The Golden Age Of Steam: Tomato Brain

Bruce Lindsay By

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The Golden Age Of Steam: Tomato Brain
It's been a while. The Golden Age Of Steam released debut album Raspberry Tongue (Babel Records) in 2009, the follow-up, Welcome To Bat Country (Basho Records), in 2012. Then they laid low until 2020 and the appearance of album number three, Tomato Brain. It's been worth the wait. The album's multi-layered, six-part, "Loftopus" is an atmospheric and often disturbing half-hour. The title track is a reminder of the comic, but dark, inventiveness of Scots poet, songwriter, humorist and all-round genius Ivor Cutler.

"Loftopus" may be divided into six parts, but the tracks blend seamlessly one into another, giving the sense of a genuinely coherent composition (by bandleader and saxophonist James Allsopp, but with plenty of space for his bandmates to improvise). Recorded in a single take, "Loftopus" at first moves at a snail's pace, a masterclass in controlled and restrained performance. Allsopp's tenor sax is the dominant instrument, although it doesn't appear until part two and there are plenty of places where it disappears altogether, or becomes subsumed in the electronic sounds crafted by Alex Bonney and Tim Giles. Giles opens part four with a drone-like drum beat before the sax enters again and an eerie sense of foreboding emerges out of a mix of electronics, bass and keyboards. The dramatic tension builds throughout parts four and five, underpinned by Giles' increasingly manic percussion and Ruth Goller's bass guitar. The music in these two parts fascinates and threatens in equal measure—the sax is at its most fluid and sinuous, the keyboards (courtesy of Kit Downes) add some prog-style majesty, the wall-of-sound intensity builds moment-by-moment. And then the tension is released, calm returns along with the indistinct vocals that last appeared in part one, flurries of saxophone mingle with electronic beeps and whistles. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop meets Tonto's Expanding Head Band, if that helps to explain "Loftopus."

And then there's the title track, an 8-minute version of "Tomato Brain" which sits musically alongside the preceding tune but adds the tale of a man who eats a cheese and tomato sandwich then becomes the sandwich—"his body's the cheese, his brain's the tomato, his legs are the bread." Cutler's original, recorded with singer Linda Hirst on 1983's Privilege

Track Listing

Loftopus, Parts 1-6; Tomato Brain.


James Allsopp: saxophone, tenor; Kit Downes: keyboards; Alex Bonney: electronics; Ruth Goller: bass; Tim Giles: drums.

Album information

Title: Tomato Brain | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Limited Noise

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