“A lot of this material could easily have made it on to the last Anathema album or any future album; that’s how highly the band rate it.”
I’m so glad it didn’t. Much as I love them, Anathema seems to be slipping into a formula – in my eyes a winning one, but a formula nonetheless. This isn’t a terrible thing, and I could happily listen to Anathema by the numbers for a while; but Daniel Cavanagh’s approach on Monochrome, his second solo album (first of solely original music), reminds me of what I used to find so exciting about them during their resurgence and apparent second coming with the release 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here its follow-up Weather Systems – which, in the interests of full disclosure, are two of my absolute favourites albums.
The album isn’t far removed from the core sounds that have defined Anathema’s latest work – calming melodies, subtle builds, and overall uplifting atmosphere are all there, and to the inattentive listener the album might come off as being very similar to Anathema’s latest release, The Optimist. However, it soon becomes clear that Daniel has taken a considerably more thoughtful approach to the song-writing here, with the stripped back, piano-driven compositions absolutely dripping with personality, untainted by any sense of pretentiousness or conceptuality. Considering Anathema’s latest obsession with rushing towards an emotional climax, the patient, leisurely way the songs of Monochrome progress is a breath of fresh air. This is Daniel Cavanagh at his most personal and introspective, and it really makes for some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard all year.
“Taking them from the band was not an easy decision but I am glad; they’re so personal as to not need more input.”
All of the songs on Monochrome feature driving piano lines interspersed with acoustic guitars and reverb-laden, synth-like electric guitar leads. Furthermore, the instrumental half of the album boasts an almost neo-classic approach, with Daniel’s piano taking center-stage and moving with a keen melodic sense that somehow builds tension while simultaneously maintaining the calm and leisurely atmosphere. Performed mostly b himself, Daniel’s performance on the album comes off as very natural, and although it boasts a relatively clean production job courtesy of Daniel Cardoso, the songs themselves are sometimes a tad rough around the edges – but with the occasional off-beat snare hit or voice crack or falter only serving to make the songs even more endearing. It’s also another welcome change from established practice in Anathema, which often aim to make the tracks as pitch-perfect as they can be.
It also seems that Daniel chose his guest appearances carefully. Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen – best known for her work with Devin Townsend, as well as with The Gathering – appears on the tracks This Music, Soho, and Oceans of Time. Providing a welcome change from Anathema’s Lee Douglas, Anneke’s gentler delivery and softer tone suit the music well, and are a good contrast with Douglas, who tends to be more of a belter, which would likely have been to the album’s detriment. Sounding strangely alien at first, Anneke quickly settles into the mix, and complements Daniel’s soothing voice perfectly. Other contributing guest is London-based violinist Anna Phoebe, briefly of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who contributes precise, lively violin parts to tracks Soho, The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours, and Dawn, helping add another dimension to the song-writing, occasionally hijacking tracks like Dawn, although not necessarily in a bad way.
“The album has a late night, candlelit feeling, evoking the light of dusk as the summer sun sinks below the horizon, setting the scene for thoughts and meditations that many people will relate to.”
Although the whole album is damn near perfect, instrumental The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours, opener The Exorcist and closer Some Dreams Come True stand out as some of the most immediately enjoyable tracks on the album, despite being slow-burns. With some of the tracks, especially the instrumentals, bordering on ambient classical or post-rock, make the album perfectly mellow night-time listening. Lyrically dealing with subjects such as longing, music, as well as other seemingly more esoteric ramblings, I could see the album coming to mean different things to different people as Daniel passionately sings in vague terms of emotional struggles and night-time unease, uplifting without really giving us anything concrete except the chance to enjoy the music – and the moment – as much as we can.
I’ve made some pretty negative comparisons with Anathema, particularly The Optimist, in this review. Since it was released in the same year, I figured that comparison was unavoidable, but let me end this by saying that I do enjoy that album a fair bit. Is it the progressive music album of 2017? No (also yes, apparently*), but it’s a solid – if somewhat disappointing – one with a handful of great songs on it, and I look forward to seeing them live in a couple of months. But Daniel Cavanagh’s been one of my favourite songwriters for a while now, and the fact that Monochrome appears to be in The Optimist’s shadow, seemingly flying under a lot of radars is more than a little disappointing. It’s near perfect and may well be my favourite album of 2017.
Get your copy of ‘Monochrome’ HERE!