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The Demon Joke

You may not know Mike Vennart’s name, but I’ll bet you’ve heard him play, if only in his role as touring second guitarist for those stadium Scots, Biffy Clyro. If you do know him, then it’s probably as the frontman for Oceansize, who - if you’ll forgive the hyperbole of an unrepentant die-hard fan - were one of the most underappreciated critical darlings of British guitar music in the noughties, the King Crimson of the 21st Century prog revival. Oceansize split back in 2010, with the line-up decamping to other acts or fiddling about with various sideprojects, but a Vennart solo album always somehow seemed inevitable. Hope does funny things to middle-aged men.

The easy way into The Demon Joke is to compare it to Oceansize, albeit at the risk of an eye-roll from the perennially spiky Vennart. But the sonic continuity is hard to ignore, what with ex-Oceansizers Steve Durose and Gambler both contributing. Vennart’s song-writing strategies are pretty distinct to start with, and having the harmonic core of his old band to hand has allowed that style to mature further.

The songs here are still intricate, but not so fussy, more focussed. Oceansize always sounded like a band pulling in seven different directions at once - it was what made them so good, if you ask me - but The Demon Joke is more purposeful and more playful, neater and tighter and lighter. There’s also plentiful evidence of the persistent influence of oddball prog-pop legends Cardiacs, but this is no tribute record. From the epic synth pomp of opener ‘255’ to the tongue-in-cheek stadium swagger of ‘Duke Fame’, every track shows off an experienced songwriter and sorely underrated singer stretching his wings - and long may he fly.

by Now Then Sheffield