Self release [Release date: 01.12.12]
In their own words,Vancouver band The Living try to: ‘bridge the gap between Western art music and popular styles, mixing traditional rock instrumentation with classical instruments’. Their challenging music and adventurous goals are realized via the core duo of the keyboard playing guitarist, lyricist and vocalist Mike Bell and violinist and lyricist Elyse Jacobson. The band’s radical and progressive approach to music features a trio of strings who bring to life uncompromising lyrics that don’t always sit as confidently as the convictions which fashioned them.
‘The Jungle Is Dark But Full Of Diamonds’ is the perfect title for an album full of light and shade. it lays bare the conceits and double standards of contemporary life, but in doing so invites us into an epic prog rock journey full of shifting tempo’s and different musical styles.
If that wasn’t enough, Mike Bell’s dramatic vocals are as extravagant as the musical project itself. The set shaping ‘Earthmusher’ for example, finishes with the exaltation: ‘This world is the real world, Don’t let me fall asleep’. Suffice it to say that the bombastic musical sweep would never let you do that.
Each song carries a range of heartfelt political narratives, explored over several word plays that include the song title ‘We Are The Bubble, They Are The Prick’. The band pokes its way into the darkest recesses of life and for the most part don’t like what they find.
The songs shift from the rather lyrically obvious ‘Designer Blindfold’: ‘Every day you wake on demand, A good honeybee, a cog in the machine’ – in a thrilling combination of plucked strings with a Zeppelin wall of sound and Tull like fractured rhythms – to the sexual politics of the manic ‘Maximum Gentleman’. The fractured, funky Latino rhythms and rapped out message of ‘Mister Feminister’ is far better and in its more polished moments sounds like The Tubes.
The self explanatory ‘Media’ is probably the most successful meeting of words and music as the polyrhythmic piece rips through Be-bop rhythms, prog breaks, reggae beats, metal riffs, chamber music and lounge style bv’s in the space of a minute to deliver the message; ‘Media! Show me sexy, dramedy, comedy, vicariously, Media! Don’t have the time to know I like, make up my mind for me’.
Things take on an even darker hue on unflinching ‘Requiem for Bessie’ while ‘Dream Runner’ is an epic journey into a musically breathtaking world where shred metal meets strings and a proggy lead violin.
Happily the album finishes with a little light relief with the almost euphoric Tom Waits inspired ‘Music Is Magic’. The wry narrative of ‘Sneaky Patina’ also notes that the passing of time is: ‘Designing your laugh lines while you were snoring!’ The three-part song is conjoined by a sudden tempo change, a stringed bow and a heavy Nic Cave style vocal, before a drone like outro and an expiatory cacophonous end-piece wholly in keeping with the band’s left field approach.
The Life inhabits an experimental and ambitious world where prog rock meets classical music with a message. Not everything works but the highs outweigh the lows on a brave effort. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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