A Pleasant Fiction does not betray its title: this is an enjoyable collection of what is probably best described as "art-rock/crossover prog" songs put together under the tutelage of Percy Howard. Howard is a singer/producer who is the generator and impetus behind the Meridiem project, of which this is the third album, following on from 1998's eponymous debut and 2000's Incidental Seductions.
The Meridiem project is a collaborative one and features a host of artists in support: Bill Laswell, Vernon Reid, Buckethead, Jarboe, Charles Hayward, Eraldo Bernocchi, Kali Lavey, Happy Rhodes, Jill Tracy, DK Dyson, Haroun Serang, Edo Castro, Ricky Carter and John Ettinger.
A Pleasant Fiction is a transitional work, in that it is more inclined to song structures as opposed to the ambient soundscapes of his previous Meridiem work, and Howard's intention is to continue in this style in the near future. The album was originally recorded in 2004 but for some reason has taken a number of years to reach the public - it's certainly not a lack of quality that has given rise to the delay!
The album is designed as a loose concept based around "love" in all its forms. In truth, it's not a strong concept that screams out, the strength of this album derives from some excellent individual songs: musically, as a whole, the album has quite an eclectic feel, given the different styles and guest vocalists used.
There are some highlights worth mentioning, the first of which is the classy opening number, "The Girl on the Back of the Motorcycle", with its sexy female vocal offset by Howard's lascivious, spooky singing – it's like some perverse horror movie! The album's eclecticism is underlined as soon as the next song, "Melting", a beautiful, soft female-vocal late night jazz number. "Chase the Blues Away" is a deconstruction of a Tim Buckley song, and is gorgeous in this wistful and romantic version. The album then gets a little rockier in its middle phase, losing some quirkiness, and also some of the sparkle on the way, although I particularly enjoyed the guitar work on the title track. Towards the end we regain some of that unusual "creepiness" that made the start of the album so intriguing: "Carlotta" is quite spooky at the end and the final number, "Give Me Everything", gives the album a great climactic finish, building up to a horror movie-like crescendo both vocally and musically: it's a wonderful musical ending to a fine album!
If you enjoy the quirkier side of music then this is a good place to start, often slightly jazziifed, these songs are a very benign way to listen to something that isn't quite "straight". It reminds me of another very good album that I reviewed in 2008, Not Different But Not the Same from C.C.A. (Cushma, Cides & Alexander).
1) The Girl on the Back of the Motorcycle
3) Chase the Blues Away
4) The East
5) Brilliant Ending
6) A Pleasant Fiction
7) Can I Get a Witness?
9) Where You Stand
10) Give Me Everything