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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pure Reason Revolution

The Dark Third (revised edition)

Review by Julie Knispel

Pure Reason Revolution is a young band out of Reading UK. Described variously as “The missing link between Pink Floyd and the 21st century,” “master(s of) the contrast between inner space-odyssey and rock exuberance” and “space freaks in a prog summer camp,” the band’s sound is a heady mix of space rock right out of Pink Floyd’s textbooks, Porcupine Tree pop and rock, and glistening Beach Boys influenced vocal harmonies. Founded in 2003, they have been a rising force in the still mostly underground British new prog scene, though they have had chart success on the British indie charts. Following the release of several singles and an EP, the band were signed to Sony/BMG UK for the release of their debut full-length album, The Dark Third.

Jon Courtney (guitar, vocals) explains the concept behind the album’s title:

“We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and about six years of that is dreaming. I was always fascinated by the interpretation of dreams and their origin. For me they are a great inspiration for song lyrics. Are there really so many differences between wakefulness and sleep? Being awake or sleeping are products of one and the same brain and they mutually influence themselves. Maybe being awake is just another form of dreaming?”

Pure Reason Revolution is not a band based around bursts of instrumental pyrotechnics. Similar to other post-rock bands, the group relies more on building layers of sound in a somewhat more orchestrated (but not symphonic) manner. Jon Coutrney and Jim Dobson (whose membership in the group was terminated in late 2006 for undisclosed reasons) use a fairly wide range of synth sounds; Courtney also adds a second guitar and additional bass to the mix, while Dobson doubles on violin. Brother Andrew Courtney (also no longer a member of the group) is a solid drummer; as the songs do not require bursts of massive technical skill, his in-the-pocket drumming suits the material well. With Dobson’s departure, Chloe Alper now handles all keyboard duties live, as well as contributing vocals and bass. The Dark Third was re-released this summer on InsideOut Music (following Sony/BMG’s decision to drop the band and contract due to lackluster sales in the UK) in a version which differs from the already released US and UK editions. With a main track listing that mirrors the US release of the album, it also features modified artwork and booklet plus a five-track bonus disc. Two of these pieces are previously unreleased while one was taken from the EP Cautionary Tales For The Brave. The remaining tracks were drawn from the UK version of the album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Aeropause
“Aeropause” opens the album with a thrumming bass synth line and chiming gliss guitar reminiscent of pre-DSoTM Pink Floyd. Hearing this, it is easy to see how PRR might seem to have fallen through some strange time/space warp from the early 1970’s.
Goshen's Remains
Singer/bassist Chloe Alper (formerly of Reading band Period Pains) finally gets to shine vocally nearly 6 minutes into the album, as her vocals are the first thing heard on “Goshen’s Remains,” the album’s second track. The group’s penchant for layered, choral vocals is extensively on display here, as is a rock/post-rock sensibility borrowed from Muse and Radiohead.
Apprentice of the Universe
This piece arises from the wash of sound that concluded “Goshen’s Remains.” Synth bloops and bleeps carry on under a shifting, shuffling beat, while dozens of layered voices intone lyrics dealing with dreams and sleep. There are a few Pink Floyd lyrical references here (“Lime and limpid green” anyone?), as well as some moments that presage “Nimos & Tambos,” which follows two tracks on.
The Bright Ambassadors of Morning
More Pink Floyd references are evident on the epic “The Bright Ambassadors of Morning” (where have I heard that phrase before? I wonder...), an enjoyable but likely over-long 12 minute composition which achieves that length only through the excessive repetition of the title phrase. Judicious editing would have crafted a stronger, albeit shorter, track. The spacey outro, with sweeping, bubbling synths and layers of looped Alper vocals can certainly remain, however.
Nimos & Tambos
“Nimos & Tambos” opens with a throbbing, pulsing bass line and chiming guitar notes, with sweeping synths panning left to right. Chloe Alper and Jon Courtney harmonize wonderfully on the quiet opening, before the song begins to rock out in a serious manner. Lyrics reference the old 1960’s garage rock classic “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night,” yet this track has absolutely nothing in common with that oldie.
Voices in Winter / In the Realms of the Divine
“Voices in Winter” begins with a slow drum loop and tasteful slide guitar. Courtney takes the lead vocal, with Alper’s harmonies and backing vocals adding lushness and richness. The track builds slowly, with drums growing in strength, additional layers of guitar playing off each other, creating shifting, shimmering patterns of sound. “In The Realms of the Divine,” the second section of this piece, starts quietly before exploding in a torrent of violin and slashing guitar. Alper’s vocals take on a slightly harsher, more insistent tone with a more strident delivery, appropriate for the heavier direction this section develops into.
Bullitts Dominae
The far heavier direction “Voices in Winter / In The Realms Of The Divine” took is swiftly brought back down via the gentler drum and bass groove that opens “Bullitts Dominae.” Piano, keyboards and chorused guitar build a dreamy mid-tempo soundscape. Again we have lead vocals trading off, as Courtney takes the fore during the early portions of the song, while Alper’s often angelic voice handles the dramatic portions over the bridges and choruses.
Arrival / The Intention Craft
If Pure Reason Revolution wasn’t ghettoised through their association with the genre of progressive rock, this track would be a hit. Hell, in a perfect world, people would ignore the genre and the song would still be a hit. Alas, this is far from a perfect world. Still, this is perhaps PRR at their most distilled, with processed, spacey vocals and multitudinous layers of sound harmonizing, shifting and swirling in a psychedelic display of pop perfection. The instrumental “Arrival” does a fine job of leading into this catchy, hook-laden gem.
He Tried to Show Them Magic! / Ambassadors Return
After the blast of energy that is “The Intention Craft,” some kind of respite is needed. Gentle layered vocals and synthesizers lead into “He Tried To Show Them Magic! / Ambassadors Return,” the final track on the album proper. It doesn’t remain such for long, as a pacier rhythm is set for Courtney and Alper to harmonize over. A number of musical and lyrical motifs are revisited in this track, appropriate as the second portion is entitled “Ambassadors Return.” A variety of moods are cycled through on this track, with a five minute stretch of silence leading to an un-credited and hidden bonus track, titled “Asleep Under Eiderdown.” The actual closing track, this is a dreamy and very processed piece, with bell-like keyboards, a fairly simple beat, and more trademark layered vocals. Assuming one doesn’t shut the CD player off during the silence that followed “He Tried To Show Them Magic! / Ambassadors Return,” this bit gently eases the listener out of their reverie.
Disc 2
In Aurélia
“In Aurélia” may well be the heaviest track in Pure Reason Revolution’s brief CV. Guitars snarl, drums pound out an insistent beat, and sawtooth synths lead into this dark, techno/hard rock dirge. Lest one fear that the band’s trademark vocal layers and lushness have departed as a result of the heavier song, be not dismayed; they are here in abundance, along with the distinct metallic feel missing on most of their full length album. Originally released on the EP Cautionary Tales For The Brave, its release on the new edition of The Dark Third will surely expose it to a far wider audience.
Borgens Vor
One of two previously unreleased tracks making their debut on the bonus disc of the InsideOut Music release of The Dark Third, “Borgens Vor” opens with a mood similar to “Asleep Under Eiderdown,” before shifting to a quicker beat and arrangement. The song would have fit well on the album proper, and its inclusion here is a nice bonus.
The Exact Colour
The original UK edition of The Dark Third featured a different track listing to the US edition. “The Exact Colour” is one of two songs originally released on that UK edition and not previously available in the US save for import. Gentle piano and subdued drumming open this piece, with a somber, fragile sound that is both beautiful and fleeting. It’s perhaps easy to see why this was not included on the US release, but at the same time, it is a shame, as it would have added diversity and additional sonic textures to that release.
The Twyncyn / Trembling Willows
This is the second of two tracks only released previously on the UK edition of the album. “The Twyncyn” sees the band exploring sonic arenas similar to “In Aurélia,” with a sound that bears striking resemblance to early 1990’s bands like Miranda Sex Garden circa Suspiria. Violin and strings begin to move the song back toward more traditional PRR grounds, but the overall result is a track very much unlike any other on their album. “Trembling Willows” concludes the 7-minute composition, and the mood shifts, with gentler arrangements and plaintive vocals for a brief moment before the band begins firing on all cylinders again, with a sound not unlike Deadwing / Fear of a Blank Planet Porcupine Tree. This is a sound and style I’d like to see the band continue to explore.
Golden Clothes
The final piece on the expanded reissue of The Dark Third, “Golden Clothes” has also never been released previously. It’s built around a hypnotic bass pattern and repeating drum pattern, with short stabs of bent note guitar, before changing gears entirely, with faux strings and piano creating a sparse backing for fragile Jon Courtney lead vocals. Layers of harmonies begin to build, yet the song retains most of its sparse, open feel, even when it begins to build in intensity. It presents a number of stylistic similarities to the rest of the band’s material, yet is sufficiently different to warrant inclusion on a bonus disc rather than the main programme.
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