Album Reviews

The Aaron Clift Experiment – Lonely Hills

How do I discover new music? Now that’s a good question. A lot of music will be sent to Lady Obscure and distributed to the authors, some will be recommendations and some will just be happy accidental discoveries.

I love hearing new music for the first time, especially really good music. It is like opening a wrapped present or, sometimes, like putting your hand blindly into a covered box not knowing what you will get, nothing can beat that initial frisson of excitement when you hear the first note.

Sometimes that experience goes downhill as you realise that what you are listening to is not what you were expecting and, sometimes, it launches you on a rising tide of elation as it dawns on you that you have found something special, music that will stay with you for a very long time.

The Aaron Clift Experiment was one that almost got away. I first heard their debut album about eighteen months ago and filed it under ‘interesting, requires further investigation’, somehow (as it does) real life got in the way and it wasn’t until a short twitter exchange with Aaron himself that I became reacquainted with the band once more.

Suffice to say I’m thankful that I did. Aaron Clift (vocals, Keyboards) began writing the songs that would appear on ‘Lonely Hills’ back in 2008. In 2009 he met the band’s drummer, Joe Resnick and they cut the demo with just piano, drums and vocals. Originally Aaron was going to release the music under his own name but, after hearing the demo he decided the songs needed a rock edge so he recruited Jim Ragland on guitar (Jim left in 2013 to be replaced by Eric Gutierrez) andJoe Green on bass. Now he had decided to work with a full band, he gave the project the moniker The Aaron Clift Experiment.

2015 will see the band release a follow up to ‘Lonely Hills’ but it is that debut album that we concentrate on in this review.

Taking a quote from the band’s own publicity material;

In “Lonely Hills,” the band’s debut, The Aaron Clift Experiment leads the way in fusing the sophistication and depth of classical music with the passion and raw power of rock and roll. Songs such as “Seven” and “Lonely Hills” dramatically explore existential themes of love and loss, while symphonic epics like “My Andalusian Love” and “Shipwrecked” create their own mini-worlds that draw in the listener.”

I think it’s time to dip my musical toe into this musical extravaganza and draw my own conclusions.

Aaron cites many influences including jazz and classical music and, on the opening track Seven, that jazz influence is immediate. The driving piano that introduces the track has more than a hint of Ben Folds about it, along with the neatly harmonised vocals and nervy drumbeat. Catchy and with no small hint of a pop infusion, it is immediately accessible and the lulls and highs of the tempo add to that upbeat feel. Arsonist Games takes that influence and runs with it, albeit with a more guitar driven backbeat. This track has a mainstream rock feel to it, that is no criticism, it is tight and well written and has a great chorus. There is an up and down urgency to the song, a dark underbelly that surfaces infrequently, epitomised by the guitar solo that has more than a hint of mystery to it. Title track Lonely Hills is a lush, melancholy track that showcases Aaron’s soulful vocal. Underscored by smooth, string-like, keyboards and a delicate backdrop, it has sadness at its core. A mournful keyboard break just adds to the heavy heart that you carry throughout. I find myself in a decidedly contemplative mood as this rueful song comes to a close. The plaintive piano note and vocal that introduce My Andalusian Love set the scene for a love story with heavy overtones of flamenco guitar. Slow and seductive, it is a song complex delights. The vocals are moody and magnificent and the whole track could be a soundtrack to a bullfight with some tragic matador opening his heart to his true love. It stirs the soul and leaves you heavy-hearted yet strangely moved by the whole experience.

Shipwrecked is the first track on the album that blows you away with a totally progressive delivery. Manic and chaotic yet complex and convoluted, it is like a flash bang going off in your head, leaving you to pick up the pieces. Twisting and turning at every note, the distorted, coruscating solo is indicative of the whole feeling of delightful hysteria engendered. Aaron’s vocal drags you into the suspenseful atmosphere and you find no release as you conjoin with the hell-bent, madcap journey. All is not lost though as a complete u-turn is signalled by a steady drumbeat and a guitar note that speaks of intelligence and a knowing smile at your predicament. I find myself totally transfixed by this track. The Shell begins pared back and bare, the vocals a mere murmur under a chiming note that pervades all. A beauteous guitar then transcends all around it as the vocals break free of their constraints to deliver song of purity and grace. As a feeling of calmness overlays all, you are welcomed into its embrace and held tight. Before this all encompassing feeling of composure can take hold permanently a note of abrasiveness is introduced by a more forceful vocal and a free-form guitar solo that worms its way into your psyche. An elegant piano note is a perfect accompaniment to the honest vocals on the low key Low Tide. A brief foray into classical territory, it is really quite delightful and you mourn its passing as it drifts away.

Staring at Fruit out of Reach is just magnificent, a concerted venture deep into the heart of progressive-rock with influences apparent from the first note yet, it is distinctly the band’s own. A superb 70’s style introduction with waves of keyboards and a precise guitar note and your eyes light up, this is going to be something special. Strong progressions and distinctive song partitions see this track in the territory it longs to inhabit. The vocals are excellent and I find myself coming to a halt, stopping whatever I am doing to concentrate on the musical delights set in front of me for my delectation. The minstrel like guitar notes, lush swathes of organ and cultured bass all add to the hugely enjoyable whole. The jazzy interlude two-thirds through the song just makes me shake my head in amazement and the ingenuity of this band, so intensely laid back with the polished and mellow piano note taking centre stage and holding all in its spell, just superb. High Tide (an obvious partner to Low Tide) is driven along by a temperate acoustic guitar and plaintive vocal. Stripped bare of any amplification or heavy production techniques, like a soul bared for all to see, it captivates you with its honesty and integrity. It is a testimony to the strength of this record that you find yourself surprised that we have come to the final track. Eye of the Storm begins with a luminosity and sincerity and holds you on the edge of your seat before the dulcet notes from the flute and tender piano and guitar deliver a feeling of harmony and placidness that draws you in and leaves you with a pastoral ambience. Strong folk-prog overtones are very evident as the band segues into another musical style with ease. A suitably serene guitar solo adds further gravitas and Aaron’s luscious vocals complete the picture.

From the first note it is apparent that The Aaron Clift Experiment has produced something special here. Notable on first listen but, like all the best releases, delivering more and more on further plays, ‘Lonely Hills’ blooms into an album that should be in every music lovers collection. Hopefully 2015 will see the band deliver on this initial promise and give us something even better.

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