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Mice On Stilts - An Ocean Held Me CD (album) cover

AN OCEAN HELD ME

Mice On Stilts

 

Crossover Prog

4.04 | 80 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'An Ocean Held Me' - Mice On Stilts (84/100)

Call them Anathema at their most meditative, The Dear Hunter at their most elaborately orchestrated, or even Kayo Dot at their most intimate and accessible. Either way, you wouldn't be far from the truth; Mice on Stilts have struck a golden ratio on their debut between the unique and familiar. They fit snugly into post-00's progressive trends, yet enjoy a clear sense of purpose and personal identity. I apologize if I'm sounding like a bullshitting press release- it's altogether rare I hear a new band that truly 'gets it' from the beginning. In barely over half an hour, they've crafted a sombre, subtle and slow-to-grow opus that virtually exudes a cinematic aura others of their kind often only allude to. An Ocean Held Me is a brilliant introduction to an excellent band, and I'm eagerly anticipating the great journey they have ahead of them.

Mice on Stilts fashion themselves as part of the growing chamber rock movement. The fusion of small-scale classical ornamentation within a rock context has been around for ages in the form of artists like Univers Zero and the like, but those acts generally took a far more academic and foreboding approach to their sound. In the case of Mice on Stilts, a strong analog could be drawn between them and iamthemorning, a similarly beautiful and pop-influenced act that have seen fit to demonstrate the excitement and feeling music of this sort can stir in people when done well. Mice on Stilts have a generally darker tone to their sound than iamthemorning, but they're far too infatuated with proper hooks and alt rock leanings to be compared alongside the de facto kings of chamber rock. For what it's worth, I feel like future bands are going to take the example of Mice on Stilts and their yet-small circle of comparatives. There is too much potential here not to be noticed.

At the same time, it's sometimes hard to believe that Mice on Stilts are a young band. Musical talent has no prescribed age set to it, but the arrangements here suggest the maturity of someone, having now already spent years balancing and harnessing these ingredients. Then again, it might just as much be a matter of having the right talent and inspiration gathered in one spot. Mice on Stilts' Third Stream-ish fusion of classical viola and piano with jazzy saxophones and trumpets often overwhelms the notion that Mice on Stilts was originally a singer-songwriter bedroom project of frontman Ben Morley's design. Even so, the fact that these songs were originally devised as simple songs only serves to give added weight to the arrangements. So often, bands of this nature will let the arrangements compensate for the lack of satisfying songwriting. I could imagine An Ocean Held Me performed with a single acoustic guitar and Morley's brooding voice in a dimly lit coffee shop just as much as I could envision the entire band playing in an orchestral concert hall.

Especially given their roots in singer-songwriter tradition, the songs on An Ocean Held Me strike me as a little too reserved and consistently mellow. While it gives the EP as a whole the impression of a Floydian epic, Mice on Stilts stick to a mellow, melancholic wavelength. Whatever dynamic or (albeit restrained) fireworks we hear here are entirely in the court of the chamber arrangements. The mellowed atmosphere and leisurely pacing the songs take gives the album a pleasant consistency (culminating with the beautiful "Tuatara Lawn"- a track that deserves its growing repute), but I wonder now if Mice on Stilts would have struck me even harder with a few further-reaching moments. Their stylistic cousins in The Dear Hunter make for a perfect example as to this style could be enlivened with a few explosives. It's not at all to say that Mice on Stilts would need to lose their mellowness in order to pursue some greater mastery, but I've no doubt that An Ocean Held Me may have benefited from a few surprises along the way.

Mice on Stilts have earned a spot on my radar, and I'm pretty excited to hear where they'll go next, after having scored so deeply with this one. I will note that the album took a few times to grow; the sombre, laid-back tone doesn't rush to grab attention, and it takes some time before some helpful familiarity sets in. There's such beauty in the details and gentle harmonies Mice on Stilts have imbued these songs with, and even stripped of this gorgeous Third Stream instrumentation, we'd still have a strong singer-songwriter collection to enjoy. Keep an eye out for these guys.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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