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Music Review: Unitopia – Artificial

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Was it really 18 months ago that I reviewed The Garden the excellent double album release from Australia’s Unitopia? It doesn’t seem that long but the reason the timescale is somewhat blurred is probably because I have been playing it ever since. It was an album that had me drooling words such as “sprawling, grandiose, epic, intriguing.”

Certainly a lot has happened to everyone involved since then. The band has deservedly been earning far greater recognition and has now delivered their third album Artificial. This is nothing more than what Unitopia deserve and dare I say what many of us predicted on first hearing them.

Let’s remind ourselves of who the band are. Built around the musical minds of Mark Trueack and Sean Timms the band now include guitarist Matt Williams, bassist Shaun Duncan, sax player Peter Raidel, and the combined percussion skills of Jamie Jones and Tim Irrgang.

Their aim is to provide “thought provoking music” concerning “environmental awareness, political and social upheaval, media misrepresentation, the hectic pace of life and human relationships in a positive and uplifting light by using progressive rock as a framework.” All this sounds a tall order. That is until you press play.

Their promising debut album More Than A Dream arrived in March 2006. However, it was The Garden released after they had signed a three album deal with Inside Out Music that really saw the band begin to stake its claim worldwide.

The worry of course was whether the band had over-stretched itself with this epic double. It left many asking the obvious question. Just how could they follow such a breakthrough achievement? The answer is contained within the first moments of Artificial. All doubts are extinguished and any potential concerns are buried as the band takes you on another wonderfully, unravelling musical journey.

Artificial is a ten-track concept album which they will take on live dates across Europe starting in October this year (2010). They immediately underline their undoubted ability with their trademark elements of progressive influences mixed in with gentle touches of jazz, classical, and rock.

With one disc the album seems more compact than the sheer size of its predecessor. Having said that Artficial actually pushes the term grandiose to an even higher plain with ever more symphonic, dynamic, intricate, and deeply thought provoking tracks. It is intensely rich in musical and lyrical creativity and, despite being the single disc, sounds just as epic.

The musical minds of Mark Trueack and Sean Timms deliver near perfect pieces of intelligently written progressive music seemingly at will. There is not a single moment where they lose sight of their creative goals. The highest levels of quality in their writing, craft, lyrics, and musicianship bring their ideas home in pure style. This album is, in short, a triumph.

Mark’s vocals are on their best form yet and the band seems to have eased through various line-up changes without any discernable effect. The door opens with the cleverly claustrophobic “Suffocation.” This gives way to “Artificial World” which challenges us gadget obsessed people with lines such as “kids don’t play with each other any more and live their lives in seclusion.”

It’s thought provoking stuff and yet they pull it off with ease never sounding pompous and providing genuinely conscience probing lyrics. As we happily chat to faceless Facebookers on the other side of the world we often don’t know our own neighbours. It’s a point amongst several others brilliantly made here.

Next they delve deeply into their Beatles palette once again to deliver the delightful “Nothing Lasts Forever.” It’s something they have touched on before during The Garden. Instantly rich with a Magical Mystery Tour vibe it suggests that “maybe the boys from Liverpool got it right when they said Come Together.” Who can argue with that?

With this the album’s concept now begins to open out before, and around you. Unitopia weave more patterns than a musical loom. Brimmed full of vibrant imaginings along with a wise lyrical slant they deliver moment upon moment of simply excellent progressive music.

A fine example follows with “Not Human Anymore” which asks whether we have “lost part of ourselves.” There are so many layers and directions including, what sounds like, an atmospheric reminder of Page and Plant in Morocco amid other equally colourful flavours.

Next comes “Tesla” which, it has to be said, is superb. Opening with a ticking clock and somewhat foreboding chimes it evolves through its funky groove, whilst introducing seductive sax, and gypsy tinged violin. This is epic in scale with every detail being carefully delivered and as such is both extraordinarily strong and complex. You stay locked in compelled to hungrily receive every note and every effect as the experience unfolds.

“Reflections” eases briefly in with gentle keys evolving into something beautifully evocative. Just as you drift under its spell “The Power Of 3” arrives cloaked in theatrical, cinematic themes. It melts into “The Rule of 3’s” which is a huge multi-textured masterpiece. Through it they explore the number via the pyramids and their “sweet triangular beauty” all of which seems totally appropriate for the bands third album.

“Gone In The Blink Of An Eye” explores how fragile the life that we often take for granted is. It is flavoured with more of Peter Raidals soothing sax and Mark Trueack’s characteristically excellent vocals.

However good Artificial has been so far they somehow go a step further with the magnificent closing piece “The Great Reward.” This ends the album with a message of uplifting hope that taps into many of our own personal spiritual searches. It’s moving, majestic, climactic, and quite exceptional.

Let the album run for a hidden reprise and I guarantee you will be left staring into space as you hit replay again.

For more details please visit Unitopia’s official website.

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About Jeff Perkins