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Kalyr
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PostSubject: Heart Full of Sky   Thu Jul 21, 2011 3:46 pm

I think it's fair to describe "Heart Full of Sky" as the album that most sharply divided opinion amongst fans. For every person that loves the album, there's another who thinks it's by far the worst thing the band have ever done.

It certainly has some good points. It does contain what I consider to be three absolute classics in "Fading Colours", "Find the Sun" and "Silver Glass", up there with anything else Mostly Autumn have recorded. Heather's "Half a World", notably the only song on the retail disk where she's is credited with music as well as lyrics, and Bryan's epic prog-guitar workout "Further From Home" are also pretty impressive. That's half an album's worth of great music, which I would suggest is greatly preferable to a whole album of merely average songs. And I have to say Heather's vocal performances are superb throughout.

Unfortunately for me the rest of the album isn't really in the same league. We've got possibly the most controversial song in MA's entire catalogue, "Pocket Watch". Some have claimed it had the potential to be a massive crossover hit, but I think David Meadows summed it up very well with "It sounds like that band that sounds like every other band...". In other words, it's generic landfill indie, not the sort of music Mostly Autumn ought to be playing. You can't have a hit with a song like that unless it's 1996 and your name is Noel Gallagher.

Other songs seem half-formed; some decent musical ideas and motifs, but they don't quite work as well as they should as complete songs. "Ghost", "Dreaming" and "Walk With a Storm" all end up sounding a little bit like Frankenstein's Monsters of songs made up from bits. Some of the individual bits, like the "Sign at the edge of the road" refrain Heather sings in "Dreaming" are superb, but too often the whole isn't as good as the sum of the parts.

The second bonus disk is an equally mixed bag; it's got the beautiful "Yellow Time" which was to find a home on Odin Dragonfly's "Offerings", and Chris Johnson's sublime "Gaze", which really ought to have gone on the single disk retail edition. On the other hand, Chris' "Science and Machinery", while a good song, fitted as perfectly into Parade's live set last September as it didn't in Mostly Autumn's set three years earlier. Other songs like "Bright Green" sound like little more than demos that needed more work to become album-quality songs.

The album's other big flaw is the production; it's suffered very badly in the so-called "Loudness Wars", with far too much the dynamics squeezed out of the record. I've heard it described as "unlistenable"; I don't think it's quite that bad, but on a halfway decent stereo it does not sound good, something which is very very apparent when you listen to it and "Glass Shadows" back-to-back. If any MA album is a candidate for remastering, it's this one. There are certainly songs that many people might only start to appreciate if the music is allowed to breathe.

It may be that the band were trying to experiment with some new ideas; certainly songs like "Broken" and "Blue Light" explored completely new territory, and I really can't quite make up my mind if they work or not. But the impression the album gives is that the band had stretched themselves too thin trying to record a double album in a limited time, and didn't have time to hone the arrangements. Even that best song, "Fading Colours" has changed significantly since being recorded; all those big vocal harmonies that give it such an epic cinematic feel live weren't on the original studio version, but were added during rehearsals for the tour. And with three songwriters not quite pulling in the same direction the whole thing doesn't really hang together as a coherent album in the way "Glass Shadows" does. I think what I find really frustrating about Heart Full of Sky is that I see the potential for a far better album; there are too many good ideas which weren't properly developed.

The overall verdict four years on is that this is a real curate's egg of an album; when it's good it's very good indeed, but suffers from serious flaws that can easily end up overshadowing the good bits.
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PostSubject: Re: Heart Full of Sky   Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:21 am

A lot of what you've said mirrors my thoughts on the album. I've been particularly unkind about the record in the time since it was released: some of what I've said I still think is fair, sometimes I've been a bit harsh, and sometimes I think I've been a bit too generous! Wink

It's been a very long time since I heard the whole thing. So long, ion fact, that whilst I was messing about with icons for the forum last night, I was moved to dig out Disc 1 (essentially the 'real' album, minus one track, with Disc 2 being the 'bonus disc') and play it, uninterrupted, for the first time in approximately two years.

The production is, of course, the first thing I noticed. It has to be said, it's very poor indeed. "Unlistenable" probably is a bit harsh, but there is audible digital distortion during some of the louder passages (a really nasty 'clipping' effect), and the mixing is all over the place: for instance, the first 20 seconds or so of Fading Colours is practically inaudible at 'regular' volume, and has you cranking the volume right up, only for you to be totally deafened by the rest of the song once it kicks in. Similarly there's no consistency in the mixes of Half A World and Pocket Watch, with emphasis being placed on different instrumentation at some really odd moments. Things do slowly improve, but the general effect is of an album being mixed hurriedly, and those responsible learning 'on the fly'. Oh, and whilst it's no secret that a great deal of the drums/percussion on the record is comprised of triggered, sequenced and/or 'played' keyboard samples, sometimes the effect is really jarring - nowhere more so than on Fading Colours, where the cymbal hits are all manifestly *exactly* the same, and are occasionally 'played' a little out of time.

Consequently, for me the album gets off to a really slow start: Fading Colours is a great song - I particularly like the spooky intro and that great ratcheting up of tension towards the end - but the recording of it does it no justice at all: the live version(s) that have been released are far superior in just about every way. Half A World is pretty insubstantial - if it had received a more sympathetic mix, it might have stood out a little more. I do love Heather's lyrics for this one, though the chorus is right on the cusp of outstaying its welcome by the end of the song. Perhaps a little judicious editing might have helped?

The less said about Pocket Watch the better, really. Repeated listens (usually under duress Wink) have done nothing to improve my opinion of the song. Musically it's extraordinarily dull by Mostly Autumn standards, and - alongside Something Better - it also contains probably the daftest lyrics Bryan has ever written. Add in a thoroughly lacklustre solo and a needlessly drawn-out ending, and you have a strong contender for the band's worst song from their entire back catalogue - in fact I'll stick my neck out yet again and say that it is, for me, clearly the worst thing they've ever done.

Things could really do with a good kick up the arse by the point: thankfully, it's around this point that things start to pick up a bit. Blue Light is a nice (if slightly overlong) song: I like the stop/start nature of the vocal, and it has an interesting (slightly 'smoky nightclub') laid-back feel. It strikes me as a bit of an experiment: not altogether successful, but something a bit out of the band's comfort zone, which probably leads me to enjoy it a little more than I otherwise might. Then we've got Walk With A Storm, which attempts to marry a drawn-out (dragged-out, even, with Bryan's vocals particularly weak) first half, with a barnstorming fiddle-led rock jam which closes things up with a bang. It's almost like the band woke up with a start halfway through the track, suddenly aware that they'd been sleepwalking since you pressed 'play', and decided, en masse, to deliver something truly memorable. Consequently I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this song: the first half would make a good cure for insomnia, but the second half is utterly thrilling. I can't think of another song that so perfectly encapsulates how I feel about the album as a whole Smile.

Happily, it's (mostly) all uphill from here. Find The Sun is just brilliant: a Clannad-esque slowburner with gorgeous fiddle work and one of Heather's finest vocals, an atmospheric masterpiece of the first order - in fact, if I was to assemble my top 20 or so MA songs, this is one of only two tracks from the whole double album that would almost certainly be in it.

Ghost seems to divide the fans... Personally I love it. It's completely schizophrenic, yes, but deliberately so - sung from two different perspectives, the juxtaposition between the quiet, spooky verses and that huge, yearning chorus is fabulous. I'd love to see this one wheeled out again at gigs: I think the chorus is custom-made for a vocalist with Livvy's power, and musically it's really interesting.

Then you have Broken - which is all about Heather's amazing vocal, really, isn't it? Musically it's quite slight, but then again it's good to see that everyone can rein it in and give a performance like that the room to shine. This is followed by Silver Glass, which is my other top 20 contender. Musically it's beautiful, all gentle restraint, and the lyric is absolutely masterful - in fact it's probably still my favourite of all the Chris Johnson-penned songs I've heard to date. Completely magical.

Unfortunately, all the hard work the band have done in yanking back the album from the abyss is then undone by the tragically miscalculated Dreaming. After a promising opening lament, it launches into a wholly inappropriate Quo-esque riff, only matched in its folly by another set of truly lamentable lyrics that elevate the entire thing to a farcical level - it's the Mostly Autumn equivalent of Springtime For Hitler. Heather does her best to inject some pathos with her interjections, but it's too late: even the admittedly moving coda, with the massed backing vocal, can't drag it back on course. It's all doubly unfortunate as it's the last track, and therefore remains your abiding memory of what could have been a perfectly good album (the various other 'issues' notwithstanding).

"But there's always the bonus disc"! I hear you cry. Well, yes and no: there *is* some truly great stuff on it, but alas, not enough to prop up it's ailing 'parent album'... or at least, that's how I remember it. I'm going to give the bonus disc a spin tonight, so more later! Smile

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PostSubject: Heart Full of Sky   Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:21 pm

Just how much later, Dave?
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