Glass Hammer - If

Year of Release: 2010
Label: Arion Sound Resources
Catalog Number: SR1924
Format: CD
Total Time: 66:56:00

Although Glass Hammer's most recent release is Cor Cordium, the follow up to If, it has been If that has been in rotation for the last several months. If I didn't know better, listening to this as I was (initially) on my shelf-unit in my office, I'd have sworn I was listening to 70s-period Yes. Now, this doesn't really surprise me, of course, except that vocally that had never really been the case. And I must admit this impression comes from listening to the CD at rather less than ideal for reviewing volume. But having since listened to it at a higher volume, this is borne out.

But it's not just the Anderson-like vocals coming from the band's newest vocalist, Jon Davison, but the package whole and complete. The pacing of drums; the swirl of keyboards (lots of organ); the lyrical guitar phrases (plucked or strummed); the fat bass lines that give much of the music a solid bass or a cheerful bounce; the lyrics that are light, lyrical, lengthy but not overwrought or wordy; the vaguely Roger Dean-like album artwork of Tom Kuhn, although it's a bit more whimsical than that seen on a Yes album, in my opinion. That is, it's not the Yes of their more commercial pieces; it's the more expansive, classical-inspired, more progressive of Yes' material. Perhaps "Awaken" versus "Roundabout" say, or 70s Yes versus 80s Yes, for sure.

What Glass Hammer has been known for, aside from their obvious influences, are their lush arrangements. That is no different here. There's an epic, symphonic sweep to the whole oeuvre. Most of that lushness is due to the abundance of keyboards - swells of atmospheric elements as well as the pert voice of the organ. The placement of elements - the guitar, bass, etc. - allow for dynamic spacing, which only adds to the ethereal quality to the music. There's also a transparent quality to the music - I think of gossamer wings, of shiny, crystal-clear marbles... in fact, if you look at the rich colours of the album's artwork, it's reflected in the music - from the pastel gradient of the background to the vivid colours of the... creature on the cover (might that be the ziddle of "Behold, The Ziddle"? Because the image above is small, let me just quickly say it's a pelican-bird-plant like creature with what appears to be a snail shell for or over its head.

Glass Hammer has always - or nearly always - have had some religious point of view or underlying subtext to their lyrics. It's no different here on If, and whereas I find Yes' lyrics to be less about any one specific deity (as Jon Anderson is more spiritual than religious, I feel - concepts and feelings rather than dogma), here it a bit more targeted. I always fear that the result will be too syrupy, to cloying, which I just can't glob onto. Add a high, sweet voice (male or female), it just adds to that feeling. Well, here it's just light, ethereal, as with Yes.

While I, for some reason, found it difficult to wrap my ears around The Inconsolable Secret*, If is far more approachable. I'd suggest that maybe it's because the music is in several smaller chunks, versus ...Secrets two lengthy epics, but that just seems silly to say. Especially since the flow of this CD makes it feel like one long track. Well, the album's closer, centerpiece, "If The Sun," lasts just a fraction over 24 minutes alone, followed by the opener "Beyond, Within" at nearly 12 minutes and the penultimate track "If The Stars" at just about 10 and half minutes. There alone, you have more than 40 minutes and that's only half the album!

The danger here is that that very same flow and consistency can also come across as being rather flat. That even there are dynamics in the music, there's no dynamics between the tracks... some others have opined that... and I think in some ways, that's not seeing the forest for the trees... The mood here is very mellow. The band does not rock out all, not in a traditional sense. Tension and energy do build but... there's no "kick out the jams" here, so you very quickly get lulled into a very relaxed mood... music to gell-out to (naturally, of course). However, you don't really have anything to... latch onto when the album's done. There're no looks, no melody that lingers in your mind. So in many ways, it washes over you, leaving you refreshed, and feeling positive -- if Pallas' XXV (which I also reviewed today) is dark, pessimistic and dystopic, Glass Hammer's If is the tonic. It's light, ultimately optimistic and hopeful, and utopic -- but... that's all you take away with you. (I didn't plan to review the two CDs in succession; it just worked out that way.)

So, it is a beautiful album and certainly, at least at first blush, one of the jewels in the Glass Hammer catalog. Of what Glass Hammer titles I have heard thus far, it's not knocked Shadowlands off of its perch of favorite GH CD, but it is good.

*truly, I don't know what it was... it wasn't that I didn't like it nor that it was awful or offensive or really not in the GH mold... I just...couldn't...well, at least review it. Also, let me note that in between ICS and If, the band released 2 CDs as can be seen in the discography below.

Beyond, Within (11:44) / Behold, The Ziddle (9:11) / Grace The Skies (4:29) / At Last We Are (6:46) / If The Stars (10:25) / If The Sun (24:02)

Steve Babb - bass and keyboards
Jon Davison - vocals
Fred Schendel - keyboards and steel guitar
Alan Shikoh - guitars
Randall Williams - drums

Journey To The Dunadan (1994)
Perelandra (1996)
Live And Revived (1997)
On To Evermore (1997)
Chronometree (2000)
The Middle Earth Album (2001)
Lex Rex (2002)
Shadowlands (2004)
Live At NEARFest (2004)
The Inconsolable Secret (2005)
Culture Of Ascent (2007)
Three Cheers For The Broken-hearted (2009)
If (2010)
One (via GH only) (2010)
Cor Cordium (2011)
Perilous (2012)
The Inconsolable Secret (Deluxe Edition) (2013)
Ode To Echo (2014)
Breaking Of The World (2015)
Double Live (2015)
Valkyrie (2016)
Untold Tales (2017)
Mostly Live In Italy (2018)
Chronomonaut (2018)

Lex Live (DVD) (2004)
Live At Belmont (DVD) (2006)
Live At The Tivoli (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: December 27th 2011
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1952
Language: english


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