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Ivory - Sad Cypress CD (album) cover

SAD CYPRESS

Ivory

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.24 | 56 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Sad Cypress' - Ivory (65/100)

Ivory's debut Sad Cypress was released at least three years after progressive rock starting getting uncool. Even the bands carrying the torch around then (most notably Marillion) had largely acknowledged times were changing, and shifted their styles accordingly. With a style that sounds like it was drawn straight for the circa-Selling England by the Poundgolden period, there is a sad romanticism to Ivory's music. A noble unwillingness to develop with the current trends. Although composer Ulrich Sommerlatte was relatively new to progressive rock, Ivory's story is made unique by his relatively late arrival to the scene; he was already in his mid-sixties when he founded the band with his son Thomas. A professional composer and conductor, he had decades of musical experience going into progressive rock. Knowing Ivory was a product of late adulthood undoubtedly changes the perspective.

You can hear Sommerlatte's maturity in every part of Sad Cypress; it is gentle, lavishly composed, and shamelessly out-of-touch which what (back then) was considered cool and edgy. While I don't think age itself is any impediment to innovation (just listen to some of Scott Walker's recent work for proof!) there needs to be existing discomfort for an artist to carve their own musical path. With the amount of experience some of the 1970s legends are only now reaching, it is presumable Sommerlatte went into writing Sad Cypress with a lot of confidence in his abilities as a composer. He formed Ivory as a way to express his admiration for symphonic rock, and his influences are clear to show. Above all else, Genesis comes to mind. Ivory's progressive rock favours warmth and consonance. There are no abrupt shifts in pace, no sound unpleasing to the ear. Quite like Selling England by the Pound, the gentle warmth belies the complexity of the composition. Christian Mayer's voice even sounds so close to Peter Gabriel's that it's impossible not to foster the comparison.

Let's not mince words about it; Ivory's sound is so close to the Genesis template that it's hard to approach them without some kind of existing bias. Fans of Selling England by the Pound should enjoy Sad Cypress to varying extents. If you're not a fan of the Peter Gabriel era, you might as well skip out on Ivory. Especially given that it was coming up on a decade since Genesis had made their original statements in this style, one cannot help but think Ivory did nothing to advance prog rock as an artform. That may sound like a condemnation-- and surely, it's reason enough for Ivory to have remained unknown-- but there's such essential beauty to the Genesis sound that I'm happy other bands were around to make further use of it. In the specific case of Ivory, most of their formula was already laid out before them, tried-and-tested, and relatively sure to succeed at least marginally. Sommerlatte's tone as a composer is perhaps too gentle to breathe life into the entire album, but his arrangements are more sophisticated than most of what the younger innovators were getting up to a decade prior. Sad Cypress is a worthy recommendation if ever you're looking for a new, but familiar sound to sate your thirst for symphonic prog-- expect no more or less of it.

As a side-note, I'd recommend checking out the expanded CD version of the album over the abridged vinyl counterpart. The supposed bonus tracks arguably make the album longer than it should be, but some of Ivory's best work was lamentably cut for sake of time restrictions. Although the lyrics are saccharine enough to spell death for anyone with a latent diabetic condition, the fifteen minute "Barbara" is as delicate and beautiful a progressive epic as anything I've heard.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |

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