Rarely does an artist appear in the progressive world so suddenly out of nowhere and create such a stir within the progressive world with his latest album. ‘Clocks and Dark Clouds’, released this year, is one of those cases.
But first, who is this SIMON MCKECHNIE? This London-based Scotsman has lead and played bass in the Latin Jazz group AZUL. He has also showed his classical guitar skills playing with Portuguese Fado singer – performer NUNO SILVA. Then in 2011, he released his first album, ‘London Reborn’, a modern interpretation of old London folk songs. The latter shows a skilled musician, a versatile composer with a voice starting from lower ranges and reaching a high falsetto. However, none of these previous releases and collaborations could have prepared us for this Monster of an album!
‘Clocks and Dark Clouds’ includes 7 songs, all 7 minutes and longer. Although that is usually a problem for the flow of an album, it is not the case here. Each part blends effortlessly into the next one, never staying too long, while the main theme of each song reappears slightly differently – that is what makes our favourite prog epics so great. You won’t find any verse – pre-chorus – chorus structure here.
I would describe the music as eclectic prog. Themes and melodies come and go, always accompanied with a dissonant counter-melody or a different rhythmical part. There are also these little surprises, where a tone or melody is presented, only to turn into part of another tone, like the beginning of the song ‘Mother and Daughter’. The presence of different rhythmic metres and the frequent rhythmic changes are so prevalent that it makes you wonder if Simon has become allergic to 3/4 and 4/4! It is as if the composer has purposely decided to take all defining aspects of progressive rock and overdo it. The result is a musical product that will definitely not appeal to the masses, but will come as a delight to prog fans of all genres.
All instruments apart from drums have been recorded by Simon McKechnie, lying down on the floor of the studio due to a spine problem. Contrary to what one could expect from the density of the music, there is no heavy guitar here. Simon has been a fan of prog for enough years to know how long or how overbearing a guitar part or solo should be, and the result is amazing! The production and mastering at ‘Close to the Edge’ studio in London helps the end result to breathe out and all the little details to show. The drums were recorded by professional jazz drummer Adam Riley. Not only has he managed to come through the difficulties of the rhythmic complexity, but he has also left his own mark here.
As for the vocals, it seems that most of the hard work and experimentation has taken place here. As mentioned before, Simon is a skilled singer; able to express any feeling required. At times it seems that the music has been written to accompany the lyrics, and not the opposite. It is a feeling I have experienced with Jogi Kaiser’s vocals on SIEGES EVEN’s ‘A Sense of Change’ album – in both cases there is a liquid versatility in the lyrics, as if they have tried – and managed – to break free from the strict rhythmic confinement. The similarities don’t stop here. In both albums, the key word is ‘abstract’, not to mention that you don’t know what to expect at the next moment.
There are various lyric themes throughout the album, but there is a tendency towards dark themes, mythology and Lovecraftian end-of-the-world apocalyptic scenarios. However, the overall feeling of the songs is more dissonant rather than doomy or pessimistic.
All in all, this album is something completely fresh, deserving all the praise it has already got. On his first effort at progressive rock, SIMON MCKECHNIE has delivered a masterpiece, following all the guidelines of the genre, yet unlike anything you have heard before. It is one of the albums of 2013 that is going to be remembered dearly for long.