Nova Cascade – Back From The Brink – Album Review
Well that’s unique – you don’t often end up stumbling across a band that was created across the span of continents & the results of a healthy night of online gaming now do ya? That is indeed the case when it comes to the music of Nova Cascade…which is pretty darn cool if you ask me. I haven’t played a legitimate video game since the days of lording over my roommates playing Mario Kart…I can’t even imagine that counts as anything close to what dedicated gamers would even consider to be worthwhile these days. So in that sense…well…obviously their origin story is a little outside of my realm, but they’re in my world now and have been since 2017-ish with the release of their debut record the following year. After following up their first album Above All Else with their 2019 release called A Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows, like the rest of everyone out there, I’d reckon they were somewhat in a holding pattern from there forward as the world locked itself down into isolated times around the globe. That being said, the evidence is crystal clear that they did not let their time go to waste with the results on their third album Back From The Brink – it’s radiantly apparent that in fact, they used all their extra time extremely wisely and prepared for the resurgence on the other side with a lineup of extraordinarily adventurous material.
Over time & the course of their existence, somewhere in there, the original three expanded their band’s potential even further, inviting in new players, which now boasts a range of talent that extends from Europe all the way to the USA. There are five of’em on this new album right here – you’ve got Dave Hilborne (Vocals, Synth, Programming), Dave Flick (Bass), Charlie Bramald (Flute), Eric Bouillette (Guitars, Violin), and Lorenzo Polindari (Drums) all lending their time & efforts to Back From The Brink.
As I’ve told ya from the get-go here – this is time well spent, and their efforts should not go unnoticed.
The atmospheric aspect of their Progressive sound instantly reveals itself on the opening track “Rectify.” While it’s fair to say they don’t give all their cards away here in this first impression, it’s still far more substantial than any mere intro would be…you can immediately recognize the sonic depth in the music and astounding clarity in the production…the precision musicianship and the cleverness of their ideas – all of which combined are not only effective in this initial experience, but to this entire record overall. Essentially, Nova Cascade is built on quality – and the high standards they so clearly have inside of their band, translates directly into audibly exquisite entertainment and sensory sound designed for YOU to enjoy! Is that a sweet deal or what, right? Imagine! A band that has clearly put thought into every ticking second you hear, and has come out with an entirely cohesive set of eight new songs as a result – and YOU dear readers, dear friends, dear music-fans around the globe, are the awaiting beneficiaries. I felt like Nova Cascade brings us into this experience by generating pure interest through textured tones & sensory vibes right off the drop, yet still give this whole record plenty of room to expand from here on – “Rectify” is almost kind of like a sampler of their sonic palette in that regard, without stuffing you full.
It’s “The Minutes After” that indeed, begin to blow your mind and reveal what this band is truly capable of. First of all – I’ll be upfront with you…in MOST circumstances, if you were to present me with the option of listening to a violin or a flute, I’m going with the violin nine times out of ten. The musicianship and stunning technique…the all-out PERFECTNESS in the way that Charlie Bramard plays, makes me think my math has been completely wrong this whole time – he is an absolutely undeniable talent and a true asset to this band, without question. His contributions to the sound of “The Minutes After” cannot be understated – the man is essential, especially to the first half of this song. Like all of our favorite bands in the Progressive realm of sound, Nova Cascade will shift through different styles and push the boundaries & borders of their genre in all directions in that exploratory & expressive way we fans love – you can hear the creativity & confident instrumentation flow from the lefts to rights at every moment. “The Minutes After” is an impressively engaging song, and I sincerely mean that – Nova Cascade has somewhat taken a risk in the sense that their album opens up with a fairly chilled-out & mellow beginning, but in terms of the interest they generate in the process, it pretty much can’t be beat. I listen to a track like “The Minutes After” and the significant transitions they make like you’ll find as they branch out into a serene moment like you’ll find around the 2:30 mark and open the doors of their sound to theoretically endless possibilities, or how they continue to innovate this song with such imagination on display from there on…like, it makes an incredible impact on ya, and a memorable one. From the endearing moments like you’ll find in the vivid sincerity throughout the song’s fourth minute, to the subtle excitement that begins to build as they slide into its fifth and give “The Minutes After” the finale it deserved – there’s not a hair out of place or anything I’d remotely change – this cut is fantastic.
All that great stuff to say, and I’d wager that I probably liked “There Is Always A Way” even more. As it starts, it’s just pure freakin’ brilliance…like a fusion between Progressive sound & Post-Punk melancholy, there’s such a rich tapestry of sound being woven into the fabric of this cut from moment one that you couldn’t possibly miss it. From the thick bass-lines of Dave, to the absolutely magnificent keyboards from the other Dave, and everything you’ll hear between Daves – I mean, it’s just 100% compelling – that’s not opinion, that’s facts. “There Is Always A Way” brings even more atmospherically-inclined ideas into the record, incorporating the legendary moon-landing speech into its latter half, infusing a spoken-word element into what’s already been artistically awesome. For me, that’s beyond awesome – not only do I love Progressive music for the most part, and instrumentals in just about every genre – but Spoken Word, experimental, and exploratory cuts like this are pretty much what gets me outta bed each & every day. The definition in their sound, the detail in their songwriting, and their impeccable execution is outright award-worthy if you ask me…and when you hear dudes like Eric Bouillette light up the fret-board like he does towards the end? I mean…that’s the chef’s kiss y’all – it’s like that moment where you were already sure you’d heard the best of what they could offer, and Nova Cascade utters the infamous phrase “hold my beer” through the music they make, upping the ante for themselves along the way, twisting, turning, and morphing the direction of their songs, fully bending them to their will. These are highly competent and undeniably skillful musicians individually – and collectively united here together as Nova Cascade, they prove on songs like “There Is Always A Way” they’re a full-on force to be reckoned with by every conceivable definition – they are just pure sonic perfection, any way you slice it.
LISTEN to the music as they start “Phantom” will ya? That’s straight up ART right there is what that is. The way the layers of their instrumentation interact, support, and complement each other is so incredibly well-thought-out, and once again, brilliantly executed when you hear the final results, right up to & including the production. I make no illusions about a track like “Phantom” – this is probably that moment on Back From The Brink that’ll separate the crowd a little…there’s just a more wandering design to this track overall that pushes it beyond the mark of being fully accessible to the masses – this is a song that clearly offers something more in that artistic sense. The hooks are the engaging sound you hear – not some kind of catchy sing-along chorus – though it should be noted, “Phantom” is the song that introduces us to Hilborne’s vocals officially for the first time. Equally as artistic as the music is, he gives “Phantom” a new dimension for our minds to consider in tandem with the instrumentation, with lyricism that seems to somehow reflect that fact within his words and the whispered tones of wisdom. Nova Cascade comes close to the terrain of something like you’d find in the independent music we’ve heard by Evoletah or The Quiet Room…personally I think these guys are probably a degree or two more accessible overall on “Phantom,” but just barely – this is for the art-crowd & those looking to hear more out of the music they listen to. I salute the results and the ambition, but I recognize its uphill battle for the approval and attention it’ll likely receive in comparison to the rest of the record. Progressive music can be a serious challenge for the majority of listeners out there, even in the most delicate settings – “Phantom” probably speaks on behalf of that fact a little, but fans of the genre and its multi-faceted sound will more than likely have no problem getting onboard with the depth in the instrumentation & ideas to be found within this track. More of a niche audience for it, but they expand their own potential in the process folks, you feel me? It’s tracks like “Phantom” that open all kinds of exciting new doors & possibilities for the music of Nova Cascade in the future, and reveal their commitment to the craft 100%.
“Classroom Keys” is all-out mesmerizing. Haunting, enchanting, beautiful, thrilling…and all played at a slow pace with resounding passion that’s as delicate as it is bold – this is what subtle intensity sounds like when it’s done completely right. Between the flute from Charlie, the keys from Dave, and what sounds like some filtered bass vibes supplied by other Dave…really those would be your three main stars of the show here if my ears are hearing this correctly. And no – I have no idea which of the two Daves is the real top dog, I assume all their Daves are on an equal playing field, given that they both add essential ingredients to the music of Nova Cascade. You get the point – the Daves bring quality musicianship to their band…I’m inclined to get a couple of’em myself and maybe see if I can get a band going over here in Canada – who knew they were such a reliable name in the art of music-making? All jokes aside – you couldn’t miss the professionalism in these guys and what they contribute to the atmospherically-inclined vibes and sound of Nova Cascade, and in particular on tracks just like “Classroom Keys.” Between the piano & the flute, the low-end strengthening the intensity…it’s just a pure master-class on how to create sound that fully engages the mind’s eye every bit as much as the ears, full-stop. I love “Classroom Keys.”
They’ve also used ambient sound greatly to their advantage if you’re listening up close to these tunes as well…you’ll notice it at the start of a track like “The Hill” as it begins. This cut is DEADLY y’all…just that perfect hint of exciting alternative-sound that takes a band like Nova Cascade closer to the style of something that you might have found on Prick’s self-titled record from back in the mid-90’s. Not that this is a frame of reference many out there would have in their minds or even on their playlists, but there is a similar level of atmospheric & ethereal sound at work, and a mix of compelling mystery that would be akin to a track like say, “Makebelieve” to a degree. The real bottom line is that Nova Cascade has inarguably got another gripping cut on their Back From The Brink album, that’s got them at their captivating & hypnotically mesmerizing best once again – that’s what I’m saying. If you know who Prick is and you rock that record, you’re just that much cooler to me than the rest of the folks out there, nuff said. You could almost make just as much of an argument that “The Hill” has as much in common with a cut sliced from the John Carpenter soundtrack collection, and you’d be equally on-point. For a song that’s all of less than three & a half minutes long, Nova Cascade flexes incredible imagination and their Progressive muscles with perfect control here, showing ya just how much depth you can find within a short experience. Tracks like “The Hill” have remarkable personality in the music…arguably a slightly eastern tinge at work on this particular cut – and as far as the vocals are concerned, I think Dave stands a much better chance of making an impression on listeners this time around with a much more suited fit for his whispered tones, and a song that’s got a bit more oomph & direction than “Phantom” had prior.
We arrive at the…whaddya call it…the OPUS MAGNUM – that’s what I’m lookin’ for – the penultimate song, the crowning achievement upon their latest record and their titular track, “Back From The Brink.” Straight up folks – this is a song you need to pack a LUNCH for – it’s over ten & a half-minutes in length, and yields an extraordinary adventure that’ll take you all on a journey through Nova Cascade’s music from its most serene to its most ambitious. You can hear audible breaks along the way that give them a chance to breathe for a second or two & reset, like around the five minute mark – and you’ll hear how that gives them the opportunity to slide their whole sound in a different direction, like audible chapters of a story. Sometimes it’s much more subtle in the design, like how just prior to the end of the fifth minute you’ll hear the instrumentation spark to life, strengthen its resolve, and once again, morph the music into a different shape than where it all began. Guitar-wise, I felt like a ton of what Eric brought to this was crucial and exquisitely entertaining – and you also get a stellar dose of his violin making its presence felt as this epic song finds its way towards its final chapters. “Back From The Brink” never gets too aggressive, or really raises up its energy too much beyond what you hear at the outset – it’s got just enough spark added into the finale that it creates that separation, but for the vast majority of their title track, it’s nearly an exercise in controlled improvisation and clever Progressive structures. Essentially, they keep it more low-key & consistent than you’d probably expect in a length so large, but as far as my ears are concerned, I never once felt restless or bored. How could anyone be? There’s such a variety of things to appreciate, a spectacular mix that gets the clarity out of every compelling morsel of sound, and a versatile composition that incorporates as many twists & turns as it does with its varied instrumental infusions. As in…there’s simply no shortage of something worth listening to, and no space where you could listen and not find it filled with something unique & interesting to keep your attention engaged. Part by part, piece by piece, eventually you’ll look up from your hypnotic state, and realize that ten-plus minutes have passed while you absorbed this full odyssey into exploratory Progressive adventurism. It’s always asking a heck of a lot of the modern-day attention span to commit to a tune of this size, scope, and ambition…but I’m a firm believer there’s more than enough of us out there to make up for it. The major transitions along the way, like around that 3:30-ish mark, and again at the 5:45-ish, where the music finds its way to reach right out of our speakers with highlight moments make for stellar stops along the way that give you a vantage point looking into the depth of creativity within Nova Cascade. Like I told ya – pack a lunch folks – “Back From The Brink” is a meaty tune that gives ya a lot to chew on.
Part of me is mighty inclined to say that the real pathway forward for Nova Cascade…that blueprint to fusing more widespread accessibility into the music…might be found right at the very end with “The Long Winter.” At the very least – we can all agree this is an artistically genius & highly evocative song, yes? The music is spectacularly endearing, warm, and inviting, straight from note one – and the array of emotional content continues to emanate & beam sweetly out of your speakers from there forward with no hesitation. It’s not exactly the happiest song you’re going to necessarily hear in 2021 – but it’s not without hope or by any means miserable…”The Long Winter” is much more grounded, observational, and real. It’s a quaint moment in time that’s as thought-provoking as it is delicately entertaining, and it’s loaded with texture & tones that’ll sincerely connect to your heart just as much as inspire your spirit. I’m sure there’s a polarizing aspect to how listeners will take in Dave’s voice…but I didn’t feel like Nova Cascade ever shied away from that fact, so much as embrace it, nurture and encourage his creativity to blossom on the microphone as much as it does in his music. To me, his vocals gave “The Long Winter” an added dimension of accessibility, a unique vibe of its own, and an artistically designed performance that gets right to the heart of what makes melody & music connect at the roots of its endearing sound. The real truth…is that once you really get your mind around it and just how different Nova Cascade is from so much of what’s out there, you really start to love a song like “The Long Winter” and crave it even more…and by the time it’s all over & you’ve had a good listen from start to finish, you might just find yourself wondering if they’ve finished Back From The Brink with the highlight cut in the whole set.
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