Damned bassman joins multi-instrumentalist Matt Webster for a feast of cacophonous psychedelia
Release Date: 24th September 2023
Label: Mutiny 2000 Records
Formats: CD / Vinyl /Download
The project known as Signia Alpha arose initially from a 2019 collaboration between poet Nick Toczek and his fellow Bradfordian, multi-instrumentalist Matt Webster. Matt would provide the music, often a heady amalgam of indie, jazz and funk, whilst Nick chipped in with his signature left-field and surreal lyrics. It was in this form that the duo released a pair of albums, kicking off in 2020 with their debut, Shooting The Messenger.
Entropy is the third album to be released under the Signia Alpha banner and things have moved on a touch since those early days. Matt Webster is still the axis of the project, but the band’s lyrics – still occasionally as left-field and surreal as they’ve always been – are now either his own work, or the result of collaboration with or invitation to friends. Secondly, and this is significant, Matt has drafted in lots of instrumental help from some pretty heavyweight acquaintances to flesh out the Signia Alpha sound, and the result is a glorious cacophony of psychedelia.
So who are these mates of his? Well, for a start there’s Paul Gray, bassist with The Damned (and others) who contributes the Rickenbacker bass sound that is so very prominent in every one of the ten songs on Entropy. Singer-songwriter Harris is the co-author and vocalist of six of the songs and there are writing and vocal contributions from Mathew Seamarks and Simon ‘Nogsy’ Nolan. And that’s not all – the psychedelic sounds that make Entropy such a rewarding listen are given a special edge by guitarist Wulf Ingham and the pastoral and jazzy wings of this particular aircraft are supplied, respectively, by Chris Walsh on flute and Keith Jafrate on sax. And if you add that lot to Matt’s drums guitars and vocals, there’s enough substance to fill anybody’s wellies.
Entropy is launched with Such a Shame, a tight and pacy number that’s too clever for punk and too fast for prog – but, hey – who needs pigeon holes anyway? Paul’s clangy Rickenbacker is evident right from the outset and the drumbeat is crisp and, yes, the instrumental interlude does sound remarkably like the ‘theme tune from some long-forgotten TV show,’ as the album’s press release suggests.
The treatment of the islanders on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia provides the subject matter for the Simon Nolan song, On Diego Garcia. Between 1968 and 1973, those islanders were forcibly expelled from the atoll, by then a British colony, in order that the territory could be used as a military base. The song’s lyrics are scathing as they retell the story, and Simon’s vocal delivery seems to become more and more Scouse as the feelings of bitterness reach their peak. It’s another solid amalgam of punk and prog, Paul’s bass and Matt’s drums mesh perfectly and the guitar lines are exquisite.
A chugging guitar lick provides the drive for the atmospheric and slightly ominous A New Dawn. This time around, the psychedelia is served courtesy of the druggy vocals and the trilling guitars that come in as the song reaches its climax. Paul’s choppy bass takes the lead role for Hourglass, a song described as an observation of “passing and lost time.” The song becomes spacier as it progresses, with wailing guitar and flurries of keyboard getting a look-in.
The pace is slowed, somewhat, for The Price of Admission, a song that pays a passing visit to the early psychedelic experiments of Pink Floyd. The vocals come over in a wonderfully Syd Barrett-ish kind of way and Wulf’s Zappa-esque guitar is fantastic. And – listen closely – Chris Walsh’s flute adds a delightfully pastoral edge to all the electric bombast. Chris’s flute plays an even more important part in the bouncy, poppy Feels Like Rain and, combined with the impact of Paul’s still-choppy bass, the song sounds like Traffic would have done, if they’d persuaded John Entwistle to sit in on bass.
Mathew Seamarks’ Building Castles in Spain is, perhaps, the most melodic and accessible tune on the album. Once again, Paul’s bass is well up in the front of the mix, whilst discreet twinkles of guitar provide a soothing touch, but it’s Mathew’s vocals that round off the song and make the real melodic difference. At the other end of the spectrum, Waiting is, I suppose, the album’s closest thing to pure prog. The vocals are dramatic, whilst the heavy blend of bass, guitars and sax contrast enticingly with the gentle flute and acoustic guitar passages.
The centrepiece to this intriguing album is, without doubt, The Atmosphere, an epic 7-minute commentary on climate change and its effects. The song’s lyrics pull no punches and I particularly like the line: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the weather together again,” used to emphasise how the damage that’s currently being done will, in all likelihood, be irreversible. The powerful lyrics also reference the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Extinction Rebellion (with the emphasis placed on the Extinction part of that group’s name). And the widescreen musical accompaniment underlines the anger of the lyrics, with every instrument making its own point, whilst managing to stick to the theme and the script. The Atmosphere is one of the best and strongest musical reactions yet to the climate crisis, and – if you want to know what the apocalypse is likely to sound like – just listen to the closing bars of this song.
And that just leaves Kaleidoscope Wheels, a short, thunderous, burst of psychedelia, to round off this exhilarating album. Entropy is, indeed, an album that was worth waiting for.
Listen to a version of Feels Like Rain – a track from the album – here: