Album Review: "The Spire" (2022) by Long Tall J
The Spire (2022) - Long Tall J The third long effort of the London resident Dutch guitarist/producer Long Tall J comes with many improvements from his previous works, along with the strong symbolism that understands the needs of our time. The Spire is a symbol of hope and aspiration, coming together to understand each other and many things left to achieve, while we are not being more than a mere piece of dust in a universe. The aftermath of the pandemic showed us what we need, and as a reflective artist who takes time to just understand the nature around him, J observed and created this. From the lyrics to the musical concepts he explores, he leaves symbols of The Spire to be discovered by the listener. Just like the message of ‘’togetherness’’ he is trying to give, The Spire includes many artists from Kyiv, Ukraine, including vocalist 'Amariia' from Ukraine, a semi-finalist in the National Eurovision Song Contest 2022. The album is rebellious, hopeful, and symbolistic, and spirals into LTJ’s personal reflections to gather objective truths about society and human nature. As an experienced guitarist, LTJ created a very guitar-driven album that can get atmospheric, hard, electronic, and very slow burn at times. The compositional quality never drops for a single moment throughout the album, as he journeys through his many influences from the 70s to the 20s while having a melodic and rhythmic consistency. A real gem for the prog-rock listeners searching for an underrated 52 minutes that is more relevant and soulful than many known contemporaries.
Here is the full track-by-track review!
Wakeman's Tale: Being as fulfilling as an album opener can be, Long Tall J’s tribute to one of the most successful and influential keyboardists of all time, a.k.a. Rick Wakeman (YES), is the tone setter of the third album of his catalog. J simply explains the reason behind this salute as ‘’call it appreciation admiration for amazing achievements or simply inspiration’’. The tribute atmosphere is highly reflected in the synths, and the guitar use which could be said to speak of the admiration — backed up with the cadential chord progressions along with Pink Floyd-inspired modulations and slide guitars, a highly melodic and thoughtful tribute. The track even excites more with the epilogue piano solo reminding us of the 70s prog rock piano sections by Eugene Moiseienko. A very hopeful and admirable start for an album that tells the story of hope and the embrace of all of us.
The Spire: After the respectful opener, we are directly thrown to the most powerful track of the album, the title track. What LTJ was trying to achieve with his third album was a symbol that would make us see the truth, a universal and undeniable truth that LTJ constantly feeds upon as an artist and as a human being: understanding how we are together, how we are just as the specks of dust in the wind, how much we have got to achieve, and how we should be all together as ‘’The Spire’’. J even brings this idea of togetherness to the way he crafts an album by collaborating with many artists throughout. The guest singer of the title track is Amariia, and the song is built for and carried by beautifully dynamic&rangeful voice often becoming even better with the vocal harmonies added. The track is a slow-burn one and layered with guitar sounds, crafted around Amariia with a relatively simple-but-effective composition. Although the general sound was promising, this track also can’t escape some of the downs of the whole album which lacks a better mix and a needed bass sound. The song's second part is much better with 2 solos, while the second one gets even better with a great low treble bubbly smooth sound, and the drums change their routine runs with additional attacks that add to the soul of the album. The song features LTJ’s professionality with guitar sounds and textures, being a very experienced guitarist. The lyrics lean on the personal and relationship side of the Spire.
Don't let them talk to you that way: ’’Don’t let them talk to you that way’’, sounds like a King Crimson-inspired name with a KC-inspired guitar playing. The third one of The Spire is the most melancholic, yet very upbeat, and unique drum grooves featuring the track. You can clearly hear that LTJ is a guitarist and this is a guitar album, while he has followed many great keyboardists to mix his virtuosic guitar playing. This instrumental piece is the Prog Loop favorite, being able to feature all of the skillsets with a great composition which opened up beautiful electronic inspirations of LTJ and showed how he was able to combine those with his ethereal guitar sound. No doubt that his guitar was influenced highly by the great David Gilmour, and also the title reminds him of the old Pink Floyd tracks from the 80s which had a similar 80s synthesizer influence. The song refers to J’s concerns and views about the Corona pandemic, and consists of three sections put together which follow the timeline of the pandemic from the beginning to the aftermath: Inspiration, Desolation, and Hope. Written in 2021, J was just able to guess what the future brings and solely shares his hopes and reflections as a contemplative artist.
Seven of Nine: Seven of Nine is the ninth track Long Tall J composed for this album, so he has associated the “Nine” and “Seven of Nine” as he says. It is named after a female drone in the Star Trek series. As this has a connection to Star Trek’s feminine and powerful character, it is connected to the general vibe of Star Trek: An Old American Classic. It has some sprinkles of old-school rock in it which distinguishes this track from the other prog songs we are used to. The bass, another distinguishable sound in the track, is played by Megabassman subtly throughout the song. Coming to the end we hear some mad guitar riffs from our guy, J. Even though it has no lyrics, “Seven of Nine” stays in mind with its catchy melody.
Sunday Blues: Starting off like an experimental psychedelic song, Sunday Blues arouses your curiosity. When the guitar kicks in after the rattling sounds of maracas, we hear a fusion of Pink Floyd and The Doors. As in The Spire, we again hear the beautiful voice of Amariia. The Doors-ish sounds and a blues rhythm continue to increase with the lyrics and peaks at the pauses. The lyrics surely are a shout-out to a lover, this adds up to the bluesy guitar riffs and makes the song more like a “Sunday Blues“. Passing half of it, we hear some synthesizer sounds as in a Kraftwerk piece. Though, it does not confuse you and gives you a much clearer progressive rock experience.
Four Seasons: Long Tall J surprises us with his second experimental intro in “Four Seasons”. But this time, this intro will lead us to a Floydian groove. It’s prominent that J wanted that part to be special and as he says, to be a metaphor for the contrast between modern life. The nervous keyboard represents this idea by being both fast and deliberately high-pitched. Coming into the middle of it, the song starts to soften up which, in J’s words, represents the softness of nature. A breezy vibe comes in with the lyrics in a foreign language. Those lyrics are from a Polish poem called “The Sea and The Man” by Anna Świrszczyńska cited by Mel Mercer. After the poem ends we hear the sound of seagulls which is a cleverly designed detail that helps you to understand the poem even though you don’t know the language. In this track, Long Tall J adds some uniqueness from his literary side and successfully adds a unique song to the album.
Falling: With a dreamy intro, Falling this time harmonizes with Amariia’s sound better than else. The soft repetitive sound of the piano at first seems like it is not a progressive rock song, though Long Tall J uses a range of instruments artfully in his album and surprises you with his impressive understanding of prog. The words of the lyrics look like they are from a normal melodic metal song in a literary way, which makes it great when Amariia sings it with a beautiful voice for this genre. Like in every piece of this album, there are extraordinary guitar riffs that everyone who knows a bit of music would love.
Inge: The Seventh track of the album is quite a unique one, which features two poems by a famous Dutch poet, Inge Lievaart. Having her poems read beautifully by Martin Mens, Inge’s poems are delivered with such a Genesis-ian ethereal and careful awareness of Long Tall J’s 12-string guitar which doesn’t overplay and becomes the perfect help to make the audience experience the poems in the most capturing way. Each chord and melody choice is so well thought out by J to make the ethereal music fit with the faithful poems’ each line, making every word fit every note— also something apparent in the high-quality production as well. The music is very simplistic and so humble with the added sounds such as music box and horse hooves that show the mere purpose of J is to create a well-thought art beyond just poem and just music but more. This very unique and conceptual thinking is a special point in the album which is a needed track in between massive pieces. A thoughtful act of respect by J to his aunt, Inge, crossing boundaries of prog music and poetry.
Novaya Zemlya: One before the last, Novaya Zemlya has a story that Long Tall J was fascinated by. The opening gives away the fascination with intriguing sound effects. With the first quarter passing like that, in the second quarter, LTJ presents us with a new view of his exciting progressive style. He puts an eastern vibe to the song since the story is about a ship getting stuck in the ice in China. With its guitar riff, “Novaya Zemlya” gives a futuristic film soundtrack vibe. This track is connected to the story of it in a way. The story is about the Russians who are stuck in China, and the song is similarly a fusion of west and east. And Long Tall J fuses these two cultures perfectly in 8 minutes.
Ten: Ten, the tenth song, is the one we are finally able to hear the bass with all of its power—thanks to Kyiev’s Megabassman’s powerful yet melodic accompaniment. The old metal, hard-rock sound channels are probably one of the earliest influences of LTJ—be it the melodic riff runs of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, or the evil 2nd interval sound of Sabbath, and the pentatonic solos of the whole generation. As that generation’s hard rock and strong voice captured the rebellious spirit of the 70s, J uses the same spirit with his own fight against religious dogma and how people are being oppressed by their religions for political and financial motives. Ergo, the symbol he created with this powerful, noisy, high-tempo yet short album closer.