Every time the Frisian prog band Flamborough Head releases a new album it is a certainty it oozes with class. The quality of the compositions and the musicianship is always of the highest level for the band and the sound is also excellent. It has always been this way and with their eighth studio album, “Jumping The Milestone”, the flags are waving proudly once again.
However, it all sounds slightly different than before. It is at times more light-hearted with a touch of melancholy and less urgency. We hear five musicians who are comfortable and relaxed, casting a serene glow over the whole album. Could it be due to the renewed lineup? I actually think so.
Firstly there is the return of Eddie Mulder, this time not on guitar but on bass which he excels at. Additionally there is a new guitarist within the ranks and he is no small fry. His name is Hans Spitzen, a guitar teacher by profession. I’ve been told that he fell into a vat of tastefulness years ago and the consequences are still evident. His sensitive playing is completely saturated with influences from Andy Latimer, Steve Hackett and David Gilmour not only on electric guitar. There are often acoustic guitar strums or tasteful atmospheric shifts in finger-picking mode. No doubt, he knows his stuff.
Besides these two changes three positions are filled by the old guard. Once again we are pleasantly entertained by the clear, neat vocals of Margriet Boonsma delivering what I consider to be her best vocal performance ever. Fortunately she sings without an annoying vibrato or those disfiguring ad-libs. Boonsma doesn’t need all those frills and does it in her own organic way. Her flute and recorder playing is more significant than before, adding depth to the overall sound. Speaking of depth, let’s talk about the keyboardist. Undoubtedly it is Flamborough Head veteran Edo Spanninga who brings the most harmonies to the music diving tastefully into the chords on “Jumping The Milestone”. He also introduces various themes, riffs, and lines. In the lively opener, The Garden Shed, we hear a delightful passage featuring a neo-proggy keyboard riff framed by heavy guitar riffs. This also highlights the class of drummer Koen Roozen. For years he has provided Flamborough Head’s music with adequate and dynamic drumming.
I have extensively discussed the lineup in the above paragraphs and that is not without reason. I strongly believe that the group dynamics as they apply to this album have been crucial to the end result. In other words, “Jumping The Milestone” revolves around the music as a whole. However, as a reviewer, I am always concerned with the details. Let’s move on to the discussion of the tracks, of which there are only six.
After the strong opener The Garden Shed which ranks among my favorite Flamborough Head songs, the accessible Tomorrow is Another Day presents itself. If you want to highlight the folk side of the band’s sound here’s your chance. The Ayreon-like flute theme leaves no doubt as does the swirling organ. The guitar work in this song is excellent including the ending where flute and guitar intertwine.
With the lively Start Of A Nightmare it was love at first sight which is remarkable since I’m not usually charmed by uptempo music. Hans Spitzen’s guitar playing is so infectious that I was immediately hooked. What a sound. A lot happens in this song. A short spooky sound fragment takes you into this kaleidoscopic track that stylistically keeps harking back to the old Kayak. It’s filled with organ chords and the passage with the ancient transistor organ is remarkable. Other astonishing moments include the recorder parts, the sparkling acoustic guitar, the bass guitar solo spot, the dynamic shifts and, of course, every string movement by Mr. Spitzen.
Fear Of Failure is also incredibly beautiful. All you have to do is imagine how IQ would sound with a female vocalist. The numerous strings unabashedly knock you down but that’s the risk of the trade.
Walls Of Words/Signs Misread starts as a fairly accessible song in typical Flamborough Head style. Just in time there’s an interesting switch and a long instrumental section unfolds. It is introduced by tasteful bass guitar and organ, then diving into a tranquil passage like no other. A return to the accessible beginning completes the circle.
And then the finale. The title track, written by Hans Spitzen, is the best closer the album could wish for. The lyrics deal with aging. The melancholic piano in the intro immediately sets the mood. Beautiful vocal blocks and well-thought-out instrumentations make this complex epic captivating. When the finale adds a supporting character to the palette and the pleading guitar gives the album an open ending, it’s all greater than great.
Flamborough Head has given their career a pleasant continuation with “Jumping The Milestone.” The album showcases a group of driven musicians who let their well-crafted music sound relaxed. It surely has something to do with the album title…
© Dick van der Heijde 2022