Mostly Autumn’s last release Sight of Day was superb. Now they’re back – and this time it’s personal. Very personal.
Label: Mostly Autumn Records
Time: 11 tracks / 79 minutes
White Rainbow – the band and album have both been nominated as best in their categories in the 2019 Prog Awards – is fuelled by the grief for friend and former bandmate Liam Davison, who died aged only 49. Tracks throughout this album pay tribute to him and the years he spent with the band, particularly the opening three that reflect a comment Davison once made about liking a Viking funeral, where they fire a flaming arrow onto a boat, to the final piece “Youth,” which celebrates the times guitarist Brian Josh shared with him as a teen.
In between, the songs (with titles like “Gone”) have been impacted by that sense of loss and how to process it, but you don’t need to know Davison’s work to appreciate this album. Anyone who has known grief can relate:
“I’m all out of heartbreak, I’m all out of reasons
I just wanna sit and close my eyes
Then someone puts a turbocharger on my head
And my heart kicks in like a heavy V8
And I open my eyes and the tears start pouring
Cos there’s too much inside. I’ll never keep the lid on.”
One of the band’s endearing qualities is their skill at taking classic influences and blending them into their own sound (including a section here that seems to use the same chord sequence as “Hotel California”). Josh has admitted that Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour inspired his own sound, and that is a great thing: there should be more artists than just tribute bands using such soaring power to ignite their songs.
But overall – as with Floyd – the music is ‘gentle prog’ or classic rock with plenty of restraint and almost pastoral moments, saving those sustained solos for just the right time. It is a real achievement to have a seven-piece band (plus favourite guest Troy Donockley) produce such a spacious sound, and Olivia Sparnenn-Josh has such a focal impact with her vocals on tracks like “Western Skies” that Renaissance comparisons are also worth making. It’s hard to imagine that she has sung better.
“Western Skies” begins as the third ballad in a row, but builds with some majestic keys lifting the vocals until Josh tops it with a solo.
The title track is this release’s nineteen minute epic, with all the elements you might expect: Floydian ambient intro, melodic verses, a riffy section and soaring sections. And it’s the final section that swims around your head for days, where the lyrics turn to the Josh’s young daughter and going home. The focus on a new generation seems a suitable way to balance an album about death. Circle of life and all that...
Whereas Sight of Day had a greater variety of songs and more earworms, White Rainbow feels more consistent, like a rolling stream that carries you along. It is a rich album that’s also like a new friend – every encounter lets you get to know it a bit better and spending more and more time with it is a real joy.