Hats Off Gentlemen it’s Adequate are nothing if not consistent. There has been a hefty release every year since 2017’s excellent Broken but Still Standing with the odd single thrown in and though 2019’s Ark EP was only available in digital format, in answer to a question I posed to Malcolm Galloway at one of their gigs last September, two of the three tracks have made it onto this year’s Nostalgia for Infinity. The HOGIA brand is heralded by their instantly recognisable font and a well-chosen cover photo, this time A Sense of Emptiness by Mrs White Photoart. It’s also good to know that the source material on the latest release continues to be mined from science fiction, future-tech and AI.
The album title comes from the name of a spaceship in Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space novels, prompting some philosophical musing whereby each of our present choices narrows the range of possible futures or, put another way, the future of the past is closer to infinity than it ever will be again.
The opening two tracks Century Rain and Twin Earth are inspired by Reynolds’ writing and thanks to Kathryn Thomas’ flute they’re firmly in the prog camp rather than the post-rock of 2018’s Out of Mind. They form a nice pairing and could be two subsections of a single song (in the same way that Yes’ Future Times and Rejoice are really two parts of one song) and are cleverly built up in layers with flute soaring over nice keyboard lines. These songs represent a future path best closed off, as the protagonist in Reynolds’ story and narrator of the songs is living in an alternate 1950s Paris where the German invasion of France failed but the country is still gripped by fascism.
Ark skilfully captures the majesty of the Ark Royal, from its building and launch represented by the minimalist motifs in the introduction up to its eventual sinking (I come from a shipbuilding town). It’s no surprise that Galloway’s rather good minimalist album Transitions was released at around the same time, the track is closer to a contemporary classical-rock fusion reminiscent of Mike Oldfield than to anything else in the prog/post-rock HOGIA canon. There’s not that much lead guitar in their oeuvre but here we’re treated to a lovely understated, moving solo that reflects the grandeur of the vessel. Ark is a well-constructed, stately piece of music that is based on a personal connection to the Second World War aircraft carrier Ark Royal where Galloway’s grandfather was an airman on the Swordfish bombers. Galloway inherited his grandfather’s Second World War Flight logs and has included the moving story behind the song in the album’s booklet.
Nanobotoma (a word Galloway believes he invented) is restrained HOGIA post-rock where the self-penned story about using nanobots to cure a leukaemia but in a twist that is perfect for the current coronavirus pandemic, the bots eradicate the original disease but replicate out of control and affect the protagonist’s behaviour. While evolving to become transmissible by respiratory secretions they make their host lonely, to seek solace in close company, so that they can spread the nanobot tumour to other hosts.
Although Chasing Neon, which is also from the Ark EP, appears as a standalone track, it could easily be part of the Ark Redemption suite, the following sequence of tracks that form what could be a sci-fi/horror/thriller movie soundtrack. Chasing Neon is an electronic offering that might easily be the instrumental soundtrack to a dystopian film of the near-future starring a former governor of California. There are brief snatches of Berlin-school soundscape but it’s largely programmed arpeggio sequences more in line with the work of Harold Faltermeyer or Brad Fiedel.
The Ark Redemption suite inspired by Reynolds’ Revelation Space novels actually begins with Glitterband. This continues the retro-futuristic feel and also feeds from recognisable HOGIA post-rock tropes – the lyrics are clever but the music is comparatively sparse and I’m not too sure that the track works. What is interesting is that I’m a fan of Mark Gatland’s bass playing but it's not really noticeable up until Glitterband. Conjoiners fits very well within a suite inspired by space novels, though this is more inner space because the subject matter is the direct connection of human minds. It’s another instrumental but it changes mood from a very mellow synth introduction, shifting gear to a fast repeating lead synthesizer motif over a keyboard wash, before slowing down into space rock territory. Scorpio, a portrait of a genetically engineered human/pig hybrid with the function of a slave is really rocky and all too brief. Listening to Inhibitors without the benefit of the liner notes made me think of SFX incidental music for a horror film soundtrack, perhaps for something like Alien. The only instrument is treated flute and it’s very, very effective. The suite ends with the title track Nostalgia for Infinity. This has a short, deceptive minimalist introduction before a Gatland-driven bass groove kicks in and Thomas’ voice recites the track title. A short, spacey interlude with wordless vocals presages a wandering flute melody and then the song proper commences. This is classic HOGIA post-rock territory but here Galloway’s vocals are quite restrained.
Voyager is an instrumental with a Wish You Were Here-era Floyd-like beginning giving way to bluesy guitar solo that could be from the same era. The middle section drifts a little before the keyboards take centre stage with an uplifting, relatively up-tempo lead synthesizer melody. It’s an apt musical interpretation of the journey of Voyager I, launched in 1977 and now the most distant man-made object in outer space.
I heard Sixth Extinction played live last year and although I liked the sentiment I found it a difficult listen. On the other hand, the studio version, apart from the first verse, is a vast improvement. Galloway describes the song as ‘aggressive’ and it has a bit of punk attitude. There’s heavy riffing and chugging guitar but it wasn’t the music that I had a problem with - it was when too many words were crammed into the vocal lines like a stream of consciousness or rap; I’ve previously described Galloway’s delivery as sounding disdainful like Pete Shelley but on the Sixth Extinction chorus I get hints of Bowie.
On the whole I think Nostalgia for Infinity is a fine effort. It’s immediately obvious that this is a Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate album; it’s strangely familiar but now incorporates a broader selection of styles and there’s a noticeable maturity to the songwriting, subtle things like minorising the key at the end of a phrase but also the embrace of experimentation like on Inhibitors. I first heard the group when Broken but Still Standing was released and raved about the flute during the first proggy 15 minutes. I’m still raving about the flute, which is always beautifully arranged but I’m also impressed with the way long-form pieces like Ark or the Ark Redemption suite are constructed, and this is the direction I’d like to see them travel – still less vocals. They can also do some pretty good things live as a duo or trio with programmed effects, but incorporating other musicians into the live set, when we’re out of lockdown restrictions, would surely propel Hat Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate towards a brighter future
Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate (L-R: Mark Gatland, Malcolm Galloway)
Nostalgia for Infinity teaser