More often than not you will be drawn to an album by its cover art and then you begin to investigate the record further along with the artist and the music associated with it. Sometimes you just know by the image on the cover, eg.Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix who it is and you pick it up regardless how good or bad it is because you dig on that band. So I came across this album and the cover art grabbed me because it’s “Robby the Robot” from the 1956 film “Forbidden Planet” being held by a person in a space suit. Ok, I’m listening.. and I was kept by the price of admission and thus began my journey in to the music of “Lonely Robot“, a project by John Mitchell.
“Airlock” opens up the record with a classic Prog entrance of slow and repeated lines that create an ambiance of the album to new and exciting passages of music to come. A short but grand entrance to the album with all the BIG sound you could want in a piece like this as your first song. The haunting female vocals in the background that make even have been a synth wail adds great inflection tot he track as it spirals its way to the clouds and hovers in the stratosphere weightless. But all things must give way to the next and the album makes no bones about it with track two, “God vs Man” as it slams down the notes with exact placement and just gets on with it. A dirty bass intro before the guitar crunch breaks down the doors to the gate and the song erupts in to a frenzy then drops back to let the vocals come in and pulls off the classic Prog song intro perfectly and the song keeps this theme throughout. The music is a slight hint of Peter Gabriel meets Porcupine Tree for me and it’s a great first vocalized song. The music isn’t overbearingly heavy and the use of effects are well applied here both in the music and the vocals. The guitar solo is tight and bright with excellent execution of the bends and pulls here with the walk down quickly before the chorus comes back in. “The Boy in the Radio” follows up next and has a bright tonal overlay to it with an upbeat bounce that has your feet tapping away throughout. More rock than Prog here but it has its elements and definitely is one for your road trip mix because it has that feel of the windows down and you’re doing 100Km/hr or 62m.p.h. for all my American friends on here : ). This song is a straight up no BS song that drives and shoots straight from start to finish giving it a thumbs up all the way ’round. “Why Do We Stay” does the classic slow song by the 3rd or 4th song album cut and it has the soft piano refrain to accompany the gentle vocal track that Mitchell applies well with next to effect or compression to it giving you a raw sense of the song and is only made even better by a duet with Heather Findlay (Ex- Mostly Autumn) to allow us to absorb two voices instead of just one.
“Lonely Robot” the longest song on the album and probably the most Proggiest track to boot here at just over 8minutes but that doesn’t discredit the rest of the album because as I have mentioned in previous blogs that Prog doesn’t have to be heavily complex and hard to follow music, there are many bands like Seven Second Circle who and Abigail’s Ghost who are Prog and don’t have that rare time signature or tempo going on like bands such as Gentle Giant do to make you think that Prog MUST be difficult and bizarre! The song has the transmission signal noises as the start off point before the drums kick giving it that Prog element of space travel and beyond the sun music feel. The vocals are placid and come through with that extra oomph when needed. The music is docile and semi-aggressive as it plays and sways throughout its tenure as the project track title. It has that “horizon” feel to it as I like to call it where the piano notes play as you watch the rise of the sun over a planet or moon either in a movie or from space. The song does the Prog recipe well with the start/stops slightly applied here and the tempo/timbre changes mixed well in and around the song’s structure. “A Godless Sea” a very “Welcome to the Machine” type song commences in slowly and builds up from a synth drone and a pulsing tempo. Pink Floyd fans will relate well to this track with a 1975 smile to their mechanical tastes for drones. It maintains a steady pace of swirling synth notes and strained guitar notes that lavishly accentuate the song with the heartbeat rhythm of the drums with an occasional fill and mid-ranged vocals that don’t stray too far from the middle. “Oubliette” snaps in with a wonderful double tracked guitar solo and has a very 70’s/90’s Prog feel to it with Kim Seviour (Touchstone) in duet with Mitchell here making it another upbeat tune on the record but the synth solos give it that Prog edge to it but also having another female singer on here makes an avenue of display for women in Prog which is awesome to see and hear. “Constructobstruct” a Pop-Quasi-Prog song on the record and the first song I heard from this album and found it catchy and foot tapping worthy for sure and it has that 80’s synth feel to it that you either loved or hated. The song pulls back almost completely bass-less in the middle section for a couple of bars then bursts back in to a guitar solo that also is very 80’s. The choppy vocals on the song are an added Prog ingredient here as it’s against the grain of your typical vocal tracks and very prominent here. It closes off with the repetitive synth swirl and another guitar to a fade away that leaves you wanting to play it again and louder.
“Are We Copies” grabs at your tension nerve as it builds up then bursts out then pulls back to play on that tense nerve again. Another pulsing rhythm here via the drums and the chorus riff is where we get our second wind and come back to life as the song roars in to a divine solo and then does the Prog recipe of start/stops well applied here then soars back into the solo. The latter half of the song is devoted to the chorus and a fashionable refrain of guitar work and pounding drums, bass and synths. It Progs out enough. “Humans Being” features 80’s one hit wonder (Wouldn’t It be Good) but musician extraordinaire, Nik Kershaw on this slow burn of a ballad that also displays Mitchell’s voice at its most alluring and composed on the entire record. The Prog element of the ballad is important and has its place in almost every genre but in Prog it seems to be the passive entrance garden way to the genre and always has a deeper meaning than your typical ballad of love/loss/hate/regret etc. Definitely a slow song you can pull your partner up and dance to right there in the living room and have a quiet moment of bliss in each others arms. “The Red Balloon” finishes off the album with another Gabriel-esque feel to it with just a piano/vocal duet as it becomes more of an epilogue to an audio book or a bonus track rather than a closing track on an album. A quiet less than two minute piece that is a calm reminder that music doesn’t always need a lot of instruments, effects, compression and production to be a poignant composition on an album. Songs like this are always best to be before a massive undertaking song that streaks out past ten minutes or here, the end of the record where you can sit in silence for a minute and reflect.
John Mitchell has certainly attained a good standing with this little project of his and who knows of we will see anymore from Lonely Robot in 2016 or the future for that, one can only hope and wish right?! It is a very enjoyable album I will admit, is it more rock than Prog? Probably a little bit but it does display many of Mitchell’s talents brought forth from some of the other Progjects he’s involved in so it does have great elements of the Prog genre held within it. Certainly an album you could play around your mom and not have her wonder what planet are you on and crank up whilst driving down the highway as part of your road trip soundtrack mix. Enjoy