Coming relatively swiftly after their full-length Vision Beyond Horizon, this EP is drawn from a three-day session in November of last year. Once again the core of the group seems to have been Bob Balch, Gary Arce, Bill Stinson and Tony Reed, also as per the LP there are a few ‘special guests’ – Per Wiberg is back with some key parts, and we also apparently get guitar from Chris Goss and more surprisingly Daniel Mongrain of Voivod. What is noticeable next to Vision Beyond Horizon is that the sound, and vibe, is far more consistent, there’s still the strange desert hybrid of bliss and edge, but they’ve dropped all but the last vestiges of the mutant punk that often distinguishes that scene.
The title track leads us in with a fade up of effortless-sounding warmth, a rising bass line pulls the listener in and it’s clear that we’re in safe hands, everything is in its place. There is a core ‘in the room’ jam underlying the track, plain in the rhythm section’s simplicity that nevertheless marks changes in the song with subtle shifts. Tasty overdubbed layers add depth to the bliss and paint with delay across the beat. The brightness and space in the melodies and Reed’s unaffected vocals add to the Floydian feel. Indeed Balch tipped the hat to Pink Floyd in talking about this song, and to my eye Max Loeffler’s beautiful cover art draws a similar connection.
There’s material that’s less space-oriented here too, Blink Of An Eye swings into action with hooks for miles. They jam it out gentle, Stinson holding it steady with a rock-solid snare sound. There’s space in the arrangement for a couple of solos, and here is, for me, the one bum note as an overly-trad synth noise intrudes, popping me out of the reverie. At times Big Scenic Nowhere just tips over the wrong side of some fussy personal criteria and I find myself taking a step back.
The title track leads us in with a fade up of effortless-sounding warmth, a rising bass line pulls the listener in and it’s clear that we’re in safe hands…
Still, it’s their thing and not mine, and as Labyrinths Fade starts to make itself felt through classy guitar ostinato and a distinctly prog progression Big Scenic Nowhere sound supremely self-assured. The jam finds a second movement which coalesces around the vocals, and despite what seems a short six and a half minutes, there’s room for some outrageous soloing (surely that’s Mongrain?) before a return to the initial progression, travelling on (through Labyrinths? Beyond the Horizon?).The word that I keep returning to is ‘maturity’ – in the relaxed feel, in song writing, and maybe also in unashamedly indulging in the occasional bit of nostalgic tone! I don’t think they’re worried if I’m bothered the synth is too cheesy.
Balch has spoken about making ‘a unique sonic stew’ with this group, and in this first year of the project’s life they have put out three releases that seem to fit that bill. Working with a range of artists and influences Big Scenic Nowhere have shown a willingness to stretch out and explore, building on the confidence of the experienced musicians involved. This could have been an interesting summer for them, with Stoned And Dusted and Monolith On The Mesa festivals, hopefully they can find some time to jam and tell us more stories soon.
Scribed by: Harry Holmes