Thieves' Kitchen is originally a British progressive rock band which was formed in 1999. The original line up included ex Grey Lady Down drummer Mark Robotham, guitarist Phil Mercy, keyboard player Wolfgang Kindl and lead singer Simon Boys. Their debut Head was released in 2000. Followed by Argot one year later. In 2002 I managed to see them perform at the famous Baja Prog Festival in Mexico. After that the band replaced their singer with Amy Darby behind the microphone. She was first heard on Shibboleth (2003). It was the last album with the bands German keyboard player. He was replaced by the Swedish musician Thomas Johnson, known from his work with Änglagård. His first musical activities can be heard on The Water Road (2008). The final album with Robotham on drums. After this release I missed out two of their albums unfortunately. Namely One For Sorrow, Two For Joy (2013) and The Clockwork Universe (2015). Since those albums the core of the band is reduced to Mercy, Darby and Johnson. Lucky I rediscovered them with their latest album Genius Loci.
On this album the core members are assisted by drummer Paul Mallyon (ex-Sanguine Hum), bassist Johan Brand (Änglagård, All Traps On Earth) and flautist Anna Holmgren (Änglagård). Together they created a wonderful album, which was created with the same line-up as the previous work. The album title Genius Loci, which comes from Latin, means “spirit of the place”. For the concept of the album it means that the pieces are textually dedicated to special places and events as well as old legends.
For example Eilmer is about a monk who was said to be the first to fly 1,000 years ago. In the texts of Uffington it is about what a 3000-year-old figure could have seen. The Poison Garden is dedicated to a mysterious spirit of the garden. The Voice Of The Lar deals with the possible fate of a Lar Familiaris, which is a domestic protective spirit that the ancient Romans are said to have believed in. The melody and lyrics of Mirie It Is are said to be the oldest secular song currently known from the twelfth century. Someone longs for a beautiful summer while the winter is severe.
Musically guitarist Phil Mercy and keyboardist Thomas Johnson set the tone mainly on this album. They make sure there are plenty of instrumental passages intertwined with the angelic female vocals of Amy Darby, that flow together magically. The well-known Canterbury prog is preserved on this release and mixed with folklore, retro progressive rock, medieval music and a portion of jazz of the more moderate variety. That really sounds interesting and it is if you are into this kind of typical mix of musical styles. Which I am of course!
The compositions are mature, complex, headstrong and therefore sometimes difficult to grasp if you are into more simple progressive rock tunes. But for me always a real pleasure to listen to. The popularly used slightly dissonant melodies and the well thought-out interplay of everyone involved make me think of Gentle Giant and Änglagård in turns. But also the retro sound of bands such as Yes and The Flower Kings sometimes come to the surface. Mainly because Mercy sometimes sounds like Steve Howe, Darby sounds like Jon Anderson and Johnson uses a lot of vintage keyboards such as an electric piano, Hammond organ and Mellotron. But also the bass sound of Brand reminds me of the late Chris Squire.
The band is also not afraid to experiment with different difficult styles and time signatures.
Especially on the epic piece The Voice Of The Lar, there is a lot of experimentation. This actually challenges the listener, because keeping the thread here is not easy. Therefore this 20 minutes long piece of music is for me personally the absolute musical highlight on the album. But I should also not forget to mention Mirie It Is, the final track on the album. Here Amy sings in old English and has beautiful flute parts done by Anna Holmgren. Thieves' Kitchen just knows how to avoid boredom, they equip their compositions with appealing, densely composed ideas that sometimes shimmer a little temperament in the first-class symphonic progressive rock sound.
Also thumbs up for the production! The production of this independent release is professional, there are good dynamics and a clear division of the instruments. When the music sounds as delicate and fragile in many places as here, then a dynamic and clear production is an advantage. Kudos to Rob Aubrey, for such fantastic sounds on the entire album.
Thieves' Kitchen fans will certainly not be disappointed with Genius Loci, because all the bands trademarks can be found on this release. The compositions, musicianship, and passion on this album are crafted with care. You can feel what the musicians are playing and singing. This is special music if you open your mind and ears for it. The fact that the tracks are all more or less complex should not disturb. At least not for me! An excellent album without any doubt! I am glad I am back on track with the band after missing two already released albums a couple of years ago!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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