Hollow Water – Strange Worlds Jut Into Ours – Album Review
There’s a ton of creative freedom in the expressive Prog Rock vibes of Hollow Water, and always has been as far as I’ve been able to tell. We were pretty much onboard from the get-go…I think we missed their original debut single, but we were there for the debut record Rainbow’s End when it came out back in 2016 – and heck ya, I’m always interested in heading back into their realm of colorful musicianship. Equal amounts of skill & imagination in this band’s music when it comes right down to it – sign me up!
Drifting in on the saxophone from Ilia Skibinsky and the keyboards of Alan Cookson, “To Find A Way” instantly establishes the kind of musical vibes you’ll be in for and the aura surrounding the lineup of songs to be found on Strange Worlds Jut Into Ours. Technically the record came out last year in April, but hey man…if you haven’t heard something before, what the heck does the release date have to do with anything anyway? It’s all new to me – and perhaps it’s all new to you too – and if that is indeed the case, join me in turning this record up while you have yourself a read here. Hollow Water has got ya covered for a solid seventy-five minutes over the course of ten tracks – and really, it’s kinda hard to argue that in the style of music they make that “To Find A Way” would have made for the ideal candidate over any of the rest for the honors of being track number one – it could have pretty much been any of these cuts and you’d never think to complain. With the versatility they possess and the skillful instrumentation they put into the mix – there’s never a shortage of something to keep you fully engaged. Like for instance, the guitar solo from Huw Roberts that will take you into the fifth minute for example…tell me that ain’t already one of the highlight performances you’ve heard in a song this year! Huw steps straight into the spotlight with confidence when the moment calls for it, and puts in the most major spellbinding moment of the opening track for sure as Hollow Water starts to assemble the full strength of its sonic awesomeness. Bonus points for what I suppose you’d consider to be the chorus of sorts…I mean…the very notion of that kind of easy patterning in music is really not what Hollow Water is all about, but if you could probably argue the fading last line of the vocals being repeated will make do in a pinch. There are real hooks to be found there, and singer Mark Lock gets the maximum value out of that line melodically to make a serious contribution to the tone & mood of this song as it shifts towards the end. Up til that point, I’ll admit…I was kind of neither here nor there about the inclusion of the vocals on this opening track…the best way I can put it, is that it’s very, very Prog. As in, the vocals always tend to add something unique – which is good – but it’s much harder to argue that the vocals are ever going to be the main feature of Progressive Rock music…that’d be rare to the nth degree. You come to bands like Hollow Water in general for the musicianship you can rely on and the craft you’ll hear in that regard….anything else, like what you’ll hear throughout the seventh minute from Mark as he sings “we can find a way” at the end…if it happens to become as golden as this moment is, bonus.
Don’t get me wrong, Mark holds his own with confidence…it’s kind of more of a reflection on the genre as a whole. You can go from the music of Zappa to Steely Dan, Primus to Rush, Steve Vai to Dream Theater and you’re gonna run into people that would argue tooth & nail against the inclusion of vocals at all – and I’m not nearly that extreme…I’m more accepting of that. I do wrestle back & forth with whether or not they always further a certain song, suit the song, or raise the stakes – but in the case of a song like “The Time Has Come To Drive,” you can quite quickly tap into what Lock brings to track like this. Love the way this track starts out too…the cleverness of having those wiper-blade sounds at the beginning was a brilliant touch. From there, you’ll start to slide right into this track designed for the your next adventurous road trip – and you’ll notice that Mark ends up playing a more significant role here on this cut to pretty much lead the way. While there’s a much more definable verse/chorus approach to this track than you might typically find within the music of Hollow Water – I think that the melody of the main hooks is extremely effective and highly memorable. Loving the increased presence of the bass-lines, and I think the core duo of Alan & his keys with Huw & his guitar continue to prove to be masters of the craft in how they design their music with such a diverse range of sound at work. Excellent drums to be found on “The Time Has Come To Drive” as well…I mean…as long as you’re fans of Prog Rock, I can’t see anyone out there theoretically struggling to dig on what you hear. For the rest of you…yeah…it’s probably about as tough to follow at points as any Prog-based tune would be for ya, but Hollow Water does give the average everyday set of ears a bit more of a defined structure to hang onto, and repeat moments they’ll recognize from part to part. Lyrically…I ain’t gonna lie…I have my moments with this track where I’m desperately wanting a bit more than just the word that rhymes…but in terms of its focus, it’s hard to argue against – thematically it’s just as tight of a tune as the musicianship that creates it, to be completely fair. The highlight for me, I think without question – is within that third minute for sure; not only is Ilia absolutely essential once again, but listen to the effect Skibinsky has on Cookson will ya? He reaches a level beyond cool within the third minute of this cut, right before Roberts takes over to lay a little sauce down on the ol’ axe for ya – and Alan will light it up with Ilia once more before the very end of “The Time Has Come To Drive” as well, creating a fireworks finale to this track that lights up brilliantly before deconstructing to its ending.
Case in-point, just like any cut could have made for a great opening tune, “It Takes More Than A Spark” ended up becoming the lead-single in that same respect…it could have been any of’em. I like the effects on the vocals – and I think the layers of the vocals make this track even more enticing & compelling to listen to overall. Do I think there are more hooks or ways into “It Takes More Than A Spark” than there are in other tunes that justify its single-worthy status? Heck no! Like I said – it’s pretty much an even spread throughout this whole record in that regard; I’d probably argue that even “The Time Has Come To Drive” right beforehand likely has more universal appeal to it than what you’ll find in this third track – but really, if you like one, you’ll like’em all. I kind of grin when I listen to a Prog single of any kind if I’m being truthful with ya…it’s such a bizarre term to end up applying to music that doesn’t tend to possess the same kind of qualities we associate a single as having…but as I’ve said many times, a single can be many things for many reasons. The bottom line is you want something that’s gonna catch some attention and draw people in – while I might personally be more partial to the opening two tracks, I gotta admit, you hear the combination of their hybrid musicianship at the very start & the playfulness it has, and that’s an immediate way to entice people in to listen. You factor in the switch into a heavier grind and how defined that early transition IS…same thing – it’s another moment in time that people will certainly notice. “It Takes More Than A Spark” still cranks out many quality ideas along the way – Mark does a great job singing it, Alan rocks the living daylights outta his keys when called upon…drums are solid as ever and have a spectacular mix on them that sits’em all right into the thick of it, which I love – excellent solo from Cookson mid-tune as well, Ilia crushes it like always…it’s still a cut that’s got lots going for it despite having the albatross of being the single hanging around its Progressive Rock neck. I was almost surprised at how quickly they left behind the first twenty seconds of this tune…to me, that might be leaving a little meat on the bone there…the way they bring you into this cut is genius and I would have loved to have heard that part find its way back into the song at some point along the way. That’s the thing about Prog though…you can never get too attached to any one part of a tune…chances are, the moment you do, that’ll be the exact moment things transition, morph, and change altogether.
Speaking of! Hollow Water takes you on into nature with “Just Another False Dawn” as it begins, once again switchin’ it up on ya, and generally speaking, gettin’ all kinds of ambitious to create a ten-minute-plus epic to enjoy. Huw’s guitar on the way in as the clouds part, is absolutely incredible. I like the way the vocals slide in here, though I felt like it took a while for Mark to find the melodic ground he was seeking out at first – eventually as you head towards the third minute, you feel him get to where he was looking for. Ya gotta recognize…with music as versatile and transformative as what you find in Hollow Water or in Prog in general, the demands on a singer are pretty much exponential; it’s tough to create additional melody, it’s tough to create defined & recognizable parts…and depending on how familiar you are with every single twist & turn of the music, of which there can be – and ARE many – it can really stack the odds against you in multiple ways. More often than not, it can induce our natural selection in the parts we like most, and the others that don’t connect as much – and in the case of Prog music, you can find a healthy mix of both in the very same tune, especially when they’re ten minutes in length, but I suspect it all comes proudly with the territory. You don’t go into the making of “Just Another False Dawn” thinking you’ve just found your way into the mainstream at long last – you do it for the art, the craft, and the pure love of making music that’s as challenging as it is exciting, fresh, unexplored & new. So sure – you’re going to hear points throughout a song of this magnitude that fully grip you without question, and perhaps a few spots along the way as well that don’t hold you with nearly the same strength…it’s natural, and the way people tend to listen to music. Like for me, what Alan’s cookin’ up at the start of this song is just about as addictive as sound can potentially ever BE – and for some of you, it won’t even feel like “Just Another False Dawn” even really starts until it’s past a minute in! Shout-outs to Joel Evenden who did the mixing & mastering on this record…on a textural level & sensory sound-wise – I felt like Strange Worlds Jut Into Ours was a gift that kept on giving in that regard, track after track. I’ve never been a massive fan of the organ…so the switch around the four-minute mark was just about my favorite moment in the song…love the clarity in the mix there as things spread out between the keys, drums, and saxophone. Mark finds a lot of success with the layering of his vocals…I’m not gonna say it’s most even performance you’ll find from him on this record, but there are significant highlights that he provides along the way for sure…particularly in the whispers & creativity to be found in the fifth minute. Musically, this whole band seriously goes on to crush this cut with innovative tactics as it plays on, reaching what you’d think is its peak just after the eighth minute – but hold onto yer butts, there’s still so much more in-store for ya as they dive into the heaviest vibes & furthest depths of this song towards the end. All-in-all, it’s definitely ambitious, quite artistic as well…”Just Another False Dawn” isn’t the kind of cut you’d find anyone taking on at the beginner’s stage, that I can promise ya.
None of these songs are in that respect though, and they’ve proven it track after track, certainly including the awesomeness that is “The Realm Of Sound” – call me crazy, but I’d have probably been turning to this song for those single-worthy honors. I’d readily admit it’s no more typical than the choice they made in “It Takes More Than A Spark” earlier on – but there’s just SO MUCH about the personality and charisma you hear in the music of “The Realm Of Sound” that is as alive as alive can be. There’s a really gripping element in the design of this track that’s loose as a goose, but tight as it gets too…like you’ll probably feel like “The Realm Of Sound” was created out of the most kickass jam happening right in front of our ears at random…and with the skill level found in this collaborative crew, that’s almost possible. Were it not for the fact that they’re an internet-based band, I’d have told ya it probably WAS. That basically makes “The Realm Of Sound” that much more impressive to listen to if you ask me – it’s a wicked & truly badass cut on this record that’s as unpredictably played as it is entertaining. Mark’s feelin’ it – there’s no doubt about that – you wanna shout along with him in delight as you listen to the creative energy work its magic on ya in “The Realm Of Sound” – this cut’s completely got the juice, 100%. MAJOR hooks in the music – kickass bass-lines that strengthen the song big time – wild guitars & keys, great sax solo – and when Mark is feelin’ the vibe & shout’n it out, we’re right there feelin’ it too.
Conceptually & lyrically, I probably liked “An Outlandish Traveller” more than most when it came to the tangible storyline and all-around interesting theme you’ll find you’ve got easy access to here. You’ll notice things like how the record ties in together more at this point as well, cluing you in through smart moves like including the title of the previous song at the start of this one…it’s the little details that really stack up big in a very rewarding way for the dedicated listeners out there. Now…that being said…I’d wager a guess that “An Outlandish Traveller” is probably gonna prove to be a bit more of a challenge to listeners than many of the others by comparison. For myself, as much as I liked a lot of what occurs at the beginning of this track, it was closer to the fourth minute where I felt like Hollow Water really started to tap right into the main strengths of this song in tandem. When you hear how far they’ve reached on a conceptual level, it’s only fair to expect that the music would attempt to at least keep up to its multi-dimensional design…I don’t think they fall short in that regard whatsoever; I just recognize it as the long distance for many listeners to travel with them. Ultimately I think there’s an allure to the many different parts that run through “An Outlandish Traveller” that still gives this cut a legitimate shot at making an impression on the masses out there. For me, this was a track that was more about the story and connecting the dots than it was an easy-to-absorb song, even within the Prog realm, which I suppose is sayin’ something ain’t it? Best way I can put it is that it’s an important cut for the record in terms of its theme overall, but not necessarily the easiest to love in the whole set – that fair to say?
As if to illustrate my point, “Standing On The Karman Line” is probably the most accessible cut of the entire bunch, and it’s still over eight-minutes in length! But yeah man…I acknowledge, “An Outlandish Traveller” has the odds stacked against it for sure…you’ve got the uber-creative & compelling sound of “The Realm Of Sound” and the brightest vibes & inviting aura of “Standing On The Karman Line” to follow – being sandwiched in the middle would be no easy task for any tune. However! I think there’s a lot that needs to be examined here if I’m Hollow Water – I think the entire blueprint for the pathway forward exists right here in this magnificent tune. Everything about the whole band is on a level beyond here – “Standing On The Karman Line” is just straight-up, sonic brilliance from start to finish – and consider its massive length, there’s no doubt they’ve really achieved something remarkably special with this song. That whole thing I was mentioning before at the start about having your favorite parts in these big long tunes by Hollow Water? You can forget that for a moment – “Standing On The Karman Line” is just about as flawless as a song can be, and it’s like more than double the length of your average cut out there in the world. Mark deserves a serious award for the way he’s sung this song – and the effects that they use on his vocals for this song…good lord…it’s the chef’s kiss at that point – he’s revealed his very best here in my opinion, and I’d almost be surprised if anyone felt differently. Like – I already thought this was his most pivotal performance without question – but hearing the next level genius that it would take to not only build the hooks you hear in the vocal effects, but use them as expertly and efficiently as you’ll find them used here…it’s just a pure audible delight, every single time. The jazzy guitar solo from Huw and his many contributions to this cut are major standouts too – there are many times where Hollow Water reminds me a lot of Minus The Bear on “Standing On The Karman Line” – but with just that much more melodic magic happening from the microphone. Credit where credit is due y’all – I don’t think there’s a single point that you can take away from a track like this one; it’s as incredibly appealing and accessible as it is inventive, imaginative, and spellbindingly skillful. Don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong – you’ve obviously read tons of positive things about how I feel about Hollow Water to this point already – but this…THIS song…music really don’t get ANY BETTER y’all. In terms of the Progressive genre overall – this is a perfect example of how to reach outside its realm and bring everyone into the fold – there’s simply nothing about “Standing On The Karman Line” that isn’t wildly interesting, highly imaginative, or entirely inviting to listen to – they absolutely nailed this.
Drum solos even! You’ll find one just before the mid-point of “The Web Can’t Be Unwound…Err Actually…” – and it’s another rad & refreshing moment in time that creates a memorable highlight in this track for ya to dig on. Continuing to bend their themes of space & time as Strange Worlds Jut Into Ours plays on, there’s no question that the cut following “Standing On The Karman Line” was going to present another challenge for Hollow Water – and yeah…I think this time around it’s another large ask of the listeners out there to travel the full distance along with’em through the many twists & turns it has in its structure & design. You’ve gotta admire the passion and the efforts at work here throughout this whole record though – “The Web Can’t Be Unwound…Err Actually” certainly included – it might be demanding to listen to for the everyday pair of ears out there, but for the Prog fans, there’s simply tons to love, and constantly. Fantastic drums start up this track and set the pace – the vocal melody that starts it out in the low-end works well, the bright burst of vocals to follow makes an impression to follow as a result. There’s a lot of really amazing vocals to be found in the most intense demands being made on Lock and his biggest notes…the more involved & the more power he applied to his singing on “The Web Can’t Be Unwound…Err Actually,” the better the results seemed to become. It would have been extremely tough to outdo what we just experienced in the track prior, but Hollow Water always holds its own with confidence & creativity; you’ll certainly find no less than you normally would from them here.
So look…we’ve established that music pretty much ain’t gonna get any more exciting & inspired than you’re gonna hear on “Standing On The Karman Line” – BUT…we’re talking about a savagely close runner-up with “On The Thirteenth Stroke.” I’m gonna advocate on behalf of “Standing On The Karman Line” having just that much more of a brighter & accessible vibe – but “On The Thirteenth Stroke” makes up for what it trades a little for in that department, with an extremely meaty sound you can sink your teeth right into and practically chew on as you listen. You get a full meal’s worth of style & sound at work here – so good it’ll have you instantly craving a second helping, thirds or more – and BONUS points for what’s easily gonna be the best use of a cuckoo clock in the mix that you’re ever gonna hear. Hollow Water slides right into this cut movin’ & groovin’ with subtle slickness & quickness – tracks like “On The Thirteenth Stroke” end up feeling like their ripping by as quickly & intensely as it does stoically & steadily – and the effect of that is extremely cool to listen to for its remarkable contrast. At their most adventurous like they are on this track, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been completely transported straight outta your world and into the multi-dimensional realm of Hollow Water where they’ve got full control of space & time, commanding it to their will with every note, tone, and syllable. An international force to be reckoned with when they’re at their very best, and that’s exactly what you get from them here on “On The Thirteenth Stroke” – listen to those bass-lines will ya? This whole cut snaps instantly into place – the hooks are bulletproof, and really smartly designed through the call & answer approach to the chorus…and of course you’ve got Huw that just never stops crushin’ it, ever. You add in the electro-synth intensity that Alan provides running underneath the surface…and trust me when I tell ya, you’ll find all the right ingredients you wanna hear within this one extraordinary exploratory odyssey.
Finishing strong with their title track “Strange Worlds Jut Into Ours” – you can hear the effect of their enticing, warm, and inviting sound in action right off the drop as it begins. There’s an uplifting feeling that quickly enters the mix on this last track…and considering the journey we’ve just been on with Hollow Water, you get a sense of triumph and accomplishment as you reach the final cut on this album. Here’s where you’d be looking at a closer comparison to stuff like you’d find in old Genesis – you know the one I’m talkin’ about – the immortal version of the band with Gabriel still at the helm – the good stuff. Top-shelf Progressive music, even still to this very day if you ask me. Hollow Water retains their own identity extremely well throughout this whole lineup of songs when it comes right down to it – and while there have been moments where Mark has been a perfect fit up front on the mic & other tracks where he’s drifted just slightly wide of the goal – he’s become a massive part of what’s made so many of these songs as memorable as they have been, and contributed several noteworthy highlights in the process along the way. Lock isn’t afraid to take chances, create art, and go where the music takes him – and I’ve got a lot of love & respect for that – especially considering that the vast majority of the time, the music leads him right to the perfect place that suits him best. Like – listen to Hollow Water surge unified into the sixth minute together – that’s a HUGE highlight – and through the instrumentation to follow, believe me – there’s STILL more to be had! From the thunderous precision drums, to the sparkle of melody so expertly supplied by Alan…this whole international collaboration of players brings it home with confidence and professionalism, style, and arguably even a bit of upbeat swagger in the air as well. “Strange Worlds Jut Into Ours” is a stellar summation of so much of what we’ve experienced throughout this record, and supplies you happily with one last dose of the supreme musicianship & vocals that have made it so unique, versatile, and diverse along the way. Definitely a band I sure hope continues on long into the future – Hollow Water dares to be adventurous and exploratory with the music they make, and with the results you hear in all of what they’ve created though this lineup, you can hear the effort is all well worth their while through the passion in their songs & the radiant spirit you’ll find at the heart of it. They make music because they genuinely love to do it; the value of that for us as listeners, is priceless.
Find out more about Hollow Water at their official website at: http://www.hollowwater.com