Thursday, April 23, 2020

Mike Haggith - "If Ever Comes The Day" CD Review!!

It's now time for our 130th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and in a rare surprise, it's of an advance copy of an album not even on sale yet, namely local/Thompson, Manitoba alt-hard rock solo musician Mike Haggith's 50th canon studio album "If Ever Comes The Day"! The album's official release is not until May 15th, but Mike asked if I would like a digital copy early for review purposes, and sent me everything last week, so thanks to Mike for his generosity! The first solo studio album Mike has released since "The Warinside" five years ago, and his first since moving out of Ontario, this independently released album was primarily recorded in late 2019 and early 2020 in Thompson, with August 11th, 2019 (the weekend of his local concert last year) heavily cited as a launching point for "If Ever Comes The Day" coming together, and personal feelings abound in the included songs as a result, especially so if you are a close friend of his.

Mike performs almost all instruments on this release, save for ex-RedD Monkey cellist Pete Mozarowski, who is the sole performer on track 6, and Mike's Between The Ditches bandmate Justin Fuciarelli, who performs guitar solos on two songs. "If Ever Comes The Day" was expected to be launched at a CD release concert at LopLops on May 15th, but the ongoing shutdown of concert venues forced it to be postponed to Mike's birthday on November 6th, so time will tell if the new date holds up. In any event, the album will go on sale as scheduled next month, with digital streaming copies hitting Bandcamp and similar services then, and physical CDs can be mailed to Ontario at that point, which is especially notable because who knows when he can get copies on local storefronts at this rate. Based on Mike's solo and Din album releases in the 2010s, CDs would likely run for $10 (not counting shipping), but recent Bandcamp copies have tended to cost less than that.

Song names below are linked to online streaming copies where available, though some songs are linked to live performances, as the album proper is not on sale yet. With 10 (technically 12) songs running for 47 minutes in length, let's begin this review with the opening song, "The Best You Never Had"! Lyrically themed around optimism towards a relationship that cannot be, this song has a steadily driving rhythm that has a 1980s essence, and low, affecting vocals from Mike that get more intense and direct for the choruses, and increasingly hopeful by the end. This song is heavier in lyrics than composition, but it's a well composed song with clear emotion, and the piano input adds to the presentation, and is in line with his Sault-era solo albums. If you're more familiar with Mike's Din work, this may be a bit of a jump in tone, but it's a solid opener that sets the tone for the album ahead, though the personal back story may be lost on listeners who don't know Mike very well.

Next up is "MorningStar", which is about lamenting a lost love, but musically, the verses have a very bluesy tone, before oddly getting more cheerful and lively in the choruses. The backing instrumentation has a little of the orchestral tinge that was common on his last few solo albums, but the presentation of the song is a little spare and empty, like a guitar part was left out before mastering. Pleasant song with catchy lyrics, but it feels somewhat unfinished. Third is the album's title track "If Ever Comes The Day", which tells of expecting the end of a relationship in the distant future, which is contrasted by the most upbeat music yet on the album. Mike sings with a full voice here, and the music has a bright and grandiose nature that definitely calls to mind the 1960s, if that makes any sense. You almost feel motivated despite the melancholy resolution that Mike's expecting! As pure music, this is my favourite early song, and you really feel what he's going for!

Song #4 is "Into The Setting Sun", with it's lyrics seeming to deal with managing grief and loss. This is definitely a more melancholy and downbeat song, with more lower-register singing and more direct, to the point instrumentation, though Justin Fuciarelli's first of two guitar solos does add some welcome variance, though it doesn't sound cohesive with the rest of the song. Well-written with real emotion, this song works on that level, but if you want a more upbeat rock song, this isn't it. That's followed by "Communique", reflecting the break-down of a relationship and the communication between both parties. Musically, this has a campfire song vibe to it, only with some added orchestration, and this is definitely one of the better adaptations to acoustic format if you've seen Mike's live-streams. For what this is, I like how it turned out a lot, and it's easy to sing along with too! It's got the right emotion and tone while also keeping a lively pace!

Sixth is "This Page Intentionally Left Blank", a 64 second-long intro track to the next formal song, as recorded in Winnipeg by the aforementioned Pete Mozarowski. Compared to his RedD Monkey work, this is very much a classical composition, and a very pretty one, so it's an effective way to set the tone for "Back Away Slowly", which more directly outlines the moment in the field that Mike has alluded to in prior album materials as helping instigate this album, and the lyrics are very candid as to what went down. Given the lyrical content, Mike does contrast it with a more upbeat, mid-tempo rocker with an orchestral backing, and it's one of the stronger compositions on the album, with solid guitar work and a tight structure overall. Mike's emotion and real feelings come through very well in his vocals too, as you would expect if you know the back story, so this is another solid recommendation!

Track #8 is "Take Back The Moon", which breaks from the album's otherwise personal concept for a song about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples of Canada, albeit from the perspective of not knowing how to approach the situation from the outside. More of a melancholy sing-along track, this features the second Justin Fuciarelli guitar solo, and it does fit better into the existing composition. The mood the song is going for is sincere and extremely valid, but it's sleepier and not as strongly written as the ones where Mike is laying his own personal feelings on the table. Ninth is the album's longest track, "Visual, Descending For The Field", which seems to be reflective of a relationship that has ended and the hopes of seeing each other again. This is more of a musical showcase, with a very intricate, sweeping composition that seems like it was written with a field in mind, and this song would presumably work just as well as an instrumental in this regard. Not a heavy song, but it's a strong piece of music that'd be well worth relaxing to!

After two blank tracks running for 8 and 10 seconds each (I don't really see the point), the album closes with an epilogue of sorts, "2145", which reflects on time since the apparent break-up and hopes for the future on both sides. A softer ballad, this is another nicely written song with a pretty, affectionate overtone that helps end the album on a happy note, and the optimistic guitar work and backing instrumentation nicely builds as the song moves forward. The song ends abruptly, but it's an effective coda that's in line with the earlier songs. So, what are my final thoughts on "If Ever Comes The Day"?  While this is a big departure from his heavier and more power-pop work with The Din, Mike Haggith's new solo album is a success in concept in story-telling alone, and even if you don't know Mike that well, the meanings and emotions behind the songs come through very strongly! Opting to postpone "Bridges" for this very personal album was the right move for Mike to address his own story, and he gave these songs the care and attention they deserved!

There are musical similarities to his early-mid 2010s solo output, especially with the return of keyboard and orchestral parts, but he has matured as a musician so much in the past 5 years, and if you compare to those albums, it's really obvious. Myself, I do prefer his heavier and more direct songs, so this isn't my favourite release in Mike's extensive back catalog, but I do respect what he's doing here, and the effectiveness peaks on the title track and "Back Away Slowly. Some songs did sound a little empty or too melancholy, but as a concept album, this meets the goals he set for it, and I'm sure it will hit home for many listeners who have had relationships in need of repair. You can hear for yourself via the singles and live cuts linked above in the interim, but buy or stream the album when it officially comes out on May 15th! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what are we reviewing on the site next month? I don't immediately know, but here's what I can tell you.

If nothing new comes out for sale (possibilities can be seen in our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on May 2nd), we will dip into the archives, and while I would like to tie in a review with a musician playing live next month, I don't know if concerts will take place in any capacity in May 2020. In any event, I will not look at another Mike Haggith, Chase Wigmore, or Haggith (the band) album next due to our 6 month anti-bias buffer period. Time will tell, but stay tuned for details on that front, and for more news and videos on the site soon! Thanks everyone!

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