Haggith drummer Mike Haggith's newest solo album "Neighbourhood Watch II: Where It Ends"! A sequel to October 2012's "Neighbourhood Watch", this is considered Mike's 47th solo album, and though it follows "The Present Din" from May of this year, I've picked "Neighbourhood Watch II" for our next review of Mike's solo work as it's heavier in tone. Independently released on September 24th, the album was recorded this year at Galactic Records in Windsor, with vocals recorded locally at PaperClip Productions, and Mike provides lead vocals and all instruments & programming on the included tracks. "Neighbourhood Watch II: Where It Ends" can be bought for $5 via Mike's Bandcamp & Reverbnation pages (with Reverbnation also allowing individual song buys for 99¢), while a physical release is also planned. Each song title below is linked to the official YouTube copy of it, so stream the tracks there, but please buy the album to support Mike's work! With 11 tracks clocking in at about 40 minutes in length, let's begin this review with the first track!
The album begins with "Grace", which opens with an orchestral piano stretch that sets an interesting tone, before Mike's singing kicks in after a minute or so, which come across as a bit higher and more emotional than on some of his recent original songs. Well composed, the song honestly goes by quicker than I expected, and given that it's got more of an ethereal quality than anything, it's an interesting choice to lead off the CD. It's not heavy, but it does what it's supposed to, and you can feel the passion in it overall! Second is "Miss 76", which shares more audio comparisons with Mike's recent solo work with lower vocals and guitar/drum implementing, but there's still at an atmospheric quality to some of the effects. This might be incorrect to it's intent, but I'm getting a Doors vibe out of this track thanks to the structure, especially early. The acoustic guitar and build-up of energy late is a nice contrast, but it seems to come too late, and the song ends just as it's really sparking. Solid overall though, and I like the expansion of influences Mike's using early!
"All Alone" comes in next, which opens with a very orchestral keyboard intro for most of the first minute before other instruments kick in, including low softer vocals and a nice deliberate drum pacing. There's a clear emotion through Mike's singing here, which really drives the track compared to the backing instrumentation. The effects late are interesting, but again, it seems to end abruptly, almost like a higher tempo ending was on it's way but cut short. Well done, and I like the darker tone, but like it's preceding tracks, it went by too quickly. I will note that it does lead right into a short fourth song named "Silent Pleasure", which continues with the instrumental effects that "All Alone" ended with, but why not just formally combine the two tracks? The effects (which almost sounded like parts of other songs rewound) are cool, but as it's own 57 second track, it doesn't stand alone well.
The fifth song is "Lacking Common Sense", which has the hardest rocking intro yet (albeit slow paced), but it continues with the trend of devoting the first minute to instrumental work before vocals kick in. The verses are much softer with effects put on Mike's clean vocals, but oddly, there's almost no chorus singing. The heaviest song on "Where It Ends" so far, I like the fuller sound that gives more of the illusion of a full band, and Mike's guitar playing is strong, but like before, it goes by too fast.
"Fourth Floor, Centre" follows it on the disc, which is a rather beautiful sounding orchestral composition that builds nicely into a grand and heavy number late before fading towards it's end. Like "Silent Pleasure", it connects perfectly with another track (this time, preceding track #7, "She Wanted To Be A Veterinarian"), but again, why not combine the two? On it's companion song, Mike returns to a softer rock style, but this song benefits from a longer length and the nice use of deliberate emotion and quality lyrics that Mike gives once again! If anything I wish "She Wanted To Be A Veterinarian" continued with the grand orchestral feelings of "Fourth Floor, Centre", but if you look at the two as a combined 5 minute song, you get some of Mike's best work so far on the CD! I just wish that the intro was more of a sign of things to come.
The promisingly titled "Wicked Midnight Ride" comes in next, and it continues with his well composed orchestral rock songs, but with a bit more of a bite compared to some of it's predecessors, and I like his chorus vocals and control here! His instrumental work is really solid here, especially for the backing orchestration and late piano work, and I have to say, this is probably my favourite of the songs so far. It's catchy, combines the orchestral influence and Mike's rock base really nicely, and aside from the abrupt ending, never gets dragged down. Not bad at all! Ninth is "Solitude", which definitely leads off feeling like it's title, with minimal instrumentation outside of the choruses, soft low singing, and affecting lyrics that give the song a downbeat feeling. Mike's keyboard parts are the star of the show on this track, and he really adds to the mood with them, and the song definitely succeeds at it's aims, so give "Solitude" extra attention if you like Mike's softer and more intimate originals! Fans of the heavier stuff might not be as enthusiastic though.
The album's penultimate song is "When The Rope Breaks", a longer track that expands on earlier symphonic and paino sounds while deftly flowing that into another softer vocal performance that, while reserved and somewhat minimalistic, isn't done badly at all. If anything, the choruses' added intensity seems a bit forced here, and the song might be a touch too long, but like on earlier songs of this emotional level, it does what it's supposed to very well! I just find it drags a bit, but I can't question Mike's instrumental talents here! The album closes with "Goodbye", which is the longest overall at 7:30 in length. Opening with backing chorus-esque vocals, it's similar to "When The Rope Breaks", albeit a bit more lively and with more of a piano base. It never feels overly long and is nicely varied to include the general influences of the album, and it gives a nice bookend to the album by closing softly like it began. Of course, a heavier element to this song wouldn't come amiss, but Mike's symphonic compositions helped give this song a nice ambiance to close with!
So, what's my final verdict on Mike Haggith's newest solo album? I liked it overall, and as a supporter of orchestral and symphonic elements in rock/metal music, I was pleased to see more of that on a local album release, but I'm not sure if it's better than some of his other recent solo work. Mike's individual instrumental abilities are not in question, and his vocals fit the mood of the songs well, and even though the album isn't as hard rock based as some of his previous albums, songs like "Wicked Midnight Ride" and "Lacking Common Sense" cover that angle! The production's good too, but how does it compare to the first "Neighbourhood Watch" from last year? I'd say it's not as dark, but it feels grander and more majestic, but whether that's better or not is up to you. (I will note that many of the songs on the sequel album were dropped from the original also.) I would have liked to have seen harder rocking songs to match with the orchestral elements, and many songs (especially early) went by too quickly or ended abruptly, and I still wonder why "Silent Pleasure" and "Fourth Floor, Centre" were broke from their companion tracks.
SweetKenny" Sutton's newest album "Cracks In The Wall", which is scheduled for a Halloween release, but that depends on it coming out on schedule. If it gets delayed past mid-November, we'll likely review an archive album of some kind, likely one from Candle Hour, Detroit, Facedown, Foothill Road, RedD Monkey, or Sykotyk Rampage (barring any acquisitions of hard rock/metal albums that I don't currently have), but that'd only be if there's a delay for "Cracks In The Wall". Keep an eye out either way, and stay tuned for more news tomorrow! Thanks everyone!