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Mice on Stilts - Album Review: I Am Proud of You

22 Mar 2023 // A review by Kev Rowland

Some ten years ago I was a member of the ProgArchives Crossover Team (yes, to be allowed to be included on PA each band is judged by a committee). We were asked to pass our critical eyes and ears over the somewhat strangely named Mice on Stilts and I was somewhat surprised, nay amazed, to discover they hailed from Auckland. There followed a period of discovery which soon led me to TeMatera Smith and AAA Records, getting involved with the label and turning up at Red Room Studios, and of course catching up with MoS and helping them with the publicity for their debut. I was fortunate enough to catch them in concert quite a bit, and was there the night they supported Yes at the Aotea Centre. However, they were a band in flux, and not everyone who was playing at that time had been on the debut, and there were more changes afoot during and after the recording of Hope For A Mourning, and soon they had disappeared. I was deeply saddened by this state of affairs as Ben Morley (vocals, guitar) had a real presence and knack for producing wonderful songs, and they had caught the ears of the prog scene in a way which was most unusual – as I write this in 2023, their debut is still the #2 most highly rated NZ release on PA, while Hope is #4. Then, lo and behold, I saw a post on FB raving about their new album which immediately had me contacting Ben to find out what was going on, and here I am now listening to something which is both sublime and majestic.

With seven years since the last album, and a lot of time when the band was non-operational, it is no surprise there have been major changes in the line-up, but Benjamin Morley (vocals, guitars) and Robert Sanders (drums & percussion) are still there, while Tim Burrows (synth) makes an appearance on the album although he is no longer part of the live line-up where Ben and Tim are joined by  Andrew Isdale (guitar, piano), Tim Shacklock (bass, cello), Charlie Isdale (saxophone, violin), and Sam Loveridge (violin, guitars). Back in the day Ben described their music as acoustic doom, and while in many ways I could see what he was getting at, that description never really sat well with me, but with I Am Proud of You, it makes perfect sense as while it sits across many categories and influences that is exactly what it is. For An Ocean Held Me I said, “in some ways it is early Pink Floyd, Muse, Radiohead, VDGG, Peter Hammill, Roy Harper and others, but mostly it is Mice on Stilts” and that description still holds, yet here with a majesty which is sublime. There is a real use of space in this album, arrangements which feel light yet should be cluttered given their multi-instrumentalist brass and string approach to this style of crossover progressive rock, yet somehow manage to feel both ephemeral and strong as steel at the same time.

This is deep, incredibly so, both musically and lyrically, which is described by Ben as exploring “the growing pains of addiction, sobriety and recovery. From court houses to hospital beds and jail cells to rehab, the album is an introspective offering of redemption.”  There are times when this is a rock album, others where it is folk or singer songwriter, yet others when it is chamber music or switching into Art Zoyd style Avant, and all of this can be heard on the 7-minute plus National Radio which is a sheer delight.

Mice on Stilts are back. Oh boy are they back.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )
 

About Mice on Stilts

From humble beginnings in a small flat in Auckland, comes a seven piece collaboration on the verge of soaring. Mice On Stilts is a band that traverses genre distinctions to create their own sound, described by one reviewer as “a sombre, subtle and slow-to-grow opus that virtually exudes a cinematic aura others of their kind often only allude to.”

A host of enthusiastic fans and critics have likened the band to Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Kayo Dot, Steven Wilson and King Crimson. Their debut EP, An Ocean Held Me, is founded on ideas of darkness, empathy and catharsis. These themes extend into their upcoming album, Hope For A Mourning, which capitalises on the diverse range of instruments mastered by the seven skilled musicians. This release also incorporates the extraordinary voices of a ten-piece choir, offering even more depth to this layered, emotive and resonant work.

Mice On Stilts formed predominantly through chance encounters – on buses, at parties and at open mic events. The core sentiment of the music, however, grew from the challenges that songwriter Benjamin Morley was facing at the time. Together he and bassist Tim Burrows recorded a series of songs that attempted to make sense of a complex emotional landscape, and the product seemed to resonate with their community. After an overwhelmingly positive response, the band grew from strength to strength – both in size and in its ability to articulate the facets of grief and hope that Morley sought to explain.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Mice on Stilts

Releases

I Am Proud of You
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Home For A Mourning
Year: 2016
Type: Album
AOHM Remixes
Year: 2014
Type: EP
An Ocean Held Me
Year: 2013
Type: EP

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