There are a couple of ways to understand the “progressive” in “progressive rock.” One way is to take this as a genre descriptor ala “metal” or “rap;” you can expect to hear certain kinds of sounds and structures from entries into this category. A second understanding is that a particular attitude or approach to the genre is at play—so, there can be “progressive” forms of metal or rap that subvert current and expand future expectations when we think of the first meaning. And a third meaning, more difficult to apply, denotes those artists who approach their own artistic development such that they are likely to make “progressive rock” of the second sort. In other words, the third meaning incorporates the other two, adding a self-aware meta-progression: call it “progressive progressive rock” for accurate redundancy. With Bruised Sky, We Are Kin inhabit this third meaning, taking progressive rock far beyond mere “prog” or even “rock” into neo soul and deliberate soundscapes grounded in compelling synth sounds. “A breath of fresh air,” as they say.
The concept for Bruised Sky is ‘no guitars,’ and this approach pays off in spacious sonics that bring each musical moment to the fore. The drums evoke a Jerry Marotta-esque early solo Peter Gabriel vibe—hardly minimalistic but never busy, each strike a necessity. The synths hearken to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book in their spirit of exploration, though not in the specific sounds employed. The bass is a phantasm, appearing sometimes as a bit of colour, other times lingering as a ghost note among the frequencies, but generally sliding about as a jazzy interpretation of R&B. And the vocals are closer kin to Adele than to anything else in the contemporary progressive rock scene. The overall effect of their combination is rather unique, something new both for We Are Kin and for the genre of progressive rock.
Thematically, the songs dabble in a few prog commonplaces—a title like “The Fawn” invokes fantasy while “Paper Boat” includes a few lines of heavily effected, spoken vocals for dramatic tension—but the lyrics are mostly direct and personal in nature. There’s a pathos in “Leave Me Be” that culminates in resolution, and this quiet-strength-born-of-hardship is centered on “I Won’t Go Back.” A different sort of voice couldn’t pull this off, but Brewin-Caddy conveys both the soft depths of emotion and the very human need to present a hard, cold exterior.
There’s little not to like on Bruised Sky; for a few awkward moments the timing of the drums and the vocals seem to come apart, but they’re reunited quickly enough and some intriguing synth sound inevitably comes along to capture one’s attention. Otherwise, the playing is tight but open-aired, the songs cohesive, and the album as a whole easily left on repeat. Progress can be hard-won, but with their newest set We Are Kin have made it a joy to hear the results.