Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight series, we’re going to be exploring the music of Hollow Water, a progressive rock duo consisting of Alan Cookson and Huw Roberts. Their newest studio endeavor is a twelve track epic entitled ‘Rainbow’s End,’ an album that includes guest performances from an array of instrumentalists and a vocalist. (Hollow Water has never previously had vocals.) Clocking in 80 minutes, the record is no small undertaking. Is is worth your time? Let’s dig right into it and find out.
Here on the Spotlight, one of my primary endeavors is to take each and every piece of music I get sent seriously. Thus, I have a rule that I’ll listen to each effort I review here thrice over. With a record of this magnitude, I was definitely kicking myself in the rear end for that self-imposed guideline. That was, however, until I actually began to listen to ‘Rainbow’s End’ the first time around.
As readers of the Spotlight most certainly know, I have a tendency to poke fun at prog rock. Its length can be borderline ostentatious, and as such, a great deal of it feels unnecessarily lengthy and self-indulgent. (For example, a King Crimson concert fronted by three drummers, all of which solo extensively. Yes, that happens.) Hollow Water’s music is definitely long-winded, but it has a surprising amount of merit to its explorations that I wish more prog rock had.
The story line of ‘Rainbow’s End’ feels theatrical, loosely organizing itself in the form of an obscure concept album. The opening track, ‘Day In Day Out,’ introduces itself with an audio-story of sorts. The song begins with a weekly trivia game happening at a bar, or something akin to that, and then one of the members leaves, hops in the car, and tunes into the radio. Hollow Water kicks on, and offers up a pretty fantastic jam.
As an outfit, Hollow Water immediately exhibit some instrumental prowess on ‘Day In Day Out.’ This extends into ‘Mirror’s Frame,’ the next track, and subsequently the rest of the record. ‘Mirror’s Frame’ introduces guest vocalist Mark Lock, who took time out of his own project, Maintain Order, to work with Hollow Water. He clicks superbly with the outfit, though his vocal mix is a bit peculiar on 'Mirror's Frame.' He feels separated from the rest of the production.
In any case, are there things much cooler than a saxophone being heavily incorporated into a groovy prog album? I don’t think so, and fortunately, ‘Rainbow’s End’ delivers that in full force on ‘Mirror’s Frame.’ In fact, I’d argue that type of instrumental experimentation is what keeps Hollow Water from falling victim to the monotony of so many prog acts. From ‘Mirror’s Frame’ and its saxophone to ‘Rainbow’s Begin’ and its waterfall of synthesizers and thunderous percussion, there is an element of continual ‘freshness’ throughout ‘Rainbow’s End.’
Lock’s vocals on ‘Rainbow’s Begin’ feel far more natural, and they’re mixed much more tightly. The singer has a penchant for laying harmonies, something that’s utilized on the track to great success. His mesmerizing croons on the track are reminiscent of a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ chorus.
Once the listener reaches ‘Gathering Sunbeams for the Future,’ the album begins to form its personality. The three prior tracks, while rather excellent, seem like they’re setting the stage for a larger idea. ‘Gathering Sunbeams for the Future’ opens the door into that. The track explores the rhetoric surrounding green energy, and seems to acknowledge its importance while also poking fun at some of the more ridiculous parts of it. (Sales tactics to get unwitting people to install solar panels, endless windmills all over the place to fulfill power requirements, etc.)
‘The Quantum Mechanic and the Map Collector’ introduces the two protagonists of the story - a fascinating duo that’s in search, quite literally, of the end of the rainbow. Their skill sets are dramatically different, and as a result, complete the blind areas of one another’s vision of the world. The songwriting, which really stretches its wings here on this song, is absolutely fantastic. (Big props out to keyboardist Alan Cookson, the man who penned the lyrics for the album.)
Hollow Water does a terrific job of composing soundscapes for each set of lyrics that are particularly fitting. The zany production of ‘The Quantum Mechanic and the Map Collector’ is suiting, as is the funky, mystical atmosphere of ‘Rainbow’s End,’ a song in which the duo muses about what they hope to find when they discover the end of the rainbow.
‘Trick of the Light’ houses one of the best musical performances on the record. It’s truly a sonic spectacle. The adventurers have seemed to find the end of the rainbow, or at least, something resembling it. As the following track, ‘Immortal Portal,’ expands, they’re transported to another world/dimension via a portal of some sort. It’s the only piece of poetry on the album that feels tacky and awkward, but it does serve as the segway into ‘Solar Beacon,’ a far better song.
‘Solar Beacon and ‘The Light Dimension’ offer some insights into the bizarre world the duo have been transported to. Like any good adventure, though, they have to seek out their way back home through the portal. There’s a sense of positivity throughout the closing of the album, something exemplified beautifully in the powerhouse rocker, ‘Illusions & Delusions.’
The final track, ‘We Changed, This World Didn’t,’ brings the story around full force as the two return to their dimension to discover their lives forever changed, but everything around them entirely untouched. There’s a deeper, profound insight here, I think. Perhaps something along the lines of seeking out alternative viewpoints to consistently expand your own worldview and life? There’s room for interpretation of this album, which is quite splendid, I'd argue.
I must be entirely honest - I was hesitant to listen to ‘Rainbow’s End’ a few times through. It looked so complex and long, that I was worried about having trouble dissecting it articulately. The truth, however, is that the album is an amazing and compelling insight into an original adventure. It’s a fun record that separates itself from the realm of prog rock that’s often more pretentious that it is creative. Hence, it's an experience worth your time.
(Note - be sure to read the liner notes of the album. They’re vital, and even act as a graphic novel.)