Mostly Autumn – Dressed in Voices

Dressed in Voices“Dressed in Voices” is Mostly Autumn’s eleventh studio album, their third with Olivia Sparnenn on lead vocals, and the first concept album in their lengthy career. As Bryan Josh said at the end of last year, it was originally intended as a Josh & Co album, but a dark and intense concept came in from somewhere unknown and took on a life of its own.

That dark concept starts with a random spree killing of the sort which has sadly been all over the headlines and social media while I write this. But rather that delving into Steven Wilson territory by trying to divine the motivations of the killer, the album takes the point of view of a victim, whose only crime was to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are shades of Marillion’s “The Invisible Man” with the unnamed narrator as a disembodied spirit, and the middle section covering his growing up and coming of age is more a little reminiscent of Spock’s Beard’s “A Flash Before The Eyes”. The whole album is full of lyrical references to older songs, reinforced on at least one occasion with a short musical quotation.

Musically it’s a move away from the symphonic metal flavour that characterised parts of “The Ghost Moon Orchestra” in favour of what’s best described as a heavy, somewhat neo-prog approach. There are certainly echoes of parts of “Glass Shadows” and “Go Well Diamond Heart”, with some of the expected reference points of Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, and there’s some of the vibe of early 90s Marillion. But just when you’re not expecting it, the Celtic folk of Mostly Autumn past with flutes and whistles makes an appearance in the second half of the album, and there’s even a moment of Country & Western with the pedal steel guitar on “The House on the Hill”.

This is one of those albums where the whole thing, from the dramatic opener “Saturday Night” to the semi-acoustic coda “Box of Tears” flows as a single work that amounts to far more than the sum of the parts. Indeed, as with many of the best albums of this type, there are songs that don’t really work as stand-alone numbers but fit perfectly as part of a larger whole.

Now firmly established as lead vocalist after four years with the band, Olivia Sparnenn delivers another fine performance, if a little more restrained than on parts of the last album. But this time it’s Bryan Josh’s Stratocaster that’s the dominant sound through much of the record. It’s a very guitar-driven album, and you’re never that far away from one of his big soaring overdriven solos. Iain Jennings’ keys again provide the perfect instrumental foil, whether it’s swirling Hammond or delicate piano work, and new drummer Alex Cromarty impresses a lot, it’s his percussion that stands out in the instrumental break on “Skin on Skin”. The whole thing has a big wall of sound production that’s going to need the bands’ two guitars and two keyboard players to reproduce live.

The last few Mostly Autumn albums have all contained obvious highlights, but there have also been weaker numbers that let the records down. But there are no pocket watches or buggers than go up to eleven on this album; while it goes from full-on rock to passages of delicate beauty and back again there is no filler on this record at all. Many bands have burned out or lost their way by the time they get to this stage of their career, but Mostly Autumn have delivered what has to be one of the best albums of their 15 year career.

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22 Responses to Mostly Autumn – Dressed in Voices

  1. Ian Almond says:

    Sounds brilliant, can’t wait for mine to arrive, hopefully it will come tomorrow.
    What is the bonus CD like? The last few have contained some real gems like Ice, Hats off, Tonight, acoustic Rain Song, to name just a few.

    I do however, have an issue with the promise of early access to new albums with pre payment as the band becomes a hostage to fortune with the printing plants being busy and delivery delays.
    I receivedPanic Rooms Incarnate about a week before general availability and Mostly Autumns dressed in voices may just arrive one to days before general release.
    This is no criticism of either band but their reputations may be affected by unrealistic deadlines.
    Moan over, looking forward to the Bury gig a good few pints at the trackside, perfection.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    My understanding was that the band originally intended to have the 2CD edition back from the printers in time for the launch party, and they would have been posted out to those who weren’t present at the gig on the following day. In the event things overran by a couple of weeks, so those of us at the launch party got a copy of the first disk (only) plus a lyric sheet. We’ll get the full 2CD version at the same time as everyone else.

    So I haven’t heard the second disk yet.

  3. Graham Meigh says:

    Thel limited edition album arrived this morning and listening now… sounds good, very good so far.

  4. Ian Almond says:

    Arrived today and you are spot on in your review Tim, a hugely mature piece of work from a band at the peak of their powers.
    I don’t think you can praise Bryan enough for the quality of his work over 11 albums and nearly 20 years and he is still getting better he really deserves a wider audience and praise for his talent and it annoys when corporate indie from Coldplay full of empty emotions and cliches can coin in millions.
    It will be interesting to see if they play the whole piece tomorrow, really hope they do.

  5. PaulE says:

    It’s an outstanding album.
    Disk 2 has several songs that would not be out of place in the main album, but also one fun track that does sound like it has gatecrashed in from a different project.
    Too many great moments to name them all, but “Box of Tears” is as good a short (single length) song as they have ever done. It could get very emotional hearing it live.

  6. HWR says:

    Great return to form after the GMO album. “Home” is a spine tingling corker of a song.

  7. Graham Meigh says:

    I think Bryan’s vocals are good on this album, yet Olivia’s seem a little under-written. But a great album. Looking forward to seeing them at The Robin on Friday.

  8. Tim Hall says:

    @HWR: I liked Ghost Moon Orchestra a lot; like many recent albums it wasn’t perfect, but it had some very strong moments. Much like all their recent albums really. The only one I still think was badly flawed was Heart Full of Sky.

    @Graham: I understand what you mean; there isn’t an equivalent of “Wild Eyed Skies” or “Unquiet Tears”. But I don’t think the album needs it.

  9. Tim Hall says:

    @PaulE: I’m guessing you mean the last track; on one listen it sounds to me like Oasis trying to cover Rainbow’s “All Night Long”. Does give the impression it was intended as a Josh & Co song.

    Lyrically, a lot of the rest of the songs fit the theme of the main disk.

  10. Ian Almond says:

    In general I have been very happy with the last few albums GWDH and GMO are both strong albums with only a few weaker tracks and the odd dodgy lyric (but the band does not have the financial luxury of spending 6 to 12 months recording an album)
    I see Dressed in Voices as a logical progression of these two albums and the current live performances show that the band are moving forward with confidence and have a bright future Producing some of their best ever material after 11 albums is some achievement.
    This is more than I could have possibly hoped for after two lacklustre albums (Heart full of Sky and Glass Shadows) and Heather leaving.

  11. Synthetase says:

    I’m new to Mostly Autumn, and with a considerable back catalogue, can anyone suggest a good album to begin familiarisation?

  12. Tim Hall says:

    For the current incarnation, the new album.

    For the earlier incarnation with Heather Findlay on lead vocals one of two later live albums, either Live 2009 (released as two separate single disks) or The Night In Leamington.

    Unfortunately some of the early albums are currently out of print.

  13. Synthetase says:

    Okay, thanks Tim.

  14. Tom B says:

    Have now listened to the main disc 5 times and the bonus one 4 times. It’s early days yet but I think I am going to prefer this to GWDH and GMO. In fact it could turn out to be the best thing since Passengers. Nothing immediately stands out as being a contender for the top ten MA tracks of all time but as Tim says, there’s no filler.
    At the moment I am liking First Day at School, Not Yours to Take and Home, with The Library coming up fast on the outside.

  15. Tim Hall says:

    The title track and the closing “Box of Tears” stand out for me, but it’s all good.

    Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts on the bonus disk is beautiful.

  16. PaulE says:

    Number 37 in the independent chart. Not classified as rock or it would be there as well ( the independent no. 38 is no. 14 in that).

  17. Ian Almond says:

    Just noticed the nominations for Prog rock magazine annual awards.

    Yet again no nominations for Mostly Autumn, how can that bunch of tossers possibly ignore Dressed in Voice best album of the year by quite a distance. They even gave it a glowing review last issue.

    Nomination for Panic Rooms incarnate and Anathemas distant satellite though, but it would to nice to have it explained why Mostly Autumn never get nominated for anything by a magazine that is meant to support current prog bands, Bryan needs to spend a bit more on advertising packages I presume.

  18. Tim Hall says:

    Prog Magazine playing favourites? And you’re suprised?

    Odd choice for the Panic Room song as “anthem”. Hardly the most anthemic on the album.

  19. Ian Almond says:

    I know,I shouldn’t be surprised by the media and their favourites, however, isn’t Jerry Ewing a friend of the band?
    Equally shameful is overlooking Panic Room for album of the year.

  20. Synthetase says:

    I bought this album a while ago and it’s grown on me very much musically. But I have to say that the cover artwork leaves a great deal to be desired. It looks like someone was only just shown the layer and text box tools in photoshop. I know it’s nit-picky, but it’s one of the reasons I still purchase music on disc.

  21. Graham Meigh says:

    Synthetase. I know what you mean. This cover does look like something that a client a client might send me as the starting point for a design concept.

  22. Mike Foley says:

    Excellent review Tim. I found the previous two albums rather lacking in passion, and rather patchy. This new one is a massive improvement, and the most consistently listenable since Passengers.
    Not good artwork btw. The only attractive album covers of theirs are Glass Shadows, and possibly, er no that’s it!