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Cobweb Strange: A Breath Of October

My interest in this album was, well, marginal on first listen. It took a second listen, then a third and fourth, to appreciate the songs & players on A Breath Of October. Accessibility notwithstanding, this album is genuinely soulful. Cobweb Strange aren't going to be pigeonholed anytime soon, and tagging the members' individual influences may or may not be a simple task—I hear something of everything in this brew. It would be an easy out to declare they're influenced by King Crimson, Level 42, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Pursuit Of Happiness, pre-Collins Genesis, The Doors, Peter Hammill, Camel, and XTC. They have a pair of long tracks on this album, but aside from those, it's suspect that this group should market themselves as a modern progressive rock band: these songs would sound comfortable in a variety of formats.

Led by bassist-vocalist-songwriter Wade Summerlin, the only original member, the remaining ¾ of the Strange trio-turned-quartet now consists of guitarist Holly Williams, keyboardist-backing vocalist Brandi Byrum, and drummer Soumen Talukder. Two selections are solo acoustic/vocal pieces by Summerlin, who pens all of the music & lyrics, with guest lyricist Thomas Luke on "On With The Show." Additionally, five more musicians perform on guitar, percussion, and Chapman Stick, specifications not provided.

As stated, Summerlin is the sole remaining founder; original guitarist Jonathan Burke left quickly after the first album to pursue academic studies, while original drummer Derik Rinehart became indisposed after shuffling his musical priorities around. Rinehart's brother, Keith, in fact, replaced Burke for live dates and recorded on the second studio album, Sounds From The Gathering, before returning to his occupation as a fulltime airplane mechanic. Without a band (and while touring in other bands), Wade was contacted by Talukder, looking to fill a drummer vacancy. Both subsequently recorded an album as members of Electric Poem, and in turn, two members of that band—namely, Williams and Byrum—joined Cobweb Strange. Whew! The game of musical chairs over for the time being, this new foursome recorded ABoO.

Wade is something of a vocal chameleon, stylistically, even if he doesn't have an exceptional range. On "The Drowning Pulse Of The Cold Green Sea," a melancholy nine-minute number with a semi-chaotic middle with many stops and starts, he sounds a bit like Jim Morrison. Summerlin is joined on the choruses by Byrum (she doesn't double his lines), and her own vox sound just a bit off-key, adding to the song's allure with a capricious efficacy. Interestingly, Byrum's keyboards don't play as large a role as assumed (she does throw in a 'Tron strings emulation on this cut, but it's mixed low); Williams' guitar is the leader, instrumentally, filling in the space with Hackettsian arpeggiations and fuzzed chords. "Giant" sounds more upbeat, more peppy, thanks to its swing-like feel and a nice, airy guitar solo by Holly.

"The Empty Shell" could attract some attention on college radio; it's solely Summerlin and his acoustic guitar, a demure ballad which works as a treatment on the aftereffects of stasis, depression, and accepting unpleasant realities—some of the best work, lyrically, on the album: I may be nothing but an empty shell/But I'll resonate louder/than my former self/Even if I'm never anything else. Complexity in simplicity, take the words for what they're worth. "Tea For The Sleepless" reveals vocals reminiscent of Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and hypnotic rhythms with a jarring break. Then, just over halfway through the disc, it all comes together in the twelve-minute mini-opus called "Pure," with its introductory five minute instrumental section. The thirty-second lead-in sounds very fusiony, while the remaining four-and-half minutes are instrumental rock played to the hilt, with many time changes, goth-space textures, and ghostly chordings. Soumen rocks up quite a storm behind his drumkit. Wade sings with more conviction on "Pure" than any other tune on the album, save for "The Empty Shell." Holly is afforded multiple opportunities to shine; her solos echo Iommi and Blackmore, and she joins Wade on some unison lines toward the end. A winner!

Just under four minutes long, "Currents Of Nightshade," the first single and video, utilizes elements now typically-Cobweb: somber lyrics, heavily-reverbed wispy vox, chorused acoustic guitars, slowly-evolving synth strings, percussive accents. Holly's guitar propels "On With The Show," which also has single potential. Sections are quiet-to-loud—the fastest portion brings to mind Danzig (vocally) and Black Sabbath. A Breath Of October concludes with a very short Summerlin piece called "With Evening Falling," a coy coda and vesperlike meditation that leaves the door open for the band's future: With evening falling/I marked the last page I had read/Blew out the candle/Pulled back the sheets/And went to bed[ ]/And I dreamed….

Hopefully, this incarnation of Cobweb Strange will remain unaffected for as long as it takes to record another album. Wade Summerlin's writing certainly doesn't lack, but I'd also like to hear Brandi Byrum expand her tonal palette (synthwise) and compositional role. It's not a complaint, merely an idea. For now, I like what I hear.

Added: February 10th 2003
Reviewer: Elias Granillo
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Language: english

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