Mostly Autumn were the first ever band that I saw live back in 2006, and to this day remain one of my favourite bands. Despite the fact that my music taste has grown and evolved over time, I never tire of hearing Mostly Autumn's music or seeing them live. The band are on a great run of form at the moment, with their last two albums: 2010's Go Well Diamond Heart and 2012's The Ghost Moon Orchestra; being very memorable and strong efforts woth plenty of great songs between them. Band leader Bryan Josh and vocalist Olivia Sparnenn have clearly formed a very strong writing partnership, but it is on the band's eleventh album, Dressed in Voices, where we see the very best of what they can produce. In short, this album is fantastic and, when the dust settles, this might be considered their best work yet. It is also the first concept album in the band's history, and tells the story of a murderer who is forced to witness the memories and life of his victim so he can understand the full implications of his actions. This is not a happy album by any means, but it is very well written and so full of emotion that it barely seems to matter. Music is there to move us in different ways, and Dressed in Voices excels at this. As a result, it is the band's most focussed album to date, and the use of the concept to drive and influence the songwriting has done wonders for the band. All the pieces of this album fit well together and it makes for a hugely consistent piece of work. The band line-up on this album is much the same as it has been for the last few years, minus drummer Gavin Griffiths. As a result Alex Cromarty, who played live with the band for much of last year, makes his debut in the studio with the band. I enjoyed his contributions to the live band last year, and his performance on Dressed in Voices is very strong. He is a different drummer to Griffiths, more laid back and he has a natural swing to his playing which adds something new to the band's sound. Multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder who was absent for many of the band's shows last year also makes some nice contributions to the album. Her flute playing is always welcome and the way her vocals mix with Sparnenn's is always a feature of the band's big live sound. It is also worth noting that rhythm guitarist Liam Davison has left the band since this album's release and has been replaced by another Mostly Autumn alumnus Chris Johnson.
The album starts off slowly with the piano introduction of Saturday Night. This song definitely has a vibe of the band's earlier material (just made a little darker). Sparnenn and Josh's voices mix well as they are backed by delicate acoustic guitar before Sparnenn lets rip a little more as the rest of the band joins in. She always sound excellent, and her performance on this album is no different. Josh's short guitar solo towards the end of the song is one of his signature sounding musical passages that is full of drama and emotion. Iain Jennings' piano returns for the next song Not Yours to Take and sees Josh taking the lead vocals and it sounds like something that the band would have done on 2005's Storms Over Still Water but it soon speeds up to become a more riff-based rocker with guitar and piano mixing well to create a big sound. Sparnenn harmonises with Josh during the choruses as the piano cuts through the mix to create distant melodies. Running is the sort of song that Mostly Autumn have been writing for years and has a very similar sound to things found on Go Well Diamond Heart. Sparnenn's voice really soars during parts of this song. She has a very nice tone to her voice, and easily creates memorable melodies that stick in your head. Piano also features very heavily throughout this song. We have the first true guitar solo of the album on this song, and Josh channels his inner David Gilmour to bend the notes perfectly and really tug at the heartstrings. After the short interlude (See You) we arrive at Home which sounds like something Roger Waters might have written while he was in his The Final Cut and The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking mindset. The keyboard sound, that has an almost military vibe about it, and Josh's almost spoken vocal lines are very reminiscent of Waters at his most visceral. As the song progresses though, more of Mostly Autumn's trademark sounds are added to the mesh of influences. This late Waters vibe continues through to First Day at School where Josh and Sparnenn's vocals meld well together over some very simple piano lines. It is a song of two distinct halves. The first half is very sparse and slightly ominous, whereas the second half is much lusher and more akin to the epic moments on The Ghost Moon Orchestra. This mix of styles works well and captures everything that Mostly Autumn have ever been about.
Down by the River is a much more basic rock song with a slightly clunky riff that is saved by some excellent hammond organ work by Jennings (it would not be a Mostly Autumn album after all without a slightly dodgy riff!). The chorus of this song really rocks though! Cromarty lays down a solid beat and Josh and Sparnenn let rip. I like how Josh's lead guitar lines follow Sparnenn's vocals during the verses too, it gives her singing extra power. Skin on Skin is up next and has an excellent rhythm throughout. It harks back to the band's slightly folky past with good use of percussion and acoustic guitars throughout. The instrumental break in the middle of the song is excellent too, with Cromarty's drumming and Josh's tortured guitar leads standing out. The House on the Hill is a nice ballad that also continues the folky sound of the previous song. It could have sat nicely on 1999's The Spirit of Autumn Past and relies largely on Sparnenn's delicate delivery and big acoustic guitar chords. Well-placed lap steel lines help to enhance that folk vibe, and create a perfect song to enjoy this coming summer with. The darkness returns with The Last Day. Again, piano plays a huge part in the music of this song, and Sparnenn's vocal performance here might be her best ever. She ranges from delicate and beautiful to full of emotion in the space of a couple of minutes and demonstrates why she is such a good vocalist. The end of the song is a musical tribute to the band's past, and brings back memories of the band's older works which suits the reflective mood of the album. The album's title track is up next and sees Sparnenn again take the lead backed by some acoustic guitar before the band's trademark wall-of-sound returns for the big chorus. There is some really good guitar interplay on this song too, with some nice acoustic lead lines before Josh lets rip with a fantastic, emotionally charged solo that will no doubt be stunning live. Excellent lead guitar also fills the introduction to The Library which is quite a laid back rock piece which also contains a great Floydy guitar solo near the end. His soloing might not be as frequent as on previous albums, but it is probably more inspired than before and shows what a great guitarist he is. After another interlude, (Footsteps), we reach the final song on the album - Box of Tears. It is a semi-acoustic song that works well to round out the fantastic album. Mostly Autumn really have done well here, and the fact they are playing the whole thing on tour at the moment shows how much faith they have in it. Brilliant stuff!
The album was released on 2nd June 2014 via Mostly Autumn Records.