You know that moment when you’re looking for something new to listen to, and you happen to run across some new band, and you listen to their very first album ever, and you think to yourself, “This is really good, but the potential is amazing!”, and then you think, “I sure hope they don’t blow it on the next album”? Then, you wait basically two years with the mantra in your head of “Please don’t split up or suck on the next album”. And then, you find out that their second album came out THREE MONTHS ago and you weren’t even aware of it? So you run (no), race (no), dash (no), click (yes) over to ITunes and buy the album and listen to it several times and finally you think, “Gosh, I am good! I spotted them before anyone else I know and I was RIGHT, they’re GREAT!”
Ok, so maybe it was more than a moment, but that’s basically how it happened for me and the Canadian Neo-Prog band Huis. I stumbled across their first album, Despite Guardian Angels, by pure serendipity. I have really enjoyed the album, been impressed with their freshman effort and yet, there was still something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Whatever that ineffable something is, they seem to have found it for their second album, Neither in Heaven.
Sylvain Descôteaux is credited with the vocals for the band. He seems to have taken a few more risks on this project, which have really paid off. There was nothing actually wrong with the vocals on the first album, although it seemed a little bland, and that was one element that I had my doubts about. Here, Mr. Descôteaux is using a greater range, and more complex melodies and ornamentation. And it works. The band as a whole is a nice tight ensemble. The individual members are all credited with multiple instruments and roles. The album itself has a nice mix of styles and moods, and it is apparent that the placing and pacing of the tracks were carefully considered for contrast and forward movement.
The album opens with “Neither in Heaven” and ends with the final couple of minutes of “Nor on Earth”, dreamy and atmospheric with a gentle piano. The second track is “Synesthesia”, the longest track of the album. It is an effective number, alternating between a driving hard rock background and the softer, sadder center section, and a melancholy vocal line, featuring lyrics that suggest English is the band’s second language. There are some interesting, thought-provoking lines, such as:
Dreaming absolutely about nothing
Grass is covered by dew
I close my eyes, an Escher point of view
Other noteworthy tracks are “Man on the Hill”, reminiscent of Arena’s theatrical style, and “Red Gypsy” with a distinctive world music vibe along the lines of Incendio. The entirety of the final track, “Nor on Earth”, is a lovely, longer piece that has several distinct sections with lyrical guitar solos, and as previously mentioned, an ending that provides the reply to the first track’s instrumental opening gambit. If I have any complaint at all, it would be that the track “Even Angels Sometimes Fall” is perhaps a bit too “sweet”. It is not a bad song, even a little reminiscent of Moody Blues’ middle period, but doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album.
Neither in Heaven is a strong album that stands up well to multiple plays. There is solid musicianship, and careful planning and writing. There is a nice variety of styles and moods which keep the listener’s interest without sounding like a variety show. Huis is a band well worth keeping an eye on.
Buy Huis’s new album, Neither in Heaven, here.