Coralspin's debut album, 'Honey And Lava', is everything its title suggests, giving anyone who listens to it a lovely sweet-melty-warm feeling inside. The band is technically very proficient and the instrumentals are tight and engaging, but what really sets them apart is vocalist Ellie Blythe's unique voice. For some it may be an acquired taste, and there are moments when it sounds a little strained and where her diction could be improved, but if nothing else it makes Coralspin's music instantly recognisable.
Their sound has that same weird ethereal quality pioneered by Jefferson Airplane, with Blythe's dulcet mezzo blending in and out of the complex instrumental harmonies like some kind of slippery sea beast. There are moments when you feel like you've zipped right back in time as the band touches on Genesis-esque electronica progressions, but the nostalgia is tempered by the occasional modern twist and subtle light rock motifs.
The band employs a range of instruments to achieve its 'New England progressive melodic rock' sound, with lots of use of piano and strings to generate a smoothly textured harmony cut through with synth and some gentle distortion. Overall it's an enjoyable experience if you're after an album that massages your brain with honey-flavoured popping candy, but don't come here expecting anything heavy.
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'Sons Of The Sleeping Giant'
None of Coralspin's songs meet the required twelve-minute minimum necessary to be considered serious progressive rock, but at seven minutes this is the longest track on the album. There is a nice, catchy drum/guitar riff throughout, and interesting harpsichord keyboard effects that make this one of the edgier highlights of the record.
By far the most chilled-sounding track on the album, 'You're Wrong' is a lovely progressive lilt with a strangely brilliant synth solo and one of Blythe's best vocal performances. The chorus – "Even though you're wrong / I'll give you credit for playing along" – is neat and effective in its simplicity.
In this track you can hear the effort Coralspin have made to modernise the album's sound, with a persistent synth riff beneath paired down harmonies and an energetic drum track. I found it less effective than their more retro-sounding tunes, but that may just be because I love the vintage.
'Burn My Eyes'
This is Coralspin at their most Jefferson Airplaney, with a slightly weird-sounding melody and discordant instrumentals. This is probably Blythe's most questionable vocal performance, sounding pitchy at times, but it somehow adds to the strange ambience of the song. The track offers an almost symphonic middle section and some dark moments that cut through the album's overall gentle tone. It's finished off with a nice riff that makes you wish there were a little more to come.
Starting with the gentle undulations established in 'You're Wrong', morphing quickly into a slightly heavier riff, then jarring to an up-beat Genesis-style synth, 'Sky's End' wouldn't have sounded altogether out of place in an episode of Magnum P.I. (one of the best episodes of the show played the entirety of Genesis' 'Mama' during a chase scene in what can only be described as a seminal TV moment). A middle section featuring some exciting, almost folky progressive instrumentals and a neat little guitar solo makes this one of the best tracks on the record.
This piano-heavy tune is a minimalist lament, with all the rich textures of the other tracks stripped right back to expose Blythe's unique vocals. Her voice is unusually rounded and full, mainly lingering in the lower register to create a smoothly honeyed effect that at times sounds hauntingly inhuman.
The persistent, catchy riffs of 'Night Stalker' make it one of Coralspin's more immediately accessible tracks, and it features a nice, lightly distorted guitar solo that brings a little grit to the table.
The piano/vocal lead-in to this track is reminiscent of Kate Bush (the band name her as one of their many inspirations), and there are some cute jazz turns from the piano that lend it a quirky feel. With another neat guitar solo it's a decent play-out to the album, but I can't help thinking Coralspin could have really pushed the boundaries and given it an epic piano solo to really bring out those jazzy tones.
To sum up, this is a solid debut from Coralspin, with lots of the truly sublime moments we've come to expect from a decent progressive outfit, but I think there is room for them to expand on this and really give us something to sink our teeth into. There's lots of potential here for some epic ambient sounds, and in the future I'd like to see longer songs with more varied solos and instrumentals so that those sounds can really open up and let fly. With this in mind, I give Honey and Lava a good 6/10.