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Flowers of Hell - O

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 13 / 11 / 2010

Flowers of Hell - O
Label: Optical Records
Format: CD


Meticulously layered third album from Canadian-British collective the Flowers of Hell, largely inspired by leader Greg Jarvis's synaesthia, which is on the borders between classic music and rock

Trans-Atlantic space-rockers the Flowers of Hell have been going since the start of the 2000s, initiated by Toronto native and multi-instrumentalist Greg Jarvis while exiled in London. Featuring a sprawling, revolving roster of sixteen musicians based on two continents, including members of the Clientele and Broken Social Scene, their music was never exactly going to be meat-and-potatoes stripped back pub rock, with their last album, 'Come Hell or High Water', even being used by NASA for their space shuttle footage. This reviewer once caught a bewitchingly beautiful set by the band in the unlikely environs of the seventh floor of a building in Leicester Square, supporting a resurrected Telescopes. On the sparsely titled 'O', their third album, they take their ambition to its logical conclusion, stretching one meticulously layered composition out to 45 minutes, recorded in one take. In its structure, it feels almost closer to a classical record than a conventional ‘rock’ record. The obvious reference points when listening to both this and much of TFoH’s previous material is the minimalist trance rock of Spacemen 3 and early 'Lazer Guided Melodies'-era Spiritualized (the band even collaborated on an EP with Will Carruthers, bassist for both those bands), which built complex, intricate, interlocking pieces from repeated simple motifs and chord progressions. The trademark-oscillating organ and narcotic guitar is there, yet there are also elements of Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor too, particularly the spellbinding first side of 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven', with its periods of calm leading to emotionally overwhelming full-blown instrumental orchestral explosions of sound, filled with all kinds of tension and release. With backwards guitar bobbing in the mix, the massed baritone sax, cello, double bass, percussion, flute, organ, violin and trumpets weave in and out of mix, careful not to cancel each other out. Conceived in synesthetic terms – i.e. Jarvis has spoke of “seeing” the music and perceives the sound as shapes, just as visuals at gigs and raves are often manipulated according to changes in the music – 'O' pulsates, ebbs and flows over 45 minutes, mimicking the blobs of black colour floating on an ocean on the album’s front cover. Indeed, so interested has Jarvis been in building “a virtual world of shimmering, pulsating, floating shapes all around us”, as he puts it on the band’s website, that the release has an accompanying 5.1 Surround Sound Mix of the track on the DVD side. That isn’t to say 'O' is an amorphous mass of meandering, fluctuating drones and strings, however: the last ten minutes of the track builds to one of the most breath-taking crescendos this reviewer has had the pleasure to hear in a while, and makes the voyage worthwhile. The release also makes a case for still buying physical product in an age of downloading (both legal and illegal): alongside the Surround Sound Mix is an animated video and a treasure trove of live footage, including a lengthy document of the band performing at a church in Toronto (where Jarvis has now relocated). It perfectly illustrates why patience can be a virtue in an age where we want music condensed and reduced to bite-sized pieces. This is a sumptuous 45 minutes of music, and best appreciated intoxicated, so that the music can wash over you in the best possible way.

Track Listing:-
1 "O" Stereo Mix
2 "O" 5.1 Surround Sound Mix
3 Live At The Music Gallery Concert Film
4 Special Features

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