Ah, what it is to a be British prog rock group with a sense of humour… not that I know personally what it feels like, but Antique Seeking Nuns seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. And so they well might because this a real gem of a CD EP that I only came across purely by chance when The Nuns (as I like to affectionately call them) put in a friend request to me on MySpace.
They’re a four-piece from the UK, consisting of Matt Baber (assorted keyboards), Paul Mallyon (drums), Brad Waissman (bass), and Joff Winks (guitars/vocals), who realised they were never going to be Pink Floyd (they were about 35 years too late, unfortunately) and were disgusted to find that the punk as f**k but actually prog when no one’s looking mantle they were so desperately hoping to capitalise on had already been taken by another band from the same general local area a few years before, namely Radiohead. As the band admit, those were dire times indeed, but since then they seem to have recovered and have gone on to produce two EPs (this is the second; I’ve yet to hear the first). On the evidence of this one, dare I say that they have as much promise and potential as that displayed by the early recordings by both Pink Floyd and Radiohead.
The band’s name comes from a story told by Matt’s girlfriend who was educated at a convent school and was shocked one night to discover several highly respectable nuns heaving valuable religious artefacts into the back of a Ford Transit for reasons that were never established. The band’s name therefore is said to honour this mysterious group of Antique Seeking Nuns. And the title of the EP apparently comes from the band inadvertently discovering the meaning of life in a local cafe, an experience documented in the song Double Egg.
So there you go but what about the music? Well we have only four tracks here so it’s a little tricky to describe the sound of The Nuns, but the band themselves have had a go Frank Zappa and Donald Fagan judging a talent contest between Tortoise and Gentle Giant with Robert Wyatt doing the commentary. And it has to be said that that’s not at all a bad description. It’s definitely prog rock, with quite a bit of the Canterbury sound and jazz fusion thrown in for good measure.
The aforementioned first track, Double Egg, which tells us of the happiness-producing properties of two fried eggs with chips, beans and a tea, starts off sounding like the Jimi Hendrix Experience for the opening 30 seconds but rapidly turns into something more like National Health or Hatfield and the North – it’s delightfully tuneful but neatly experimental too.
Son of Cheese is a slightly more jazz-fusiony story that tells us of the band members’ fears of being stuck on a desert island with cheese as their only food source okay, don’t ask, but just sit back and enjoy those wonderful vintage-keyboard sounds. This is a very keyboard-heavy track and it reminds me greatly of Chick Corea, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc. though with a strong dash of humour in those cheese-related lyrics.
Son of Bassoon represents a surprising change of pace, a rather beautiful solo piano instrumental piece, which lacks the food-related vocals/lyrics of the two previous tracks, instead very wisely playing it straight. It’s a remarkably pretty and charming little number, though amazingly it doesn’t sound the least bit out of place on the EP.
And then we’re at the final number, Shatner’s Bassoon, which is apparently about the bit of the brain that deals with time perception (the basal ganglia and the right parietal cortex, I believe). It’s an instrumental that reminds me very much of Gentle Giant mixed with a very healthy dose of Frank Zappa, and there’s a lot of great stuff going on here, including some fantastic guitar work towards the end (get those air guitars at the ready you have been warned!).
And then, sadly, that’s the end of the EP. It’s wonderful to be able to say that the biggest problem I have with this CD is that it’s too short and I eagerly look forward to hearing what The Nuns might achieve on a full-length album.
My other slight criticism is that there’s a lot of borrowing of styles from the likes of Zappa, Gentle Giant, Chick Corea, National Health, etc. and it would be nice to hear The Nuns expand and develop their own unique style more. There’s certainly lots of originality, invention and charm on display here, but again I think there’d be room for further development on a full album.
But in a sense I’m nit-picking here: this is a bright, witty, warm, and hugely entertaining release from a band not afraid to show off their dangerously unfashionable 1970s influences, but with enough compositional flair, musicianship and panache of their own, combined all-importantly with a rare sense of humour, to produce something new and interesting for the 21st Century. A truly delightful EP, which you can and indeed should pick up (along with its predecessor) at www.freakemporium.com or at www.cdbaby.com. Don’t wait this is well-worth hearing before you get your next dose of double egg, chips, beans and a tea.
Best tracks: Well, all of them, I guess Double Egg, Son Of Cheese, Son Of Bassoon, Shatner’s Bassoon.