The Opium Cartel is, in essence, Jacob Holm-Lupo & Friends. Those of you who have been around the progressive rock scene for a few years will remember Holm-Lupo as the main contributor to the band White Willow, one of the groups at the vanguard of the Scandinavian progressive rock revival of the 1990s. Night Blooms is a project self described as " …a more eclectic and personal album. Made on a laptop in the comfort of the various contributors' homes, the album was made leisurely over an extended period. Most songs were built around original sketches recorded on dictaphones or minidisks, and the end result is a patchwork of material sourced from different places and eras". Rest assured, this disc doesn't sound anything like a patchwork of material.
Not unlike Jesus, Holm-Lupo gathered 12 friends to work on this project. Although nobody's walking on water here, the results can be viewed as a little bit miraculous. This disc oozes with the pastoral sounds of the 1970s, but benefits from a 21st century production. A plethora of instruments, including several vintage keyboards (mellotron, fender rhodes, korg poly800, clavinet, mini-moog…) lend the music a richly orchestrated sound. The tracks, for the most part, could be categorized as progressive-pop with a hint of Scandinavian folk thrown into the mix. Lyrically, the disc is almost child-like in its optimism and naiveté, yet this never becomes cringe-worthy due in large part to the vocal delivery. Jacob's breathy tenor voice (with additional male vocals courtesy of Stephen Bennett and Tim Bowness) and a trio of soprano singers (Rhys Marsh, Rachel Haden, Sylvia Skellestad), whether singing solo or as part of a male/female duet, handle the vocal duties admirably. Along with 8 original pieces, we're also served up a beautiful rendition of Brian Eno's "By This River". As stated earlier, these songs fall mostly on the softer side of progressive rock, with a notable exception being "Beach House", which could easily be categorized as a full-blown symphonic progressive song. It's the disc's longest cut, clocking in a shade over 8 minutes, and it also provides the most pomp.
This disc came as a surprise. When I first read the band's name I immediately expected some sort of psychedelic explorations. It has none of that. However my disappointment was quickly allayed once I put it on and sat through my initial listen. I'm not usually a fan of this type of extremely melodic modern progressive, but this record should be used as a blueprint on how to get it right. The musicianship is flawless and the songs are extremely well-crafted and catchy.The rich and warm production brings each instrument to the forefront. I found myself enjoying every track once I slipped on my headphones on a rainy Saturday afternoon and immersed myself in all of its subtleties. It has continued to grow on me with repeated listens. Well done, Mr Holm-Lupo.
- Better Days Ahead
- By This River
- Three Sleepers
- Beach House
- Flicker Girl
- The Last Rose Of Summer