Since joining Bad Elephant Music’s mailing list, I’ve been very impressed with not only the breadth, but also the quality of the releases coming out of their coffers. David Elliott, believe it or not, really seems to know what he’s doing over there. The newest release from BEM is the latest solo album from Mike Kershaw entitled “What Lies Beneath”. This is an album that I’m sure is made for a specific crowd within the prog community, and I’m glad to say that includes me.
Mike Kershaw is a solo artist who produces eclectic, quite homey progressive rock music. His style is definitely reminiscent of Pink Floyd in some ways, but there is also a hefty influence (at least in my view) from the Beatles and other pop music. Honestly, one of the songs, “Wounds”, came off as 90’s pop rock with a progressive flavor. All of the tracks, however, are excellently composed, meticulously mixed, and catchy as hell. His lyrics, on the other hand, are deeply felt. “What Lies Beneath” seems to be dedicated to the inner battles we all experience in this life. These lyrics are easy to relate to, and the charming music that accompanies it gives it even further impact.
I find that Mike’s music falls into the neo-prog style more than any other. There is a certain quaint British style to it, also, that may take some getting used to (at least for us Neanderthals in the USA), but you will feel right at home if you enjoy Pendragon, IQ, Marillion, and others. Mike sings and plays the keys on this album. His voice is unapologetically British, but does remind me of Fish (early Marillion) with a little Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) on the side once in a while (yes, I’m serious). His vocals are a little gruff and maybe even a little rough around the edges, but definitely endearing over the course of the album.
Mike’s keys are quite possibly the best part of the album. Using all sorts of synth and piano, Mike entrances us with everything from sweeping, fluid melodies to deliberate piano compositions. His style, quite simply, is stunning. One example would be the lush, tidal melody that hits in the second half of “The City of My Dreams”. In addition to his presence, he has a host of musicians backing him, even including characters such as label mate Tom Slatter. All of these performances are fine-tuned and sound amazing, especially the Gilmour-ish guitar solos from Gareth Cole and the hefty acoustic drums from Leopold Blue-Sky. Those two musicians make up the core of his support, and he’s quite lucky to have them.
Like I said, every track is excellent in its own right; however, I do have some favorites. Previously, I mentioned “Wounds”. Its simple melody and catchy lyrics makes it stand out, but other tracks are far more progressive, such as the incredible “The City of My Dreams” or the sublime structure of “Gunning for the Gods”. While “The City of My Dreams” is probably the best track on the album, “In Floods the Light” is another excellent track with great keys and “Two Eyes” is another favorite with a beautiful chorus that will stay with you.
Mike Kershaw has a knack for tight composition and beauteous, deliberate melodies. While this isn’t the standard “epic” prog album that will have snobs hot and bothered, “What Lies Beneath” is still one of the best releases this year because it cherishes restraint, class, and subtlety in the classic British fashion. Mike has my respect and I’ll look forward to enjoying this album often.