Today marks out 60th monthly CD review at the SMS, closing our 5 straight year of new reviews each month, so thanks to everyone for following along, and here's to many more to come! This month, we're looking at Haggith drummer & prolific local solo musician Mike Haggith's 48th solo album "A Place Of Our Own", marking our fourth review of one of Mike's solo albums on the site! Independently released in physical formats on May 10th with the digital copies following two days later, this concept EP was originally put out to coincide with Mike's solo set at the fourth annual Sewer Swampstravaganza last month, with recording sessions taking place in early 2014 at Galactic Records and PaperClip Productions. Like on Mike's other solo CDs, he sings all vocals and plays all instruments on this release, which can be bought locally at The Rad Zone for $5 or online for a price of your choosing via Mike's Bandcamp page. Streaming copies of each song can be heard on YouTube at this link, and are linked below too, but please buy this album to support Mike's music! Featuring 6 songs at 36 minutes in length, let's begin this month's CD review!
"Let Me In", which begins slowly before kicking into a steady instrumental rhythm with a noticeable use of symphonic keyboard effects. Mike's singing is consistent with earlier solo albums of his, harbouring a deep melody that fits the song well! Instrumentally, "Let Me In" is well composed, and I like the orchestral ambiance, but the guitar riffing and overall rhythm seems too monotonous and repetitive, and it seems like the original verse was extended beyond 3 minutes rather than a full ranged track. Solid opener though, especially for longtime fans of Mike's! Second on the EP is "Cowardly Hearts Beneath The Stars", which has a dark effect filled opening to contrast with a more optimistic sounding number, which uses piano parts to good effect, along with really solid drumming and more forceful vocals. More diverse and structured than "Let Me In", this song has a grand & important feel to it, though it's not "heavy" in the metal sense. I will say Mike's singing does sound a bit processed at points, but the songs are trending upward!
"Long Talk" comes next, with a catchy drum and orchestration beat leading into a softer verse with a minimal guitar presence, and while the vocals seem a bit too upbeat for the tone of the instrumentation, the choruses are arguably the best so far on this disc! Feeling much shorter than it's 6+ minute runtime, the orchestral effects add a lot, especially with the eerie ending, but fans of Mike's heavier songs may dislike the lack of prominent guitar work, and I concede that it'd have pushed this song over the edge if included. Effective all the same though!
Fourth on "A Place Of Our Own" is the 12 minute "To Kansas: The Ballad of K4/K5", which I presume is the sequel to "The Ballad of K2/K3" from 2012's "Neighbourhood Watch", and it's by far the heaviest song on this EP so far! I really like the symphonic elements here, with Mike's guitar & bass work contrasting with them nicely over the first 3 and a half minutes. When the vocals kick in, Mike uses more of a speedier aggressive bite than on earlier tracks, and while some melody is sacrificed, there is a passion within! The song seems to end at 6:38, but it builds back up slowly into a reprise of sorts which fits the themes and style of the first half of the song, but in retrospect, these songs might have been better served as either separate tracks or slashed down into one shorter original. Overall though, "To Kansas" will please hard rock fans the most, and has a nice orchestral essence, merging the best of both worlds if you don't get turned off by the length!
Fifth is the EP's shortest song (with the longest name), "'This Potato May Be Used As A Flotation Device'", but does this song named after an in-joke hold up? After an epic keyboard introduction, the song itself kicks in with a nice natural groove, and while the verses are minimal like on "Long Talk", the choruses are more active, and the fast-moving structure and nicely balanced vocals fit well! The song's almost got a punk vibe, it'd be interesting to see how Mike could have taken this song down that road in another project. Effective and catchy number, but extra guitar work and a less abrupt ending would have helped! This disc closes with it's title track "A Place Of Our Own", which begins softly with a piano intro before slowly introducing other instruments, with the song taking the form of an orchestral rock ballad when all the pieces arrive. The darker vocals create an interesting contrast with the grand-feeling music around it, though the song develops more of an aggressive streak on the last verse. Effective closure to the EP, and it flows along well with earlier songs!
So, what are my final thoughts on Mike Haggith's newest solo EP? I find that "A Place Of Our Own" continues the orchestral themes from last year's "Neighbourhood Watch II: Where It Ends" to good effect, and in ways, it could have been the third in the trilogy if not harbouring it's own existing concept. Mike's singing is effectively melodic and uniquely deep like on earlier solo releases, and he shows lots of musical talent throughout, especially on drums, while his orchestral compositions on the keyboard added a lot to the themes here, giving many songs an epic feeling! I like that less songs had abrupt endings too, but there were areas that could have used a darker or heavier tone, and on a few songs, more of a prominent guitar role rather than just singing over drumming. Overall though, "A Place Of Our Own" is a solid continuation of Mike's recent solo work, and fans of melodic hard rock and orchestral music should definitely check it out or buy it at the above links!
I hope you guys liked this month's CD review! We'll begin our sixth straight year of CD reviews next month, and we'll likely take our third look at Dafter, Michigan hard rocker SweetKenny's prolific discography next, but which of his 2014 albums is next for the SMS? With last year's "Cracks In The Wall" now a bit too old to be a "new" disc, I chose Ken's 8th solo album "Ink!" from March of this year over the newer "This End Up" as it's slightly heavier, so that will likely be next up for our monthly reviews! Watch out for that next month, and stay tuned for more news shortly! Thanks everyone!