This year, more than in the past couple, I feel like I am discovering music through different means. Much of what I find is submitted to me through the site or social media, or I’m just aware of the band already. This year, I’ve been finding bands by mere chance, or even recommendations from other sources, like Spotify. Evan Carson’s new album is one such album that I believe I saw mentioned by a reviewer friend of mine. “Ocipinski” is indeed a wonderful album, and it released on July 1st.
Evan Carson hails from the UK, and may be a familiar name. You may have noticed that he played the drums on Iamthemorning’s brand new album “The Bell”. Well, apparently, composition is also a strength he bears. The album features a grand list of instruments and players. The lineup includes Gleb Kolyadin (Iamthemorning) on piano, Evan himself on percussion, Karl James Pestka on violin and viola, Graham Coe on cello, Toby Shaer on flutes and whistles, Chris Heales on guitars and bass, Joshua Franklin on bass and keys, Archie Moss on melodeon, and Charlie Cawood on zither, cuatro, bouzouki, oud, and acoustic guitar and bass. The lineup for vocalists is impressive as well, featuring Georgia Lewis, Jim Grey (Caligula’s Horse and Arcane), Hannah Sanders, Ben Savage, and also Evan.
The music on this record is somewhat difficult to describe, but I can tell you that it feels every bit as momentous as that lineup suggests. It falls into the progressive rock spectrum somewhere, yes, but there is a richness to it that just does not befit the rock genre. Folk is definitely a big factor here, as are neoclassical ideas. Many of the concepts also feel quite cinematic and even abstract in approach. So, combining all of those, this is an album that rocks, but that also feels gigantic, human, and elegant. All of this makes the album feel colorful and eccentric, as if it were painting a picture for our ears.
Two things should be noted about this album. First, the vocal melodies are colorful and inspired by folk tunes. They are performed tightly and with vigor, and are thus truly amazing. Second, seeing as how Evan is a drummer, another thing you would expect on this album is percussion: lots of percussion. Much of it surprisingly has more of a tribal or folk flavor, though, but that really makes the album feel more visceral and raw. It is becoming one of my favorite parts of the album.
The concept revolves around the Polish resistance movements of WWII, of which Evan’s grandfather Jerzy Ocipinski was a part. The album soars with passion and digs into the dirt with these fighters, too. It really captures all kinds of textures and feelings that should accompany this concept.
There are several tracks that could be explored more in depth. “Sky” is basically an illustrious intro into “Shards”, which is a song full of reverence and grace. The chorus has a great hook, and the surrounding folk atmosphere feels so inviting. “Bloodlines” is a low key track that feels atmospheric, but somehow also purposeful. “The Fireflies of Falaise” (referring to the tank battle for the Falaise Pocket in 1944) is an enchanting track with various layers and eerie accents at work, and, though it is mostly instrumental, the vocal chants that filter in near the end are wonderful. “Anders’ Prayer” is another favorite, and it ends the album with abstraction and ambiance. I am particularly mesmerized by the meaning of this track, as it refers to Anders’ Army. That group was made up of Polish POWs, partisan units, and Jewish fighters who liberated concentration camps and escorted Jews all the way to Palestine: truly heroic people, for sure.
My two favorite tracks appear in the middle of this 41 minute album. “Chrysalis”, oh, what an amazing song. It is atmospheric and almost creepy with its dark vocal mutterings, and it features a fomenting piano rhythm near the end that Gleb plays with energy and spirit. “Otriad” (meaning a team of workers/soldiers), though, is one of my favorite songs of the year. Jim Grey leads here, and his vocal hook on the chorus is fantastic. The last half of the song shows off a splendid, multilayered instrumental that will honestly give you goosebumps.
Evan Carson’s debut solo record, then, is an astonishing success. It is rich and beautiful, but also has edge and instinct. It thunders with proximity, but also dances in the clouds. Considering the passionate and gritty concept, too, I think this musical combination of beauty and resolve is appropriate. I have no doubt whatsoever that progressive music fans will find something to love here.