Diving Bell is the first album by Sanguine Hum. This band is a continuation of two earlier bands, Antique Seeking Nuns and the Joff Winks Band, both of which (confusingly) shared the same personnel. Anyone familiar with those two will therefore have expectations. Although allegedly representing a slightly more commercial stance, the Joff Winks band was equally as progressive as the Antique Seeking Nuns, whose latter EPs (“Double Egg with Chips and Beans” and “Careful, it’s Tepid) were massive prog faves of mine over the last two years. The Joff Winks Band’s marvelous “Milo” (from their album Songs for Days) being easily as beautiful and engaging as anything on those two EP releases. All these records are characterised by effortlessly shifting time signatures, by tasteful retro synth motifs, chiming Rhodes (by the bucket load), by guitar work alternatively intricate and virtuoso, and -shock horror- melodic too! The latter frequently absent in modern progressive rock.
So, yes, expectations are high!
The album kicks off with “No More Than We Deserve” and some big BIG guitars. Perhaps a more modern sound than we’ve come to expect, at least from the Nuns, if not the JW Band, it still features those delicate synth embellishments. Very pretty too. Excellent engineering and production work has featured on their self-produce records almost from the very beginning and this if anything sounds even better. Joff’s vocals being very sweet indeed.
“The Ladder” next leads us back to a more “progressive” sound. A dreamy introspective acoustic intro, almost by now a trademark of the band, with swirling electric textures, and some lovely Rhodes and we know we’re in safe hands, in familiar aesthetic territory for sure. “The Latter” reaching a crescendo evoking perhaps the Nun’s anthemic “Ointment for Flies”.
“Dark Ages” follows and also seems to follow a similar blueprint, delicate guitar picking, odd meters, and yes, more blissed-out Rhodes, its proud coda culminating in resounding style.
The instrumental “Coast of Nebraska” then takes off in a different direction – a busy bass-line introduces a guitar part which could almost have come from Craig Fortnam’s fingertips around the time of his involvement with (Cardiacs relatives) Shrubbies in the late 90s. The tune features some bouncy guitar riffing and culminates in a heavy and noisy coda.
“The Trial” is perhaps the standout track on the album. The guitar intro is reminiscent of Porcupine Tree but remains bright and breezy and avoids the melancholic introspection which Steven Wilson “enjoys”. The band negotiate it so effortlessly that you’d probably not notice, unless you were deliberately counting the bars, this composition is deceptively tricky. As you ought now to expect, this complexity isn’t a foil for lack of musical inspiration, there is melody too (did I mention that before?). “The Trial” also enjoys an excursion into Magma land! Swathing keyboard textures lead for the first time on this release into Brand X territory (John Goodsall’s best solos always had exquisite tone and could be very tasteful indeed). Sanguine Hum aren’t wallowing in pastiche here, but are nevertheless conjuring up familiar textures. Some of the guitar lines here also evoke for me Dennis Fitzgibbons – although I suspect that this is because they share influences, rather than any direct influence from his relatively obscure 1980’s fusion band. Fusion tinges in the Hum’s sound, that’s for sure anyway.
“Nothing Between Us” is up next. Coming over like a glamourous 1960s dreamscape. Imagine yourself drifting downstream in a boat through the overhanging green curtains of willow, the sunlight glistening off the gentle water. With tuned percussion accompaniment. You get the picture, I’m sure (!). Of course – after all, it is prog.
As “Nothing Between Us” lumbers of into the distance (presumably you’ve got out of the boat and are walking slowly up a long lawn…), the title track wafts in gently. A jazzy, almost Canterbury-style 7/8 riff with transplanted sparkly guitar arpeggios. It builds slowly as a crescendo to a frenetic (almost) Crimson-eque coda.
“There’s No Hum” closes out the album, introduced by intertwined keyboard and acoustic guitar lines. A catchy song – reminding me a bit of “Milo”. As ever it’s all so clever yet well-crafted. Like the whole of this record. The band never over-stretching themselves to deliver one off-kilter bar after another. Slightly Zappa, everso slightly slightly Gentle Giant.
I guess you can see, I like this band, and I like this album. I suggest you have a listen too.