Crippled Black Phoenix was a new band for me in 2012. I had stumbled upon a small review note of their last album, 2011’s Mankind (The Crafty Ape) and tried them out. I suppose the last time that a band completely knocked me off my feet was Porcupine Tree in the 90s and Phideaux in the past decade. So now another band has worked its way up my current favorites list.
Mankind is a genius album, probably their best of their first five albums, and now comes this “EP” of 45 minutes recorded a year later, and I am still totally blown away. These Brits follow their own path for sure, are very social/political, and are a large collective of musicians.
There is nothing I can compare them to straight across (but I’ll try). They mix Pink Floyd, U2, Folk, Heavy and Spacey Rock, R.E.M. and even some 4AD sound, like This Mortal Coil, into a heady cauldron of intensity. They are on the dark side of the musical spectrum, like the areas that Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson explore, but they also have elements of old American Folk with occasional banjo along with slide guitar. The subjects are often about anarchy, unrest and revolution – they could be the sound-trackers for a movie like V for Vendetta.
The leader is Justin Greaves, the principal songwriter and drummer, guitarist, bassist, and player of assorted electronics and even the saw. Along with Greaves, this version of CBP includes Mark Furnywell on keyboards, Karl Demata on guitars, Christian Heilman on bass, Miriam Wolf on keyboards and vocals, John E. Vistic on vocals, and Mark Ophidian on keys. But most of these musicians are multi-instrumentalists as well. When playing live, Ben Wilsker is the principal drummer.
The opening track, “How We Rock”, is twelve and a half minutes of instrumental soaring guitar over slow-burning, sweeping electronics. Powerful bass and pounding drums build and build into a crescendo wall of sound. It brought me back to the final minute of the Beatles’ “A Day in a Life” to some extent and clocks in at nearly seven minutes.
“Hold On (So Goodbye to All of That)” begins with a pulsing beat and vocal reminiscent of U2’s “I Still Haven’t found what I’m Looking For”. Lamenting banjo over echoing vocals creates a cathedral sound and something that perhaps would be on Johnny Cash’s last couple of albums.
The ten and a half minutes of “What Have We Got to Lose” piggybacks from “Hold On” with lonely banjo and synths and a plaintive female vocal with similarity to Cowboy Junkies if Pink Floyd were playing backup.
The short (over three minute) “One Armed Boxer” carries on with an almost Oriental style sound and is instrumental. Played with synths, guitars, bells and piano it begins and ends with quiet, reflective notes.
Major heaviness returns with “Jonestown Martin”, six and a half minutes of powerful guitar chords, choir voices, quiet interludes and then pounding drums with slow-burning guitar. It brought to mind David Bowie’s “The Bewlay Brothers” from Hunky Dory but with heavier guitar soloing.
The final track, “Long Live Independence” begins with gentle acoustic guitar chords and then turns into a galloping romp, snarly vocals, punky chords and even banjo again in a Magazine-styled mix. This wall of sound continues for over five minutes.
Taking the whole album in, on repeated listens it comes across more as a multi-part suite. Subtle guitars and keyboards float behind the bigger and louder parts, creating similar themes that weave through many of the tracks. To listen to Crippled Black Phoenix is to get absorbed into their world. I hope you will give them a try. Be prepared to fall under their spell!
Here they are on MySpace: . Check out the video of “Laying Traps” from (Mankind) the Crafty Ape and then some of their other songs. I can recommend all their albums, but the first one, A Love of Shared Disasters, is more eccentric and not in their recent mold. I would go to that one last.
Release Date: November 6, 2012