Look to Windward – The Last Scattering Surface Review

One of the greatest feelings as a reviewer is rolling the dice on a completely unknown band and discovering they’re amazing. But you have to play to win, and I totally failed to pick up any reviews by bands I didn’t already know last year. I resolved to do better this year. There’s no magic formula I’ve found to identifying great promos, so I tend to skim the promo submissions queue and wait for things to catch my eye for whatever reason. Look to Windward immediately stood out. Prog with a name that might be an Iain M Banks reference?1 Perfect. And they’ve been around as a studio collaboration since 2009 and this is their third album, so they ought to have found their groove.

The Last Scattering Surface pretty much immediately hits a lot of prog staples. The songwriting is varied, with changeable moods, complex song structure, and a multi-track movement. The riffs recall, say, Haken in their rhythms and chunkiness (“Why Ask?,” “The Condition”). The use of paired male and female vocals meanwhile reminds me of Anathema, particularly in the way they trade phrases or segments (“Relic,” “Earth Overture”). There are several different vocalists on the album, and this and the writing also bring shades of Ayreon at times too (“Dance of the Futile”). There are references to older prog as well, in the synths on “Dance of the Futile” or the guitar solo in “Theia Arrived One Fateful Day.” These things are tropes for a reason and generally work well.

The problem with tropes, though, is the lingering sense of déjà vu that pervades the entire album. While I never get the sense that a particular section is directly lifted from another band, I spend a significant proportion of it with that itch of “ooh this really reminds me of something” that I can’t quite put my finger on. I also find that the writing doesn’t ever quite deliver emotional impact. Consequently, I find myself zoning out on The Last Scattering Surface a lot. It’s rarely as ear-wormy or even memorable. Even the more interesting bits don’t stick as well as they should (“Why Ask?”). Many sections of the album slip by with nary a mark left—I still couldn’t tell you a thing about tracks like “River Mercury” or “Spin.”

Many of the highlights are down to vocalist Emily Rice, who has a great voice and stylistic range and elevates everything she appears on. “Theia Arrived One Fateful Day” is a particularly strong example. The guitar work is always strong technically, and there are some great riffs here (“The Condition,” “Dance of the Futile”). It also sounds good, especially for something self-produced, with a nice DR9 master and plenty of space for all the moving parts. On the downside, there are occasional issues with the male vocals. There’s moments that are slightly charmingly rough-and-ready in a way that again reminds me of some early prog (“Why Ask?”), but also some moments where they just sound a little strained (“Relic,” other bits of “Why Ask?”). And the programmed drums are… there.

Despite its issues, there’s a lot to like on The Last Scattering Surface. Its best moments find talented musicians playing interesting music, with a good balance of the weird, the complex and the poppy. There are strong foundations and flashes of greatness, and perhaps with a clearer vision it could hit those more consistently. But in hewing too close to prog tradition, Look to Windward lose their own voice and my attention, and that’s a shame.

Rating: Mixed
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: FLAC
Label: Self-Released
Websites: looktowindwardmusic.com | looktowindward.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: May 31st, 2024

Show 1 footnote

  1. Banks was referencing The Waste Land, and this could be too.
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