I go along with the commonly held view that King Bathmat are impossible to place in one single category other than the all-embracing “progressive”. Their music is comfortingly familiar. “Truth Button”, King Bathmat’s sixth album, is like a relaxing river cruise with frequent detours to interesting and sometimes disturbing places. This is a progressive work for sure, but I hear so much else. I hear the Beatles’s “Strawberry Fields”, the psychedelia and experimentation of Pink Floyd, the quirkiness of Fair to Midland and the rocking melodies of the Foo Fighters.
It’s the way this is put together that creates delight and intrigue. There’s a freedom about this album. After starting in bombastic 70s prog rock vein, drifty tones emerge and snake through a pungent and appealing rhythm. Sergeant Pepper is written all over “Behind the Wall” with its kaleidoscopic images. Electronic sounds provide the barrier for a retro rock section. It’s anything but bits and pieces. The balance is excellent. Some of the movements seem to be tailor-made for The Old Grey Whistle Test, and within its progressions there seems to be a story. A xylophonic ring, which can be heard elsewhere, ends the track in mildly disturbing fashion.
Slow and heavy rock marks “Abintra”, the second chunk of this six track album. The backing vocals are weak. The lead singer has an intriguing voice not dissimilar to Andy Fairweather Low for those decrepit enough to remember Amen Corner and all that. Meanwhile the deep sludginess reminds me of the Norwegian band Ørkenkjøtt who I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Although wavery, the music never loses its central core, even when it descends into apparent manic chaos. Then, as if the sun came out, mellow and mysterious beauty and intrigue return. It cranks up and descends once more into chaos. The pumping beat is now a foil for steady and controlled guitar athletics. It’s the mastery of all these different elements which make this so intriguing. Then it’s all change again as we head into a symphonic land of the fairies. The retro tangent of “Book of Faces” recalls a drug-laden, hazy age. The vocals are distant and it’s all very oddball but rather nice, actually. King Bathmat are serious musicians but I don’t get the impression that they take themselves too seriously. There’s a clue in the band’s name, I’m sure. This keeps their minds open and serves them well.
We remain in King Bathmat’s alternative world as “The End of Evolution” strikes up. With floaty keyboards taking us along the fluffy clouds, the vocalist sings a sultry song which develops into a solid rock instrumental. The retro keyboard adds flavour. There’s an element of Haken about the progression and ambiance. My favourite track on this most imaginative of albums is “Dives and Pauper”. A constantly ticking clock marks time as an utterly compelling folk-orientated Eastern European style rhythm kicks in. Eastern European? From another angle it’s like a cross between an adapted Irish reel and Mike Oldfield. Let’s just say that “Dives and Pauper” is unusual and different. Splashes of water and that xylophonic ring run through the start of (take a deep breath now) “Coming to Terms with Mortality in the Face of Insurmountable Odds”. We’re near to Strawberry Fields. It slowly and melancholically progresses. An appeal of great emotional intensity is made to the listener. “Can you spare a grain of truth?” asks the singer. The pitch reminds me very much of the Cynthesis sad line: “Would you trade your life for just one dime?” On one level King Bathmat are an English version of Cynthesis. As ever though they branch out and expand into epic progressiveness and in the process sound more like Astra thanks to the shadowy patience. There’s a classical element, there’s a rock guitar in there and it’s always a little eccentric but we never stop flowing down that imaginary river or along that imaginary fluffy cloud.
Musically “Truth Button” is highly original. Imaginative, reflective and full of quirky twists and turns, the net result is a delightful mixture of techniques and sounds from both a bygone and modern age of atmospheric progressive music.
(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)