Lifesigns – ‘Altitude’ Review

Certain prog bands have a tendency to make me feel wonderful, and Lifesigns have just been added to my list.

Lifesigns – Altitude

In 2016 Oxford Dictionaries conducted a worldwide survey to find out what was the worst word in the English language. That word was ‘moist’. Other frontrunners were ‘Hello’, ‘no’, ‘panties’, and ‘hate’. Is it pure coincidence then that this is most hated sentence in the world….’I hate moist panties?’ Anyway, what I’m getting to is the word ‘Prog’ when describing music. In most instances it covers a band that the PR companies and labels don’t know where to pigeonhole the band in question. Progressive rock is based on fusions and styles, approaches and genres involving a continuous move between formalism and eclecticism. Steven Wilson hates the term, and I’m not far behind him.

One thing I do know is that certain prog bands have a tendency to make me feel wonderful, there’s a calmness and emotion that sweeps over me whilst I enjoy the various facets of the music. That is what Lifesigns ‘Altitude’ has given me on the very first listen. Not many bands do that to me. In fact Lifesigns is in great company – Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, Spocks Beard, Ostura and Tilt are such bands of the club that Lifesigns have just acquired a lifetime membership to.

Opening number ‘Altitude’ is a 15 minute piece that sweeps by in a matter of moments. Time is irrelevant, quality is utmost. From the opening few bars the feeling is one of soaring through the clouds, the quality of musicianship is second to none. It’s the first time I have heard John Young, and similarly to Wilson, he doesn’t have a soaring range, but what he does, he does ever so well and the tone fits the piece perfectly. There’s a string midsection that could accompany a Chinese ancient history movie, before the song drifts with some wonderful backing vocals and amazing guitar playing from Dave Bainbridge (who again is new to me, but won’t be for much longer!). The final act of ‘Altitude’ again pulls you back to the soaring atmosphere of the beginning. All in all it is a wonderful opening and an introduction to Lifesigns that I’ll not forget in a long time. ‘Gregarious’ draws on influences like ELO and Supertramp, and is a close to a pop song as Lifesigns get, I suspect. It’s built around Young’s keyboard and Poole’s base and features another fine solo from Bainbridge. I feel as if I could be repeating myself for the rest of the album here!

‘Ivory Tower’ is one of two Young songs given a reboot and a place within the Lifesigns catalogue. Robin Boult plays a guest role playing acoustic guitar. Midway the rhythm section is again impeccable and closes with ‘I fall….’. I can see this being a particularly great live moment with the crowd yelling….’DOWN!’

Three songs in and there is nothing to criticise. ‘Shoreline’ starts with a jazzy feel, making you wonder where the song is going next. With the highlight being Czorsz’s drumming. Young’s delivery on Shoreline evokes early Genesis and his phrasing is very Gabriel with a touch of Neal Morse. I also am a fan of the female ‘choir’ that’s been adopted on here. I’m running out of superlatives, so I’ll just settle on it being great. ‘Fortitude’ is yet another highlight, especially the sounds and textures being built from keyboards, and Taurus pedal and Moog. They are as important as Young’s vocals. More importantly every member gets their chance to shine, without anyone jockeying for position or domination. The counterbalance between keyboard and guitar is really something else. Played live, this will be a stunning piece to be expanded upon. ‘Arkhangel’ is a short keyboard appetite whetter before entering into ‘Last One Home’. It’s the second Young song that been give a new like. It’s a ballad where Youngs vulnerable vocals come to the fore, before Bainbridge’s guitar solo is one to behold and bow down to. I’ve found a new guitar hero to add to my list! There is a final reprise of ‘Altitude’ and its just enough to wind down and reflect on the majesty of the last 50-odd minutes.

I also have to give kudos to Steve Rispin (sound and production) as he really is the bonafide fifth member as the whole album sounds fantastic.

I love it when a band I’ve not heard before sweeps me off my feet. Its one of the reasons I still like reviewing for the opportunities like Lifesigns and John Young have given me in listening to this today. For that I will certainly be digging out the other albums and count me in as a fan!

This is a wonderful, wonderful album.

Track listing –
Ivory Tower
Last One Home
Altitude (Reprise)

John Young – Vocals and Keys
Dave Bainbridge – Guitars and Keys
Jon Poole – Bass and BVs
Zoltan Czoesz – Drums
Steve Rispin – Sound and production