A summer of October projects
A decade ago, a band called October Project challenged the conventions of pop music with exotic melodies melded to pop hooks and beautiful harmonies.
They were the true precursors of the "Lilith Fair" movement, creating gorgeous soundscapes that married the sound of Renaissance minstrels with modern female-sung pop music.
October Project created rich, harmonic tapestries that audibly ached of beauty, emotion, love and longing. Its first two albums sold well, but not enough to crack the Top 40, or keep its record company happy. When the label dropped the members, they split up to go their separate ways … and so most similar stories end.
Except that October Project's main songwriters, Emil Adler and Julie Flanders, regrouped with a new singer and formed November Project in the late '90s, a band that continued to mine the same ethereal vein, and released one amazingly beautiful EP on its own label before imploding a couple of years ago.
During the same period, October Project background singer Marina Belica released a nicely atmospheric disc titled December Girl, reprising an October Project song on one track. Former OP singer Mary Fahl seemed to disappear entirely.
Then, last year, with the dissolution of November Project, Belica regrouped with her old friends Adler and Flanders to reform October Project, while at the same time, Mary Fahl landed a solo deal with the Odyssey label, a classical imprint of Sony. A decade after the original October Project debut, there are now two distinct, and equally beautiful, recordings that echo the deep, ethereal soul of the original.
Different Eyes, from the stripped back and reformed October Project, finds the band still crafting delicate, intricate webs of sound, and asking, in the EP's title song, for the listener to "see with different eyes."
It's also a declaration from the band to look at itself in a different way — these are songs from early in the band's history that have been re-discovered and re-orchestrated for the relaunch of October Project. Each of the six tracks on Different Eyes pair Belica, who admirably handles the demanding vocal textures of the band, with challenging percussion and warm folds of synthesizer and string strains, as well as acoustic guitar flourishes.
In "Forget You," she sings of wanting, and of turning a back on that which is not quite right:
"if I turn away
from the promise of breaking in your arms
if I turn away
when you reach for my heart
it's only to keep you from seeing … my love."
This is a band that perfectly encapsulates melancholy and remembrance, as in the disc's ending parable about the strength of a bending willow tree (compared to a stiff oak), "When the Wind Blows":
I went back today
to the place where I grew up
my dreams are left behind, like communion in a cup
standing by the willow tree, watching as the lights went on
I found a part of me I thought was gone."
This is inspirational, soul-warming stuff and definitely worth seeking out.
For more information, check www.octoberproject.net.
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The first notes of Mary Fahl's "In the Great Unknown" literally send chills up my spine every time I listen.
While Marina Belica does a fine job for October Project these days, there are few singers with the power and depth of Fahl. It's astounding that it's taken this long for her to resurface, but during the past few years she's lost none of the rich, warm power that made the first two October Project albums irresistible.
While her album The Other Side of Time lacks the intricate interplay of Adler's and Flanders' songwriting, the building piano and strings of "In The Great Unknown" (which even has a psychedelic Beatles-esque background vocal) comes close.
The ascending power of "Great Unknown" gives way to the powerful simplicity of "Going Home," a simple, but well-orchestrated Gaelic ballad. A mid-song break gives way to grandiose strings, akin to the "Titanic" theme, which is not surprising since the song comes from the soundtrack to another movie – "Gods and Generals.
Fahl co-wrote most of the songs on The Other Side of Time, including "Paolo," a love song to a lost lover co-written with Bob Riley, who once worked with another '90s atmospheric female-fronted band in Grace Pool. She offers a number of styles and sounds on The Other Side of Time, from the large, intricate textures of "In the Great Unknown" to the Irish folk threads of "Going Home" to an emotive rendering of the classic operatic "Una Furtiva Lagrima," from L'ellsir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti, and the slow, eerie swoops and harp plucks of "Dream of You," which recaptures the mood of the late '60s ... jazzy, enticing, and just a little dark.
It ends with another slow Gaelic-influenced ballad in "The Dawning of the Day," a traditional hymn with lyrics by Fahl that appears in the movie The Guys.
While some of The Other Side of Time gets a little too atmospheric and blase, much of it is beautifully orchestrated and affectingly sung by Fahl. If she'd only hired Adler and Flanders to write her material, this would likely have been a 5-star album. As it is, this is a powerful CD that spotlights the range and beauty of Fahl's voice, as she moves through mysterious and evocative hymns of memory, melancholy and, most importantly, melody.
Fahl's disc offers more material, but a few throwaways in its 14 tracks, but all six of October Project's EP are keepers. I give both efforts a strong stars.