Gravity Tree - Ultimate Backwards

Year of Release: 2005
Label: self-released
Catalog Number: BS051-03
Format: CD
Total Time: 50:06:00

My what a quirky affair! And I say that without prejudice or criticism, but just making a non-judgmental observation. We last heard from Gravity Tree in 1999 with Life Or Dessert?, which was a quirky affair. In 2005 the duo of Alan Nu and Lincoln "Linc" D'Amario released their second offering, Ultimate Backwards. And it's just as quirky. And yet, it's quirky in a different way.

And it's not just because there's the catchy, in a way, "Conversing With The Dead." Oh, not catchy in that pop-song kind of way, but? well, certainly memorable. At first you'd swear that Gravity Tree were a symphonic prog in the mould of Glass Hammer (without the Kansas-isms). Well no, at the first blush you'd think Gravity Tree were new age synthesists, as the first minute plus the first track "No Rest Part III" is an aqueous, glistening and glittery instrumental. After that, organs and percussion come in and bring carry us over the falls into symphonic proggy land, only to deposit us in a calm spring at the base of the falls, our ears caressed by subtle vocalizations? that calm is then disturbed (more mid-tempo but agitated organ and percussion)? It's like a sudden rainstorm, droplets glistening in the sunlight peeking through the dark clouds. But things aren't without their angles - layered vocals, in counterpoint, create an odd tension that is only broken by angry tones of a gently bashed organ. That's all in about 6 minutes or so.

That symphonic prog feel continues in "Aim To Please" - here the keys are more swirly, but they mostly give way to vocals and acoustic guitar. It's classic sounding progressive rock, that reminds me at times of the dreamy sound that Alan Parsons gave his Alan Parsons Project; but also, in the latter portion, it's of Glass Hammer that I think. The guitar has a more acidic tone than either APP or GH, however, with Linc choking out throaty, screaming leads.

"Interference" is moody and liquid, ethereal vocals over ethereal keyboards? gentle percussion and shimmering acoustic guitar. It's a floaty and dreamy; a hint of Yes (including some tenor vocals, but only momentarily), and arty in a 70s-period King Crimson way. In the midst of this, about two-thirds of the way through, we get a sweet and expressive guitar solo.

With "Conversing With The Dead" we leave behind the atmospheres and get into the quirky; this song in particular making me think of Oingo Boingo? though not quite that quirky*. It's kind of creepy, whether you think the protagonist is the living among the dead, or whether he is one of the dead only he doesn't realize it. It's the rockiest of the album's tracks, staccato and energetic with lots of rumbling drums and percussion, widdly keyboards, and beefy guitar. It's rave-up rock 'n' roll, man.

"Can" is bit odd, too; mostly in the vocal delivery. Instrumentally, its sort of a jazzy-fusiony-avant-garde-rock hybrid that doesn't really settle into any one thing? except all those are mashed into one thing. And the album concludes with the truly odd "Motion Sickness" which is full of queasy motion, odd rhythms and gloomy crooning that sounds like Jim Morrison in a time warp. In contrast comes the bright, shrieking sounds of the organ that pops in at the 3-plus minute mark. Of course, this track isn't without it's ethereal moment; a strummed acoustic guitar and quietly singing organ.

There are three instrumentals strung throughout, two at just over a minute and half, beginning with "Wind," an acoustic guitar affair?The second is "In," washes of keyboards, both breathy and orchestral lead into streams of guitar effects and throbbing bass. "Wait" is the longest of the instrumentals at 3:19, a light and airy piece lead by the sound of xylophones, parpy keys and weezy organ. It's basically new age music; quite pleasant but also sort of familiar in a generic-type kind of way. It fits between the ethereal pieces that begin the album and the quirky pieces that take up the latter part.

Although truly, it's languid almost to the point of plodding "Go Away" that is the true mid-point between the two styles. A drowsy vocal delivery is accompanied by a walking-in-circles guitar phrases and the sparse punctuation of percussion.

Some facts, gleaned from their page at CDBaby that features an unattributed review. "Aim To Please" originally appeared, in a different mix, on the Bay Area Prog compilation CD released by Expose Magazine in Spring 2002 (no guarantees that this CD is still obtainable). And folks who have seen the group live have heard such tracks as "Can," "Go Away" (once known as "Rain"), "Motion Sickness" and "In."

Whilst overall this album sounds great, the actual audio levels - from a production aspect not a composition aspect - are inconsistent, making quiet parts too quiet, leading the loud parts to get too loud, depending on where you leave your volume set. This is most noticeable in "Interference" as the guitar solo suddenly gets louder (like the volume was turned up).

So, this gets high marks for performance; I like every track here, though a favorite is hard to pick out. They are varied enough that they all offer something. The production though gets some points shaven off. While the sound is clear overall, it's the inconsistent volume level that chinks the armor. And just to let you know; I played it on three different systems, so it's not the player -- and just make sure it wasn't my ears, since I only have one set of those, Michael Popke over at Sea Of Tranquility noticed the same thing.

*Ah yes, the ubiquitous footnote: I also thought of an episode of CSI where the bodies in the morgue sit up and share their stores with each other.
No Rest Part III (6:36) / Wind (1:42) / Aim To Please (5:33) / Interference (8:43) / Conversing With The Dead (5:58) / In (1:37) / Can (4:31) / Wait (3:19) / Go Away (6:11) / Motion Sickness (5:55)

Lincoln 'Linc' D'Amario - vocals, assorted acoustic and electric guitars, custom Tenor-Bass Combo guitars, percussion stand
Alan Nu - vocals, acoustic and electronic percussion, synthesizers, guitars, sound design


Dion Gomez - additional guitar (5)
Charlie, Kathy and 'Lester' - additional ambient vocals

Life Or Dessert? (1999)
Ultimate Backwards (2005)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: December 27th 2007
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1754
Language: english


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