There are rare moments in life when the feeling of elation presents itself to you, and when it does it occurs in various forms. Occasionally it is something immediately apparent to fulfil your senses and at other times it is the distinct realization that something exceptional has happened and which has taken you quite by surprise. In such circumstances, there is often the desire to relive the experience and probably the desperate need to recapture the moment. In some circumstances, it is impossible to retrieve the experience but fortunately, with music it is just a question of replaying it over and over again until the desire has been satiated. And that is exactly the situation which ensued with the debut album from Western Electric Sound System, the album here on review.
Initially it is the strangely projected deeply resonant vocals that grab your attention. Vocals, seemingly more suited to modern country music, but that is on the first play. However, and here is the rub, with subsequent plays there is an increased realisation that the vocals are totally in tune with the rest of the music, with everything merging together as one vibrant but bizarre audio experience. Throughout, each of the eight tracks every single component in the composition process has been thoroughly calculated and worked out so that every phrase, note and percussive element fits neatly into place. Overall there is a further peculiarity inasmuch that whilst the lyrics portray a depressive air of morbid foreboding the music, in fact, does induce a real feeling of utter satisfaction and fulfilment.
In general, the exquisitely layered instrumental contributions from keyboards, guitar, mandolin and drums create a series of haunting cinematic soundscapes. A musical journey full to the brim with atmospheric tension and melodic incursions. The advancement of which takes the form of a series of climatic sequences that surround and embellish the graphic vocal lines with oodles of amazing fingerpicking guitar, multi-patterned drumming, nice piano and organ chord progressions. The entire affair is hard to categorise from a generic perspective, it certainly has a foot in the progressive camp but is quite different from the norm and so should find appeal across the entire rock/pop spectrum. One thing for sure though, it will certainly please the progressive rock fraternity much more so than any die-hard country fans. The reason for this is that there is a whole wealth of subtle time changes and clever interplay between the various instrumental contribution, particularly the complex time signatures and varying offbeat sound effects (bells and whistles) from the percussive department.
Whilst the focal point of the project might be considered as the vocals, it needs to be mentioned that the backup harmonies are pretty good too and deserve much praise.
Summary: Interesting, different and encaptivating vocal-led fusion of progressive rock and country.
Artwork: A nice digipak with booklet.
Rob Forrester – Guitars, Mandolin
Duncan Forrester – Drums, Percussion and Sound Effects
Steve Whitfield –Piano, Keyboards and Lead Vocals
Short Biography (With thanks to Rob Forrester)
Rob and Duncan Forrester were founding members of early 90s band ‘This Picture’, releasing two albums on RCA/Dedicated and touring extensively in the US and Europe. Record of the week on Radio1, ‘Naked Rain’ was also a number one single on the American College Radio chart. Stephen Whitfield has played piano in a number of bands, most notably with Duncan Forrester in Bell Jar, releasing three albums and two Eps through in their 10 years together.
Twenty years on, Robert Forrester - ex This Picture guitarist- is contemplating what to do with several hours worth of new music written with long-time friend, vocalist and piano player Stephen Whitfield. they approach Duncan Forrester with the 'work in progress' to see whether he would be interested in a new project with a new band. Very soon a handful of the new tracks are recorded in the front room of a house in the Gloucestershire countryside, which are then sent out for a bit of feedback to a few old contacts.
Steve Whitfield is an experienced piano man who has been in several bands - chiefly ‘Bell Jar’ based in the UK, and he made several albums in the 90s on the MADAN label
He was always present in previous bands as a backing singer, but when he and I (Rob) started the project which developed into WESS he took on the singing duties and developed his own voice and style as part of the writing and development of the band.
So together with Stephen Whitfield (keys and vocals), the two brothers have come together again. There was an immediate chemistry We are friends/brothers who make music out of that ‘chemistry’ place- and most of our stuff comes from long improvising sessions which we distill down. Hence the release of “The Incredible Shrinking Man”. A meditation on darkness, it’s an emotive, confessional album that comes from the subliminal depths of lives not fully realised. Lyrically, it will resonate with anyone worn down by mediocrity and the relentless boredom of just getting by. From the signature, scene-setting guitarscapes and jolting lyrical content to the minimalist arrangements and vulnerable baritone vocal, it is an alt-folk-ambient-country-prog, genre-flirting album that sounds not quite like anything else.