Mark Hollis died last Monday. I found out while at work, and was immediately stricken with the strange sadness I detailed last week. And when I arrived home, through sheer coincidence, I found Peter Mulvey’s gorgeous new album There Is Another World waiting for me.
I don’t want to suggest that Mulvey was influenced by Talk Talk, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was. His work doesn’t immediately suggest it – Mulvey is a folk singer with a deep, sonorous voice and a strong command of the acoustic guitar. But there’s something about There Is Another World that just fits perfectly with my mood since I learned of Hollis’ death, something about this 33-minute suite that feels in line with the otherworldly sounds conjured up on Laughing Stock.
And it may just be that mood talking, but I think There Is Another World is one of Mulvey’s very best efforts. I’ve been a fan for a long time – since his then-label, Eastern Front, sent me Mulvey’s third album, Rapture, in the mail in 1996 – and I’ve been with him through the ups and downs (though mostly ups) of his discography. He came close to losing me with 2014’s slight Silver Ladder, but then he connected with fellow folkie Ani DiFranco, signed to her label and asked her to produce 2017’s Are You Listening. And the results were revelatory. Listening is a superb record from start to finish, a return to form (and an exploration of new forms) for this always-intriguing songwriter.
He’s kept it in the DiFranco family for the follow-up – it was produced by Ani’s longtime bassist, Todd Sickafoose, who basically takes Mulvey’s sparse acoustic sounds and adds interesting sonic atmospheres to them. He knows the basics of these songs are worth leaving alone, and that Mulvey’s performance will carry them. The songs on There Is Another World grew out of a hard winter, and the record has the feel of a snow-covered landscape, and a wind that makes you pull your coat tighter. It’s hard for me to call it dark, though, as there’s a lovely vein of hope that runs through all of it.
But it is a record of hardship and heartbreak, and though I cannot directly connect it to the horrors of the outside world, it feels the way I feel. “Who’s Gonna Love You Now” is one of the most hopeless songs in Mulvey’s catalog, leaving the title as an open question: “When there’s no way through, the only way is out, when it’s all over but the shouting and you’re too tired to shout, who’s gonna love you now?” Both “Fool’s Errand” and the amazing “To Your Joy” are about the pain of regret, and the brief “Nickel and Dime” puts a cap on that theme with these lyrics: “All those years I had in my pocket, I spent them, nickel and dime.”
But don’t despair, because Mulvey ends this suite with light peeking through. “All Saint’s Day” takes the Yeats line that gives the album its title (“There is another world, but it is in this one”) and uses it to beckon us outside, into the hard cold, to face the day. “The Cardinal” wraps all of the album’s themes of loss and regret and turns them around with one line: “You must change your life.” These five words feel like the record’s mission statement, pulling itself up and dusting itself off, and heading into the snow-covered distance.
It’s lovely, and the beautiful journey of the album is only enhanced by the production. Mulvey has called it the most striking soundscape his songs have ever had the privilege to receive, and he’s not wrong. There are violins, organs, accordions, prepared pianos, water glasses and clarinets here, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice how intricate the sound really is, since it is all in service to the songs, the voice and the guitar. The clarinet arrangements in particular make me think of Mark Hollis, but there’s a real sense of wonder and patience to the sonics on display here that feels right in line with Talk Talk’s influence.
Regardless of whether Hollis was on anyone’s mind when making There Is Another World, it was exactly the album I needed at exactly the right time. Even a week later, this suite of songs is still resonating, still taking me places. It’s yet another high point in a catalog full of them, and further proof that Peter Mulvey should be much more widely known. There Is Another World is a crisp chill wind of an album, perfect for this lingering winter, and I’m grateful it arrived when it did.
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Of course, sometimes I want to shatter whatever mood I’m in, and this week two progressive metal albums helped me to do that. Both are new efforts from long-running bands that I have loved since high school, which certainly makes me feel old, but would probably make the band members feel older.
Luckily neither of these acts sound past their prime here, although Dream Theater comes closest. A new DT album used to be an event in my house, but since original drummer (and band visionary) Mike Portnoy left, their output has been a little lacking. New drummer Mike Mangini is very good, but he clearly doesn’t control the creative side the way Portnoy did, which leaves guitarist John Petrucci in the driver’s seat.
Last time out, Petrucci led the band through a 130-minute pastiche of Broadway musicals called The Astonishing. I was fascinated by it when it came out – I mean, who wouldn’t be – but it hasn’t held up. It’s the DT album I reach for the least. Clearly their attempt to shake things up didn’t go as planned, so now it’s time for the retrenching: Distance Over Time, the band’s 14th album, is a conscious return to prog-metal with big riffs and head-spinning instrumental prowess.
Which means that some of this sounds generic, particularly the first few tracks. “Untethered Angel” could be on any DT album, so obvious is its thudding riffery. But as Distance moves on, it gets more exploratory. “Barstool Warrior” and “S2N” are intriguing shifts in sound, while bonus track “Viper King” is nearly full-on blues-rock. No song here breaks 10 minutes, which is a rarity for DT, and the two more compact epics, “At Wit’s End” and “Pale Blue Dot,” earn their space. This isn’t an amazing, career-defining work for Dream Theater, but it’s much better than I expected, and hopefully bodes well for their future.
As long-running as Dream Theater is, Queensryche has run even longer. Two members of the band are originals from 1983, and with the introduction in 2013 of new singer Todd La Torre, the band has only felt more alive and more vital. The Verdict, their 15th album, is the strongest of this new-model Queensryche, and now that they’ve put all the ugliness with previous singer Geoff Tate behind them, they’re clearly ready to get on with the business of being a great metal band.
I remain gobsmacked by La Torre’s voice – it’s high and powerful, like Bruce Dickinson in his prime, and surprisingly supple for a guy who is my age. (He also played all the drums on this record, which, wow.) He just nails it on opener “Blood of the Levant,” about conflicts in the Middle East, and never lets up. The band is clearly inspired by his presence. “Man the Machine” is their sharpest single in years, “Dark Reverie” is the kind of crawling work the band used to be known for, and with “Bent,” “Inner Unrest” and “Launder the Conscience” they’ve turned in one of their best three-song stretches in ages.
My main complaint about The Verdict is the same one I’ve had since La Torre joined: without distinctive melodies these songs all kind of run together. But that’s long been a Queensryche problem, and this new incarnation knows enough to solve it with sheer heaviness. If all you remember Queensryche for is “Silent Lucidity,” the speed and power of this record will surprise you. Speaking as a longtime fan, I am enjoying the heavy direction Queensryche has chosen, and I hope they keep it going.
Speaking of keeping it going, I’ll be back next week with some thoughts on the new Weezer. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.