Lifesigns - Altitude

(CD 2021, 54:20, Lifesigns Music Limited)

The tracks:
  1- Altitude(15:17)
  2- Gregarious(4:34)
  3- Ivory Tower(7:45)
  4- Shoreline(7:40)
  5- Fortitude(10:08)
  6- Arkhangelsk(0:57)
  7- Last One Home(6:16)
  8- Altitude Reprise(1:43)

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The third album by Lifesigns, has been eagerly anticipated and rightly so. Following the success and plaudits for the eponymous first album (2013, see review), the second album Cardington (2017, see review) showed the ever-evolving band taking a very defined trajectory through the Prog firmament which has now led to Altitude.

John Young, vocalist, keyboards player and composer, and producer Steve Rispin are now the only original band members. The band is augmented by stalwart, long time bassist Jon Poole, guitarist/keyboard player Dave Bainbridge (Iona, Celestial Fire), plus a guest appearance here from Fish's guitarist Robin Boult. Making his debut with the band is new drummer Zoltán Csörsz (The Flower Kings, The Tangent and Karmakanic) and other special guests help to enrich the sound.

Altitude does not disappoint, the band extending and expanding its rich pallet of melodic and expressive compositions, all written by Young.
The title track, the opener and longest on the album, is a journey skywards to get a drone's eye view of the world. It is a stunningly complex and breath-taking flight, highlighting Young's skill at melding together contrasting instrumental elements. His voice has such depth of feeling, heightened further by the ethereal voice of Lynsey Ward (Exploring Birdsong), the haunting cello of Juliet Wolff and Peter Knight's searching violin. At its conclusion is a beautiful, dreamy sequence in the same vein as those classic passages gracing Close To The Edge and Awaken. Both of Yes!
Gregarious is the most commercially accessible track, that has an infectious, driving beat and some lovely keyboard and guitar flourishes going on in the mix behind Young's probing vocals. Poole's rumbling bass is another prominent feature, together with a ringing guitar solo from Bainbridge.

Regret and love lost is the theme of Ivory Tower, one of Young's reworked older songs, which starts with a tinkling glockenspiel-like keyboard motif and Boult's acoustic guitar. It steps up several gears halfway through, Csörsz taking charge in the rhythm department, showing why he is such a valuable addition to the band.
Shoreline takes the album in a completely different direction, its jazzy hooks and up-tempo vibe both attractive and infectious. This could be the album's hidden gem.
Fortitude has a pacier feel, and again, it is full of exquisite instrumental depth and richness, Young again examining the mystery of relationships in its lyrics.
At less than a minute, the synthesiser swirls of Arkhangelsk is a nostalgic nod to his days with Qango and the legacy of the late John Wetton. It leads seamlessly into a reimagining of Qango's beautiful ballad of the seas, Last One Home, already established as a Lifesigns' live favourite. As well as the haunting melody and moving chorus line, it is the sheer majesty of Bainbridge's searing, tear-jerking guitar solo which lifts this song into a completely different universe, the sounds of the seagulls then bringing it back closer to the briny.
A final short Altitude Reprise completes the circular flight.

The success of Lifesigns is very much down to its continuing organic growth, and Altitude again ticks all the sonic boxes in terms of style, substance and production. To fully appreciate them and everything Altitude stands for, you need to look upwards because there is no limit, not even the sky, to what they can continue achieving.

****+ Alison Reijman

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