Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Nostalgia For Infinity

My good friend Paul is an occasional contributor to Sonic Breakfast. He’s just recovering from his third hip replacement operation. Even the poorest of mathematicians should be able to work out that means that one is a replacement of a replacement. And that’s serious by all accounts. 

He’s recovering well even though living in Leicester represents something of a double-whammy lockdown. Malcolm from Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate asked Sonic Breakfast if we might review their latest album and I knew the man for the job. Paul likes prog and counts this band as one of his modern-day favourites. It’ll keep him out of mischief I thought. 


Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate

Nostalgia for Infinity

 

There are albums for long car journeys. This is an album for a journey into deep space – take-off is anxious and exciting, distances are vast and empty, and when we arrive we have to save humanity.

Nostalgia for Infinity is a concept album in the great tradition of prog rock – a message full of contradictions, uncertainties and desperate pleading. There is infinity, and plenty of it. The throb of the universe, the dark, the cold, the endlessness. The silence. But there is nostalgia, too, and that has always been an important part of English prog music – the lark ascending, the cricket, the cucumber sandwiches, the Carry On films. Comfort in times of change; reassurance where there is disorientation.

The sleeve notes tell us that much of the album is based on, or inspired by, the works of the British science fiction writer Alistair Reynolds. This is interesting background information, and it is quite right for sources to be acknowledged, but the pieces are strong enough to stand on their own.

Six of the 12 tracks are instrumental. Track 3, Ark, is one of those, and it’s outstanding – melodious, thoughtful, always growing and developing. It moves from tinkling modest optimism with gentle piano, to steely determination with bold guitar, to becalmed introspection with understated keyboard, and finally to a quiet letting go, with piano again. It has echoes of Van der Graaf Generator’s Plague of Lighthouse Keepers.

Nanobotoma is a song about a disease caused, not by bacteria or viruses, but by nanotechnology – tiny machines that spread and divide in the body, ‘fly on the breath’ and ‘sparkle in the spit’. We need to get the R number down – self-isolate for 14 light years.

Following on from Nanobotoma, Chasing Neon comes as quite a relief. It’s a dancy instrumental track, a joyful theme for a chase sequence between space ships, or just a space joyride.

There’s not much respite, though. Doom is back on the agenda with Glitterband, where glitter turns to rust, and it looks like the earth is done for.

Three instrumental tracks follow. The guitar leads the way in Conjoiners, and we’re happy to go along. The going gets tough in Scorpio, with jazz riffs, and then we hit the desolation of Inhibitors, with wind effects and scratchy flute sounds and primal gasps – a world willing itself into existence. No discernible lyrics, but a faraway female voice that could almost be keening.

The next track is the title track. It is about guilt. Specifically, the guilt of the captain of the space vessel, who has made some bad decisions and who is now starting to meld organically with the nuts and bolts of his ship. His crew aren’t happy.

The fusion of flesh and machinery is a theme through the album, be it at molecular or architectural scale.

After the instrumental track Voyager, the final track is Sixth Extinction. The earth has already seen five mass extinctions, the fifth being 65 million years ago. The sixth extinction will almost certainly be anthropogenic.

Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate are Malcolm Galloway and Mark Gatland on vocals, guitars, bass and tech, and Kathryn Thomas on flute and much-too-sparing vocals. Their music is ethereal, emotive and moving. It will help us in this journey.

Paul Champion

September 2020