The recent Esoteric Antenna showcase in London was more than a chance to catch a nice little prog outfit marketed by Esoteric’s new frontline label. Liggers who resisted the urge for elsewhere libations long enough to catch the headliners would have enjoyed the sonic splendour of Tin Spirits, featuring the talents of ex-XTC guitarist Dave Gregory. Not quite the angular pop you might expect from the man that played on his old band’s biggest hits, Tin Spirits is more about the prog.
Wired To Earth is their debut, a five-track disc including four original songs and a cover of Genesis’s Back in NYC. The cover song choice is indicative of the band’s direction, grounded in prog’s 70s-style musings – all jangly guitars, summery grooves and Yes-inspired harmonies – but with the subtlest of nods to darker climes.
In some ways Tin Spirits is a natural progression. Sewn from the seeds of US glam punk, XTC probably had a more explicit affiliation with prog’s musical opponent, but their desire to do things differently carved them an avant-garde path. A man with prog sewn on his sleeve, Gregory has, since leaving XTC in 1999, worked with Peter Gabriel, Steve Hogarth and Big Big Train. It was only a matter of time before he became a full-time member of a prog band.
As the song title implies, Glimmer is a gentle opener; its soft cymbal crashes inspire visions of a sun-sprinkled ocean while the dual-guitar melodies twinkle and give the song a New-Age feel. It’s a comfortable start to the album but also one that defines their debut as a guitar album, not in a play-until-your-fingers bleed way, but as a delicate demonstration of deft interplay. The minor chords of the opener are briefly forgotten as ...And Go begins with a choppy, chirpy groove driven by harmonies and a crunchy guitar. It teeters on the edge of happy-go-lucky, like much of the album.
Seemingly Wired To Earth is fresh and fanciful but let’s not forget those elongated patches of foreboding, dragged down by heavy distortion and an eastern eeriness. The mid-album tribute to Genesis restores the balance of dark and light. Daniel Steinhardt’s vocals, while strained, have a touch of gravel that adds character. With a 70s rock sensibility that recalls the Allman Brothers and an end transition that has all the pop and melody of Crowded House, Broken is a curious beast but is blissfully fluid.
Wired To Earth is not exploring new frontiers, but its prog-meets-pop persona is executed with such craftsmanship, it really doesn’t matter.