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Sj÷blom; Rikard: The Unbendable Sleep

For many the slow, but reasonably sure move of Swedish progressives Beardfish from being a rock band, into a more metal fixated outfit, has been an uncomfortable journey. I have the perfect remedy. It's called The Unbendable Sleep and it's the rather wonderful debut solo album from Beardfish singer and keyboard player Rikard Sj÷blom. The concept behind the album may sound tame and clichÚ; maintaining positivity and high self esteem on the steady journey through life we all take, the seemingly hum-drum starting point. However, even as someone who always rates music over concept, the lyrical word play across this album is quite magical. Clever little sequences where the themes are displayed in often the least expected of manners, delivered through Sj÷blom's sublime vocals, which while aggressively impassioned in places, will doubtless delight vocal purists.

Musically this album begins as a nod back to 60s rock and 70s prog, and yet with a cutting edge sound and all manner of progressive, rock and even folk paths explored, this hugely cohesive collection refuses to simply play to the expected. Take "When We Cry?", a song built on tension, as an almost military snare beat stays insistent as strummed, clean guitars stab deep, as a sign of the quality on show. That all of this begins as though Enio Morricone had structured a progressive spaghetti western piece, and that a mid song breakdown throws it all up on the air to see where it lands, is proof you have a scintillating journey ahead of you. Oddly "Rhyme Or Reason" decides to rock out, Jimmy Page like splashes interjecting over an energetically progressive theme. Unsettling atmospheres build as Steve Howe seems to become the guitar inspiration and yet while there's no doubt that these greats of the past fleet into and out of the mind, it's not as though anything presented here actually sounds like Zeppelin or Yes. In fact, unsurprisingly, the strongest comparison actually remains Beardfish, although I'm not convinced you'd hear any of these sounds on a Beardfish album either.

"Under Northern Skies (Villemo's Song)" illustrates the unassuming cleverness of what this album has to say for itself, all manner of time and tempo shifts disguised into a clear and pure 60s rock song that you could almost imagine The Byrds singing, until off kilter glockenspiel and keyboard noises and a bustling bass guitar whisks everything in an entirely different direction. Although one that still feels intrinsically linked to what has come before. Add in a gently breathtaking keyboard solo which gives way to an echo-ache guitar solo and the way in which Sj÷blom weaves complexity and diversity into seemingly simple songs and we're verging on masterful.

I could go on and extol the virtues of the short melodica led "Building A Tent For Astor", or the almost soul/funk/prog romp groove of "Anna Lee", where the 'she's wonderful' lyrics are cleverly reshaped into something entirely different and vocal harmonies abound, or indeed the uplifting shout of joy that opens the album, "Love And War Part One: I Am Who You Are". However maybe fairer to simply say there isn't a moment anywhere on this album where the quality drops.

The Unbendable Sleep is already one of my most listened to albums of 2016 and I see no sign of my want to hear it again and again dissipating anytime soon. It's really that good.

Track Listing
1. Love and War Part One: I Am Who You Are
2. Realm of You and Me
3. Rhyme and Reason
4. Will We Cry?
5. Under Northern Skies (Villemo's Song)
6. Building a Tent for Astor
7. Anna-Lee
8. Love and War Part Two: Lucky Star

Added: March 2nd 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Beardfish online
Hits: 1440
Language: english

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