrics. I often found myself sat silent and staring into space just listening to the music and letting the lyrics wash over me.

The first time I heard Broken Skies, I broke out into a huge grin. I am a child of the 80’s and this song is massively reminiscent of that synth-driven decade. Short and gossamer like, like a fragile ghost from the past. Blossom Falls, with its delicate piano and pensive note, is another dreamy and thoughtful track. It is simplistic and stripped bare of all elaboration, incredibly haunting and moving. Mike’s voice appears full of remorse and emotion. The keyboards take a bolder approach and become much more emphatic and strident, almost astringent in the way they tackle your senses. Terracotta is very minimalist and ethereal. The piano is meticulous and studied and the keyboards are mysterious and almost oriental in approach. It is a seriously meditative track with the vocals very low in the mix as if providing the background note to the song and I found it almost hypnotic and mesmerising.

That huge grin makes reappearance as soon as the synth announces the opening bars of Tomorrow’s Door. My favourite song on the album, much more upbeat and a breath of fresh air compared to the doleful feel of the darker tracks. As congenial as the some of the previous tracks are bleak and blasted, it is a clever contrast and one that works well. The 1980’s vibe is quite intense and ingenious. The vocals delve even deeper into the 1980’s back catalogue and evoke steeply angled haircuts and wildly fashionable clothes.  Yesterdays is another evocative track. Wistful and at times downcast and totally in keeping with the general feel that runs throughout the album. There is an ambient quality and a deep rooted feeling to the music, it is thought provoking and grabs your attention. The final track on the album is When Winter Comes and it is the most grandiose one. The introduction has a feeling that is almost cinematic in its delivery. This song is Mike Kershaw’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ and replaces the pared back and bleak feel of before with something of much more substance. The rhythm section has a lot in common with Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, on edge and apprehensive. Lyrically it takes the whole theme of darkness and light and plays upon it and also includes the best vocal performance on the album.

There is sincerity to the blasted, featureless landscape that this album mainly invokes. It is not for everyone in its style and delivery and the way it pokes and probes at your psyche is not for the faint hearted. However, give this release a fair crack of the whip and let its dark moods and deep meanings envelop you and you will be richly rewarded.

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