Lifesigns – Altitude (Album Review)

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Lifesigns is one of those fortunate bands who seem to effortlessly make fans for life. The challenge before the group is not so much about winning over their potential audience, it’s more about just getting in their ears. The rest seems to take care of itself. Album number three, “Altitude”, has been long-awaited by the faithful and their patience has not gone in vain. Although we could say “Third time’s a charm”, that would belie the fact that the first and second times were just as charm-laden. The 2013 debut was a prog-swathed masterpiece containing five lengthy gems featuring a host of star musicians. Followup “Cardington” was more focused in composition, delivering melodic hook after hook while retaining the musicianship underneath. The simple truth is that Lifesigns set the bar high from the outset and they’re not looking back.

There have been some personnel changes throughout each album, but crucially two members have stayed consistent: the leader and heart of the band, John Young (vocals, keyboards, songwriting), and the man behind-the-scenes, Steve Rispin (sound design, additional keyboards). While Jon Poole ably took the spot of hard-to-replace Nick Beggs on bass after the debut album, it wasn’t until “Altitude” that Dave Bainbridge became the band’s official dedicated guitarist and Zoltan Csörsz took over the drummer position. Although this album was recorded remotely for obvious reasons – and not all band members have even met one another in person yet – the sound of Lifesigns is remarkably well-established and cohesive thanks to having Mr. Rispin behind the control board. “Altitude” follows the general sonic approach of predecessor “Cardington”, offering engaging yet accessible material with plenty of musical muscle that goes down smoothly thanks to its sleek production, almost a Steely Dan of prog.

Boasting several fresh songs along with two older John Young numbers that have been reworked with the Lifesigns treatment, “Altitude” is a highflyer from the get-go…literally…with its title track taking the listener on a 15 minute journey through the clouds. As its lyrics drone on (a pun regarding the lyrical content), the musicians are absolutely brilliant and on-point. A little over the halfway point, a triumphant crescendo section opens wide, followed by a minute-long unleashing from Bainbridge on the six strings. Even the musical guests on backing vocals and strings make quite the impact on this opening number, finally fading off into an extended etheric closing. “Gregarious” hits next with a punchy number similar to some of the more compact pieces on “Cardington”, radio-friendly if such a radio station still existed. Bainbridge’s solo is note-perfect, even down to the subtle touch of a brief swell into the final note.

Ivory Tower” follows, an older tune that drew attention when performed during Lifesigns live shows. The entrancing sway of 6/8 time and romantic ornamentation belies the reality that this is a song of betrayal. Yet as Young sings “I still remember the look in your eyes when you told me lies, I trusted you,” the tale sounds all too familiar as any number of songs penned by another John – and friend of Young’s – who made the band Asia quite famous with material such as this. When the rhythm section kicks in halfway through the song, Poole’s bass commands full attention, as he often does, with his impeccable tone and groove. Closing with a hard stop of “I fall —“ this will surely continue to be a crowd pleaser. “Shoreline” immediately follows, opening with jazzy chordal choices that keeps the listener guessing, before settling in with a memorable chorus of “Save me, save me”. Csörsz’s tight kit playing feels especially important during the instrumental passages, engineered with precision for maximum impact. He’s a perfect choice for the band after previous drummer Frosty Beedle left last year. Backing female vocalist Lynsey Ward, who has been adding quite a bit to the entire album already, keeps delighting with her arrangement choices, much of which are her own creations. This continues to be true during next song “Fortitude”, one of the album’s several highlights, which stretches out for over ten minutes. Often insistently driving, Young’s vocals still carry a touch vulnerability, such as with four memorable falsetto hits which eventually lead to his final line, “Sometimes I feel like it’s all just a dream…”. What follows is a closing three minutes of instrumental prog bliss, heavy on bass pedals and pedaling bass underneath, while keyboards and guitar wail above. More, please.

Usually a prog “epic” connotes an album-side multi-suite journey but somehow “Last One Home” still qualifies even though its run-time is only just over six minutes. This long-appreciated piano piece written by Young decades ago finds its rightful place here towards the end of “Altitude”. Surely Bainbridge must have had a similar feeling as Guthrie Govan did when Steven Wilson presented him with a lengthy section in “Drive Home” to solo over, with a clear invitation to live into his destiny as a Guitar God. Of course, Bainbridge is up for the challenge and delivers astoundingly, but not before having to ask that the band doubles the length of the passage for him to fully flesh out his solo! While it could be said metaphorically that the solo – and the song as a whole – left no survivors, that would be contrary to the lyrics, so we’ll just say this is yet one more peak in an album of highlights. To bring us back to earth – in a sense – the album closes with a brief reprise of the title track, this time with more of an electronic vibe. Reportedly there’s an extended version of this arrangement somewhere in Young’s files so hopefully that will be made public one day.

Some albums with a runtime of nearly an hour feel that they overstay their welcome. But in realizing that it may be a few years before we get the next Lifesigns installment, it has to be said that this is over all-too-soon. Once again they have a smashing success on their hands which sounds glorious thanks to Rispin’s skilled ears. May the delights herein reach a multitude of new ears, inevitably leading to that many more new fans.

Released by: LML Records
Released on: March 8th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians: 

  • John Young / keyboards, vocals
  • Dave Bainbridge / guitar
  • Jon Poole / bass, vocals
  • Zoltán Csörsz / drums

“Altitude” Track-listing:

  1. Altitude
  2. Gregarious
  3. Ivory Tower
  4. Shoreline
  5. Fortitude
  6. Arkhangelsk
  7. Last One Home
  8.  Altitude (reprise) 

9.1 Excellent

A band that doesn’t know how to do wrong, Lifesigns stay the course by delivering a third triumph in their discography. The solidified lineup of Dave Bainbridge and Zoltan Csörsz’s joining John Young, Jon Poole and Steve Rispin brings a confident musical prowess to songs new and old from Young. With the addition of special guest vocalist Lynsey Ward throughout the album, all the ingredients are in place for one of the year’s top releases as LIfesigns flies again.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 10
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