I had the misfortune of having to listen to a mainstream radio station the other day when my mp3 socket went haywire in the car. Suffice to say that chapter of my life has been filed under ‘never again’. It was like talking to the nutter on the bus except he is a tad more interesting. My hatred for all things Bieber and One Direction is a well known fact around these parts so, to have to listen to two hours of contrived tripe and claptrap, no matter how many times I changed the station, was horrifying.
Upon getting back to my office I immediately listened to something that was the complete antithesis of modern, radio friendly music and managed to lower my erupting blood pressure. I make no secret that my preferred brand of music is that produced by the independent artist or small labels, music that is nurtured and created to bring enjoyment and a deeper fulfilment to the listener. This is generally music that is not instantly accessible but needs its many layers peeled back to reveal the delights that await you within.
One album that keeps magically appearing on my music player is ‘Bleeding’, the 2013 release from Transport Aerian, a one man progressive-oriented project led by Belgian multi-instrumentalist Hamlet. It has no strict genre borders, musical or spiritual limits. At the different times, the project had different line ups, and played different kinds of music, yet always staying in the shape of poetic, sharp-edged musical kind. On ‘Bleeding’ Hamlet basically does everything, all instruments, all samples, mixing and mastering and writes all the music and lyrics.
Hamlet has some strongly held views about the music industry and a conversation with him is never dull. To me, he is more than just a musician, he is an artist and a musical poet. You will not always agree with his views but you will always back his right to express them in his eloquent, if a little vehement style. This guy has the musical nous and skill to back up his point of view.
Mortals is a cacophony of stylish noise, from the distorted and disharmonious introduction, through the punchy, chugging riff and powerful drums. Hamlet’s vocal has a touch of Marilyn Manson about it as he enunciates each word with a harsh, hard edged finish. Not for the faint hearted, it is inventive and quite eerie in places. It gives the album an industrial metal style beginning and the crazy, distorted guitar solo is incredibly intense. The longest track on the album at just over ten minutes, Inspire begins with a discordant piano note that immediately grabs your attention. To me, it is plaintive and heartfelt, calling out for something just out of reach. The vocals begin, more stentorian in delivery giving a narrative effect over the doleful beat of the drum in the background. There is a suspenseful interlude where you can only just hear a gentle piano in the background ramping up the tension considerably. This part seems to be more about the absence of sound rather than that which you can hear. As the vocals begin again, abstract and searching, you feel it building to something more. The track then blooms into something quite wondrous as the drums become precise and measured and the keyboard note adds a layer of sophistication. This track has Hamlet as poet and bard and the soundtrack over which he delivers his monologue is a solemn and pensive. I would compare him to that other great musical storyteller, Mark Healy and his Hibernal project in the way his music is endlessly re-inventing itself and leaves you clues to follow along the way.
Score is a much more laid back proposition compared to the previous tracks. The vocals have a lilting edge to them and the music is wistful although it never manages to shake the feeling of menace completely. It is the musical equivalent of hiding behind the sofa whilst a creepy suspense movie is on the television. A smooth bass tone and guitarsignal the start of Fog Vision and Hamlet’s voice joins in with a serious and austere tone. A slow burner of a track that gradually ramps up the pressure until it is released via a coruscating guitar solo that is almost painful in its beauty. That ominous, foreboding feeling carries on as the track comes to a close and you are left full of dread.
Nightsky is simply an elegant track that shows that Transport Aerian have the ability to produce intense melodies as well as the darker elements that seem key elsewhere. It is a fragile, alluring song that sees Hamlet deliver his most graceful vocal performance yet and leaves me with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction. The delicate guitar and glossy drumbeat fit perfectly together as the song builds to a dynamic finale. Add a touch of grunge style guitar to the mix and we get Love, another deeply satisfying and innovative track that has a considerable depth to it. This is music that has more going on under the surface, little nuances and a hidden sagacity, than above, like a musical iceberg. The slow, meandering but incredibly intense guitar solo is just one example of that and is quite ingenious.
A singular and sorrowful piano note leads in Edges before the mournful vocals add their lament to the track. Once more you are struck by the profundity of the music, the incredible feelings that are induced by listening to such an acute and fanatical soundscape. It is heart stopping music that demands your whole attention if you wish to get the most out of it. Yes, there is amazing technical prowess on show here but it is backed up ably by what Hamlet puts into his music. He delivers his heart and soul to you on a plate and it would be extremely churlish to refuse it. The extended solo is harsh, fierce and as acute as they come, stripping your whole being away layer by layer but there is a vivid elegance to it as it leaves you wasted and empty. The intro to Winter is a gentle and soothing antidote to the delicious agony of what has preceded. Like a visit to an ambient vista with the smooth as silk vocal and the benevolence of the guitar. The energy is ramped up as we move further into the track and the vocals take on a much more solemn and harder edge. The guitar is then allowed to roam free and produces something effortless and polished on the inside but with a bit of a rougher coating, like the taste of bitter chocolate.
Triangle Town begins like a film score, a little psychedelic and spacey with a thoughtful voice over. The song continues in an ambient vein, like you’ve had way too many espressos, a jumbled collection of sounds that eventually form a cohesive whole. The freeform jazz style section that follows is a touch of insane genius, slightly off kilter but dripping with a cool, knowing aura. The narrative vocal continues matched with a rakish keyboard note and the sustained jazz edge. As the song comes to a close it fleetingly explodes into life before the gentle piano closes out. This profound musical journey finally comes to a close with A Lamb to the Knife. All the ingredients are in place once more. An edgy, aloof feel and a distorted, discordant musical note help to steer you through another one of Hamlet’s studious and impressive musical compositions. It is raining outside as I listen to this final track on the album and that seems to suit the melancholic mood invoked perfectly. Then there is a change of pace as a furious, heavy riff crunches into your psyche and tears you apart in magnificent agony. It is a massive, imposing wall of sound that overcomes you like a musical tsunami that ends the album, leaving a vacuum in your mind.
Transport Aerian have produced a record that is the distilled essence of inventive, thought provoking music. Not for the faint hearted, it requires a commitment to listen to every note and every nuance and then you will be able to understand what you have just heard. Hamlet is a serious and intense young man who gives all of himself to his music and this becomes increasingly evident the more times you listen to ‘Bleeding’. It is a profound musical experience that anyone who says they love music should open themselves to at least once in their life, trust me, you won’t regret it once you have.