Album review: DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS – In Extremis

Radio showcase for “In Extremis”, first broadcast 12 May 2013

Days Between Stations [Release date 15.05.13]

It may be 5 years since the excellent self titled instrumental debut album by Days Between Stations but in the prog rock world the musical staples of compositional structure, uplifting solos, shifting tempos, contrasting moods and resolved musical tensions remain at the centre of the genre. The difference between this album and its predecessor lies in the addition of vocals, the special guests and a greater conceptual ambition.

While their last album relied heavily on mood and feel, this is an album with a bigger vista as evidenced by the climactic title track which brilliantly blends together all the band’s core elements.

This is a powerful music, full of instrumental ebullience, repeated melodic sweeps and propulsive pushes. The occasional thematic narrative is aligned to prog rock music rooted in the past, but moulded by the present. Nothing is over played as each instrumental emphasis perfectly fits the piece and the various guests sound like an integral part of the band.

Hard to believe then, that Days Between Stations is essentially an LA based duo, comprising Mexican keyboard player Oscar Fuentes and Iranian guitarist Sepand Samzadeh, who incorporate their respective musical backgrounds into familiar but fresh sounding prog rock.

Oscar provides the keyboard led structure with incremental layers of piano and synths while Sepand adds intuitive feel and moments of real inspiration. The duo’s musical ideas are given shape, depth and colour by latter day Yes member Billy Sherwood’s consistent vocals and intense percussion alongside Tony Levin pristine bass.

Original Yes members, the late Pete Banks on guitar and Rick Wakeman on keyboards, add musical excellence as well as historical continuity, while XTC’s Colin Moulding applies the perfect vocal on the single, ‘The Man Who Died Two Times’. There’s also a full orchestra and even a string quartet on ‘Waltz in E Minor’ (dedicated to Peter Banks), on a project that aims high and delivers with plenty of change to spare.

‘In Extremis’ is a loosely based concept album based on revisited memories and the equilibrium between birth, life and death, which gives Pete Banks recent death an added poignancy.   Musically it’s a patchwork quilt that references several classic prog figures from early Genesis and Peter Gabriel to Jon Anderson and Yes, with an instrumental tip of the hat to Dave Gilmour and Floyd.

The album is a success because it never loses sight of the project in toto, as evidenced by the 6-piece title track which burst at the seams but retains its coherence because of its integral structure. Evren Göknar’s mastering also deserved a credit, as this track like the album as a whole has a shimmering gloss, no easy task with layered music such as this.

Each track is a piece in a musical jigsaw. The slowly evolving soundscape ‘In Utero’ for example, is a stepping stone towards the altogether grander Visionary’, which features Billy Sherwood’s Gabriel style vocal. The song embraces a big synth sweep, electronic percussion, a dense wall of sound and a vocal collage with a beautiful dobro, piano and string-led ending.

The duo’s essential interplay also glues together ‘Blackfoot’, a musical aggregate of layered sounds on which Sepand adds soaring guitar and weepy toned slide work either side of Oscar’s woven synth solo.

Occasionally the band comes very close to referencing some of its sources, as on the catchy ‘The Man Who Lived Two Times’. Colin Moulding’s crossover vocal shifts from Jon Anderson to Peter Gabriel and perfectly fits the catchy hook and synth line.

The prog rock opus ‘Eggshell Man’ redresses the balance. The tempo changes incorporate rich harmonies and Billy Sherwood phased vocals. Rick Wakeman adds mellotron flute and a defining moog solo, while Ali Nouri’s Persian lute and Oscar’s brusque electronic percussion contribute to a deep layered sound that bursts with ideas and instrumental splendour.

The closing grandiose title track builds an imposing wall of sound while Sepand and Pete Banks add contrasting guitar parts over a bed of pulsating synths and a definitive muted trumpet solo on a huge orchestral and choral finish.

It’s the sort of climactic resolution that confirms you’ve been on an adventurous and exhilarating musical journey. Aside from some obvious influences, this is contemporary progressive rock as it should be, fresh immediate and relevant.****1/2

Review by Pete Feenstra

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