LIFESIGNS – Altitude (2021)
For exquisite progressive act LIFESIGNS, their new album ”Altitude” is the culmination of much hard work after a very difficult year for all of us. The new opus was recorded at several studios but this didn’t stop the attention to detail that we have come to expect from Lifesigns.
Only a rare breed of composers can write music of this quality – they are very few and far between. In fact you can count them on one hand, and keyboardist / vocalist John Young is one of them.
Young knows how to speak to every progger’s melodic desires, but this band go further: ”Altitude” will appeal a wide range of listeners, from metalheads to AOR enthusiasts.
Lifesigns is one of those fortunate bands who seem to effortlessly make fans for life. The challenge before the group is not so much about winning over their potential audience, it’s more about just getting in their ears. The rest seems to take care of itself.
Album number three, “Altitude”, has been long-awaited by the faithful and their patience has not gone in vain.
The simple truth is that Lifesigns set the bar high from the outset and they’re not looking back. There have been some personnel changes throughout each album, but crucially two members have stayed consistent: the leader and heart of the band John Young, and the man behind-the-scenes, Steve Rispin (sound design, additional keyboards).
While Jon Poole ably took the spot of hard-to-replace Nick Beggs on bass after the debut album, it wasn’t until “Altitude” that Dave Bainbridge became the band’s official dedicated guitarist and Zoltan Csörsz took over the drummer position.
Although this album was recorded remotely for obvious reasons – and not all band members have even met one another in person yet – the sound of Lifesigns is remarkably well-established and cohesive thanks to having Mr. Rispin behind the control board.
“Altitude” delivers engaging yet accessible material with plenty of musical muscle that goes down smoothly thanks to its sleek production.
“Altitude” is a highflyer from the get-go… literally… with its title track taking the listener on a 15 minute journey through the clouds. As its lyrics drone on (a pun regarding the lyrical content), the musicians are absolutely brilliant and on-point. A little over the halfway point, a triumphant crescendo section opens wide, followed by a minute-long unleashing from Bainbridge on the six strings.
Even the musical guests on backing vocals and strings make quite the impact on this opening number, finally fading off into an extended etheric closing.
“Gregarious” hits next with a punchy number, radio-friendly if such a radio station still existed. Bainbridge’s solo is note-perfect, even down to the subtle touch of a brief swell into the final note.
“Ivory Tower” follows. The entrancing sway of 6/8 time and romantic ornamentation belies the reality that this is a song of betrayal, somehow bringing to mind ASIA. When the rhythm section kicks in halfway through the song, Poole’s bass commands full attention, as he often does, with his impeccable tone and groove.
“Fortitude” is one of the album’s several highlights. Young’s vocals carry a touch of vulnerability, such as with four memorable falsetto hits which eventually lead to his final line, “Sometimes I feel like it’s all just a dream…”. What follows is a closing three minutes of instrumental prog bliss, heavy on bass pedals and pedaling bass underneath, while keyboards and guitar wail above.
Usually a prog “epic” connotes an album-side multi-suite journey but somehow “Last One Home” still qualifies even though its run-time is only just over six minutes. This long-appreciated piano piece written by Young decades ago finds its rightful place here towards the end of “Altitude”.
To bring us back to earth – in a sense – the album closes with a brief reprise of the title track, this time with more of an electronic vibe. Reportedly there’s an extended version of this arrangement somewhere in Young’s files so hopefully that will be made public one day.
Some albums with a runtime of nearly an hour feel that they overstay their welcome. But in realizing that it may be a few years before we get the next Lifesigns installment, it has to be said that this is over all-too-soon.
Once again they have a smashing success on their hands which sounds glorious thanks to Rispin’s skilled ears. May the delights herein reach a multitude of new ears, inevitably leading to that many more new fans.
One of the best albums of the year.
01 – Altitude
02 – Gregarious
03 – Ivory Tower
04 – Shoreline
05 – Fortitude
06 – Arkhangelsk
07 – Last One Home
08 – Altitude Reprise
John Young / keyboards, vocals
Jon Poole / bass, vocals
Dave Bainbridge / guitar
Zoltan Csorsz / drums
Robin Boult / acoustic guitar (3)
Peter Knight / violin (1)
Juliet Wolff / cello (1)
Lynsey Ward / backing vocals