Skys, The - Automatic Minds,
I first came across Lithuanian band The Skys back in 2006 when I reviewed their debut CD ‘Postmodern Game’ (which followed on from two low profile cassettes). It is safe to say that over the years they haven’t been the most prolific act, and have had a few line-up issues, but Jonas Čiurlionis (vocals, guitars) has been there since the very beginning, while Božena Buinicka (keyboards, vocals) was around in time for the second album. Their third, ‘Journey Through The Skies’ was released in 2015 and there has been some continuity in that both Justinas Tamaševičius (bass) and Ilja Molodcov (drums) were around for that, but for this album there have been some interesting changes. Although ‘Journey Through The Skies’ was by a quintet (guitarist Aleksandr Liutvinskij who had been there since the beginning is no longer involved), and they are now a quartet, they have brought in a host of guests to assist, and what a list that is. There is Snowy White (Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy), Neil Taylor (Robbie Williams), Durga McBroom (Pink Floyd), Justin Klunk (Ariana Grande) and Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett) while it was produced by Dom Morley who won the Record Of The Year Grammy Award in 2008 for his work on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’. Must be great to have such record label support, eh? The thing is, these guys are independent, and do not have Sony or anybody else looking after them, they are doing this all on their own. They say they are the most important band to come out of Lithuania, and I have no real way of gauging that, although a quick trip to their website shows there is an Awards tab, and they certainly have a few to their name! A quick trip to the Prog Archives charts shows that for Lithuanian albums of all time, they have different releases at #1, #3 and #5 while the albums around them are older so they well may be correct.
But what makes them stand out so much? Surely it is the maturity of their music, which comes across as a mix of Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project, along with very strong vocals. They switch between male and female, with both Jonas and Božena taking leads, and while they do sometimes harmonise, they often keep them separate. They have very different styles indeed, but both sing in clear unaccented English which makes it easy for the Western ear to appreciate. In fact, the album sounds more English in its approach than one might expect, and there is little in the way of folk influences one often hears from bands from that part of the world. It is complex, enthralling, beguiling and accessible and throws in lots of different ideas. The use of a bell at the end of “Dry Water” feels incredible apt, and that leads into “Dead End” which commences with delicate piano, an approach unlike anything else heard to that point (this is the penultimate song on the album).
Clever arrangements combined with strong songs and performances makes this an incredibly interesting album as one is never sure what is going to happen next. As well as being immediate it is also a grower and the more one plays this, the more there is to be gained from playing it, as we swirl from gentle music to neo prog at the drop of a hat or into something far more symphonic. All the time driving forward, always forward. Probably their most complete work to date, this is another great release from The Skys.