December doesn’t usually see many releases in the music industry, and that is for a good reason. Many year-end lists are already being posted; so, naturally, bands and labels release albums earlier in the hopes to be included on those lists. Here at The Prog Mind, we don’t post those lists until the first week of January, so we have plenty of time to include December releases. The debut album from Nine Skies just released on November 30th, which is close enough for me to call it a December release. “Return Home” is an album that deserves your attention and time, and maybe even a spot in those fabled “best of” lists, too.
Nine Skies hails from France. The band is made up of Alexandre Boussacre and Freddy Scott on vocals, David Darnaud and Eric Bouillette on guitars, Alexandre Lamia on guitars/keyboards, Anne Claire Rallo on keyboards, Bernard Hery on bass, Fab Galia on drums, Laurent Benhamou on saxophones, and guest Peny Mac Morris on flute for a couple tracks. That’s quite a few people involved, and you can definitely feel it, especially on the vocals.
The musical style is difficult to peg at times. It is definitely progressive rock, but there are metal, heavy prog, and jazz elements present throughout, as well. So, while you might settle in on the typical guitar work and awesome solos, you will also take notice of the saxophone and flute portions and also the heavier parts. All in all, this is nothing innovative, but it is well produced, well mixed, and somewhat eclectic in what it presents.
One of my favorite things about this album is the theme behind it all. “Return Home” centers on various people who live in a modern metropolis. The chosen musical subgenres help to express the many moods and emotions that are definitive of the contemporary human experience. I feel this is communicated well and concisely without going overboard or without ever feeling overbearing. In fact, this album has a great overall atmosphere and mood, and it evokes feelings of nostalgia and longing.
I have to say that I am particularly impressed by the performances here. First, the guitar work and soloing are superb. While no particular style or influence seems to be present (though I am reminded of some 80s prog metal bands for some reason), the solos specifically are emotional and played with vigor. Second, the keys throughout the album are very strong, not just relying on the vivid atmosphere they create, but also digging down into the dirt with rapid key strokes and melodies. Third, I’m also impressed with the strong rhythm section which includes intuitive drumming and a great burgeoning bass sound. Lastly, the saxophone is a strong and piercing element that is used often and to fantastic effect.
Having two singers here does present some issues at times. Alexandre and Freddy both have great voices, for sure. However, while they sound great for 90% of the album, there are moments that don’t seem quite in key or perhaps quiver a bit too much. Maybe it’s just me. That is nitpicking to be honest, as both basic voices are rich and smooth.
There are plenty of amazing songs here. The title track leads the album, and it is a strong start with great solos and a memorable chorus. “Catharsis” is an instrumental track that feels very urban: It has this certain whimsical quality to it, as well, that I really love. Probably my favorite song on this album is the two part “The Blind Widower”. It is pensive, jazzy, and resolute, just the way I like it. It also sneaks in a more pastoral side with some eerie flute that hovers above the cityscape. Amazing song, for sure.
Other favorites include “Roses Never Hatch”, which is a mighty, massive track with a great sound; “The Slight Snake”, an off kilter track which embraces its dark, odd style; and the haunting “Dust in Town”, a track that is like pure atmosphere, vivid and hazy at the same time. The album ends on a cinematic, emotional note that brings this study of human nature to a close with deep feelings of longing.
Nine Skies has created a memorable, very human album that I find myself liking more and more every time I hear it. It communicates its theme very well in both the poetic lyrics and also the vibrant music. “Return Home” truly feels like home as we relate to the people, places, and moods presented therein; and I know I myself will be returning to this album often.