Exposé Online banner

Thinking Plague — Hoping against Hope
(Cuneiform Rune 421, 2017, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-04-07

Hoping against Hope Cover art

I’m not going to complain about the years between Thinking Plague albums. The gap between In Extremis and A History of Madness was only five years, by far the shortest interval between studio releases. But honestly the music is complex enough that it takes that long just to write out all the parts! I’m joking, of course, but complexity is one of the defining qualities of composer Mike Johnson’s work, and the main reason Thinking Plague is a barometer of listeners’ tastes. Anyone who dislikes Thinking Plague is likely to have a low tolerance for any music that doesn’t rely on hummable melodies, predictable rhythms, and standard song forms. But for those of us who love the challenge of pieces that don’t conform to such strictures, that cleave more to Stravinsky than Beethoven, that surprise at every turn… for us, this band holds a special place. Art is not a contest, and it’s perfectly acceptable to like both Thinking Plague and Pink Floyd, so for those of us who enjoyed the previous Plague offerings, it is time to rejoice — the cicada has emerged to sing for us. And for those who have never heard this band, be prepared to experience something new. The music is highly polyphonic, with the voice (the amazing Elaine Di Falco), the two guitars (Johnson and Bill Pohl), woodwinds (Mark Harris), bass (Dave Willey), and even the drums (Robin Chestnut) all going in different directions, though tightly coordinated to fit together. It’s one of the most completely realized examples of Chamber Rock — resembling 20th Century avant-garde compositions orchestrated for electric instruments. There are so many choice moments on Hoping Against Hope that I could go on for paragraphs, but I’ll just mention a few. “The Echoes of Their Cries” is pretty amazing from start to finish, with a relatively simple rhythmic motif in a six-beat pattern that underlies much of the piece, though the way it gets broken up and reinterpreted as the track progresses is intriguing. The bass will take up part of it, the guitars will divide other bits between them, and piano, accordion, and sax will chip in, while the vocal part fits an acrobatic melody out front. By the end, the drums have notched up the intensity of the rhythm in a very satisfying way. Another particularly lovely spot is towards the end of “A Dirge for the Unwitting” where Harris gets to contribute flute, clarinet, and soprano sax parts. One recurring technique I really like is that during slower moving sections, the chords are broken up between instruments, so that three notes are played by (for example) two acoustic guitars and the piano, each sounding a single note at a different time, to build up a constantly shifting harmonic background. As I said, I could go on for hours. Suffice it to say that this is every bit as good as the other Plague albums, and one of the year’s real gems.


Filed under: New releases, 2017 releases

Related artist(s): Elaine Di Falco, Dave Willey, Thinking Plague, Simon Steensland, Bill Pohl

More info
http://cuneiformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hoping-against-hope

Latest news

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Jon Anderson - The More You Know – I knew there was something fishy about this CD when I looked at the song lengths - all are nearly identical. Pre-planned? Hmmmm, could be. After six solo releases since 1994, a vacation in Bermuda...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues