Review by Mark Anthony Brennan
When it comes to music, the term “experimental” can conjure up negative thoughts of discordance, disharmony and mayhem. However, the trio known as Gentle Party (Elisa Thorn, Meredith Bates and Jessicka) have none of these qualities in their music, even though they each consciously do the unpredicted with their instruments of choice (harp, violin/viola and vocals, respectively). The result is the beauty that comes from original construction, without the artificiality of sugary sweetness.
In fact, it is as if they are each balancing off the other to ensure they don’t relapse into conventionality. “Cosmic Lament”, for example, starts off with the lovely strumming of Thorn’s harp, but Jessicka quickly establishes a gravitas with the jazzy seriousness in her voice, whereas the bubbly lightness of “2 Little 3” is tempered with the mournful (though wistful) strains of Bates’ violin.
But Gentle Party don’t just challenge and check each other — they also collectively challenge any expectations as to musical genre. Although they may be rooted in what could be termed chamber pop, they bring in elements of jazz, classical and progressive rock in such unexpected ways that their sound is truly unique and undefinable. The ebb and flow of “2 Little 3” is typical of their disdain for regular song structure, as more reflective vocal moments are punctuated with burbling poppy joy and then followed by instrumental stretches led by the strings of Bates. The alternating choppy and swelling rhythms of “Black Sea” really do reflect the actions of a roiling sea, whereas the darkness of “Black Sheep” is contained right in melody of Thorn’s harp, even as the vocals rise in intensity as the song progresses.
The title track is the album’s tour de force. It is of epic proportions, and is perhaps the track most akin to progressive rock. The vocal abilities of all three members are utilized to the greatest extent, and there are several moments of harmonic brilliance. The most thrilling moment comes when the music suddenly breaks to the shrill, strangled sound of distorted violin, sounding as cutting edge as any hard rock guitar solo.
Gentle Party implore us, “Please forgive me for my god complex.” Well, we do, because with this wonder stroke of an album they deserve to have such a complex.