Album review: DOWNES BRAIDE ASSOCIATION – Halcyon Hymns

Cherry Red [Release date 05.02.21]

Fourth album from DBA, the fruitful poprock collaboration between Geoff (Asia/Yes) Downes and uber songwriter/producer, Chris (Guetta/Aguilera) Braide. Halcyon Hymns is their living-in-the-lockdown album, and as the title more than subtly suggests, it’s a recording filled with yearning and rose tinted memories, looking back to a place and a time that perhaps never really existed.

But it’s an enjoyable journey, again showcasing the kind of casually ornate songwriting and urbanity of tone for which both are rightfully famous. Each and every song is dressed in evocative, sophisticated arrangements. And each has an hypnotic quality.

If you can stand the puffed up prose on the intro, opening track ‘Love Among The Ruins’, classical, lyrical, and ‘Warm Summer Sun’, full of youthful memories and hints of regret, are prime cuts. Elegant, somnambulant progressions of dreamy prog-lite pop, full of sweetly seductive hooks and hazy sonic colouring. Braide’s high toned voice never breaks sweat.And they hold onto just enough of Downes’ rock sensibilities to make it sound far less conventionally poppy than you might expect.

Together, these two musicians are proven experts in songcraft, a quality emphasised by Braide’s arrangements. On the elongated ‘Holding The Heavens’, they take the fragility of the music and amplify it until it transmutes into exciting urban rock, then down shift into reverse on’King Of The Sunset’, a haunting ballad with a quietly progressive rock tone, that drifts off into the er, … sunset, leaving a vapour trail of harmonies in its wake.

The ballad, ‘Today’ is the one song that cuts against the grain of the album’s predominant arrangements. Sketched around Downes’ sturdy piano chord play, it is distinctly McCartney-esque, staying on just the right side of whimsy. With the right push at the right time this one could be a chart contender.

Elsewhere, Downes’ dominant piano and synth accompaniment is economic and uncluttered, allowing the songs the space they need to shimmer and shine, creating a gravity defying weightlessness on Braide’s upbeat, jangling pop paean to his high class ex girlfriend/partner, ‘Riding Horses’, and an almost palpable sense of melancholy on ‘Remembrance’, where the past becomes a remembered world into which his listeners can escape.

Satisfyingly, less turns out to be so much more on this slow-growing but charming album. ***1/2

Review by Brian McGowan

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