Educating Omand - Year 2: Thank You Scientist

In an effort to further her musical education, Susan Omand has been set "homework" of listening to albums released after the 1980s that she has missed out on. This week she pores over Maps of Non-Existent Places...

See the full list of #EducatingOmand: Year 2 albums here

This was how my first listen of this album went...

Me: Thank You Scientist, eh? Never even heard of them. Anyhow, let’s crack on and give it a listen.

*presses play on the album Maps of Non-Existent Places*

Me: ???….

*Pauses song to check that I have the right album playing. I have.*

Me: *grins stupidly* Oh hell yes! 

Maps of Non Existent Places. What. An. Album!

It’s bloody brilliant. If jazz metal isn’t a genre it should be because that’s the only way I can describe this. I mean, how many metal bands do you know with a saxophone and trumpet in? And that voice. Oh, that voice. And those harmonies. And… and… and… oh, it’s just brilliant.

From the a capella 1940’s sounding close harmony Prelude, we drop nicely into a typical 2000’s skater rock guitar intro for the intriguingly titles Salesman’s Guide to Non-Existence. The heavy guitar intro soon morphs into hard brass though, then into smooth jazz with added sparks of dirty guitar and Salvatore Marrano’s stunning vocal soaring over the top until we get the surprise of crackly violins at the end of the track.

I must just take a moment to talk about his voice because it is like nothing I have ever heard before and, if you see a video of him singing (I had to go looking to make sure the recording I was listening to hadn’t been altered!), it is so much not the voice you’d expect to come from him. It’s so smooth and laid back for being almost a contralto. It reminded me a lot of the likes of Sade in style and tone, and that’s not a bad thing at all, quite the contrary, it's just so utterly unexpected.

Feed the Horses is next and starts as brass jazz before a funky disco sound kicks in, to make a track that would be very at home on any Miami Sound Machine album. From Miami to full-on Mariachi for the intro to Blood on the Radio which merges into incredibly complex jazz-metal fusion. There’s so much going on in the background of this song – intricate percussion time-signatures, jazz counterpoints that just shouldn’t work but so do, dis-harmonic brass slides vying with slap bass, it’s stunning. Absentee is a more laid-back sound in a lot of ways, with the melody being a lot simpler. The strings give it a vaguely Celtic feel, as does the surprising mandolin and just as you’re lulled into some sense of knowing which way is up, you get a superb sax solo that is so 80s it hurts.

Suspicious Waveforms comes next and we’re back to 70s jazz funk. Or at least you think we are until the violin kicks in with an almost Middle-Eastern sound for a few seconds, a theme that is picked up later in the track by the guitars in true jazz fashion. The violin continues to be a main player in Carnival, a track which is aptly named because you can almost see the fairground folk around their campfires in this. A complete change for the next track, Concrete Swan Dive. For me this is the most commercial track on the album, although it’s still very good, it does progress very much as you would expect it to, with an interesting carry-through of theme to the different instruments without too much distraction. In the Company of Worms, though, sees us back among the weird and wonderful. This one is Moroccan bazaar meets smoky jazz bar. I love the sitar in the intro to this and, throughout, the discordance of the guitar-work is challenging but totally incredible. And the whispered vocal and unresolved note at the end is just perfect. The final song, My Famed Disappearing Act is very anthemic, with superb guitar work and an “arms waving in the air” sing along chorus and a great way to round off the album.

So, thank you David Ames for Thank You Scientists and introducing their music into my life. This time you can say that I’ve been educated. In the Company of Worms is, I think, my favourite track on the album, with Blood on the Radio running a close second and Prelude/Salesman’s Guide next but they’re all brilliant Maps of Non Existent Places will be a permanent fixture on my playlists now and I will definitely be looking for more. If you like modern jazz mixed with your metal, if you like your music to be complex and challenging as well as being highly listenable and if you like a totally unique vocal, you have to listen to these guys.

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