The Year That Wasn’t – Gary Bamford (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I’ve seen him about. I’ve watched play in others bands. I’ve heard music that he has scored for other people’s projects. I’ve even exchanged a few brief words with him here and there, post-gig and on the hoof. But I don’t think you start understanding a musician until you have heard music that they have made for no other reason than they just felt like making it. Listening to such music is like being given a guided tour of the musical section of their brain. It is their imagination rendered into sound. It is sort of like seeing the workings out on the side of their creative page.

And so, in a way, via this new album, I have recently spent some time strolling around Gary Bamford’s brain. I have to say that it is an odd place! But that is a good thing. Odd equates to imaginative, unique, unpredictable, adventurous and exploratory. It is the opposite of tried and tested, of conventional, of mundane.

The Year That Wasn’t is a collection of soundscapes as songs, instrumentals that take all manner of forms, from drifting ambient beauty to upbeat electronic grooves, from futuristic, glitchy pop to more traditional classical grace. There is even room to squeeze in a bit of bombastic electro-rock. Songs such as If You Hadn’t Been Here build tones and textures out of only the most transient of keyboard sounds saying as much in the atmospheres between the notes as from the plaintive playing itself. At the other extreme, the wonderfully named Meh is a blast of retro-futurism scattered with oriental cascades and blistering guitars.

Opener, The Sea’s Plea, is mystical and menacing as it crawls towards the listener, the most unnerving of musical greetings and No 53 feels like modern minimalist composers such as Steve Reich or Philip Glass embracing underground and off-beat dance music.

Some might find this a challenging piece of work but being challenged is what it’s all about, surely? We all have our favourite music to act as a sonic comfort blanket but the creative world in general, and music in particular, moves forward because its boundaries are constantly tested, tweaked and, occasionally, trashed. And if that is true for the listener, it is doubly so for the creator. This is just the sound of an imaginative musician being given a blank canvas and letting his thoughts run wild.

And why not? The results are fantastic!

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