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Big Big Train: English Electric Part One

Founded by Andy Poole (bass/keyboard) and Greg Spawton (guitar/keyboard) in 1990, English troupe Big Big Train has never failed to release something spectacular. Noted for their lush, warm production, majestic melodies, regal harmonies, and overall grand sense of English aesthetics (as well as a slightly transparent evocation of Gabriel-era Genesis), their work is always among the best in the genre. With 2009's The Underfall Yard, the group sets a new benchmark not just for themselves, but for all of their contemporaries. With the astounding voice of new comer David Longdon and an increased emphasis on dense, orchestral production, epic storytelling, and a touch of conceptual continuity, the record simply blew fans away. Although 2010's Far Skies Deep Time was a shorter yet equally astonishing EP, fans have been waiting eagerly for a proper follow-up to Big Big Train's best album. Now, with English Electric (Part One), they finally have it. Not only is the LP every bit as addicting, complex, and gorgeous as its immediate predecessors, but it rivals just about everything else going on in the industry today.

Having appeared as a guest on their last few releases, acclaimed drummer Nick D'Virgilio (formerly of another one of today's best prog acts, Spock's Beard) is now a permanent member. In addition, Andy Tillison (The Tangent) provides some lovely keyboard work. The album shares its name with the group's label, and as Longdon explained to me, "English Electric was originally the name of a famous British engineering company that went out of business in the 1960s. I like the title because it sounds like the name of a genre. Maybe that's the type of music that we play English Electric!" As for its subtitle, London reassures that 'Part Two' will be released early next year and that there are "musical themes flowing between the two volumes." Seeing as how English Electric (Part One) is brimming with fantastic moments, the group certainly has plenty of worthwhile ideas to reprise on the next album.

The real joy of English Electric (Part One) is how well it flows as a single experience. There isn't a single second wasted. Opener "The First Rebreather" begins with a foreboding guitar line and equally ominous melody. Soon Longdon provides his beloved harmonies as flute, percussion, bass, keyboard, and guitar intertwine elegantly. Dynamically, there's a pleasant calmness during the middle section that allows for its more chaotic bookends to stand out more. It's a perfect way to start the album. "Uncle Jack," with its emphasis on banjo and lightheartedness, is much more optimistic and free. The true standout here is the way the male and female voices blend and create counterpoint; I've rarely heard such a beautiful sound. The track is also one of the catchiest on the album, so be prepared to sing along with it. "Winchester From St. Giles' Hill" brings the intensity back, and Spawton's guitar work near the end (which, it must be said, could just as easily be that of Steve Hackett) is phenomenal. Moving on, the interplay between keyboard and guitar that runs throughout "Judas Unrepentant" is one of the best parts of the entire album. Of course, the melodies and performances are incredible, too.

The affective atmospheres and wonderfully royal layers of "Summoned by Bells" provide the perfect background for Longdon's impassioned lead. Spawton once again shines with another solo near the end. "Upton Heath" is the most fanciful and delicate song here; it's songwriting at its best, plain and simple, while "A Boy in Darkness" is a dramatic tour-de-force that ensconces the listener in masterful crescendos and emotionally charged bursts of complexity (the usage of strings is especially remarkable). Finally, "Hedgerow" concludes the album with more heavenly harmonies and perfectly suited instrumental complementation. Male and female vocals interlock once again, and it's an utterly glorious conclusion. In fact, you may be left breathless as their voices fade into birds chirping at the end. Or, more likely, you'll just start the record over immediately so you can be lost in its magic with any interruption.

English Electric (Part One) is a masterpiece from beginning to end. Big Big Train has outdone itself here. Although the actual melodies might be a bit stronger and more direct on The Underfall Yard, the harmonies here are definitely the group's most intricate and extravagant, and the overall production is probably even grander. In any case, the group continues to craft not only its best work yet, but some of the best work of its generation. It's damn near impossible to listen to this album without smiling, singing, and drumming along, as well as being consistently captivated by its scope and density. English Electric (Part One) is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2012, and 'Part Two' can't come soon enough.

Track Listing
1. The First Rebreather (8.32)
2. Uncle Jack (3.49)
3. Winchester From St Giles' Hill (7.16)
4. Judas Unrepentant (7.18)
5. Summoned By Bells (9.17)
6. Upton Heath (5.39)
7. A Boy In Darkness (8.03)
8. Hedgerow (8.52)

Added: November 23rd 2012
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 4100
Language: english

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