September 19, 2020

Sometimes the name of a band can leave you under entirely the wrong impression about the material they actually purvey. Despite their superbly ‘English’ name, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate may in all likelihood fall into that very category. The name immediately conjures up a quirky English eccentricity embodied by the likes of Kevin Ayers, National Health or Stackridge, but despite the excellence of all of those artists, The Hats (as we should not call them) are a very different proposition. Their previous album, 2018’s Out Of Mind, contained the dark masterpiece Lidice, which told the harrowing tale of the village of the same name and its cynical and soulless destruction during WW2, and this latest effort rests on other such weighty themes, largely drawn from the world of dystopian Science Fiction. This is thoughtful, intelligent music, and though the band clearly have a sense of humour, they take their music extremely seriously – which, of course, is how it should be. Essentially, the band is the multi-instrumental duo of Malcolm Galloway and Mark Gatland, with able support coming from the masterful flute of Kathryn Thomas.

Two of the tracks here will already be familiar to keen followers of the band, with the instrumentals Ark and Chasing Neon having both already seen the light of day on the Ark EP. Both tracks are full of merit, and among the standouts here, with Chasing Neon finding the band embracing their inner Tangerine Dream, all pulsing sequencers and driving electronic momentum, while the lengthy Ark tells the story in music of HMS Ark Royal, on which Galloway’s father saw active service. Apart from these two tracks, the album is most certainly front-loaded with highlights, with the opening pair of Century Rain and Twin Earth opening things with a definite bang, and in a very ‘proggy’ form as well. After Ark we then get the cautionary Sci-Fi tale of Nanobotoma (spoiler: nanobots can be very bad things!) followed by the aforementioned propulsive electronica of Chasing Neon. That’s only about half of the album, but it’s worth remembering that at around 35 minutes or so, it’s practically an LP in its own right in the ‘old money’. Those five tracks would make a tremendous two sides of vinyl, without a doubt.

Men without hats: Malcolm Galloway (left) and Mark Gatland

At this point we hit what might be termed the ‘centrepiece’ of the album, in the shape of the five-part ‘Redemption Ark’ Suite, in which a brilliantly realised Sci-Fi concept is brought to life through two vocal tracks and three instrumentals. Ironically, despite this being the most ambitious and thought-provoking section of the record in many ways, to these ears it is also the most flawed, for reasons I shall explain. The issue with these tracks, and in particular the three consecutive instrumental pieces, is that while careful study of the excellent liner notes in the booklet give a clear vision of what is being put across by the music, for anyone coming to this as a download, or even not reading the booklet, might well struggle with what could come across as rather disjointed. On the other hand, when primed with the full picture of what is going on, listening to the album with it playing in the ‘theatre of the mind’ conjures up imagery of one’s imagination which make all of the difference. In live performance this could be very strong. The two vocal tracks bookending the suite are also a game of two halves: Glitterband is an abrasive and slightly difficult listen which doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot, whereas Nostalgia For Infinity which wraps things up is a fine piece with a dramatic coda, closing things up in some style.

Only two pieces remain now, with the Floydian instrumental Voyager written to convey the satellite of that name as it continues to dance its way across the heavens, still transmitting data back until the day it finally goes ‘dark’. It’s a lovely, Floydian instrumental mood piece, with effective guitar and keyboard work, though there is perhaps a feeling that it threatens to grow into a big, expansive coda which never quite happens – but then again, Voyager itself isn’t exactly likely to run into something conjuring up a dramatic guitar solo before it stops transmitting, so in that sense the piece does what it says on the tin! The closer is a relatively short (four minute) piece entitled Sixth Extinction, with that dark Sci-Fi vibe all over it again, and the aggressive, powerful prog/metal feel of the track actually works extremely well. It’s not what you would immediately expect as an album closer, bit it does its job for sure.

The packaging is nice as well – in these days of downloads and streaming platforms, it’s always reassuring to see a release with some genuine benefits to having the physical item. In this case, the booklet contains not only the lyrics but also some detailed notes from Malcolm Galloway concerning the inspiration behind, and meaning of, the individual tracks. It’s not only fascinating to read – particularly for the Sci-Fi aficionado – but as mentioned above also significantly adds to the impact of some of the music.

Hats off, gents – this is more than adequate!