Review: William D. Drake – The Rising of the Lights

To those in the know, William D. Drake’s songwriting credentials have never really been in doubt. His contributions to Cardiacs, The Sea Nymphs, North Sea Radio Orchestra and others, not to mention two exquisite solo albums of quirky, psychedelic prog-pop all attest to the fact that Mr Drake certainly knows how to write a decent tune. Sadly, none of these projects are anywhere close to being household names and Drake remains just another well-kept secret.

However, in yet another example of a theory I’ve espoused elsewhen on this blog, that could be about to change. For with his new album The Rising of the Lights, William D. Drake has taken a noticeable swerve towards the hallowed halls of Progressive Rock with a capital Prog, and (whether the mainstream music press likes it or not) that’s a move which is likely to net you a whole load of new fans. More than ever before Drake’s music invites comparisons to the likes of Robert Wyatt, Gryphon, Gentle Giant, (and naturally enough Cardiacs, The Sea Nymphs, NSRO etc.), whilst still remaining uniquely his own sound.

The Rising of the Lights retains everything about his previous album Briny Hooves which made it the accessible, sparkling, psychedelic wonder that it is whilst noticeably upping the ante when it comes to complicated twiddly bits, lengthy instrumental excursions and downright strangeness. The result is nothing short of a marvel; a patchwork quilt of rock, folk, chamber music and popular song, twisting and turning in a constant flurry of ideas and oozing breezy charm with every note. It’s a bundle of opposites, forever veering madly between catchy, hummable ditties and knotty complexity, between playful irony and soul-wrenching sincerity.


Mr Drake seems admirably unaware of musical fads and fashions, which gives the album a sense of complete timelessness. Songs like Super Altar, Wholly Holey and Ornamental Hermit reek of the music hall and oak-panelled libraries without ever fully letting go of those subtle psychedelic undertones, and just when you’re comfortably ensconced in a bit of woodwind-laden chamber music such as Song in the Key of Concrete in comes a fat, scuzzy synth to hurl you forward by several decades. It would be easy to accuse Drake of adding quirks for the sake of quirkiness, but the album’s more hushed, reflective moments, such as the achingly gorgeous Me Fish Bring, are thankfully free from such flights of musical fancy, and get by just fine with their unadorned, wayward melodies. For all its eccentricity, this is an accessible album, and a surprisingly moving one too.

It is a testament to this album’s consistently high standards that I’ve almost concluded this review without even mentioning three of my favourite tracks, namely the crackpot complexities of Gentle Giant-esque almost-instrumental The Mastodon, the time signature jumping surrealist pop gem Ant Trees, and the delightfully pompous album closer Homesweet Homestead Hideaway. Truthfully, I have yet to find a single dud or dull moment on this record, and that is a rare thing indeed. This is music to be cherished, to huddle up to on cold nights for warmth. I sincerely doubt I will encounter a finer album this year.

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