Monochrome by Daniel CavanaghRelease date: October 17, 2017
In a year of some quite remarkable prog releases, one of the stand out albums has been Anathema’s The Optimist. A dark, and involving piece of work, it introduced a return to a more pensive sound from chief songwriter Daniel Cavanagh. Returning to the protagonist of A Fine Day To Exit, it shunned the more wide-screen epics of the previous two albums for a more introverted style. It’s an album that has demanded repeat listens and has been toured in full throughout the year, allowing fans to really soak up the atmosphere.
It’s somewhat of a surprise then, to find that Mr Cavanagh has also found time in this busy schedule to release a solo album. This is no mere musicians folly either as Monochrome provides a remarkable glimpse into a much more private musician, allowing a more personal nature to evolve outside of the bombastic progressiveness of his main job. Inspired by feeling of love and loss, the songs here could well have formed the repertoire of any new Anathema album. Instead we get a side of the musician we rarely see, and not just through his remarkable vocals.
Using the space on the album to develop his multi-instrumentation, there is a yearning quality of loss which strikes right through to the heart here. Where The Optimist returned to the earlier Exit album for inspiration, this one seems almost like a companion piece to Weather Systems. If that album was the glorious sound of the sun rising and the earth waking, this is the sound of the night creeping in. It’s the sound of closure as Cavanagh seeks redemption and answers to his feelings. If that sounds heart-wrenching emotional in itself, wait until you hear the music.
The sparse piano of ‘The Exorcist’ leads us into what is the most standard song here, as the keys rise in crescendo until that release of Cavanagh’s voice begs “can you see me? Can you feel me?”. It’s almost as if the hope of ‘Untouchable’ has been replaced by desperation. It’s also utterly devastating. By leaving us in this state after just the first song, Cavanagh is now able to poke and prod at those little feelings kept locked away, reflected his inner emotions within our own, all bound up by the wonderful music.
Whilst the majority of music is performed by himself, and anyone who has seen Anathema live (especially acoustic) will understand how he can utilise pedals in ways you can only imagine, there is room for some special guests. The first of these, Anneke Van Giersbergen, pops up on second song ‘This Music’, and in doing so becomes something of a foil throughout the album, returning to sing on ‘Soho’ and later on ‘Oceans Of Time’. Acting almost as a voice of hope within the turmoil, Anneke becomes the voice of redemption as Cavanagh looks desperately for a way out. On ‘Soho’ they sound like two lost souls circling and trying to find a way to get to each other, sensing their feelings before that final moment when they meet in glorious relief.
The keening violin of Anna Phoebe on ‘The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours’ adds some mysterious tension and drama after the devastating ‘Soho’. As the song builds out from its loops, it becomes a tense, instrumental centrepiece to the album taking in gothic undertones and mixing them with the passion, angst and loss that fill the rest of these songs. Phoebe returns in a much more lively manner on ‘Dawn’ as her galloping music evokes her own progressive gypsy music, a stark reminder that the genre contains much magic outside the confines of the “classic” idea of prog. No stranger to Anathema’s music herself, having played alongside and with them in the past, here Phoebe becomes a taunting bit of mischief, enticing Cavanagh to waken up from his moribund feelings.
That awakening happens during the beautiful ‘Oceans Of Time’ as Van Giersbergen delivers a master-class in emotional vocal delivery, all the while underwritten by the simple, yet effective piano playing which comes to define this album so much. Each key stroke reflecting the feelings of the song, never once straying too far as to sound out of tune with Cavanagh’s lyrics. It’s worth reflecting on what a powerful voice he has too, as he reaches for those high notes through this song. It’s music ripped straight from the heart and raw with emotion.
‘Some Dreams Come True’ is a song of two halves, as the opening section brings back the key piano motif that has been running through the album. This then develops into a wonderfully cinematic moment of clarity, as major chords push against the minor patterns, creating an ocean of calm. The feelings becoming a metaphor for the ocean, the sound of waves crashing breaks down the fourth wall, you are left staring into the vast expanse. Whether Cavanagh (or indeed you as the listener) have received any closure is a moot point. There can never be true closure as this is the way life works. Feelings are endless repetitions of emotion, always there to remind you of how human you are. It’s that personal quality, that human-ness, that makes Daniel Cavanagh’s Monochrome such a remarkable album. He may just have pushed his own band’s The Optimist off the top spot for album of the year too.