Thieves’ Kitchen – Argot (2001)

ThievesKitchen_Argot4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Fans of Prog-Rock may be familiar with Thieves’ Kitchen from its more recent releases with the talented Amy Darby as its lead vocalist. But prior to her arrival in 2002, the U.K. band released two enjoyable albums with a male lead vocalist, which is when I originally discovered the group.

What instantly drew me to the band on its 2000 debut album, Head, was the strong Gentle Giant influences I immediately detected in not only the instrumentation and labyrinthine musical arrangements, but also since the male singer (Simon Boys) sounded eerily similar to Gentle Giant’s Derek Shulman. This further enhanced the illusion that I was listening to a modern version of Gentle Giant itself, albeit a tad heavier in places and with extra Neo-Prog influences tossed in.

For me, Argot, the band’s sophomore release, is equally as impressive as the debut album and often similar in style and scope. This time, the band elected to compose four ambitious and elaborate tracks—the twenty-minute “John Doe Number One,” the seventeen-minute “Call to Whoever,” and the “shorter pieces” (by Prog-Rock standards, at least) “Escape” and “Proximity,” both clocking in around the thirteen-minute mark.

On each of the tracks, the Gentle Giant influences are once again displayed in abundance, especially when it comes to the various eclectic tempos and rhythmic idiosyncrasies, the intricate and quirky vocal melody lines, as well as many of tones used for the guitars and the standard Prog-Rock keyboard arsenal—organ, piano, synths, and the mighty Mellotron. But also like the band’s debut, the music is in no way a perfect copy of Gentle Giant’s style. The talented musicians merely use that style as a starting template on which to construct its own brand of Prog-Rock magic—trimming out much of Gentle Giant’s abundant avant-garde ingredients and medieval inspirations, employing (albeit with the exception of an oboe) only traditional Prog-Rock instruments (ie. no saxes, no violins, no recorders, etc.), and incorporating more Symphonic and Jazz elements into its sound than Gentle Giant ever included on its own albums.

Nevertheless, the band’s influences during this early period in its history are crystal clear, so for any fans of Gentle Giant or groups with comparable styles—Advent, Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, or Beardfish, to name but a few—Argot (and the band’s debut) is certainly a “must-have” album.

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Thieves’ Kitchen – Head (2000)

ThievesKitchen_Head4.5 out of 5 Stars

Head, the debut album from Britain’s Thieves’ Kitchen, is in many respects a full-out foray directly into Gentle Giant territory, with a singer (Simon Boys) who even sounds remarkably like Derek Shulman from the mighty Gentle Giant itself.

Here, on the five tracks included, such as the sixteen-minute “Mute” and (especially) on the nineteen-minute “T.A.N.U.S,” it’s almost shocking how often the musicians and vocalist seem determined to get as close to the harder-edged sound of, for instance, In A Glass House or Three Friends. Even on the album’s three short tunes—ie. only Prog-Rock lovers can deem songs between seven and eleven minutes in length as being “short,” right?—the GG similarities are on full display. Yet please note, as on the epic tracks, the music on “Time,” “The Return of the Ultragravy,” and “Integrity” includes modernized instrumentation, certainly when it comes to the synths and the beefier guitar tones, therefore the band is by no means a direct GG rip-off, only that the GG comparisons are often striking. Nevertheless, despite the band’s influences, the material on Head is quite melodic and intricate, with grand song arrangements and orchestrations that feature altering tempos galore and expert musicianship at every turn, making for some savory Prog-Rock material and giving the band its own style.

Now, please note, if delving into this band’s back catalogue of releases, Head and the second album, 2001’s Argot, are quite similar in sound and scope. But in 2002, a second incarnation of the band began after Simon Boys left the group, only to be replaced by an impressive female vocalist named Amy Darby, which obviously altered the group’s overall sound. Nowadays, Thieves’ Kitchen no longer has many Gentle Giant influences, yet each new album since 2003’s Shibboleth is equally impressive with Ms. Darby behind the microphone.

Therefore, whatever the incarnation of the group, Thieves’ Kitchen is a band truly worthy of investigation for any Prog-Rock fanatic seeking intriguing music with elaborate arrangements and top-tier performances by all involved.

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