PENT UP – Reflection

A pattern is forming; not one, not two but three instrumental pieces featured on Sonic Breakfast in recent weeks. (The other two are here and here). For a blog that is so wrapped in lyrics, this is quite a development. I’m finding so much on offer in the piano-led pieces that I’m hearing. Cinematic and evocative, they’re helpful position-statements in explaining the raw emotion of the last year. They allow you to fill in the gaps, to let you mind wander, to reflect, to think and to learn. You can lose yourself in a story without words, wallow for a while and breathe it all in. 

Today’s choice is aptly called ‘Reflection’ and it’s by PENT UP, the moniker of Stephen Brook, a pianist from the South West of England. It’s already been noted by commentators more relevant than I that Stephen has the ability to tell stories without lyrics. Stephen himself notes that the video he made to accompany the piece ‘adds the visual context to the song’s narrative‘.

It’s an emotionally-charged video. Quickly we move from the bustle of a busy underground to deserted streets and empty buses. I’ve now not been to the office of my day job for over a year but when this video charts a path up an empty Regents Street and pans down a quiet Leicester Square, things really resonate. These are some of the streets that I’d walk along daily as I’d merrily go about my working day. Their emptiness is eerie, almost apocalyptic. It’s chilling when thinking about what we once took for granted.

The video moves on to feature images of people in various reflective modes; some are alone and others are in clinches with loved ones. All are taking the time to think and to ponder. We’ve lost a lot but gained equal amounts of insight into the things that really matter. 

Stephen explains his motivation behind ‘Reflection’. “I wanted to capture all of the emotions that we’ve all gone through over the past year.“, he says. “The numerous lockdowns, the sparse opportunities of freedom and how this is affecting the population mentally. I’ve also had my own realisations on the importance of family and how I have taken my own family for granted in the past.

Do find time to have a listen to ‘Reflection’ today. It can be a thinking Thursday for us all. 

Sacha Hoedemaker – Better Days

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that lyrics are very much my bag; you won’t find many acts featured in these parts who use cliché, bland platitudes or well-trodden similes to describe their current emotional state. And, it’s arguably my love of lyrics that has tended to rule out instrumental and faux-classical pieces from the mix. That all changes today. 

When I first heard Sacha Hoedemaker’s ‘Better Days’, I was floored. The words can almost write themselves as the cinematic piece swoops and builds to its final flourishes. You can’t help but feel optimistic about the future and positive about the right-now as first the piano and then a section of strings takes us on a truly melodic dance. 

More than ever, we can reflect upon our lives and think of the better days of yet to come. It’s so important to connect to each other and stay positive. I hope this piece provides with the motivation you need to turn today into a better day.

That’s what Sacha offers in the press release that accompanies ‘Better Days’. The Music Director at an Improvisational Theater in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago, Sacha is well-versed in performing multiple times a week as an improvisational musician. That’s no doubt aided his punishing release schedule in 2021 so far that’s seen him add new music to his YouTube channel every couple of weeks. It’s all good but this piece, Better Days, is the one I choose to feature.

I ask Sacha what he’ll do when the better days do come. “The first thing I’ll do is travel most likely.“, he says. “I want to take a break and see something else than my studio. Get inspired by the outside world to write more and more music.

When the inevitable glut of movies get made dramatising all of our Covid-19 experiences, this piece of music could very well feature. Opening credits, end credits or that moment when the scientist has the Eureka moment on discovering the vaccine – all might be suitable points for the opening bars of ‘Better Days’ to chime. It’s no surprise that Sacha has a background rich in film soundtrack.

For now, close your eyes and imagine the days that are better for you. Let the music take you away to a happy place and give you temporary respite from the day-to-day. 

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