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Thinking Plague: Hoping Against Hope

Thinking Plague have never been a band that you immediately 'get'; over the course of their 35 year career, their brand of 'Rock in Opposition' (RIO), steeped in rock, folk, jazz, chamber music, and avant-garde, falls just outside the norm of progressive rock, a challenging art form that contains many layers and shades, all of which requires much attention to reveal all its riches. Their latest Cuneiform Records release Hoping Against Hope is no exception, containing six tracks of daring musical & vocal explorations, the group genre defying as always while they look to provide thought provoking ear candy for our mind and soul.

Thinking Plague in 2017 and on Hope Against Hope are:
Mike Johnson: guitar, samples, midi instruments
Mark Harris: soprano and alto saxes, B-flat standard and bass clarinets, flute
Dave Willey: bass, drums (5), accordion (2, 6)
Elaine di Falco: voice, accordion, piano
Robin Chestnut: drums, percussion
Bill Pohl: guitar

with guests:
Adriana Teodoro-Dier: piano (2, 5, 6) and toy piano (2)
Simon Steensland: bass (5)
Mike Boyd: drums (2)
Kathryn Cooper: oboe (4)

It's evident from the opening "The Echoes of Their Cries" that the bands wonderful habit of blending jazz, rock, classical, and chamber music all in the same song is still in full effect, di Falco's ethereal vocals floating above intricate reeds, guitars, and percussion. The even more complex "Thus We Have Made the World" owes as much to Gentle Giant as it does to Henry Cow, with weaving guitar layers, squonking sax & clarinet, creepy keyboards, and nimble drums all jockeying for supremacy in a world of dissonance, but them coming together as one collage of sound. The wispy "Commuting to Murder" shows a more playful side to the band, the vocal passages again reminding of Gentle Giant and surrounded by reeds, guitars, bass, and drums, while the lengthy title track ups the atmosphere with floating keys, acoustic guitars, and lovely clarinet, before a jazzy mid-section brings a stark contrast to the proceedings with intricate counterpoint. Closing epic "A Dirge for the Unwitting" clocks in close to 14-minutes, and again takes the listener on a wild & varied ride, tossing up tasty jazz passages one minute, veering off into unchartered avant-garde territory the next, as well as dishing out gorgeous prog and pastoral chamber/classical journeys. The dual guitar attack of Johnson & Pohl does a fine job here twisting and weaving around the sax and clarinet, and to hear di Falco crooning over the top is just icing on the cake.

As I stated above, the music of Thinking Plague is NOT for the faint of heart, and to be honest, there's nothing remotely resembling 'accessible or commercial' to be found on Hoping Against Hope. That, however, is a good thing, and this band won't have it any other way. Call is prog, call it avant-garde, call it matters not, but what does is that these are sounds dedicated to those that like a little adventure in their music, and aren't afraid to venture off the beaten path. Go ahead, take the journey...

Track Listing
1. The Echoes of Their Cries 06:37
2. Thus Have We Made the World 05:44
3. Commuting to Murder 04:44
4. Hoping Against Hope 10:06
5. The Great Leap Backwards 04:01
6. A Dirge for the Unwitting 13:45

Added: March 5th 2017
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band @ Bandcamp
Hits: 2275
Language: english

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