Above Cirrus takes its title from a random conversation between Pure Reason Revolution singer/guitarist/keyboardist and linchpin Jon Courtney and guitarist Greg Jong, who has now returned to the fold for the first time as a full-time band member since 2005’s Cautionary Tales For The Brave EP. Observing the clouds above them during a session break for the album, Jong remarked that the highest of those in the sky were called ‘cirrus’ and that nothing was beyond them. But surely there is more? What of the Latin phrase ‘per aspera ad astra’, which translates as ‘through hardships to the stars’? Now, that’s an apt concept, surely? And not least because the feeling that Pure Reason Revolution are stretching beyond Earthbound concerns is hard to deny.
Their fifth album – their second released since returning from a hiatus that lasted for most of the 2010s – is a densely packed affair whose treasures begin to yield and reveal themselves after several listens. Far from being a passive experience, wherein the music washes and soothes, Above Cirrus almost dares the listener to second-guess its approach and motives.
Unlike 2020’s Eupnea, this isn’t an album tied to a single concept, but it sure as hell feels like it. It’s tempting to read a greater meaning into the songs’ themes of ever-changing relationships and how quickly love can turn to hate, but it would be erroneous to do so. Each of the seven songs here stand on their own two feet, though with the gaps between them either tight or washed away by segues, Above Cirrus can sometimes give off the deceptive feel of single track spread over its 46-minute running time.
But like those volatile relationships at the heart of Above Cirrus, the music can turn on a penny. Witness New Kind Of Evil wherein the harmonising between Jon Courtney and bassist/keyboardist/co-vocalist Chloë Alper is suddenly and spectacularly ripped asunder by the sheer violence and heavy riffing of their instruments. Should listeners find themselves lulled into a false sense of security, then it’s no spoiler to say they’ll soon be shaken like leaves and branches in a hurricane. Similarly, the epic Scream Sideways is a multi-faceted beast that revels in Floydian waves of intoxicated bliss before erupting into an apocalyptic fury that stomps on all before it. And then, surveying the damage around, it tries to make amends with jazzy flourishes and a gradual retreat into solace and silence.
The electro throbs of Phantoms almost verge on pop. And while these stylistic changes move hither and yon, Pure Reason Revolution know that the only way is up.
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