(22 Apr 2017) The long-awaited new White Willow album Future Hopes has been released. It follows their extremely successful 2011 album Terminal Twilight and Signal to Noise from 2006. With original artwork by Roger Dean, Future Hopes is released two digital download formats, compact disc and vinyl. Following Jacob Holm-Lupo's meeting with Roger at NearFest years ago, the stunning artwork and illustrations were created exclusively to satisfy composer's vision for Future Hopes. An interview with Jacob and the band's new yet well-established vocalist Venke Knutson accompanies this review.
Jacob and Venke last worked together on The Opium Cartel's 2013 album Ardor which was selected as Musical Discoveries' Best of the Year. We have enjoyed a close working relationship with White Willow, The Opium Cartel, the artists and Termo Records for many years. A move to Lasers Edge with this release will hopefully benefit White Willow downstream.
Not recognizing the value we provide labels and artists and the work required to do high quality reviews, the label provides only standard quality mp3s for review. As long time Roger Dean followers that still enjoy his oldest books today, we were sadly provided only the low resolution digital renditions from the label's publicists.
Our Future Hopes mp3s were delivered in early February, but we were embargoed from publishing a review until the album's release. We've had quite a bit of time with the mp3s and have listened to the album dozens of times.
The Future Hopes lineup, is a loose constellation of musicians with multi-instrumentalists Jacob Holm-Lupo and Mattias Olsson at the core, sees the return of several White Willow stalwarts, including flautist Ketil Einarsen (Jaga Jazzist, Motorpsycho), keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Wobbler, Tusmørke), and bassist Ellen Andrea Wang (Pixel, Manu Katché Quartet).
Guesting on several tracks and putting a clear stamp on the album is Norway's trailblazing guitar hero Hedvig Mollestad, known from her own Hedvig Mollestad Trio. We were told Jacob felt the material needed a soloist who could both navigate the tricky, almost jazz-influenced chord and time changes on the album while at the same time retaining a rock edge, and Hedvig fit the bill perfectly.
The title track on Future Hopes wakes up the album in familiar White Willow territory, Venke's light and whispy vocals delivered -- with allusions to Sylvia Erichsen's style on the band's prior album Terminal Twilight -- over expanding electronic arrangements before further gorgeous harmonies and guitar kick the song into its full splendor and Jacob's first guitar solo. We loved the layers of the vocal production.
Introduced over gentle acoustic guitar, Venke's vocal glistens before a light keyboard part joins "Silver and Gold." An echoing drum adds a tremendous effect between the sung parts. In contrast, "In Dim Days" features more angular arrangements of various keyboards and powerful electric guitar solo, both very White Willow in their sound and delivery. Three separate complex and extended instrumental passages surrounding the vocal interludes contribute to this over eleven minute track, the second longest on the album.
A brief yet expansive electronic- and guitar-based instrumental interlude entitled "Where There Was Sea There is Abyss" serves as an extended introduction the album's 18+ minute opus that follows. Venke's stunning opening vocal passage in "A Scarred View" continues very much in the vein of "Future Hopes" with allusions dating back to Sacrament for us. "A Scarred View," combines the best of Venke's vocals, Jacob's soaring guitar solos, very lush keyboard arrangements and fantastic percussion effects. We clearly heard the Yes Drama sound that Jacob tried to achieve in this project.
Digital versions of Future Hopes include two so-called "bonus tracks." The first, is the stunning White Willow rendition of the Scorpions hit, "Animal Magnetism." Released as a very early single, way before Future Hopes was even on anyone's radar, perhaps even as an outgrowth of work by The Opium Cartel, it pointed to the the band's direction. We love the vocal harmonies as well as the instrumental solos in this extended version of the sexy and heart-throbbing rock anthem. The all-new keyboard-laced, Rick Wakmen-style, instrumental track "Damnation Alley" concludes the album.
Clearly worth the wait for their seventh album of all new material and a revised lineup, White Willow have returned with a stunning follow-up to Terminal Twilight. We were especially glad to see that Venke Knutson has continued working with Jacob following their initial success on The Opium Cartel's Ardor album. The extremely well-produced album is available in formats to suit every listener from major media outlets. Grab your own copy today. Bravo!