I was chatting to keyboard player Kai Esbensen recently and mentioned I had never heard their 2001 debut, and he said he would send me a copy. I demurred, saying a download would be fine, but he was keen for me to have a physical version and as soon as it arrived I could see why. The rear cover shows the periodic table, but some are missing, and by running a finger over it one can feel that it is not that they have not been printed, but rather they have been cut out. Turn the digipak back to the front and there are the missing elements making up the album title, and again when running a finger over the name one can feel they have been added, while the band’s name is also embossed. I was impressed and I hadn’t even opened it yet, let alone listened to it! A huge amount of work has gone into the booklet, with each page containing the lyrics but very different in style to the rest and if this amount of work had gone into the presentation what on earth would the music be like?
The line-up in 2001 was exactly the same as it is today, namely Jonathan Smith (vocals, xylophone, guitar, flute), Blake Albinson (guitars), Kai Esbensen (keyboards), Jay Burritt (bass) and James Swensen-Flagg (drums), and even though this was the debut they were already demonstrating the ridiculous amount of talent they have, while also showing that progheads have a sense of humour (honest!). The throwaway “She’s No Vegetarian” is a blast of fun at less then 3 minutes long (and is not the shortest song on the album), taking us into the late Sixties yet is very much the only song of that type on the album as though they refuse to settle within any one area for too long. Musically they were already demonstrating their love of experimentation and pushing boundaries in a way associated in the US with the likes of Zappa while in the UK we would look to Cardiacs, whose classic ‘Sing To God’ came out only five years before this.
However, Bubblemath are a band who have resolutely stuck to their own musical path and have continued to do so to this day, even though this has impacted on their output, and we have only had three albums in total in more than 20 years. But when music is as fine as this then who are we to complain? One never knows what is going to come next, but with songs generally quite short (there are 12 songs on the album which is only 45:23 in length and only one is longer than six minutes), one knows there is not too long to wait, and that intricacy will be involved. The music is complex, complicated and incredibly intricate, yet at the same time it is an album which can be enjoyed the very first time of playing with hidden depths being uncovered the more one listens to it. The arrangements are unreal, with musicians going off at tangents only for it to all make sense later, the result being both experimental and adventurous. Undoubtedly this will frighten off those who want their prog to be delivered in a carefully manicured Genesis/Floyd manner, but those who want their music to be running straight past any perceived boundaries would do well to give this a listen.
10/10 Kev Rowland