Encircled -
The Universal Mirth

(CD 2018, 55.45, Private Release)

The tracks:
  1- Log In : The Mystical Way(04:36)
  2- The Obsession(09:00)
  3- Past Times(05:06)
  4- This Is Goodbye(05:29)
  5- Smiling On The Inside(05:46)
  6- 22 Likes(06:29)
  7- A Fantastic Souvenir(02:52)
  8- Log Out : The Universal Mirth(12:46)

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About their history. Encircled is a prog formation from the Midlands in the UK, they have releleased three albums: The Gun Has Replaced The Handshake (2014, see review), The Monkey Jamboree (2017, see review) and more recently The Universal Mirth (autumn 2018). The band began a few years ago when Scott Evans (bass, keyboards and programming) had been writing some songs and wanted to record them, the first call was to Gareth Evans (lead guitar) who had been in a band with Scott back in the early 90's called Epilogue (who were signed to Cyclops records). The hunt for a singer was a bigger task and unknown to Encircled at the time the band had been standing next to the solution at many gigs over the years. Scott and a music friend named Mark 'Busby' Burrows had chatted many times and at one gig they happened to mention they needed a singer and the rest is history. Singer Mark about that historical moment. “Well, I'd got to know Scott through basically seeing him at various gigs over the years (usually Marillion and other prog bands). We often had little chats about music and life and one day Scott casually asked me if I knew any singers. My response was “Have you looked at my Facebookpage ?”, I had been singing and playing in various bands since 1986! I must have done something right as a few days later I received a CD of Scott's songs that he needed vocals for. That was my introduction to Encircled.”

About their biggest inspirations. All members are fans of Genesis, Marillion, Pink Floyd and IQ. The personal tastes range from XTC, Duran Duran, Talk Talk, Crowded House, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds and U2 to Peter Gabriel, Fish, Roger Waters, Francis Dunnery, Geoff Mann, David Bowie and Paul McCartney.

About the music. This new album by Encircled is my first encounter with this band so I contacted them for information, and I read the reviews about their previous two albums, by fellow BM reviewer Erik Van Os. I agree with his conclusion that their sound is in the vein of Eighties Neo-prog, but I also hear strong elements of progressive pop on this new effort. Just listen to the difference between the first and second track. The start is with Log In : The Mystical Way featuring strong vocals and a climate that reminds me of Kayleigh from Marillion (guitar work) but also Follow You, Follow Me from Genesis (synthesizer flights). To me it sounds as progressive pop, very tasteful and well crafted, with excellent vocals. The final part of this track delivers short but awesome Mellotron choir drops. This turns out to be the bridge between the first and second track, because the second mid-long track entitled The Obsession begins with that awesome Mellotron choir sound. And now IQ reigns, with bombastic keyboards and propulsive guitar riffs, top notch Neo-Prog! Then the atmosphere turns into dreamy with tender vocals (strong melancholic undertone), delicate volume pedal guitar and soaring keyboards. Gradually the music culminates in more lush, loaded with voices (like “we are in danger'), a pretty compelling final part.

The other six tracks also alternate between Neo-Prog and progressive pop.

A slow rhythm with warm acoustic rhythm guitar and strong vocals (evoking Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet) and a Marillion-like guitar sound, the music is very song-oriented but in the end lush Mellotron choirs and synthesizer flights in Past Times.

A sound between prog pop and melodic rock with pleasant vocals and beautiful and varied work on the guitar in This Is Goodbye.

More music between pop and melodic rock with tasteful arrangements (from tender piano and a moving electric guitar solo to beautiful strings) in Smiling On The Inside.

Lots of variety ( from dreamy to bombastic eruptions) and a lush Neo-Prog sound with sensitive electric guitar and majestic Mellotron in the cynical 22 Likes.

First a sound collage and then a bombastic atmosphere with female vocals by Kym Hart that strongly evokes The Great Gig In The Sky by Pink Floyd in the short song A Fantastic Souvenir.

And finally the epic title track (close to 13 minutes), this is Encircled (here with guest keyboard player Pete Jones) at their artistic peak and an inspired tribute to the Eighties Neo-Prog bands Marillion, IQ and Pallas. From dreamy to bombastic, and from warm twanging guitars to sumptuous Mellotron eruptions, embellished with wonderful, often very moving electric guitar (between Steve Rothery and Michael Holmes). The vocals reminds me of Alan Reed but also Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. The final part delivers a long and spacey synthesizer solo, with fine use of the pitchbend button, a Floydian touch to end a wonderful and varied composition, drenched in the best Neo-Prog tradition!

To me this new album sounds like a mature blend of Eighties Neo-Prog and prog pop: melodic and harmonic, tastefully and elaborate, topped with wonderful work on guitar and keyboards. But the main asset is singer Mark, obviously inspired by the known names in Neo-Prog, progressive pop and melodic rock. He manages to add an extra dimension to the compositions, with a very natural and varied voice. Scott mentions this about Mark. "We have gone a bit darker on this album. Mark has taken his lyric writing to a new level and really explored darker themes, all relevant to today's cyber security paranoid nation.”

This to me is an album to discover, if you are up to discovering the boundaries between Eighties Neo-Prog and prog pop.

**** Erik Neuteboom (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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