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Simeon Soul Charger: Harmony Square

Harmony Square is the second offering from Americans now residing in Germany, Simeon Soul Charger, with the quartet offering up quite a departure from their debut outing Meet Me In The Afterlife. Gone are almost all of the stoner and classic rock traces that Meet Me... served up, with the only flavour that really resurfaces being White Album era Beatles. With a gentle, if pointed eclecticism still being a strong feature here. Big riffs have gone and thumping beats are definitely a thing of the past, with a more psychedelic nature bumping into folk-like themes resulting in a hybrid that sounds something akin to, and at the same time nothing like, The Beatles, Jethro Tull and Barrett era Pink Floyd.

More than a little different and certainly more retro looking than outrageously innovative, Harmony Square adds to the vintage feel by offering up a convoluted concept that is difficult to fathom. The story is set in the location referred to in the album title and while we know that this is a story of days gone by, there's always a strong suspicion that it is the here and now that is being commented upon. Although how a premise described as "The protagonist finds himself by chance at the Harmony Square, the market place of a secluded village and experiences in addition to the social ills, different solutions against these" relays the intended story I'm still not really much the wiser. However I'm all the better for attempting the journey as the music itself is worthy of an investment of your time whether the lyrics are crystal clear, or not.

There's an overriding feeling of loneliness and isolation across the sparse arrangements, creating songs that are busy in interest, but which deceive by taking complex themes and ideas and presenting them in a way that at first glance feels stripped back and simple. Live with Harmony Square for a few weeks however and the stunning vocal arrangements which run from cramped and claustrophobic to graceful and far reaching, - I'm not sure if any of the vocals are simple straight forward single tracked voices for more than a few minutes or so - dazzle as they jostle with a mixture of flutes, bells, mandolin and saw harp, alongside the more expected guitars, drums and bass.

Best listened to as a whole continuous piece, it is hard to choose highlights from Harmony Square although the closing, uplifting "Ashes" illustrates how slow plodding music can, with the right embellishments be really rather captivating, while "The Piper's Prize" shows off a more angular, unsettling bent to dizzying effect. Add to that the spacey, dreamy "Spinning Across The Grass" and the gentle groove of "The Advent Of Awakening" and Harmony Square becomes a far reaching album that will appeal to fans of progressive, psychedelic and restrained avant-garde styles.

A departure for Simeon Soul Charger, Harmony Square is as surprising as it is impressive and as bold as it is personal. Across its fifteen tracks you'll find many crafted contradictions, making an already compelling journey all the more captivating.

Track Listing
01. Overture
02. Babylon Grove
03. All's Fair in Harmony Square
04. Miss Donce
05. Spinning Across the Grass
06. Doris
07. Oh What A Beastly Boy
08. The Piper's Prize
09. The Devil's Rhapsody
10. The Changing Wind and Reign
11. The Advent of Awakening
12. King Charles Norman's Castle
13. See Sharp
14. Rayoweith's Guillotine, A Gift From the Sky
15. Ashes

Added: December 12th 2012
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Simeon Soul Charger online
Hits: 2488
Language: english

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Simeon Soul Charger: Harmony Square
Posted by Jordan Blum, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-12-12 08:07:48
My Score:

It's a common trait of newer bands to emulate the sounds of their genre forefathers. Awkwardly, most current generation acts come off as mere imitators—few are ever able to sound as authentic and timeless as their inspirations. Fortunately, psychedelic quartet Simeon Soul Charger proves to be amongst the minority. Not only is their newest release, Harmony Square, a thoroughly captivating, catchy, and cosmic affair, but it legitimately sounds vintage. If you didn't know better, you'd swear that this music was from the late 60s or early 70s.

Right off the bat, one can tell that the group is quite interesting because of their varied influences, which include David Bowie, The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Decemberists, Muse, Comus, and Leonard Cohen. As you may expect, Harmony Square is a concept album that revolves around "oppression, shameless exploitation [of] misery, and [a] resulting revolt…the protagonist finds himself by chance at the Harmony Square, the marketplace of a secluded village, and experiences…different solutions to these [problems]."

Like a lot of great concept albums (as well as progressive rock albums in general), the fifteen tracks that make up Harmony Square mostly flow into each other, making the album feel like one grand suite. Opener "Overture" begins with ominous strings before venturing into warm, organic harmonies and Zeppelin-esque riffs. Of course, the riffs and percussion are a bit more complex than your average 70s hard rock (which I'm certainly not classifying Led Zeppelin as, mind you). With "Babylon Grove" and "All's Fair in Harmony Square," the group incorporates some wonderfully involving melodies and orchestration, as well as plenty of effects and sounds that add plenty of personality and realism. Truthfully, throughout the entire affair, Harmony Square evokes one of the prototypical concept albums, S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things. Seeing as that album is a classic, this is definitely a good similarity.

Oddly enough, "Doris" is essentially what would happen if Echolyn attempted to recreate Pink Floyd's early dreamy jams, while "Oh What a Beastly Boy" begins with some complicated percussion/vocal interplay. It's easily the "proggiest" moment here. Similarly "The Piper's Prize" is like a perfect mixture of early Alice Cooper and Horizontal-era Bee Gees. "The Changing Wind and Reign" is the warmest, most luscious song here, with a great melody and complementary arrangements, and "Rayoweith's Guillotine / A Gift from the Sky" reminds one of the trippiest stuff Flo & Eddie did. Really, every track on here is fantastic—well, except one.

To be blunt, and by comparison to what precedes it, album closer "Ashes" feels like a waste of time. It's a decent bit of closure, but both its construction and execution feels subpar. Really, it feels like a left over demo (rather than, say, the grandiose spectacle that both the band and the genre would lead you to expect). It never really picks up momentum, either, which is especially painful since it's twice as long as it should be. As strong as the album is, it would definitely be stronger without this footnote.

Simeon's Soul Charger has crafted something special here. Somehow, they've managed to recapture the techniques, timbres, approaches, and overall production of their inspirations perfectly. Although countless bands try to recapture the magic of psychedelic rock circa 1967 – 1972, this group actually pulls it off. Although the quality isn't at the same level (to be truthful), it's conceivable to think that Harmony Square could've been released around the same time as, say, The Who's Tommy or The Kinks' Arthur. If you like the aforementioned albums (as well as classic psychedelic rock in general), you'll probably adore this record.

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