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WOOLGATHER Programmes Vol 1: The Pleasure Principle (2010)


While Austin Texas has long been a creative musical hot bed, few bands can have produced such stirring evocative ambient oriented music as this. Woolgather is a truly an independent band who seem beholden to no one other than the contemporary trend towards angst filled vocals and lyrics. And in Casey Tipton they have a passionate vocalist and guitarist whose wail sometimes obscures his meaning but whose commitment alone is capable of stirring both your imagination and soul.

And if this is Art Rock, then Titpton's vocals are the perfect foil for some intricate music featuring the inspired keyboard parts of Rodrigo Lloreda. Both Tipton and Lloreda are conjoined by a succession of haunting piano lines and imposing ambient sounds. It's hard to see who leads who because although the vocals are obviously up front, the differing tones, moods and shifting time signatures are all interdependent.

In many ways each track becomes a deeper layer of a rich cake full of contrasting musical ideas punctuated by fleeting but weighty melodies and some anguished expression in the shape of soaring vocal lines and deliberate phrasing. At times, as on the keyboard led, early Pink Floyd influenced 'Highway Ghost' the band sound very Proggy, but as with most of the material they continue their restless exploration via Tipton's vocals which being an anthemic quality to the song. In fact Casey is never too far removed from the kind of emotional pull that colours much of Michael Stipe's singing, right down to the way he rolls his r's; But Woolgather are more of a multi dimensional outfit rather than mere copyists and have the ability to take a stirring melody and lead it into an unlikely grunge like scream.

They open with the impressive 'Sticks & Stones', which is the audio equivalent of slowly evolving changes of colours. They pursue one direction and then think nothing of a quantum leap toward a climactic finish as on 'Wind-Up Bird'. The latter is a lovely piece that juxtaposes Casey's fragile vocal countenance with an unexpected vocal sweeps over some imposing piano lines.

'Godspeed' is a subtle instrumental break and a beautiful reminder of the layered sound that underpins Tipton's angst throughout. And there's plenty of angst on the following 'P.S. (I Confess)' with the lyrics that are as intense as their delivery; 'Like a bullet with nothing to lose, but grace and mystery, when did love ever become so cruel, never used to seem so terrible'. The arrangement makes good use of an acoustic guitar and processed keyboards and rock solid drums. Beautifully conceived and magnificently sung this is one of a number of highlights from an album that offers more rewards with every repeat plays.

The evocative moods and carefully blended soundscapes are predicated on the deft use of dynamics and textured sounds. On the epic 'Cherry-Bomb Closure' Tipton's voice is just the right side of mournful as a mix of buzz guitar, rich piano lines, crashing drums and layered sound make for a for a bombastic end-piece. Casey's guitar line cleverly mirrors his own vocals as if to underline the meaning of the words. He works his way through a compelling dark narrative; 'I'll find light in the darkest of sight, even if I can't say that your mine, they'll never take us alive, dear, you say forever is a temporary torch we carry, but when we're speeding on every kiss you blow my way, salt and gasoline, I'm going out with a bang my dear.' This is an epic song that could easily be placed in a movie and it's a defining moment in a passionate album.

'Programmes: Vol.1' - The Pleasure Principle' combines elements of Prog Rock, a sprinkle of REM, some intricate layered keyboards, a rock solid rhythm section, an intuitive production and features a totally convincing emotive vocalist. This is a groundbreaking album made by a band that has that rare ability to conjure up something meaningful in a post psychedelic landscape populated by songs of real passion, angst and love. It's an outstanding album that many will surely revisit again and again.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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