If music is the soundtrack to our lives, evoking memories of people and place then the debut album from UK progressive act Messenger, the enigmatically entitled “Illusory Blues” will, to these ears, forever be associated with the south eastern corner of Sicily where I first became enchanted with this eclectic, ambitious and often beautiful record.
This is the sort of record that people who know about these sorts of things will use phrases like “gossamer light” or “sonic cathedral” to describe the charms on offer on this most polite yet often startling of debuts. As you may have gathered by now, this is not one of those records that assaults your senses like some kind of obnoxious teenager, stamping about an overcluttered bedroom raging at the injustice of not being able to have a tattoo of a panther. This is unfailingly polite music; music that brings an exquisitely chosen bottle of wine to your dinner party and doesn’t try to seduce your girlfriend. Or something: I digress.
“Illusory Blues” is a diverse and captivating record, wearing its influences smartly but delicately. The entire record is put together brilliantly, ebbing and flowing with a natural unobstrusive gait; it veers off down aural country tracks, takes you up hill and down dale and delivers you back home, happy and satisfied. Channeling the essence of some of the finest progressive and psychedelic influences- you can hear a little bit of Pink Floyd here, some Led Zep there. Did you detect a bit of Bolan and Porcupine Tree– yes, I suspect you did. This smorgasbord approach to music making could, under different hands, been an almighty mess- that it remains entirely captivating from start to finish is testament to the talent of this London based trio.
Whether you are beguiled by the none more prog of ‘The Perpetual Glow of a Setting Son’ or the pscyhedelia of ‘Piscean Tide’, the key reflection is just how many ideas and flourishes the band have brought to one single album. When you sit back and think about it, entire careers have been based on considerably less.
The centrepiece of the record is the ambitious and evocative ‘Midnight’ that covers a stunning breadth of artistic territory that pushes the bands love of the eclectic to its absolute edge but without it falling in on itself: the echoes of “Physical Graffiti” Led Zeppelin playing convivial host with a happier, more reflective Radiohead are brilliantly executed; this is dreamlike music; those fond images where your favourite bands come together and create new, original magic. It leaves you covered in goosebumps. Yes, that kind of record.
On ‘Somniloquist’, you would be forgiven for noting the nods and nudges to Midlake and Opeth at their most reflective and introspective but don’t be lulled into that false sense of pastiche security that lazy journalism like mine can suggest. There are plenty of surprises, twists, turns and applecart upturnings to satisfy even the most wizened and cynical of critical ears.
“Illusory Blues” is a very English record; there is a freedom in the creativity, a stoicism in the face of adversity; a sense of justice and fair play. This is an openminded and diverse album that will appeal, probably in equally divided, fairly distributed measures to fans of rock, prog, psychedelia and folk. I know that its foolish to make early predictions but I don’t think that I am going to adore this record in the way that I adore “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Kid A” but what I most definitely do adore is that Messenger are ambitious and determined to want play in that league. “Illusory Blues” is, all told, really rather lovely.
[Photo credit: Tina K Photography]