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Smalltape: The Hungry Heart

With so many phenomenal (and otherwise) albums released every month, it feels like I’m constantly playing catch up these days, hearing some new music that’s already months old in fear of missing out on some of the really good stuff out there. After doing our end of 2021 best of show over on In The Prog Seat on the SoT YT channel, there were numerous albums that began to crop up in the comments that our viewers rated highly that I’d simply never heard. So how embarrassed was I that not just was the latest album from the much ‘comment’-mentioned Smalltape - The Hungry Heart - in my ginormous reviews pile, but also this one man band’s previous outing, The Ocean, which saw the light of day in 2017.

The man behind these albums is Germany’s Philipp Nespital, a multi-instrumentalist and singer not afraid to bring a whole host of collaborators in to realise his visions. The Hungry Heart is his project’s third album (Circles began the journey back in 2011) and even if the influence sphere that brought this double disc - but 63 minute long - set into being aren’t shied away from, the growth from The Ocean to here is really quite marked. Don’t get me wrong, the second offering from the modern progressive outfit is interesting and impressive in its own right, but here Nespital has upped the ante quite considerably. For me, the obvious inspirations come from the school of Wilson and Soord, but with the work of both Steven and Bruce playing a large part in my own music collection, neither of those aspects prove anything other than a bonus. Cleverly though, while a chord structure here might remind of The Pineapple Thief, or an atmosphere there could take you to Porcupine Tree territory, the additions of a live string section of cello, violin and viola, or the occasional interjections courtesy of vibraphone, sax, trumpet and french horn, instantly moves things into a much more individual setting.

The choice to split the album into two discs for just over an hour’s worth of music might seem a little self indulgent, but after living with both for a period of time I can completely understand why that decision was taken. All of the songs on disc one have a flow and musical narrative that makes this an interesting album in its own right, and had the 41 minutes it provides been all that’s offered up here, I genuinely would still be telling you that it’s excellent. The drama of “Hunger” draws you in, but even more so when it’s preceded by the involving “The Golden Siren” and then followed by the acoustic guitar and emotion of “Our Desert”. Nespital owns the perfect voice for all these styles, his easy, natural delivery on the more restrained moments adding real atmosphere, while he can also anger it up, or simply bring a little forcefulness when the tracks demand something more in your face.

Disc two, on the other hand, is a completely different beast, “Where We Belong” a beautiful short piano lament that would have felt jarring had it been placed at the end of the previous CD. The only other song to keep it company is the 21 minute “Dissolution”, which again opens with piano, but we’re in very different territory - pensive vibraphone and keyboards offering a base from where a simply recorded spoken voice takes you into the psyche of someone who gradually begins to hear a sound that takes over his every thought until he realises that it actually emanates from inside his very being… The scene set, the next 18 minutes or so are as darting, unsettling and involved as you may expect and as the musical constructs continue to live up to this challenging premise, so a really good album becomes something much more impressive. Again, as on the previous pieces, different emotions and dynamics are utilised to tell this story, with bright sax and keys playing off and then moving into much darker guitar led passages and complex rhythms, while all the way Nespital’s voice proves completely believable in this new landscape.

So yes, in short, the SoT viewers who all suggested that The Hungry Heart was a 2021 top-10 progressive rock album were 100% correct and had I pulled it from the review pile sooner, it would very much have made that impact with me also. As they say though, better late than never, which definitely applies to Smalltape and their third album.

Track Listing
CD 1 (41:28)

1. The Hungry Heart 

2. The Golden Siren 

3. Hunger

4. Our Desert

5. One Day

6. Burning House 

7. Colors 

8. Asylum 

CD 2 (24:02)

1. Where We Belong

2. Dissolution

Added: March 5th 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Smalltape online
Hits: 774
Language: english

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