I don’t often join Pledge Music campaigns, although I want to more often now. However, when I saw that Lifesigns was starting a campaign for a sophomore album, I didn’t even think about it. I went all in for the vinyl immediately. That seems like ages ago now, but the band has finally released the resulting album, called “Cardington”, and I am absolutely and without one single doubt floored by what this campaign has produced.
Lifesigns debuted back in 2013 with a self-titled album that has become one of my favorite band debuts ever. That album was so melodic and so atmospheric that I still have it in my regular playlists. The band has seen some changes since then, however. The band now consists of John Young on keys and lead vocals, Frosty Beedle on drums, and Jon Poole on bass. Guitars are handled by four guests, Dave Bainbridge (Iona, Strawbs, Celestial Fire), Menno Gootjes (Focus), Niko Tsonev (Steven Wilson), and Robin Boult (Fish).
I’m sure that some people would call the band’s style “neo-prog”, and they do share many traits with that subgenre. The music is mostly led by bass and keys, making it feel lush and meaty, but there is plenty in the way of guitar accents and solos to add more layers and textures. However, I would simply call what they do “modern progressive rock”, as their methods are more cinematic and groovier than what I normally consider neo-prog. Indeed, the songs tells a story with flashes of synth, bassy ambient moments, and many picture perfect vocal lines.
It’s almost an impossibility how clean and clear the melodies on this album are. The original album jumped into the pop pool to gather some catchy choruses that had me singing along, and still does, honestly. “Cardington” may take this to a whole new level though, with every single song being a catchy delight, even catching my children’s notice already after only a couple listens. That is not to say that this album is simple, but the album just has this inspired and ethereal quality to it.
“Cardington”, above all else, is a joy to hear. “Joy” is definitely what I feel when I listen to it. This is partly because of the maturity of performances that are presented. John Young’s voice is pure and clean in a way that few other singers possess, and his lyrics are quite poetic and mature. His keys are absolutely mind-blowing, also. They could be the best I’ve heard all year. Huge waves of synths wash over this whole album, whether used as an accent or as the primary melody. The keys are one of the primary movers and shakers in each song, presenting lush soundscapes or rhythms that are categorically stunning.
Furthermore, the bass is a pure pleasure to experience. Lifesigns has swapped the odd hairdos of the legendary Nick Beggs for the cool hats of Jon Poole. As immensely good as Nick was on bass, Jon does not miss a beat, offering one of the best performances and also bass compositions of the year. Every song has a grooviness to it that will grab your heart immediately, and there are plenty of inventive, big moments to be had. In many ways, his performance is the heart and soul of this album. Additionally, Frosty Beedle is wonderful and underappreciated on drums, I think. He has a way with odd time signatures and excellent fills that just works so well. He reminds me a bit of one of my favorite drummers, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd.
Lastly, the guest guitarists offer a unified style, and all of the playing is noticeably awesome. We get plenty of emotional solos, for sure, but it’s the more abstract runs and purposeful breaks that really sound amazing to me.
Like I said, every song here is near to perfect. “N” opens the album with a fresh sound and lots of melody. “Voices in my Head” follows with groove, great guitar breaks, and lots of atmosphere. “Chasing Rainbows” comes next and is a stunning piece with an intensely catchy chorus and some of the best verse vocal lines I heard in some time. Skipping to the end, the last track is the title track, and the album ends with the same fresh sound, although this time with a noticeable amount of nostalgia. Also, I love the way it ends with what sounds like a zeppelin.
The reason I skipped to the end is this: Starting with “Different”, we are treated to a three-track spree of progressive gold. “Different”, “Impossible”, and “Touch” are my three favorite songs on the album. “Different” is this album’s “Fridge Full of Stars”. What I mean is that the latter was my favorite song on the debut, and I literally cannot get enough of it. “Different” was first released on Lifesigns’ recent live DVD (seen in the video below), and it still is my favorite song on this album. There’s just something about the awesome bass, the cool guitars, the fantastic transitions, and the genuine lyrics that really speaks to me. “Impossible” comes next and starts with such a golden melody that I can barely take it; absolutely soulful and amazing. I find myself singing it all the time. Finally, “Touch” ends this trinity of favorite songs. It has this synth run to it that almost sounds like it is being played backwards, and it gives me chills every time I hear it.
Lifesigns has succeeded where so many other bands have failed. They have released a sophomore album that manages to retain what I loved so much about the first album, and they have pushed the envelope even more than I expected, whether musically or in the poetic lyrics. “Cardington” is one of the best albums of the year, and I can’t wait for my vinyl to arrive.