Wednesday, August 9, 2023



By Boulevard Denim (reprinted with permission from the Boulevard Denim Den blog)

The latest Aethellis release differs from the previous three as the spotlight is on guitarist/vocalist Mark Van Natta, both compositionally and vocally. Keyboardist Ellsworth Hall only sings on two tracks, "Anandia" and "Another Car." It's not clear who is singing on "Pathdancer" as it sounds like neither Ellsworth or Mark.

The album personnel this go-round consists of just Ellsworth Hall (keyboards, vocals, guitar, drum controller), Mark Van Natta (guitar, vocals, bass, keyboard) and Erik Marks (bass). Absent is drummer Mike Harrington who contributed top-drawer playing on the previous two albums with such tracks as "Sounds Good" and "Janice." However, it has come to light that while those previous releases were touted in reviews as having "full band" performances (and thereby satisfying the reviewers' bias that they were more desirable), Ellsworth actually contributed a major portion of the drum tracks, as well as some guitar and keyboard bass. But no surprise there as he handled all that and vocals on the first album; this is well known.

But Mark Van Natta is a strong influence on The Affinity Oeuvre, contributing Pop, Funk and Jazz tracks to the mix.

The album kicks off with a 12-minute Prog tune, "Anandia" (about a child refugee of war) with piano intro, Mellotron sounds, catchy melodies and odd time signature riffs. And a bit of dissonance in the instrumental section. This track is Ellsworth's sole prog contribution with some soaring vocal harmonies. Of Aethellis epics, only "A Home In Your Thoughts/Second Home In Your Thoughts" (from the previous release) clocks in longer at 15 minutes.

Mark's influence is evident with "Affinifunk," a Funk tune with a nice groove and fabulous blistering guitar solo.

"Pathdancer" is Ellsworth's sole Jazz contribution to the album complete with scat singing towards the end. Tasteful playing with lots of modulations. Like many of Tony Banks' compositions, Ellsworth never stays in one key for very long.

Then we move into Pop territory with Mark's tunes "Do Like I Do" (complete with a brass ensemble finale) and "Dreams On Pause," a lament to the confinements of the COVID period. Another Mark Van Natta pop tune with a Greg Hawkes-style synth solo, "Let Me Be Me" rounds out the pop selections. Mark also played bass on these tracks as well as a bit of keyboard. And, of course, performed the vocals. An all-arounder as well!

"Another Car" (music by Ellsworth with lyrics by Ed Hopf) is an amusing homage/satire of New Wave songs from the early 80s. But a bit more dissonant in places than actual songs from the period. Progressive New Wave?

Another excursion into Jazz, the Hank Levy-inspired "Chicago News" penned by Mark Van Natta, is a tour de force of odd time signatures and big band arrangements.

We return to Funk with bassist Erik Marks' "The Stennis Compromise" (a Watergate reference?). A solid bass groove and jazz chords are the highlight of this short ditty.

The album is rounded out with Mark's reggae-influenced "Why Do You Keep Fighting" (a call for peace) and the bizarre jazz-fusion track "RIP" which is rather dissonant, with fast and furious guitar work. The guitar's quartal harmonies add to the jazz flavor although Jazz-Fusion has been called prog rock's cousin. "RIP" is a co-written track with Ellsworth from their Affinity Band days (hence the album title).

So, if you're looking for a full-on prog album, you might be disappointed in The Affinity Oeuvre.. While it contains some prog elements, it spans other genres such as New Wave, Jazz-Fusion, Funk and Pop. "RIP" for example is far from mainstream, if not strictly prog. But if you're willing to be open to Aethellis' take on other genres you might enjoy it. Prog is an eclectic melting pot of different styles after all. The album has some of Mark Van Natta's best guitar solos.

The album is on the Revolution Records label.

Note: This review originally posted on Boulevard Denim's new blog, Boulevard Denim's Den.

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