September 19, 2019

You might not know the name Nova Cascade, but gather round and listen…

Perhaps best described as a collective around the hub of Dave Hilborne (vocals and keys), the band known as Nova Cascade released their debut album Above All Else around a year ago, and it had much to recommend it. Fast Forward to now, however, and this new opus is superior in every way to its predecessor. With the rhythm section of Dave Fick and David Anania remaining with Hilborne from the debut (you have to be named David to have any future in Nova Cascade, it seems!), they have enlisted Charlie Bramald on flute and Eric Bouillette on both violin and guitars and crested an album which is a fully rounded whole.

Sometimes described as ‘ambient progressive’ – even by themselves – I feel that, while there is some truth to this tag it is ultimately misleading. This certainly isn’t some kind of weedy ‘new-age’ album in search of a dentist’s waiting-room, nor is it the sort of ambient material that Brian Eno used to love to dribble at us around the turn of the ‘80s. Where the term does work is the fact that this is an album to be consumed as a whole instead of expecting peaks and troughs to leap out (if troughs can indeed leap). If you want to pick out obvious highlights to play to people you’re going to struggle – albeit with one exception, which I shall come to shortly. If you pick out individual tracks from these mostly fairly bite-size selections you will find they seem uncomfortable on their own, whereas listened to in the context of their brothers and sisters as an album whole, they make perfect sense. Some of this is vocal-led, but much of it is instrumental, allowing the listener to create mental imagery for himself.

As I alluded to before, there is one obvious highlight here, which is the ten-minute title track. Clearly written as an obvious highlight, it stands proud like a lighthouse attracting people to the album (yes, I know lighthouses warn people away from things, but let’s allow that to slide!). Unsurprisingly considering its length (nothing else here reaches half its duration), it goes through a number of mood changes to create a satisfying whole, and in a way is almost like a representation of the album as a whole, which goes through that same shifting pattern.

It isn’t without fault – Rabbit Hole, for example, veers a little too close to ‘80s synth-pop for these ears – but there aren’t too many wasted minutes here, for sure. Particularly noteworthy is the contribution of Eric Bouillette; his contributions on guitar are at times beautifully fluid, and there are some moments here where the addition of the violin is absolutely perfect.

For those who like the physical product, this is a beautiful artefact to have on the shelf. From a lavishly illustrated front cover depicting a library lined with books and containing an obviously much-used ‘reading chair’ – definite echoes of Script For A Jester’s Tear in this picture – we go to a bookshelf theme contained throughout the artwork, with even the track titles represented as the spines of old volumes. The accompanying booklet has lyrics, notes, credits and a series of lovely line drawing illustrations tying it all together.

The title, incidentally, comes from an ‘urban dictionary’ which does what it says on the artfully decorated tin – lists words defining various ‘obscure sorrows’. To take an example, ‘Kenopsia – The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet’. I’d never even thought that there should be a word for that, but somehow now it seems there has to be, so vivid is the mental picture thus conjured.

Take a trip through the dictionary. I think you may well find yourself: Satisfied (adjective) – content, pleased. See ‘satisfied customers’...

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