Album review: PHWG – The Observer

PHWG – The Observer

Pontus H.W. Gunve [Release date 07.05.13]

PHWG is an innovative band led by New York based guitarist, synth programmer, composer and producer Pontus H.W. Gunve, with an original take on prog rock, world, ambient and fusion music. He frames it all in ‘The Observer’, an excellent album that I would unreservedly recommend to all adventurous rock fans.

Pontus has a keen sense of the musical possibilities his impressionist style offers him. He shares his guitar-led work with electric violinist Sean Hagerty and both soloists make the most of the drive, dynamism and subtle contrast offered by Tripp Dudley tablas and percussion.

The rhythm section of drummer Joe Renaud and bassist Lorenzo Wolf bring power, poise and dynamic emphasis to bear on 11 tracks that burst with vitality, while Raymond Sicam111 occasionally fattens the sound with his cello.

Pontus wrote and conceived the album as a whole, but it’s a composite effort on which the different elements of the band fill out the dynamic parts of an exciting rock music project. Pontus’s compositions draw on his life experiences, events, moods and feels, to infuse his crossover fusion with a mix of majestic melodic sweeps, rock band orchestration and emotive soloing that is always an integral part of the composition.

‘The Observer’ splendidly lives up to its name with a combination of audio imagery and evocative filmic landscapes. There’s the layered soundscape and explosive rock of the opening ‘Kraken’, the eastern tinged, atmospheric orchestration of the single ‘Cavalry of Camels’ and the uplifting violin-led melody of the aptly titled ‘Waveshapes’.  He reaches for a grander melodic sweep on the big sounding ‘Under The Lime Tree’, as we are invited join him on an expansive musical journey.

It’s not a linear journey as such, but the band’s unrelenting energy, intricate interplay and the musical tensions (and their part resolutions) on the bombastic rock of ‘Under A Lime Tree’, gives the album its forward trajectory.

Pontus apparently wrote the various pieces individually, but he clearly never lost sight of a coherent bigger picture. The dynamic combination of guitar, violin and tablas on ‘Cavalry of Camels’, is repeated on the thunderous, riff-led rock of ‘Begin Again’, which pushes the album on to another sonic level.  It flows like all the best compositions do and is symptomatic of the album as a whole, as it carries you along and leaves you wanting more when it suddenly finishes.

There’s a familiar dynamic at play on the emotive ‘Galen’ as waves of violin and guitar led pulses push us towards a serene landscape populated by chirping birds and running water, on a perfect example why this is such a good album.

‘The Observer’ recalls the golden age of prog rock and fusion, because it is imaginative and creative music with a sense of purpose, shot through with a variety moods, feels, dynamics and instrumental virtuosity. The album might not be a complete suite of music, but the 11 pieces do contribute to an uplifting whole. Pontus shines a light on our surroundings and uncovers beauty and optimism which in turn translates into mesmerising music.

It’s all perfectly encapsulated on the extended, tightly wrapped finale of ‘Damini’ – a subtle guitar and tabla-led piece with echoes of Zappa – which percolates over choral bv’s and finally comes to rest in a gentle finish.

This is a 5 star album by a contemporary composer with plenty to say and the ability to communicate his inspired vision in the company of some great musicians. *****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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