This Reviews Issue is published in conjunction with an interview with Chris Braide.
Downes Braide Association - Skyscraper Souls
Prelude (2:15), Skyscraper Souls (18:09), Glacier Girl (2:38), Angel On Your Shoulder (6:49), Tomorrow (4:20), Lighthouse (5:40), Skin Deep (4:33), Darker Times (7:20), Finale (1:16)
One that did was Downes Braide Association's Suburban Ghosts which was released in 2015 (review here). It is a fantastic album, that was contemporary while also successfully capturing the spirit of great 80s progressive pop. At times, this new release provides simular nods to that era, but it is apparant that DBA were striving for something else this time. Skyscraper Souls is a sublime and modern-sounding mix of 70s prog and 80s adventurousness. In many ways, this is the album that Steven Wilson was looking to make with To the Bone. It acts as an homage to the classic album format of a bygone era, while still forging it's own singular identity.
One key change this time is that they have supplimented their duo status by recruiting the services of some notable musical friends. The addition of real drums (Ash Soan) and some astoundingly good guitar work (Andy Partridge, Dave Colquhoun, Patrick Howley), creates an expanded, more diverse sound. Though Braide still sings lead vocals for the most part, another difference is the impressive participation of several well known vocalists (Kate Pierson, David Longdon, Marc Almond, Matthew Koma, Tim Bowness). It is also a concept album, but not in the traditional storytelling sense. With a central theme that focuses on various aspects of life, it is lyrically compelling and relatable.
The album opener, Prelude, features a fantastic guitar performance by Andy Partridge and succesfully establishes the overall theme of the record. Whereas previous DBA songs have displayed prog edges, the title track here is their first attempt at a traditional prog epic. The great news is that to my ears, it is absolutely one of the best long-form tracks of the last few decades. With a running length of just over 18 minutes, it is a smashing success that grows in strength with each listen. Braide brings a fresh songwriting approach and a modern style to the classic epic format. It is also wonderous to hear Downes proudly displaying his prog mastery. With an overall musical structure that plays out perfectly, this piece should bring a smile to the face of any prog rock fan. Plus, I would be remiss in not mentioning the great work of Kate Pierson from the B-52s on the track. Yes, I did say B-52s and prog in the same paragraph!
The back half of the album is closer in tone to previous DBA material, but the musical flow remains consistent. It is an album in the true sense of the word and the quality remains at a high level throughout. Glacier Girl is a captivating tribute to Kate Bush and Angel on my Shoulder is a catchy, signature Downes tune based on an unused Buggles song. Tomorrow, featuring the vocals and flute of Big Big Train's David Longdon, impresses, while Lighthouse and Darker Times represent some of the finest material that Downes/Braide have yet recorded. Of special note is Skin Deep. Driven by duet vocals between Braide and a splendid Marc Almond, it is an atmospheric gem. This superb album ends as it began, with Finale, a reprise of the opening song.
To sum it up, as strong as an album that Suburban Ghosts was, DBA have outdone themselves here. Part of the charm for me is how well they capture elements of the 70s and 80s, while still sounding musically fresh and exciting. Primarily, it is the songwriting skills of Downes and Braide that truly distinquishes this release from most others. As a fan of melodic progressive rock, I don't think anyone is doing it better than DBA these days. Skyscraper Souls is the work of two masterclass musical artists and it is a stunner.
Patrick McAfee: 10 out of 10
Chris Braide - Singer Songwriter
Heavenly Rain (3:58), Untouchable (3:18), Letter To God (3:32), Parallel World (3:46), Ten Feet Tall (3:45), Dave And Me (3:31), Invisible (3:32), Everybody Sometimes (3:29), Man On The Moon (2:44), Little Ships (3:30), Morning (1:16)
I am not always the biggest fan of these kind of stripped-down albums, but as a testament to Braide's abilities, this is extremely entertaining stuff. The best songwriters have the ability to create music that is melodically strong, lyrically potent and most importantly, vastly entertaining. That certainly applies to Braide, as the quiet, at times almost demo-like strength of his performances here, magnifies the true depth of the material.
Highlights include the powerful Letter To God, Parallel World with its memorable melody, and the nostalgic Dave And Me. There is also a welcome rendition of Man On The Moon, which was originally featured on The Producers', Made In Basing album. Ultimately though, there is not a sub-par song to be found here. Singer Songwriter is the work of a confident and gifted artist. Whereas this isn't a prog album, I will reserve giving it a score on a DPRP scale. That being said, if you are a fan of DBA or if you just appreciate a strongly penned, well performed tune, you will find much to enjoy here.