Subjects – Gordon Midgley & Joan Silentio
Subjects is the latest project and album by Gordon Midgley to which he has teamed up with the Polish singer songwriter Joan Silentio so it’s very much a joint project. Midgley is no stranger to working with other people on other projects and it was not that long ago we seen the release of the 5th Napier’s Bones album Monuments done with Nathan Tillett and what a terrific album that really was. Though it’s now been a year since the release of his last solo album Lifetimes Ago and over this year he has been keeping himself very busy and even added a drum kit to his arsenal of instrumentation, and Subjects is the first album that features real drums played by himself.
Another thing that Midgley is no stranger too, is that he mostly likes to work around the subject matter in the way of it being a concept in one way or another, and the biggest majority of his works are in fact concept albums. He also tends to focus on the haunting dark side of things as with most of his solo material, and this new album Subjects does have quite a dark feel with its atmospheres, and does also contain some of the finer ingredients one might find in prog rock along its path too. Though it does also step into more modern territories with its genres and styles such as dubstep and even a bit of hip hop is thrown in for good measure and the result is quite a mixture of styles and as well as the dark side of things, we also have a few shades of light perhaps.
I have to confess that I do not know a great deal or really anything at all about Joan Silentio, and even though I am not into all the projects that Midgley has been involved in, this one did grab my attention enough for me to purchase it. The album is also sold at a very reasonable price for a digital download, so its not really gonna break the bank and it suits my pocket so to speak. But before we take a deeper look at what you get here for your money, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
The Packaging & Artwork…
Well as you can see the packaging is nothing really to look at with any digital download and it will not give you something you can hold in your hand either. But for many unknown artists who have not got a massive following to sell their albums by the bucket load, this is by far the most sensible way to sell your music these days. But even a package like this once opened up, can give you a much bigger picture with the contents that are inside it, and the way the music presents itself to you.
The albums artwork was is a photograph taken by Joan Silentio and is very fitting to the albums concept which is based on the context of Christian mysticism back in medieval times, though at first glance the albums artwork instantly reminded me of this classic album by Dire Straits :))))).
Though I have to confess it was the border and not the actual photograph that gave me this impression, and there is a lot more to someone being in an empty living room living in dire straits here that’s for sure.
The Album In Review…
The album Subjects by Gordon Midgley & Joan Silentio was released on the 30th November 2018. The album contains 14 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 42 minutes, 26 seconds which is a very reasonable and comfortable time slot for my liking too I might add. The album itself consists mostly of shorter tracks ranging somewhere between a minute and half to the two to three minute mark. Only a few of it’s tracks are a bit longer and are around the five minute mark.
The material for the album was recorded during the autumn in both England and Poland and mixed and mastered at Scanulf Studios which is Midgley’s home studios. Apart from one of the tracks entitled “Sometimes” to which was mixed and mastered by Russ Sinfield at The Chaos Cookhouse at his home studio also in England. He also contributes guitar to that track as well.
Most of the instrumentation is played by Midgley himself whilst Silentio takes care of the vocal side of things, to which on some of the tracks she uses her own native language to put across the words, and others are sung in English. Silentio also contributes some keys to some of the tracks too, and I am pretty sure it would be mainly the electric piano that features on quite a few of the tracks. I would also expect that most of the musical side of things here, were also written by Midgley.
Musicians & Credits…
A Scanulf Studios Production. Recorded, Mixed & Mastered in England & Poland by Gordon Midgley at Scanulf Studios except ‘Sometimes’ mixed & mastered by Russ Sinfield at The Chaos Cookhouse. All texts derived from Meister Eckhart ‘Collected Works’. Cover Photography by Joan Silentio.
Gordon Midgley: Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keys.
Joan Silentio: Vocals & Keys.
Russ Sinfield: Lead Guitar (On ‘Sometimes’).
The Album Tracks In Review…
The album Subjects is like I mentioned earlier based on the context of Christian mysticism and all the words we have here on the album are quotations that were made by Johannes Eckhart who was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic commonly known as Meister Eckhart back in the medieval times around the 13th and 14th Century. Although there is no authority for giving him the Christian name of Johannes, which sometimes appears in biographical sketches and its believed that his Christian name was actually Eckhart and his full name was Eckhart von Hochheim.
I suppose you could say that Eckhart was like most religious nutters who liked to derive their own interpretations of the bible and form their own religion by finding a suitable spot on a busy market day and stand there preaching a load of Gobble De Gook :))))). Only the Gobble De Gook he was preaching certainly had a darker side to it all. That much that his own teachings (and the fact that many people were taking notice of them) created a bit of a stir with the Catholic Church in particular. He was tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII and may very well had been burned at the stake, had he not died before the trial was concluded.
It’s said that Meister Eckhart can be considered a symbol of the intellectual spirit of the late Middle Ages. His teachings had a strong influence on the thinkers of the Reformation, including Martin Luther. Some of his ideas have been compared to Buddhist teachings. His texts and quotations put into historical context Midgley first encountered back in the early 2000’s. More recently he experienced a different kind of acknowledgement and resonance to them, and no doubt they would be well apt for the kind of dark haunting music he tends to focus on mostly with his music.
But even though the subject matter of Eckhart’s texts and quotations works very well here, does the albums title of Subjects one might ask? To be honest regarding the albums title even I am confused, especially considering some of the material on the album does tend to be more acquainted with the 11th track on the album “Sometimes” in the way of a reprise before you even get to it. So let’s take a deeper look at the album as I go through the individual tracks.
Track 1. In Darkness.
The album opens up with the longest track on the album which weighs in at 5 minutes, 36 seconds. Musically we have Midgley’s more Cinematic approach like we got on his first 3 solo albums Vanished Age, Out Of Doors and The Darkness of Error, only here we have the element of a voice added to the equation, and I have to say even though Silentio’s voice plays more of a minimalistic role on the most of the tracks we have on the album, it does effectively work extremely well for it.
Silentio is very much playing more of a speaking role on this track as with most of the tracks on the album, and also uses her own native language as well as English to put across the words just like we have on this opening track. The only words she does speak in English do happen to be one of Eckhart’s more popular quotations that reads as thus: “Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us”.
I think the other thing that sets this album apart from his first 3 solo albums is that it does have more of an electronica feel to it with the use of the keyboards. No doubt you are still getting all the familiar guitar FX and Steve Hackett like lead guitar swells thrown into the pot, but even on this track I am hearing both early Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk.
For example the Geiger counter sound reminds me of Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity” and the section in the middle with the sound from the mellotron reminds me of Tangerine Dream’s “3 AM at the Border of the Marsh from Okefenokee” from their album Stratosfear. I get a bit of King Crimson with the use of the mellotron in particular too. The piece does have a really GREAT! build to it, and I like the vibes from the Electric piano in that middle section too. It’s a cracking starting point for the album and gets the albums off to a GREAT! start.
Track 2. Deserted.
The first of the few short pieces on the album that effectively build their way up to the actual 11th track on the album “Sometimes“. I do like how this album uses most of that songs melody lines to give you a hint, and this has quite a ThemeIstic relation to the 11th track and uses minimalistic parts of it, including the words.
Track 3. Shadowland.
Another piece where the vibes from the electric piano work very well and contains minimalistic words spoken in Polish. This is a very haunting and distant piece and the electronic side here also reminds me of the dark haunting fear that was projected into a truly GREAT! 1969 album entitled An Electric Storm by White Noise. That album also featured an electronic genius by the name of Delia Derbyshire. It’s certainly an album worth checking out if you have not heard it, and one that can strike fear into you and even makes dogs go NUTS :))))).
Track 4. Awareness.
No doubt Midgley likes to get into the groove with the drums and bass on most of these tracks and once again we have quite a theme going on with the guitar lines. It even sounds like he brought in a violin player especially at the beginning of the track. The minimalistic words once again go along with the flow and the groove and it’s quite an effective piece of work.
Track 5. Nothing Of Our Own.
This one starts off like Vangelis with the sound from the sequencer, and the sound of the lead guitar work quite reminds me of Mick Rogers back in the early 70’s with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The words are part of Eckhart’s teachings which are quite similar to Buddhism, and they also sound a bit like his own version of the Lord’s Prayer. He quite often taught the darker way to God and led people up the garden (or wrong) path so to speak, and both Midgley and Silentio do a GRAND! job here of it all here.
Track 6. Derested.
Here we have a reprise of the 2nd track “Deserted” and judging by the title we have here Midgley has either made a spelling mistake or has jumbled up the words in attempt to derail them a bit. Once again it puts the mind in focus of what is to come with track 11 “Sometimes” and I suppose effectively it could be like you are getting a reprise of that track before you have even heard it.
Track 7. Worlds Are Forming.
This is perhaps the first track on the album that Joan Silentio sings on instead of talking. Her voice works very well both ways to be honest, and on this track it sits very well in the groove of the bass and drums. The electric piano features very well here too along with a reversed cymbal effect, it also has a fine lead synth and nice bit of guitar adding to it’ touch towards the end. This is also the first track on the album to have more of a song structure in relation to the other snippets and is a really GREAT! piece of work.
Track 8. First Parting.
A dramatic change of mood here and apart from a couple of words this is more of an instrumental piece than anything else. It’s another step into the lurid territory of the dark and this actually gives me the impression of being stuck on an haunted battleship in dense fog with the picture the music paints. This track is also slightly longer than the other short tracks at its 3 minutes, but oddly enough seems to be over in no time at all and does not seem any longer at all.
Track 9. Ex Nihilo.
The title is written in Latin and means “Out of nothing”. It refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some pre-existing material or out of the divine substance itself. It’s also the shortest track on the album at 1 minute 4 seconds and is another fine piece of work that utilises the bass, drums, guitars and synths and also Silentio’s voice in a minimalistic way.
Track 10. In My Heart.
This is quite a beautiful drifting piece with some lovely vibes from the electric piano that blends in very well with the more spacey pad sound and lead synth. Silentio’s voice is very sweet on this track and it reminds of some of the soulful intros you would get from some Tamla Motown Records back in the late 60’s with groups like Diana Ross & The Supremes and Martha & The Vandellas or even a bit later with The Chi Lites as an example.
It’s a really GREAT! track that I would of liked to have seen go on a bit longer and the bass and drums work well in it too. Had it have done I could of also have seen this making a very good single release from the album and it really is a strong contender for the top spot on the album.
Track 11. Sometimes.
Without a doubt this is the stand out track on the album, and even when I play this album it gives me the impression that everything was building up to this one track alone for some reason. Everything about this song tells me its a smash hit and this album is worth buying for this track alone. To me this is the ultimate track on the album and by far the best structured piece of them all. This is where Joan Silentio really gets a chance to sing on the album, and boy does she deliver the goods here.
I love how the album actually builds it’s way along to get to this point, and even in the previous track you can tell more of a song was starting to develop in relation to all the little small snippets that are all effective and have more of darker side to them all. The light on this album starts to appear on the previous track “In My Heart” and with “Sometimes” you get the whole reflection of the light and it truly opens up the light on the album and shines.
“Sometimes” is very much like a combination of the Alan Parson’s Project, Pink Floyd and perhaps Donna Summer or some soulful singer like that. The combination we have here purely works a treat. The song contains a super stand out bass line, backed up by the drums, glistening vibes from the keys and rhythm guitar and one terrific guitar solo by Russell Sinfield that echoes David Gilmour. Oh and one hell of a GREAT! voice to marry it all up.
The song really is a potential hit and brilliant piece of work, and for me personally by far the best track on the album that merits the top spot award of the album.
Track 12. Love By Nature Flows.
This is another of the better tracks on the album that also contains some Pink Floyd elements about it, once again we get the glistening vibes coming from the guitar alone this time and the bass and drums are well good too and provide the GREAT! groove here. Silentio’s voice also works very well in both Polish and English, and we also have a little operatic vocal sample thrown in here too by the sound of it. This is another very well constructed piece of work and both this track or the next one that follows it would potentially make a fitting B-Side for a vinyl release of “Sometimes“.
Track 13. One Good Path.
Here we are back to the electronic synth vibe, and once again the sequencing reminds me of Tangerine Dream, but once again it works very well with the electric piano adding to it, and it has a gorgeous lead synth sound to it as well. It’s another one of the more lengthier tracks that is very well constructed with its melody lines and use of Silentio’s voice in the all the right places.
Track 14. Fountain.
We are back in the darkness where the album began for the final track on the album, and this piece is more like Midgley’s earlier work on his first 3 solo albums that is spacious and uses great guitar and effects, only here we have Silentio’s voice and vibes on keys of the electric piano adding it all very well indeed. More GREAT! Hackett like guitar swells and once again Silentio gets to use her GREAT! singing voice for a change at the end too with the harmonies. It puts the album to bed very well and is another really GREAT! track.
To sum up the album Subjects by Gordon Midgley & Joan Silentio I would say that having the extra voice is the key element to making this album sound different in relation to Midgley’s earlier material which tends to focus more on dark dramatic cinematic soundscapes. Much of that side of things also still exists on this album, and I would even stick my neck out and say that some of the material may of come from left over material from his other albums.
But it’s not only Silentio’s voice that makes the difference here, and her vibes on the electric piano are also a key element to that difference, not to mention the fact that Midgley is also working with real drums which also makes this album work very well for it as well. As a musician Midgley’s talent never ceases to amaze me, and he already seems to have found his way even on a drum kit after no time at all in learning how to play them over the short period of time he has had them.
One of the things I did notice about this album is that the writing credits are missing, and I could of easily of asked Gordon if he wrote all the music we have on this album, but my guess is that there is very much a joint thing going on regarding some of the written material we have here. I could be wrong, but it certainly does have some fresher modern elements along the path of this album that I feel could not have been achieved without Joan being onboard.
I feel the source of material used for the albums concept and the use of text quotations from Meister Eckhart himself for the words is all very fitting. I like how Gordon describes the album too in his own words of being “related musical and lyrical motifs are presented in different contexts at various stages of the journey” to which they truly are.
The only real thing that confuses me, is why the album was titled “Subjects” and that would of been more fitting of a name to call themselves, rather than the title of the album. The only re-occurring theme on the album comes from the track “Sometimes” and I do feel that should of been the albums title. I am sure they have a perfect explanation as to why it was not. My personal highlights from the album are “Sometimes“. “In My Heart“. “Love By Nature Flows“. “One Good Path“. “In Darkness” and “Fountain“.
In conclusion of my review I very much feel that the album Subjects may appear to be an album that mostly consists of little snippets with the biggest majority of the short tracks you get here. But they all make up quite and exciting album that even has quite a wide variety of styles thrown into the pot, yet somehow maintains to flow quite consistently throughout. The analog synths on the album work a treat, though I do also hear what sounds to me like soft synths in some small parts on a couple of tracks, the operatic vocal on “Love By Nature Flows” for example reminds me of Omnisphere and I also hear some sounds that remind me of Camel Audio.
I like the minimalistic approach with the words and I do get the feeling that the album does work its way up through the darkness and builds up to what I would call the track that has the shining light on the album, which is “Sometimes“. Like I said earlier the album is worth getting for that track alone, but you do get much more for the small price of the album and its well worthy of its price point.
Once again the production values are high and there is nothing here that disappoints either, and I like the way both Midgely and Silentio work as a team. I hear all sorts of influences such as the Alan Parson’s Project, Pink Floyd, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, White Noise, King Crimson and loads more. I can even hear a bit of Tamala Motown soul thrown in here too, and I never thought I would get that remotely from anything Gordon Midgley as ever done. Even down to the fact that is also touches on hip hop and a bit of dubstep, it’s not over the top and all works and blends together extremely well.
Overall the Subjects is perhaps a slightly different road for Gordon Midgley to go down, but I cannot take anything away from what both he and Joan Silentio has put into this album, and I would even welcome more of this in the future. Perhaps something more along the lines where Silentio can get to use more of her singing voice, because I do feel that “Sometimes” would make a hit record and it deserves to be heard a lot more.
You can listen to the album for free on Bandcamp, or even purchase it for as little as £3 and I do highly recommend you give it a whirl. https://gordonmidgley.bandcamp.com/album/subjects
Sometimes I Can Sense That It Is Dark…
The track listing is as follows:
01. In Darkness. 5:36.
02. Deserted. 1:58.
03. Shadowland. 2:06.
04. Awareness. 2:10.
05. Nothing Of Our Own. 2:34.
06. Derested. 1:26.
07. Worlds Are Forming. 2:36.
08. First Parting. 3:08.
09. Ex Nihilo. 1:04.
10. In My Heart. 2:22.
11. Sometimes. 4:58.
12. Love By Nature Flows. 2:54.
13. One Good Path. 4:42.
14. Fountain. 5:02.