An afternoon at a local venue can manifest all manner of results. Having popped down to catch the last days proceedings at a small festival called Riffstock, their annual long weekend of local music, I came away with a few new bands etched in my mental scribble pad, a couple of t-shirts and, best of all, a free copy of The Listening Device’s second album, having promised to put pen to paper on its behalf. They were not a band that I was previously too familiar with but, having recognised a few of the names on the inner sleeve, had a fair idea what I was getting myself into.
Although the band have one foot heavily planted in the Progressive rock camp, a genre not known for its modernity, there is nothing cliché about this album, and the few elements that do seem to be familiar musical plot devices are used in unusual ways, or are more cleverly deployed than may first appear. That progressiveness is also tempered by a laid back and often ambient quality, the result of which is an album that is predominantly one that soothes more often than fires you up, though there are occasions when they manage to do that too.
The first thing that strikes you is front man Harry Worcester’s voice, not the sort of voice that you immediately associate with the ethereal undercurrents that ooze through the songs, that’s not to say that it’s not an interesting voice, or indeed that it doesn’t fit the bill. What helps is the sumptuous array of female backing vocals that intertwine his words, words that seem to conjure up medieval landscapes and fantasy settings, but words that I suspect have far deeper meaning and real world parallels.
Although there is some solid and occasional blinding guitar work, the basis of the music is keyboard based. Janet Thompson’s deft fingers and, I should imagine, an array of technological wizardry, combine to give us light piano flutters, warm washes of synth, heavy electronic soundscapes and everything in between. But there is more to the band than just the two lead players. In fact, on this album, there are eight of them, but the wisdom of age and the experience of musicianship enables them to remain restrained and not overplay the songs. Dancer is one song that epitomises this upbeat, less is more approach, but still has room for lots of wonderful harmony vocals and an infectious guitar hook. Another stand out track is the opener, The Day I Became a God, mainly for its unusual lyrics, slow dynamic build and brilliant finish, swamped with exquisite lead guitar and banks of choral work.
Great though these songs are on album, I suspect that it’s a band that really works best as a live act. You can hear a majesty in their sound that the confinements of the recorded CD don’t allow to fly free. That said, it’s a great album, one full of music that moves between warm ambience at one extreme and nothing short of epic at the other.