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Patchwork Cacophony: Five Of Cups

Having already made a name for himself through his keyboard and production skills on the Fusion Orchestra 2 album Casting Shadows and featuring in the increasingly influential Gandalf's Fist as their on stage keyboard man, Ben Bell went one better through his 2014 debut solo effort, Patchwork Cacophony. It was an album in one sense well described by its name and in another, given a misnomer. While there was a pleasant patchwork feel of ideas being keenly stitched together to make one cohesive piece, at no point was the album cacophonous. Instead Bell proved himself to be a tasteful embellisher of well rounded ideas. 


The multi-instrumentalist is back, now using the name of that previous album as the moniker for the whole project, the first album to appear beneath the Patchwork Cacophony banner, called Five Of Cups. In essence, this is still a solo project, Bell handling everything from mini djembe and shakers to Hammond organ and cowbell (and on request… more cowbell!), as well as singing and producing the whole affair. As with all these albums, guests do appear, but here these interjections are sparse, Tim Hall adding guitar on "Brand New Day", Marcus Taylor likewise on "Maybe", while Emily Bell provides some lovely backing vocals on "Every Day". Add in a sumptuously illustrated CD booklet and it's clear that Five Of Cups has been a labour of love for Bell. Thankfully, it's paid off.

As with his previous work, we're in classic symphonic progressive territory here, the comparisons to Yes, Camel, Genesis and even Rick Wakeman the debut drew, equally relevant here. Yet I'd venture that through cuts such as "Maybe" a little mid-era Pink Floyd is added, while across the album there's a keen mix of prog and something ever so slightly more accessible, bringing Alan Parson's Project to mind, although as much in spirit as sound. A broad conceptual approach embellishes the experience, the album more an observation of life, the choices it creates and disappointments and hopes it can also provide. It's interesting and well thought out, without ever saddling the album with themes and ideas it needs to adhere to. In itself that allows Five Of Cups to flow and undulate in an extremely organic way, some deeply complex passages approached with an easy confidence, presenting an album that allows you in on first listen, but that grows and evolves as you get to know it. Clever arrangements and a willingness to embrace different approaches within the broad spectrum of symphonic prog, a real strength throughout.

Highlights come thick and fast, the upbeat "Chasing Rainbows" always puts a smile on the face, even if full on vocals maybe aren't Bell's strongest suit, although his short bursts of falsetto on the twelve minute "Brand New Day" prove an unexpected delight. The expertly executed piano piece, "From A Spark", while beautiful does feel a little lost, as it runs to six minutes and begins to feel a little like an exercise in Bell stretching his muscles. In isolation it's an excellent idea, as the piano builds into organ surges and yet it's hard to avoid the feeling that it does deviate from the overall message of the album just as it should be building towards its crescendo. However with everything from the heartfelt "Once Upon A Time" to the playful yet considered "Counting Chickens" seldom putting a foot wrong, one minor missed step can easily be forgiven.

Good though the Patchwork Cacophony album was, Five Of Cups is a step up for Ben Bell in terms of scope, structure and execution. It's an impressive, engaging and rewarding album that easily swims against the tide of indulgent one-man enterprises. Vintage in design, contemporary in sound and crafted in execution, Patchwork Cacophony should be on the radar of any symphonic progressive follower.


Track Listing
1. Fairytale (Parts 1 - 4)
2. Choices
3. Counting Chickens
4. Maybe
5. Every Day
6. Chasing Rainbows
7. From A Spark
8. Brand New Day

Added: March 18th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Patchwork Cacophony at Bandcamp
Hits: 294
Language: english

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