Review by Alex Henderson
4 Stars out of 5
(Alex Henderson is a veteran journalist/music critic whose work has appeared in Billboard, Spin, The L.A. Weekly, Creem, HITS, Jazziz, JazzTimes, CD Review, Skin Two, Black Radio Exclusive, Thrash Metal and a long list of other well known publications.)
Occasionally, one comes across a North America band that has so many influences from the British Isles that it sounds like it could be from that part of the world; Proper Snobs is such a band This outfit is based in London, Ontario in Canada, but listening to “Lonely Day,” “Seven Moons over Babylon” and other songs on Thoughts, one could easily assume that Proper Snobs are based somewhere in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Their music is melodic alternative rock with hints of Celtic and British folk, and the direct or indirect influences on Thoughts range from Dire Straits, U2, David Bowie and Coldplay to Pink Floyd and Genesis. Proper Snobs’ most American influence, arguably, is Fleetwood Mac, but then, Fleetwood Mac is a band that has had both British and American members. And the Fleetwood Mac that Proper Snobs hints at on “Arctic Rain,” “Invisible,” “Masquerade” or “Rhythm of the Waves” is not so much the Fleetwood Mac of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but more the pre-Nicks, pre-Buckingham, pre-Rumors editions of Fleetwood Mac that Mick Fleetwood led in the late 1960s and very early 1970s.
Melodically, Thoughts is a very easy album to get into. Proper Snobs have a knack for big, epic hooks and melodies that jump right out at the listener, and that approach yields memorable results on gems like “Gates of Dawn,” “Dark Streets,” “Drown” and the title track. The fact that Carrigan is such an expressive frontman certainly doesn’t hurt. Carrigan (who produced Thoughts) brings a great deal of feeling to the material, all of which he wrote himself.
Carrigan’s production is a definite plus on Thoughts. Carrigan favors a clean production style on this CD, but listening to “Gates of Dawn,” “New World, New Day” or “Invisible,” it is obvious that he also wanted the production to have a certain warmth. Thoughts sounds well-produced, but it does not sound overproduced or sterile.
Thoughts could easily appeal to Gen-Xers who are, in fact, over 40 now and grew up listening to a variety of alternative rock and classic rock. Certainly, plenty of Gen-Xers were raised on artists like U2, Bowie and Dire Straits. But that is not to say that Proper Snobs’ appeal is limited to Generation X or the Baby Boomer generation. Plenty of young Millennials are checking out rock from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s online, and it isn’t as though the Millennial generation is oblivious to Gen-X and Boomer bands. In fact, the Internet makes it very easy to check out music from the past.
Thoughts is a fine demonstration of what Proper Snobs have to offer.
Proper Snobs is simultaneously a fitting and misleading name for this band. There is a degree of sophistication to their music in terms of lyrical depth, intense builds, and evocative mood setting, but the band is not so snobbish that they don’t know how to lay down a stellar guitar solo or craft a catchy pop hook. Thoughts is their debut album, and it is a strong reflection of the band’s abilities in both these areas.
Proper Snobs described themselves as a mixture of Pink Floyd and a bit of Fleetwood Mac. This is somewhat accurate given the almost progressive nature of the music and layered keyboards fitting with Floyd’s atmospheric rockers, and that some of the present basslines would make John McVie envious. The comparisons end though as the lyrics are more akin to someone more esoteric like David Bowie or Tom Waits. The band’s songwriter, lead vocalist, and guitarist, Eddie Carrigan has a unique singing voice that is compelling and commanding more so than it is tuneful, yet he still has the capacity to be melodic and harmonious.
The depths of their collective talents are revealed right away on the opening title track which sounds like one of the best songs Arcade Fire never recorded. “Thoughts” opens with a deep, low tone with occasional bits of guitar coming through the ambiance and a simple drum beat. Carrigan’s vocals aren’t quite raw, but they are unpolished enough to provide emotional weight while remaining smooth. The harmonies help give the vocals some extra power but things really pick up once the drums and keyboards come in and launch the song into another level of excellence altogether.
This is followed by the also wonderfully written and performed, “Drown.” From the start there’s a fantastically driving bass coupled with lots of keyboards to create an engaging atmosphere. As the track progresses the keyboards also enter into the main melody with a piano-like sound while the chorus relies more upon some fantastic guitar work and a surprisingly catchy vocal. The lyric has a theme of salvation to it with the singer asking to be saved, and Carrigan shows that his voice is capable of carrying emotion and yearning effectively.
“Rhythm of the Waves” is once again, similarly excellent thanks to its opening guitar work, strong build, and all the qualities that preceded the tracks leading up to it. It caps a three song salvo of some of the best original rock that straddles a fine line between being cerebral and casual. The pacing of them is perfect as the songs know how to take their time building up to something big but not at the cost of being plodding along the way. And when you hit the lush sound that opens up on a track like “Rhythm of the Waves,” it makes the build all the more captivating when re-listening to it.
“Masquerade," nearly everything about it is great, from its exotic feel to the sort of Bryan Ferry smoothness and sophistication that it oozes. The percussion is compelling the guitar solo is ferocious, and the keyboards are a bit overdone but are still a welcome presence.
Despite there being so many songs, Proper Snobs are able to vary things up enough to make many of the songs sound distinctly unique. For example there’s the bluesy guitar licks on “Dark Streets” that aren’t heard elsewhere on the album, the rollicking piano and tremendous lyrical flow of “Believe,” the Bob Dylan aesthetic of “Invisible,” and the continuous rising and falling energy of “Seven Moons Over Babylon.”
Thoughts isn’t necessarily a consistent album but it is very much innovative, impressive, entertaining, and interesting. The previous comparison to Arcade Fire isn’t just an off-hand reference to the overall sound; it speaks directly to the ability of Proper Snobs to push music into interesting places that you just don’t hear in 2015. A bit of trimming could’ve made this record perfect but you don’t need to be perfect to be innovative and entertaining.
Review by Heath Andrews
4.5 Stars out of 5
(Heath Andrews discovered a passionate love for music at the hands of Huey Lewis & The News. Inspiring him greatly, he attended Ithaca College, obtaining a B.S. in Radio/Television and script writing. During his award-winning tenure there, he hosted and produced multiple programs for the station 106VIC and interviewed musicians such as David Knopfler, Nils Lofgren and Bruce Hornsby.)
"The Mission Bell"
Review by Matthew Warnock (Editor In Chief for Guitar International Magazine)
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Canadian rock music has long made a big impact on the international music scene. From Neil Young to Rush to Our Lady Peace and even Nickelback, the Great White North has produced some of the genre’s most unique voices, artists that fit firmly in the modern rock genre, but that remain truly Canadian at heart. Mixing rock, country, blues and folk influences, many Canadian rock artists have been able to “break America,” reaching the vast audiences of their Southern neighbors, but other songwriters have managed to carve out a successful career, producing lasting musical contributions in the process, without ever having to go south of the 49th parallel. Singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Eddie Carrigan is just such an artist. Though born and raised in Scotland before moving to Canada, the talented artist has yet to “crack” the U.S. music scene. Carrigan’s album, The Mission Bell, aims to shine a brighter light on the talented musician’s work, and with such a strong result, the album is sure to bring wider, and much deserved attention to this Scottish-Canadian gem.
One of the things that allow Carrigan’s music to stand out among the crowded Indie-Rock marketplace is his ability to bring in other instruments from outside the normal spectrum at just the right time, lifting what would have been a good song to the realm of greatness. A good example of this is the song “Black Rain.” Here, Carrigan has written a catchy song, with meaningful lyrics and a solid chord progression, but it is the “extras” that really bring the song to life. By adding the slide guitar melody at the beginning of the song, the piano groove that propels the song forward and the background strings with their echoing melody behind the vocal line, Carrigan is not only showcasing his world-class musicianship and musicality, but he is going that extra mile for his listeners, one that audience members will no doubt appreciate as it lifts the level of their learning experience many fold.
There is also a strong message in Carrigan’s music, in the same sense as Bruce Cockburn, Sting and Leonard Cohen bring meaning to their songs through lyrical storytelling. One of the strongest songs on the album is “Soldiers.” Here, Carrigan has written a song that is not only lyrically powerful, but that has a wonderful melodic and harmonic hook to it, combing both words and sound in a way that grips the listener’s attention from the opening notes, carrying them along the song’s musical journey until the last notes ring out into the silence. The song possesses some of Carrigan’s strongest guitar work on the album, as both a rhythm and lead player. His palm-muted, arpeggiated lines that back the vocals are the perfect accompaniment for this track, and his lead lines, though subtle, are highly melodic and come across as growing out of the song, rather than being inserted into the song, as is the case with other, similar artists.
The Mission Bell is a solid outing for Carrigan, one that deserves to be held up next to the biggest names in the genre. The songs are craftily penned, creatively arranged and powerfully performed by a top-notch artist, everything that a record needs to be successful in a day and age when listeners are flooded with new music on a daily basis. Only time will tell if Carrigan will receive the international acclaim, outside of the U.K. and Canada, which he deserves, but regardless of where his life’s journey leads him, this album is a testament to the talent and hard work that permeates Carrigan’s musical output.
Somewhere Over Mars reveals Carrigan's and for that matter, Karigan's penchant for delicate pensive melodies that weave in synthetic flutes, synthesized guitars and decidedly non-synthesized intimate vocals into an entrancing mix that wouldn't sound out of place shuffled into any number of early Peter Gabriel discs.
What distinguishes Somewhere Over Mars and in fact Carrigan's talent is a deftness for lacing memorable hooks and choruses in among the layers of production polish. There are specific highlights that could be noted but to no particular end. The truth is that every one of the ten tunes have subtly infectious choruses that make themselves quite comfortable in the nooks and crannies of anyone's cerebellum. It would take a Herculean act of will to get the repeated refrain of "What happened to you?" from "The Rain God" or "Africa's" layered chorus out of even the most stubborn listener's skull.
So, will Karigan make it from Ailsa Craig and London to the international concert stage? Based on the evidence of their sparkling debut and perhaps even the success of London's Oscar winning Paul Haggis, the trip may be more effortless and possible than one might presume.
"Somewhere Over Mars"
Album Reviewer for Artscape Magazine