Hollow Water – Rainbow’s End – Album Review
Cool progression to the story behind Hollow Water’s progressive-sound. Based around the core-duo that began the project, Alan Cookson (Keyboard) and Huw Roberts (Guitar) – they expanded the idea even further to include collaborators from all over the planet to create a whole new set of otherworldly sounds on their new album Rainbow’s End. While you can certainly still tell these two are at the helm of the project overall through the immaculate guitar tones and innovative keyboard sounds that drive many of the ideas and songs on this record…the other players involved deserve some serious kudos for bringing an ambitious album vibrantly to life through their combined talents and professional instrumentation.
You get a huge hit of what this collective is capable of on the wild start to this record through “Day In Day Out” as the sounds jump out like colors and truly stand out through their structure, assembly and intense dynamics. Much of the very beginning of Rainbow’s End is threaded with vocal-samples that are all over the map in what they choose to talk about, but there’s an odd cohesion that occurs throughout the opening by doing this and it’s a real nod to the progressive-genre as a whole in keeping this tradition. Many progressives out there that don’t use vocals often resort to these type ideas like Vai or Satriani…other projects that did have vocals like Marillion, Genesis & Zappa cleverly wove them into the fabric of their records like Hollow Water is doing here…it’s a time-honored tradition of sorts, but it works to bring an album together smartly when it’s done right. Like with what Hollow Water does here at the beginning and end of the opening tune “Day In Day Out,” what you hear is entertaining, unique and done in that perfect way that makes you want to listen to what’s going on right up close. Wild guitars and inventive keyboards fuel the intensity of this first cut while the drums pound out solid beats from the back…mix & production immediately stand-out…you can hear that this is music being made by people that certainly know what they’re doing and the exact direction they want to take the songs in once in comes time to hit the studio mixing-boards.
Loved the radio-DJ style opening of “Mirror’s Frame” and how they audibly turn this one up once the intro is finished like you were hearing it broadcast for real. They launch into the SMOOTHEST groove and rhythm from there, only to hit a severe car-crash all within the first-third of the track that puts you into a completely different melody, tone & atmosphere. Snapping back to life, the vocals start-up when the groove returns…they fit…I like the recording on them and the layers of sound they have and I like the anti-typical, unique delivery. Vibrantly entertaining when dude goes for the high-notes! The saxophone sounds add a perfect final layer that this groove could withstand & contain – absolutely spot-on solo that carries right into the mid-song transition and gets wilder with every twist & turn in the music. Complex timing, stunning in structure and ambition – “Mirror’s Frame” absolutely quenches the thirst when it comes to looking for a band that truly values musicianship and instrumentation. Loved the way this cut morphed into a truly space-like instrumental jam and how it sounded like every player got right into this rhythm and groove to fully deliver with flawless precision.
The keyboards tone & textures have already been exceptional but I think they deserve some extra credit for “Rainbow’s Begin.” Creating a solid atmosphere that transitions, moves and flows dynamically while still retaining melody inside of the madness of the idea combined, “Rainbow’s Begin” becomes truly impressive as it builds, evolves and expands. Great crunch to the guitars in this track, the drums are working overtime and really sound excellently punched-up in the mix in addition to being extremely well played…I like that there are vocals, but I like that they’re sunk right into the swirl of the mix here…it creates a really cool effect on the listening experience overall as they drift in & out of this tune with varying degrees of strength & power to them breaking through the music we hear. “Rainbow’s Begin” has its signature moments of strangeness like good prog-rock SHOULD. The ideas and execution of the Hollow Water sound will be challenging to many minds out there…but for those that like great experimental ideas and professional musicianship combined – you’ll love this.
Where things really kicked into gear for me was “Gathering Sunbeams For The Future.” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been more than satisfied with what I’ve heard so far…but LISTEN to the way this track gets crackin’ at around the 1:10 mark! THAT is an incredible moment in music right there…and it’s almost amazing that a band as rich in ideas like this barely even exploits the idea! With eight & a half minutes on this tune, there’s a lot of ground to cover yes, but Hollow Water manages to toss in more ideas in one song than most bands have in an entire year! So many in fact, that some of the best moments that you’ll hear in the music of this band will fly by all-too-quickly like this early highlight on “Gathering Sunbeams For The Future” did for me. I’m always okay with that…that’s why I listen to things more than once and media-players have a repeat function. 😉 Solid vocal melodies and bright keyboard rhythms drive much of the length of this track…they even challenge themselves lyrically & you can hear that! “Gathering Sunbeams For The Future” is certainly proof that Hollow Water has no interest in taking the easy-route with their music…and as a musician & avid-listener myself, I completely appreciate the extra time, effort and execution they’ve put into their music. It’s paid off extraordinarily well…the music seriously moves and has an insightful amount of transitions in energy throughout…the last change in “Gathering Sunbeams For The Future” takes the music into a darker, crunchier rhythm as they amp-up the madness straight to the final seconds for a wicked end to the album’s longest cut.
“The Quantum Mechanic And The Map Collector” – okay…a tougher one for sure. The last thing I’d ever want to do is discount the amount of pure WORK it would be to construct something like this…because it truly is an achievement. You can hear that the words are so dense & packed-into the metering that they’re just barely keeping up…I mean, we’re splitting milliseconds and photo-finishing here, know what I mean? I think Hollow Water gets there…and for me, this track made a lot of sense to my brain…I can hear an argument for the delivery on the vocals as it’s tough to sound anything other than a bit rushed as they’re flying by…BUT…if the dude gets there, and he DOES…well, doesn’t that then deserve some credit? I think the intensity added by that rush adds some personality into the melody of the vocals of “The Quantum Mechanic And The Map Collector.” The guitars in this cut are outstanding! Some of the best tones and solos exist right here on the record, which is also largely due to the way the drums and keyboards create the atmosphere surrounding them as well – it all sounds fantastic together.
And SPEAKING of LISTENING to guitars – check out the beginning of the title-tune “Rainbow’s End.” I mean…they’re SO GOOD that you almost don’t even notice that the bass-lines are kicking it just as impressively alongside the drums as well! I expected things to get wild on their title-epic, and they certainly did. Love the enthusiasm you can hear in this one, especially right around the 2:15-mark where the vocals definitely feel the groove as much as we do! Great psychedelic-sound to this jazzy-funk/rock groove that they’ve got going for themselves here! It’s tracks like this one that really make you appreciate just how much effort it must take…how much precision, practice, writing…all that…but how it all ends up completely rewarding you in the end. LISTEN TO THIS GROOVE! I mean, from the fourth-minute to the fifth-minute, this band just jumps right inside ‘the pocket’ to deliver some of the best instrumentation you’ll find on the entire record. Wildly-progressive with highly-accessible parts combining into a seriously inventive structure and overall idea – “Rainbow’s End” is expertly assembled.
Then something unexpected happens…after the title-track has finished, Hollow Water proceeds to basically phone it in from there. I know what you’re thinking…how can a project that’s displayed such promise and skill drop the ball in the second half right? Well. The facts speak for themselves…look at the track lengths! Hollow Water can’t even bring themselves to muster a seven-minute track in the final six, let alone an eight-minute one like they did twice in the first half…fatigue has so obviously set in…
…okay…I’m obviously joking. Not about the song-lengths, but Hollow Water has far from run out of ideas on how to entertain us. In fact, the second-half of this record carries a lot of the lasting impact the music of Hollow Water makes on us over the course of this album and it started right away with the subtle-groove of “Trick Of The Light.” I like what I heard on “Trick Of The Light” quite a bit…the atmosphere is awesome, the keyboards are excellent…the vocal-samples and eventual singing are some of my favorite moments on this record. The drums BLAZE towards the third-minute before the band opens-up to a widespread atmosphere for a whole set of incredible notes in guitar solos to occupy a hefty portion of the song’s inventive mid-section before coming back to the melodic chorus. Call me crazy, but I hear like…some old-school Scritti Politti influence on the melody in the chorus-line. I could be out to lunch on that, but with keyboards driving the melody as much as they do in Hollow Water along with Scritti’s lasting impact on incorporating electro-melodies on music throughout the years – it IS a possibility! Exceptionally impressed about the end of this tune. Not gonna lie to ya…I had a chopped version of the song that left out half of the song the first time I heard it and I am absolutely STOKED that there was a whole other half waiting for me – the inspired sound of the perfect ending to “Trick Of The Light” was the exact ingredient called for in this recipe of controlled melody & madness. Absolutely loved this tune and certainly thought it was one of the strongest highlights on the entire album.
“Immortal Portal” cleverly makes use of the programmed percussion and brilliantly enters and expands the opening of this tune as it begins. Insightfully composed and expertly performed…searing guitar leads come soaring overtop of the wild electro combination formed at the base of the song and “Immortal Portal” really begins to take flight. Playing with the themes of space in the lyrics and atmosphere in the music that have worked so very well for Hollow Water throughout Rainbow’s End – I liked the vocals in this cut, but I loved the instrumental sections. I felt like when “Immortal Portal” took on its moments with vocals that it somehow melted away a little of the accessibility in the sound somewhat – it seemed that the most inviting sounds on this cut all came through the instrumentation in full-groove. With that being the opposite effect that people are typically expecting…”Immortal Portal” might seem easy to love at first, but will potentially prove tougher to hold the average attention span.
But let’s face it…overall, if that was truly a concern, prog-rock as a whole, would not exist. This is music made for the true art & joy of it…the challenge of composition and the reward in being able to deliver on the fantastic ideas written through performance.
Execution and brilliant space-rock/psychedelic-vibes line the walls of “Solar Beacon” – which I felt like was one of the strongest tunes overall on the record personally. Loved the lyrics, loved the drums, the keyboard…especially loved the vocals throughout this song and the imagery in the words you catch. The vocals are set heavy into the music once again during the verse…you might not catch them all, but what you will certainly fits this record thematically and the music sounds huge as a result. Great mid-section to this cut with the drums and guitars bringing out some of their best chops as well…but almost in contrast to how I felt like “Immortal Portal” turned out, the pull is really in the verse’s vocal melody and the simple-but-effective, powerful-chant in the chorus – “Solar Beacon” becomes a real anthem in prog-rock. Loved the way this one turned out. The guitar solo just prior and post the five-minute-mark absolutely slayed it with incredible tones and tighter-than-tight playing before the band rips back into the inspired sound of the chorus once more. Ending it on completely different tones in a jazzy keyboard/percussion-filled ending…I thought the final twist was a great choice…this part at the end is like that awesome but unexplainable chocolate-mint-thing you get at restaurants after you finish dinner.
WHAT…is THAT though? I’m thinking that’s a verifiable keyboard-riff at the beginning of “The Light Dimension” – although I suppose it could be a tremendously-filtered guitar potentially as well. You never know with the creativity in this band…but I’m pretty sure that AMAZING riff you’ll hear at the beginning of “The Light Dimension” is the keys. Anyhow. Point being – I’m not sure what the band was putting in the water at this part on the record, but I certainly hope they keep drinking and that the well stays full – because “The Light Dimension” is pretty much as incredible as music can get. The lyrics on this track wind beautifully around the intensity of the music with real skill in bending these words and the natural sound of them to their every will in order to fit the melody – and they pull this off with mindblowing-precision. Real credit to the vocals here, because that is not an easy accomplishment…more often than not, you’d think you’d hear something bend awkwardly into place – but that’s not the case here. Despite the vocals not clinging to a rhyme-scheme, the melody is boldly fixed and the way the words wrap around the music is seriously impressive here. One of the most balanced tunes on the record in terms of strengths-shared from part-to-part – gotta hand this one the award for its challenging composition, mix, ambition and ideas in the music being pulled-off with sincerely dynamite execution. “The Light Dimension” is the kind of song that really helps you appreciate just how rich and diverse their sound is and can be – LISTEN to the chorus on this one will you? Fans of music outside of the prog-rock genre like Bloc Party and TV On The Radio have a serious gateway-song into the music of Hollow Water through the wild blend of sounds you’ll find on “The Light Dimension.”
From about “Solar Beacon” on forward, I felt like the vocals gained real strength and added confidence on this record. I loved the sound in “Illusions & Delusions” – especially the more melodic moments like around the three-minute mark…they’re sounding great there! “Illusions & Delusions” was an interesting one to me…it made me wonder what Black Sabbath might have sounded like if they ventured further into prog-rock and lightened-up a bit. Well…okay…lightened-up a LOT maybe…but there’s something similar about the sound, production and vocals here at times. Wasn’t sure about that one set of tones around the 5:10 mark…sounded like they bent themselves just slightly out of frame there but Hollow Water quickly recovers for more excellence and perspective on knowledge, emotions and the reality of the mind. Lots of cool ideas on “Illusions & Delusions” and the band is still sharply focused and delivering with professional execution towards the late-stages of the record with ease.
If anything…I think that’s the most profound part of the listening experience with Hollow Water; you know what they’re writing & playing certainly isn’t easy, but they all sound so incredibly comfortable and at home in this environment. Loved the bass-lines and keyboards of “We Changed. This World Didn’t.” and the final highlights of the immaculate guitar-solos & crisp drum-snaps – I felt like Hollow Water really put the music on display during this last tune and the results soared into extraordinary. This band has given you every reason to like what they’re doing and the music they make every step of the way through Rainbow’s End…the final moments of the record are audible-perfection and you can tell that every moment from writing to performance to album-layout has been carefully considered to get you the best listening experience possible. Hollow Water has done themselves mighty proud here…I think prog-fans will be on this album for sure, and I think there’s a potential to gather many, many more listening ears through sheer curiosity alone…and they’ll keep them listening with the creativity and high-level of execution they have as a band. Very impressed by this record.
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