NEEDLEPOINT - Walking Up That Valley

Needlepoint - Walking Up That Valley

8 songs
43:43 minutes
***** *****


Norwegian prog rock band Needlepoint were founded in 2010 and soon released their debut album The Woods Are Not What They Seem on their own label. This still rather unpolished product was followed two years later by Outside The Screen, hinting already at what would become of the band. I first heard the band with their third album Aimless Mary in 2015, and thatís when Needlepoint finally hit their stride. The Diary Of Robert Reverie followed in those footsteps, but itís the year 2021 that will see these Norwegian retro proggers rise to whole new dimension.

Walking Up That Valley is a little longer than its rather short predecessors, and offers a mix between sophisticated prog epics and shorter pieces with a more direct appeal. The opener and first single Rules Of A Mad Man is Needlepoint in its purest essence. Itís a whimsical pop prog song in the tradition of Canterbury greats like Caravan and Hatfield And The North. Band founder, composer, guitarist and vocalist BjÝrn Klakegg actually has a voice that has a lot in common with a young Robert Wyatt and Richard Sinclair: mellow, melodic melodies that evoke a pastoral past. Rules Of A Mad Man has a superb melody that recalls the few hits by Hatfield And The North, and three minutes into the song, we get more progressive parts, displaying the bandís undeniable jazz influence. I Offered You The Moon is at nearly eight minutes one of the recordís long tracks, beginning with a jazzy bass and drum intro, before its vintage Canterbury prog sound again offers what I have come to appreciate from Needlepoint over the years. Its second half is an instrumental elaboration on the preceding motifs, with great synth parts, busy drums, a bass pattern that sounds like a heartbeat and finally an ending that shows a lot of parallels to the end notes of Van Der Graaf Generatorís classic Man-Erg.

The following five songs are shorter, all clocking in under five minutes. This might be disappointing for those who only want their prog songs never-ending, but Needlepoint prove that they also excel at more concise material. Web Of Worry is a pleasant pop song, certainly less proggy than the opener, but still enchanting with its irresistible melody lines and flute parts. The same counts for the three-minute short So Far Away, a folk ballad delivered with a slightly broken voice and once again moving flute parts, reminding of very early Van Der Graaf Generator, and then surprising with a violin part that concludes the song. Where The Ocean Meets The Sky adds a jazzy dimension with its electric piano, and contains a more dynamic instrumental middle part that feels like a nod to the more experimental tracks of Canterbury bands from the mid-Seventies. Carry Me Away is another wonderful folk prog ballad with impeccable vocal performance and unforgettable melodies, but itís the female choir that ends that song that makes it a further unbelievable highlight. Another Day is yet another slab of pastoral folk balladry that reminds me of American indie singer&songwriter out Archer Prewitt. The album concludes with the nearly eleven-minute-long title track. It stylistically reprises everything that happened before: a first part full of mellow folk, a more pop approach following before the second half of the song is full of instrumental extravaganza, ending in a faded out guitar solo, which on the one hand might be annoying, but on the other hand feels like a statement by band leader Klakegg who might be saying: I am a guitarist, but I leave a much, and maybe even more space to my co-musicians.

I rarely rave about albums, and especially not about new ones. But Needlepoint are a band that still manages to somehow reinvent itself. Klakegg is already in his early Sixties, and although he has released music prior to Needlepoint, he feels like a late bloomer. And in a music business that is more and more overrun by untalented copycat youngsters trying to make quick money, itís great to still discover artists that combine a seventies influences with their very own vision of how their music should sound. Itís not simply prog. There are strong elements of jazz and folk, and even some pop sensibilities, because why not? Walking Up That Valley is an early contender for album of the year, and I also want to draw your attention to the great because naÔve and colourful felt-tip pen cover artwork.

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