Now here’s a strange and interesting story. Imagine forming your band in 1973, naming yourself after a Pete Sinfield song from his Still album. Imagine working on your first album for forty-three years. Imagine playing and writing for nine years, then sleeping for two dozen. And imagine recording the songs you’ve been writing for all these years over a number of sessions scattered across eight years and five different locales. Clearly, time moves at a different speed for German progressive rockers Sea Goat. Can an album, the songs for which began to be conceived back in 1975, be in any way relevant in 2017? I don’t know, but when I get a promo for a band named after “The Song of the Sea Goat,” and half the band are wearing King Crimson t-shirts in the promo photos, and citing Gentle Giant amongst other bands as influences, I’m going to grab it and cross my fingers.
Tata is the name of this record, and is such because that is the name of the village in Hungary where the actual recording of this album first began in 2007 during a week-long retreat the band put together for guitarist Klaus Schultz’s 50th birthday. The band found the week so unifying and uplifting that they made it a semi-annual event, writing and recording in various towns for the next eight years. The album opens exactly as one might expect with the influences noted above: haunting acoustic guitar, subdued percussion, and breathy, wistful vocals, all performed with impeccable musicianship. “Book of Liberty” could have been written in 1973 or 2013, it’s hard to tell (the band says it was written during the Tata recording sessions in 2007). And hey, it even has a flute solo and Mellotron. Classic prog bonus points abound!
This is how much of the nine songs on Tata sound. They’re all short by prog standards, acoustic, expertly arranged, and very accessible. Perhaps the closest they come to King Crimson is on “Morning Glory,” which just happens to be one of their oldest songs here, and aside from the stellar production could have come straight off In the Court of the Crimson King: it sounds so much like “I Talk to the Wind” that it’s disarming. Album closer “Lachrimae” starts off quite bland, even with operatic female vocals, but turns into the best song here; dark waves of keyboards washing us with eerie menace. “Water Pictures” sounds like a cut from Storm Corrosion, but a good cut. And “Cloud” is a wonderful two-minute acoustic interlude. These cats are great musicians.
The rest of the songs are of the most mellow prog variety one can conceive of. Let’s put it this way: if Perry Como could have been in a prog band, Sea Goat would be that band. The music is so laid back it’s best listened to reclining on a floor strewn with pillows – just check out the embedded track, “Friends.” Which in some ways is kind of odd, considering that lead vocalist/guitarist Torsten Hartmann also happens to be the founder of German extreme metal label Massacre Records. This must be his alter-ego. Lucky for us, Sea Goat have spent as much time producing Tata as they did recording it. The record sounds great. Every instrument glistens with authenticity. The soundstage is immaculate. The vocals have wonderful clarity and are perfectly balanced in the mix. Generally speaking, progressive rock features some of the best production around, and Tata is at the head of the class.
Look, Tata isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But those of us with more than a passing interest in olde prog, and those of us who want to listen to one of the best-sounding recordings of the year, will dig what Sea Goat are cooking. It’s just too bad that by the time they release their next album, I’ll be ninety years old, and quite likely incapable of enjoying it.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Swan Lake
Releases Worldwide: November 24th, 2017