It’s not easy being a progressive band in 2012. From the conservatism of the nineties, where to be labelled ‘progressive’ was as effective a death-knell upon any commercial aspirations that you might have as you could wish to hear, to the rampant resurgence of the noughties where the term became fashionable once more, much has changed and the competition is fierce. With the likes of porcupine Tree, Storm Corrosion and Opeth spearheading the new progressive movement, there is a smaller contingent of rock bands taking progressive music off on a tangent, away from the King Crimson-inspired darkness of the aforementioned acts towards a more inspired weirdness that mixes up the works of Lewis Carroll, the hard rock of QOTSA and …you will know us by the trail of dead with the pioneering spirit of vintage Genesis and the oddball nature of Super Furry Animals. It is here that you will find King Bathmat – a band who sound as if they’re having fun with the progressive genre rather than embarking upon a Conrad–inspired journey into their very own heart of darkness, and the results are as inspiring as they are refreshingly innovative.
Offering up six tracks in fifty minutes, ‘truthbutton’ has much to commend it. The opening track, ‘behind the wall’ is a nine-minute opus (which you can get for free in exchange for your email address on the band’s site) which mixes up classic Genesis via ‘nursery crime’, Marillion and Amplifier for a loosely anthemic track that has melody in spades, vibrant guitars and a sense of the whimsical heard all too rarely in these cynical times. It is as if King Bathmat have tapped not into the sound of the sixties, but the living spirit, recreating the optimism of those early progressive acts, rather than the crushing misanthropy that dogged musicians and albums alike as the seventies petered out in a welter of egos, wars and poverty. Vocal harmonies are the order of the day here and whilst the guitars have bite, they are never turned outward upon the listener, the sound warm but soothing, possessed of a lightness of touch that marks King bathmat out as something rather special. ‘Abintra’ has a bass-led groove to it that allows for plenty of crunchy guitar riffs to come into play, but even here the vocals lead us to the light rather than deep into a darker territory suggested initially by the riffs. To put it another way King Bathmat offer plenty for those who want to rock, but that is not the end of the band’s vision, as the delicate, psychedelic excursion at the heart of the track demonstrates with its keyboard-led atmospherics pushing the song closer to Porcupine Tree territory than they come at any other point, and there’s an element of playfulness here as the band push the boundaries of what can be achieved in a mere nine minutes of music.
‘Book of faces’ heads into music-box territory again recalling the might of early genesis crossed with a bouncing groove that throbs and wends its way through the heart of the track, tripping lightly around the beautifully constructed harmonies before the whole thing explodes into a QOTSA inspired riff-fest that cruises along on desert-dry riffs and jazzy musical diversions that appear unexpectedly at various junctures, dragging the music off on various wild and wonderful excursions before snapping back to the central melody once more. Never allowing you to take anything for granted, ‘The end of evolution’ hints at a cross between Muse and Peter Gabriel, the echoing trip-hop beat drawing things in an ambient direction that owes as much to Flaming Lips and Cooper Temple Clause as it does to vintage progressive. It’s a bold and engaging track that serves to emphasise just how much King Bathmat have to offer, even to this over-crowded genre, and how exceptionally gifted they are musically. ‘Dives and pauper’ kicks things back into a rockier vein with a strong QOTSA vibe running through its ragged riffs and spaced-out vocals before side-stepping neatly into a bizarre sub-folk-rock motif that sounds strangely awesome. It’s a fine track and it draws you neatly to the closing gambit of ‘coming to terms with mortality in the face of insurmountable odds’, a brilliantly conceived finale that crams an album’s worth of ideas into just one song leaving you wanting much more even as your finger twitches over the ‘play’ button ready to kick the whole crazy adventure off once more.
It is arguable that too much of the modern progressive movement remains mired in the cynicism and biting social critique of latter-day progresseve music in the vein of Pink Floyd’s ‘animals’ and King Crimson’s’ Starless and bible black’. The early pioneers in the genre such as caravan, Pink Floyd (before the darkness set in) and genesis offered a peculiarly English take on experimental music, often shot through with awe and whimsy and balancing a delicate sense of humour against the desire to push instruments and musicians further than they had previously gone. It is to this mischievous, exploratory sensibility that King bathmat have tethered themselves and they are all the better for it. ‘Truth button’ is, quite simply, a wonderful album – nothing more and nothing less – and it is both refreshingly light of touch and delightfully eccentric. It is a towering achievement and a joy from start to finish.
See if you agree with us – check out this embedded player: