Album review: Great Wide Nothing - Hymns for Hungry Spirits Vol.1 (2020)
Great Wide Nothing was founded in Atlanta, USA in 2017 by Daniel Graham (bass, vocals), Dylan Porper (keyboards), and Jeff Matthews (drums), and they released their debut album THE VIEW FROM OLYMPUS in April 2019. The album garnered glowing reviews and was nominated for the Friday Night Progressive ‘IndieProg Awards’ in 2020.
Inspired by 70’s progressive rock, the trio move in contemporary indie rock circles but mix exceptional musicianship and the dynamism characteristic of old school prog with strong melodies and memorable hooks, creating a reputation for themselves as an up-and-coming band to look out for. THE VIEW FROM OLYMPUS is unashamedly retro, a sincere homage to iconic 70’s acts like Rush, Yes and King Crimson but which also served as an introspective chronicle of front-man Graham’s crisis of faith and struggle with depression during his early twenties.
Grasping the opportunity to begin work on a new project while live work was stymied by Covid over the summer of 2020, part one of an ambitious two-album song cycle, revolving around the themes of loss, longing, and the process of finding inner peace was recorded and released in November. The result is HYMNS FOR HUNGRY SPIRITS.
Great Wide Nothing have expanded the range of stylistic elements present on the first album, adding hints of jazz fusion, some subtle alt-pop flavour, and incorporated ballad trappings which all bolster the song writing.
The Bandcamp page is headed by the Latin quote Infinita ex inani oritur materia (infinite possibilities arise from the void). The group explain: ‘In art, as in life, the preconceived notions we carry and cling to can be terribly limiting. To that end, the particular niche into which Great Wide Nothing’s music fits is perpetually changing - expanding and evolving as such notions are challenged and ultimately laid to rest to make room for what comes next.’
This sentiment reminds me of Ars Longa Vita Brevis by The Nice, where Keith Emerson expounds on the aphorism generally attributed to Hippocrates ‘Newton's first law of motion states a body will remain at rest or continue with uniform motion in a straight line unless acted on by a force. This time the force happened to come from a European source. Ours is an extension of the original Allegro from Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Yesterday I met someone who changed my life, today we put down a sound that made our aim accurate. Tomorrow is yesterday's history and art will still be there, even if life terminates’. Each encapsulates the notion of progression in progressive rock.
Opening track TO FIND THE LIGHT, PART ONE brims with the band’s signature combination of sweeping keyboards and a propulsive, melodic bass line, reminiscent of old masters Yes during the early 70s of THE YES ALBUM and FRAGILE, or Wobbler if you’re looking for a modern counterpart. The surprise is the inclusion of saxophone from Noah Sills and Trumpet provided by Terrell McGowan, though the brass sits perfectly within the piece.
SUPERHERO is quite different, the first hint of broadening their scope. It’s a guitar-driven, catchy number that I can imagine would appeal to listeners not necessarily into prog, where the overall feeling belies the underlying complexity.
The trebly bass returns on PROMISED LAND but the synthesizer takes on the starring role, propelled by a driving rhythm and the feel is more modern, a bit like DRAMA-era Yes.
Title track HYMNS FOR HUNGRY SPIRITS is more slow-paced and features nice string arrangements with violin played by Susy Reyes. Guest vocalist Sarah Rose from Sarah and the Safe Word, another Atlanta band, sings the first verse. For much of the track Matthews is only using tom toms, which lends a laid-back vibe.
STARS APART is the longest track on the album, clocking in at a few seconds under nine minutes. This allows the track to develop and gives an opportunity for Porper to showcase his talents on synthesizer with a long solo.
In contrast to the receding track, VIGIL is the shortest track at 3’30. It’s a delicate, reflective piece with nice piano, pinned down with restrained drumming and trebly bass.
THE BEST WE CAN DO IS LAUGH is another long song with good development and some nice proggy instrumental breaks between more straightforward rock vocal passages which remind me of Brighton post-rockers Servants of Science.
Self-produced by Graham and Porper, the instruments are all nicely distinct. Graham’s voice isn’t the strongest but it’s a good fit with both the lyrical content and the song music. The three individuals are accomplished musicians and Graham is an admirable song writer. They really are a band to look out for.
The album can be found here: https://greatwidenothing.bandcamp.com/album/hymns-for-hungry-spirits-vol-i