The Tea Club
17th November 2015 – Self-released
01. The Magnet
02. Remember Where You Were
03. Dr. Abraham
04. The Fox In A Hole
05. Wasp In A Wig
06. The White Book
Little-known New Jerseyan progressive rock outfit The Tea Club are a flavoursome brew. The quintet’s style ranges from classic prog – with clear nods to Genesis and Yes - to something much more modern, however they also manages to infuse their music with a fairy tale-esque feeling. Their lyrical content is colourful and fanciful, like Aesop’s Fables with a surreal twist. Their third album, Quickly Quickly Quickly, was one of the first reviews we ever published, and while it’s taken them some time to record thefolllow-up, this autumn sees the release of album number four: Grappling.
It probably isn’t entirely fair to compare a band’s new album to their past works, but it is inevitable. Quickly Quickly Quickly holds up as one of the best albums of 2012, and possibly one of the best progressive rock creations of the new millennium. On Grappling, the band stated that they were trying to do something different from Quickly Quickly Quickly. A lot of bands say that, sure, but it is abundantly clear that the extra time taken to compose the music between releases has assisted in that endeavor. Grappling sounds very different from Quickly - or indeed any of their previous works.
While it lacks the almost obligatory prog epic, like Quickly Quickly Quickly‘s fantastic “Firebears“, the songwriting on Grappling is far and beyond some of the best work ever from this group. What it lacks in epics, it makes up for in pure ambition. Songs like “The Fox In A Hole” or “The White Book” could stand up in any list of the best prog rock songs, and the former features some lovely – and catchy – violin parts before slowly descending into something harsher and more dissonant. Meanwhile, “The White Book” starts gently and builds slowly into a huge, ambitious piece, and culminates in a really beautiful and hooky acoustic jam – a fine note on which to end the album.
The most noticeable thing about Grappling is that it is by far the most keyboard-heavy Tea Club album to date. The effect of this is interesting, occasionally giving the album a neo-prog, IQ, Pendragon sort of feeling. However, the biggest influence seems to be Genesis. In fact, there are some moments where the keyboard parts could have conceivably been written by Tony Banks himself. Certainly, the arrangements are excellent and quite detailed, and even after several listens there are still details to be noticed.
The mesmerizing vocal duo that is the McGowan brothers, Patrick and Daniel, is both powerful and evocative. Each contributes equally to what is perhaps their best moment. “The Magnet” and “Dr. Abraham” are notable highlights, with the latter bearing some very memorable melodies, but “Remember Where You Were” is undoubtedly the pinnacle, with the vocals at their most passionate and emotionally engaging.
Lyrically, The Tea Club have always been incredible. Right from their debut album, songs like “Castle Builder” through the acrostic genius of “Eternal German Infant” from Quickly Quickly Quickly, the McGowan brothers – who pen all the words – have extremely colourful vocabularies and are able to conjure up some fantastic word combinations. The strangeness continues on Grappling, featuring a pilgrim who feels the pull home in “The Magnet” and something that might be inside the mind of a mental patient in “Dr Abraham” among others. Progressive rock is certainly known for fanciful lyrics, and Grappling delivers in spades, using folk tales – perhaps of their own creation – along with some interesting perspectives to craft some truly memorable lyrics that don’t merely spoon feed the listener the story, but force them to listen and think.
Grappling is, without any doubt, one of the best albums of the past few years. It likely passes the litmus test as the band’s finest work, and establishes itself as one of the best progressive rock records this side of 1975. It is one of the most vocally fantastic albums around, and features utterly jaw dropping musicianship.
While this review invokes the Genesis comparisons a fair amount, The Tea Club are no clone; instead they have forged out their own fairy tale sound, which is refreshing in a world where darker material is generally favoured, even if their themes are a bit darker sounding than their melodies and delivery would have one believe. Arrangements and technical playing are all entirely on point, and the mix on this release is so fucking beautiful it could make one weep. Truly a must listen for pretty much everyone that likes anything even remotely progressive related.