Subimago, the seventh full length release from Swedish duo Carptree certainly announces itself in a blaze of operatic glory, crashing keyboards, whirling organ, frantic drumming and dramatic choral work alternate with plaintive solo vocals. Both this opening track, Welcome and the name of the album itself which references a stage in the development of an insect, able to fly but not yet mature, hint at a freshness and youthful spirit. This might raise an eyebrow as Carl Westholm (keyboards, guitar, tambourine, composer & arrangements, producer & mixing) and Niclas Flinck (lead & backing vocals, composer, lyrics) are seasoned hands, backed up by their long term collaborators, the No Future Orchestra (NFO). But there is a clear design at hand, the previous outings Insekt (2007), Nymf (2010, see review) and Emerger (2017), representing earlier stages in the development of the mayfly. Now, the album artwork announces itself in a blaze of primary colours. This is music of the air, not the water, straining for the light and freedom.
Of course they are not yet completely free of the waterbound existence, to stretch the metaphor. Life remains hazardous, fragile and, for the mayfly ephemeral, and yet the life force is compelling. This is a rich seam of hope mixed with futility, tapped into gloriously in By Your Own Device, a less forbidding track than the opener, while World Without Mind displays a more playful mode, Flinck's vocals being given an original, jerky accompaniment, appropriate to his staccato delivery and the robotic vision of the lyric. The operatic stylings are stripped away for Instead Of Life a contemplative piece showcasing the plaintive, fragile vocal and tender piano. Celestial Sky is in many ways a centrepiece, picking up on the theme of light and shade, a crescendo of synth and doom laden choirs ushering in the main theme of flight before leaving the vocal exposed and vulnerable. Someone Else's Play is consciously dramatic, although there is playfulness too in its charting the fragility of a doomed relationship. Eye Of The Storm is another piece of contrasts, moments of contemplative calm which are merely respite from the crashing maelstrom and doom-metal vocals which threaten to break in. Finally Sum of All The Senses forms a fitting full-blown finale, a true ensemble piece which throws everything at the band's disposal into the mix and sums up the whole of the preceding work and perhaps looking forward to the next instalment, bigger than the sum of all the parts. Martial drumming takes us marching on....
Carptree have certainly found an original seam and created a world and soundscape of their own. They pick their way through the contrasting themes in an engaging way, and with assurance. Challenging and totally individual, this is an album which repays several listens to uncover all of its charms both dark and light. This may not be the best introduction to prog rock, nor will it immediately appeal to anyone who wants to hear reruns of Pink Floyd and Genesis, but anyone who values challenging, thought-provoking and interesting modern music, with care put into the composition and delivery and a definite cerebral engagement, then this will intrigue and entertain you. The good news is that there are still stages left for this insekt to fly.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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