They say all good things, and London Buses, come in threes, and so it is with this trio of CDs from rapidly rising prog-tinged rock band Touchstone.
Founded by keyboard player and vocalist Rob Cottingham, Touchstone have quickly built up a healthy and loyal following among the rock community, so much so that they recently signed with the Steamhammer label, who at the end of 2011 released the band's latest CD, 'The City Sleeps', to much critical and public praise.
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Now Steamhammer have released upgraded versions of the band's first three studio offerings, the EP 'Mad Hatters', it's follow up, the debut album 'Discordant Dreams', and the second studio album 'Wintercoast'. Each disc features bonus live tracks, recorded in The USA, and at last year's High Voltage festival.
First up for a blast was 'Mad Hatters', featuring four studio recordings, and three live tracks from the recent album 'Live In The USA'. The studio tracks are full of enthusiasm, with strong melodies, and great playing throughout. The lead vocals are strong throughout, plus Kim Seviour adds some atmospheric backing voice, to enhance the sound. This is the sound of a band finding it's feet, with some influences showing through. I can hear a lttle Dream Theater, and Porcupine Tree.
Lyrically there is some interesting stuff going on, with various serious themes being tackled, from the absurdity of modern city living, to thoughts on assasination, from the killer's point of view.
The live songs 'Original Sin', and 'Dignity', originally featured on 'Wintercoast' and 'Discordant Dreams' respectively, show Touchstone to be a tight, enthusiastic live unit, with lead singer Kim Seviour coming over as a charming frontwoman, as well as boasting a great voice. These live tracks are from the double live CD 'Live In The USA', which is well worth checking out if you enjoy the tunes featured here.
The first full length album, 'Discordant Dreams', marks a definite step up a gear for the band, with the eleven studio songs being more ambitious in their scope, and sound. The great voice of Kim Seviour is featured much more here, than on the EP, and her gorgeous, pure voice really does add a beautiful texture to the songs. The vocal chemistry between her and Rob is superb, his deeper tones geling well with her higher, purer voice.
The other members of the band are also on fine form throughout, with bassist Moo, and drummer Al Melville prividing a solid groove for the swirling keyboards of Rob, and the inventive guitar playing of Adam Hodgson.
The songs themselves are mainly of an upbeat nature, featuring some great catchy tunes and soaring choruses. 'See The Light' is a fine example, with a great melody, and thoughtful lyrics, and a chorus that really stays in the head long after the song has finished.
The final tune 'The Beggar's Song' is a real epic, in two parts, and has a great lyric describing the day in the life of a homeless beggar on the streets of 21st century London. A moving, and in many ways sad song that despite the unhappy subject matter does end on a positive note.
Buried in the middle of the album is a pretty instrumental titled 'Winter Coast Instrumental', which leads nicely, to...
...'Wintercoast', the third and final CD in this group of reissues. A concept album, it tells the story of a man escaping a vile industrialised city, and travelling to the land of Wintercoast. If this sounds a bit heavy going, don't worry, because the music is superb.
The first voice heard is that of Oscar winning thesp Jeremy Irons intoning the 'Prelude', describing the character's desire to escape "this damp cell... this putrid city" and find Wintercoast, a "...place I have only once seen reflected in a dream.
This leads straight into the title song, a prog-Metal epic detailing the hell of the city, before moving onto the start of our hero's journey. It's a very melodic song, featuring great vocals from Rob Cottingham, and Kim Seviour, and some fantastic playing from the whole band. In fact the whole album is packed with great tunes, so much so that if they wanted to these guys could easily write commercial pop songs.
'Strange Days', 'Voices' and 'Joker In The Pack' in particular are very catchy tunes and I found myself humming them well after the album had finished. The album is a good mix of driving rock, with a handful of slower numbers, of which the standout is 'Solace', a haunting song beautifully sung by Kim, who gives the chilling lyrics a very cool presentation.
Lyrically the songs depict the various scenes and events that the narrator encounters on his journey, from the abused child in the aforementioned 'Solace', to the story of war and violence in 'Line In The Sand'. The lyrics are generally pretty dark, but this is tempered by the overall beauty of the music.
The playing is superb throughout, with some great musicianship from all the band. Of all these records, 'Wintercoast' is the most accomplished, and is a fine place to start exploring the world of Touchstone.
The bonus live tunes on both 'Discordant Dreams' and 'Wintercoast' are unavailable anywhere else, and are taken from the band's performance at last year's High Voltage festival. "...Dreams" features versions of 'Wintercoast' and 'Strange Days', while the 'Wintercoast' CD has 'Shadow', plus the crowd pleaser 'Joker In The Pack'. All four of these live cuts stick closely to the recordings, but with even more energy, and demonstrate what a great live band Touchstone are.
They are all on fine form throughout, and new drummer Henry Rogers slots in superbly with Moo especially well, giving a fab groove to the music.
All in all these three CDs are excellent reissues, and musically each has much to commend it, with 'Wintercoast' being the highlight. If you are already a fan, then the two full length albums are worth reinvesting in, for the superb live tracks. If you are new to Touchstone, I'd say start with 'Wintercoast', and investigate from there.
The Mad Hatter's Song
Original Sin (Live)
See The Light
Winter Coast Instrumental
The Beggar's Song
Strange Days (Live)
Joker In The Pack
Line In The Sand
The Witness Part One
The Witness Part Two
Zinomorph (Radio mix)
Joker In The Pack (Live)