Ahhhhh The U.K., a place where I could easily call home as well and one day be able to tour there. Why?!?! Because the U.K. has given the world, YES the world so many amazing bands over the decades, centuries for that even and continues to this day to continuously pour out the high levels of musicianship that we have all; grown up with, spun countless records in basements and at parties, in your cars and paid homage to with umpteen numbers of cover songs on stage with nothing but the highest respects for our heroes from the United Kingdom!
So whilst still getting over the flu, a new friend of mine from the U.K., Colin Powell (Hi!) asked me to give this a spin and see what I thought to which I was more than happy to do so and to my joyous pleasure I was introduced to the music of Messrs Doug Woods and Colin Powell with their latest Prog Offering…
When I first saw the cover I thought for a second, they got Ian Anderson to pose in glasses for the album cover! Sorry guys, it’s who came to mind! LoL
With several albums already within their musical canon Doug and Colin are no strangers to expanding their sounds and reaching out to gain more ground with their music. It’s not always about higher or deeper grounds or making the masses all flock to your notes but rather getting people to listen to your music and not just hear it. Pauline Oliveros said that people should listen to music and not just hear it which resonates oh so true with music and musicians. It’s not a commercial jingle or an ad campaign, it’s a living, breathing testament to what someone has pulled out of their mind and composed for us.
The Madness of Benjamin Folde is my first venture in to the minds of these two composers, so without further ado let’s dive right in to this 13 track album of sound!
“Folde Hall” opens up the album with a soft tone of blissful electric vibes emanating through your speakers. Thoughts of 70’s Prog bands such as Genesis, Yes and Camel come to mind with the slight fuzz in the guitar, the enchanting synth sound and the booming drum beats that coincide with the bass to create a solid formation of sound for the opening track. An instrumental piece that never fails the perfect Prog recipe for pure taste and satisfaction. Short and sweet it gives us the prologue to an album filled with magical passages and trails leading us down the paths of luscious colours that create the music held within its first to thirteenth track. The ever slight delay in the guitar pulls you closer to the album which was a grand opening feel for me as so many albums wait for the solo or the second song to try and captivate you with that and this album does it from note one!
“Benjamin and Annabelle Folde” brings out almost that chapter one feel to it. Very madrigal with a quartet tone to it and that medieval forest, castle vibe to it. Their music creates imagery in your head and with each listen to it I conjure up new images and different ones from the time before. You can hear the homages paid to bands like The Alan Parsons Project in certain passages in this song. What I appreciate about the work of Woods and Powell here is that they are doing their own thing and not imitating anyone else. Like many bands these days it is very hard to define your own sound and create a new style or add to an existing one. They have masterfully crafted their music to do just that and bring out the classic and nouveau sounds of the Prog genre with this record. I get lost in this track as if a tango in some Parisian café is happening with the way it sways and curves the air through my speakers. It’s passive aggressive movements really grab you in and swing you around the room delightfully.
“A Birth and a Passing” brings the synth sound to the forefront and joyfully bounces inwards as the song gets under way. The rest of the instrumentation follows suit and creates this bright and festive tone allowing your senses to become spirited. The quick startle of a baby cry gets you snapped back for a split second which carries a coming in to this world affair that the song pulls back and sways a lullaby guitar refrain and some grand synth chords to announce the glorious birth of a new life to this world. The latter half of the song is majestic and regal with that feel to it where one sees the grand scale of the world in front you from the top of a mountain or the cliff overlooking the ocean. The choral sound of a chanteuse in the background creates an angelic affect at the finale of the song bringing it full circle to its finish.
“Daughter Dear” flows in like a gentle waterfall and like a bird gracefully floating in the air above. A brief but important piece to this journey. The synths take command her as the bass and drums are mere sides to the heartbeat which leads the song peacefully through its steps. Other than blissful there is not much else to say about this piece. A beautiful short composition that segues to the next track.
“The First Surgery (You’ll Never Walk Alone)” has a tension to it that you can only understand when you listen to it. The synths create this discordant tone in your ears that clearly gives you that uncomfortable feeling of either having to go for surgery or waiting for someone to come out of it. A nostalgic feel to this track as the styling they use brings me back to the late 70’s early 80’s of music that wasn’t cast upon the airwaves and my sister’s boyfriend’s would bring over and spin before my fragile eggshell mind that is just discovering music and having no clue what was right for me but this certainly is. The reference to You’ll Never Walk Alone in the title is classic in the sense that it could be homage to The Pink Floyd’s Fearless from 1971’s Meddle Lp, or the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel and it could be something personal and dear to the artists themselves but either way it goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the song’s title and that when one goes for surgery, someone will always be there with you before and waiting after. I like the change and shift in musical parameters here, it sets another mood and tone to the album which gives you a greater spectrum of fluidity to it as well as a diversity that goes wider than your expectations which is another appreciation I have for Woods and Powell.
“The Contraption” commences with a beautiful choral opening and then slowly segues in to this darker timbre which I absolutely love. The drop in tones and the notes used were perfect in a cloudy and thunder looming blend. This track combines angelic tones with the dark mechanical side of life, the lesser spoken words of reality here and it brings another facet to the insane world of one Benjamin Folde. The Gilmour-esque guitar riffs three quarters of the way through add that slight cut to the butter with a warm knife as the heartbeat drum patterns and pulsating synths carry forth with a deep bass tone. When a band goes out of their way to be what I consider non-conventional with music it’s always a joy to hear because it’s not your standard instrumentation to what one might expect in a song; guitars, bass, drums and standard vocals, I love it when a band shifts the mood just out of nowhere. From summit to plummet in a note, brilliance.
“A Visit to the Fair” starts off as I had anticipated with that carnival sound of whirling and light-warmheartedness only for it to segue in to that Benefit of Mr. Kite feel to it which was a great move in my opinion. This track has that maniacal slowness to it where you are under the spell of something or lost in a maze of your own madness and not even knowing that you are already there! It spins slowly enough to see what is happening but stirs your brains enough to drive you absolutely bonkers! It’s a jovial dark piece that adds another spicy flavour to the whole album. Clever as it is concise, you are left with an unease in the back of your head like you just got off an hour long ride on a carousel!
“The Slowing (A Fruitless Search)”, hallowed voices commence this piece as synths dreamily enter as a carpeted roll unravelling at your feet for you to proceed and seek out the light, the truth, anything that you must find. Your every step is a glimpse in to the future, another moment in time and the previous step- the past. Your past. Perhaps Benjamin Folde was looking for something in his life that made sense or he is now searching for answers to why he is mad or has always been told he’s mad. I love the fluidity of this piece, it’s got that timeless feel to it where you can’t pinpoint an era to it. Woods and Powell really hit an emotional spot with me on this one because it’s got a personal touch to it for me and I can literally feel this song’s every note go right through me, challenging me to take another step forward. I think I replayed this piece at least 20 times. It’s stirring and enchanting, beautifully haunting and reaches down to that part of your soul where you either chose to forget or didn’t know you had.
“The Denial and the Guilt” rolls out with the notes of contemplation. The thoughts of what is going on, where, why, no, No, NO! But all within your mind and slowly creeping throughout your psyche. In a very Dr. Who sounding way (which I love!) this track moves in a way where you are; alone, sitting, pondering and wallowing in guilt through passages of denial. You can literally see Benjamin Folde sitting in his room doing this, going through the 7 stages weighing heavily on him as he wonders what he has done.
“Anger Turns to Sadness” perfectly titles this song. From sombre beginnings to a pulsating driving piece that ebbs and tides with a flow of a ever changing shoreline from waves crashing and swaying to the foreground. The cries of a mad man as he stares at the skies screaming and shaking his fists running across the land in complete lunacy. Stopping to collapse and heave his breath as the piano and synths follow around his body as he wails out loud. Another facet of this album that has so many feelings and emotions running through it where you couldn’t capture them all in one listen. It pulls you in and drags you across the mortal remains of a man gone mad, his breath is intoxicating as he releases his tearful moans and reaches out for sanity, sanctuary and life.
“The Downward Spiral” needs no explanation as it’s title gives way to what we already know. Benjamin Folde has gone off the deep end now. He has lost his daughter, his wife Annabelle, his sanity, his soul. Like the feeling of vertigo the song takes you down that spiral like water being sucked down the drain in that circular motion where you can’t stop it. The cresting wave of the guitars and synth as accompanied by a light drum and bass track that soothe but still take you down. A mournful guitar riff that glides over the cloud like synths only to be drawn in to the last abyss of the song.
“The Shaman, the Magician, and the Doctor” conjures up more madness! Voodoo, shamanic rituals, strange practices in the night as Benjamin Folde has an idea. I love how this piece has that mechanical clockwork style to it but also the guitar riff that brings back that feeling of memories of yesterday to it. You can see the cogs in Benjamin’s mind spinning faster and faster as he thinks of ways to bring back happiness, joy and a little less madness through madness. It’s one of those, “It just might work!” feels to it. The underlying darker tones bring out that craziness, the mad witch doctor medicine books and shrunken heads ensemble. It bounces and dances around as you feel the pieces moving and gyrating about all around you as you watch Benjamin run amok in his own little world trying to bring it all together.
“The Madness” enters with just that; dark, foreboding tones of insanity that touches the very depth of your being. This powerful composition brings the album ten Folde(!) over. Hypnotizing and enticing, demonic and shrouded in fog as it snaps in to place with a ticking and buzzing walk though of synths and effects. This brings us to a close, the world of Benjamin Folde has entered your world. Did he succeed? Or create a monster? Only you the listener can decide on what he has done. An epic closing piece as Woods and Powell have shown us through sound the haunting and beautiful imagery that music can create within one’s mind. You feel every note as if it were your own heart beating heavy enough to feel outside yourself, it takes you to that spot in a record where you are captivated once again, more so than before as it draws to an end. The last guitar notes are pure notation liquid as they blend in with the watery synth sound that’s just stunning throughout the whole piece. The last remnants heard are the fading away as if you are watching Benjamin slowly disappearing from your point of vision leaving him in his world of madness and to his fate or fates or to his nothingness.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this album as it has allowed me to close my eyes and vision what is happening and live through the mind of a mad man. Woods and Powell have certainly given us an album of sight through sound here and it’s something that every time you listen to it you will find another passage in it you didn’t before. Well done gentlemen, well done indeed.