Tomorrow We Sail: For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight
Gizeh Records

Gizeh Records seems to go from strength to strength, as shown by its inaugural 2014 release, For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight, by the Leeds, UK-based septet Tomorrow We Sail. The band specializes in a style of music that while generally defying easy classification, draws upon multiple genres, among them prog-rock, post-rock, folk, and neo-classical; anyone with a jones for Sigur Rós at its most elegiac will certainly find much to like about Tomorrow We Sail. The group, which formed in 2009, features vocalist-guitarists Tim Hay and Ella May Blake, string players David Ramsay and Angela Chan, guitarist Matt Clarke, bassist Tom Ilett, and drummer Alistair Hay. Many of the members contribute keyboards to the album and sing on it as well, and accordion and Shruti Box also find their way onto the fifty-five-minute recording. Leading up to its debut full-length, the group issued an EP (2010's The Common Fire), two singles (The White Rose in 2011 and For Rosa in 2012), and contributed to the soundtrack for the independent film Broken Roads.

For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight begins boldly with the stately dirge “The Well & the Tide,” the music's slow burn of strings, guitars, and tom-toms dramatically complemented by Tim Hay's expressive vocal. Coming to the album for the first time, one would be excused for thinking of Tomorrow We Sail as an outfit with prog-rock leanings and fronted by a singer not afraid to expose his passionate side. Reinforcing that impression is the band's appetite for long-form compositions, with two of the seven pushing past the ten-minute mark. However, as the album progresses, it becomes clear that labeling the band a prog outfit would be tantamount to unwarranted pigeonholing.

The epic “Eventide” sees the group deftly alternating between melancholy slow episodes and climactic buildups and achieving an emotional impact in its music that more than justifies the Sigur Rós reference (the instrumental section at the center of “December” also invites the comparison). One shouldn't make too much of the detail, however: it would be more accurate to say that Tomorrow We Sail is kin to Sigur Rós in terms of the uplifting spirit conveyed by its music; sonically speaking, the two outfits are dramatically different, especially in the vocal department. Regardless, an ambitious setting such as “Eventide” illustrates that Tomorrow We Sail (like Sigur Rós) is a band whose playing is distinguished by a fine-tuned degree of delicacy and that knows how to reap maximum impact from both subdued and aggressive passages.

As strong as the opening pieces are, they're bettered by the subsequent trilogy of songs, based on Vera Brittain's autobiography Testament of Youth and her writings about the so-called post-WW1 'lost generation.' Though presented as separate pieces (and indexed as such), “Never Goodbye,” “December,” and “Testament” appear without pauses between them and thus could be seen as constituting a seventeen-minute epic. During the trilogy, the singing of Ella May Blake assumes a more prominent role, and consequently “Never Goodbye” achieves a stately grandeur that is frankly soul-stirring. As powerful as that song is, arguably the peak is “Testament,” a heart-stopping piece featuring a hushed female vocal performance by Blake whose exquisite beauty is matched by the song's soaring spirit; adding significantly to the material's plaintive character is the backing the band members and especially the string players bring to the performance. (Interestingly, there are moments on the album when the male and female voices intertwine in a way that calls to mind the vocal interplay of The Swell Season's Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.)

One would perhaps expect that everything following such a piece would be anti-climactic and secondary. And while that's true to some degree—how could it be otherwise when “Testament” is so stunning—the closer “For Rosa” (which ultimately rises to an anthemic pitch that would do Godspeed You! Black Emperor proud) does manage to provide a goodly share of emotionally charged moments during its thirteen-minute run. All things considered, there's nothing hyperbolic about characterizing For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight as a triumphant and superbly well-realized work.

February 2014