VINCENT CARR’S SUMIC – Jupiter Wrens: Fantasias

It’s likely that you’ve never heard of Vincent Carr, but the multi-instrumentalist began releasing very interesting, largely instrumental work under the SUMIC name in 2014. Although easily labelled as “prog” due to its indulgent approach and complexity, the one-man project takes in a broad range of sounds and influences. On the very pastoral “Rekindled” (2016), the musical pieces drew heavily from folk and even hinted at influence from Freddie Phillips. On 2019’s more complex ‘New Paeans’, Carr wasn’t shy in sharing a love for Mike Oldfield, Steve Hillage and Gong, and the more recent ‘Strolling Early Morning’ did a fine job of blending all of those influences on a record that managed to be a little more accessible, yet no more commercial.

In terms of indulgence, Carr doesn’t hold back on his 2023 release. ‘Jupiter Wrens: Fantasias’ shares just two very lengthy pieces, very much delving further into the Oldfield-esque side of the Geordie In Swindonland’s musical psyche. That’s not to say the recording immediately revisits the more Oldfield derived moments of ‘New Paeans’, though, this is a very different record yet again. ‘Forget Forget’ opens with a musical groove that most wouldn’t even associate with Carr – at least not previously. Following a quiet wash of synths and the arrival of a guitar riff that evokes a tone not too far removed from Jeff Beck’s masterful ‘Guitar Shop’ era, Carr takes a repeated musical refrain and places it atop a reggae rhythm, immediately setting up a contrast between the expected prog sounds and a rhythmic world that’s quite, quite different. Allowing a few minutes for this to settle in, building itself further around a Stewart Copeland-esque rhythm, it gives the listener the feeling that they’ve experienced a complete track before everything switches to a marriage of heavily reverbed electric guitar, clean jangling rhythm and cold keyboard stabs. This is just as busy, but in a different way. Although the core melody never feels quite as striking, Carr makes up for this by overlaying a brilliant lead guitar part that’s very much from the Hillage school of atmospheres. That musical passage is strong, but again rather brief. At somewhere near the seven minute mark, the listener is plunged into a world where synth sounds and whooshing noises tips the hat to Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ until, eventually, Carr makes a glorious return with a cleanly played acoustic guitar motif that’s a hugely welcome reminder of ‘Rekindled’ and its pastoral heart. The ambient tones that slowly emerge are, in many ways, the kind of sounds that are this musician’s best. Almost the true heart of SUMIC’s ever shifting sound, these pastoral elements aren’t necessarily the most fashionable, or even the most immediate, but Carr’s acoustic work is rarely less than gorgeous, no matter how sparse the melody. The sparse sounds eventually grow into a full bodied acoustic piece to close this first suite, and the final tune comes as a real treat for ‘Rekindled’ fans, since the twee melody and mechanical rhythm are very much in the Freddie Phillips/Trumptonshire mould, and as before, the tune is so timeless, you might even wonder if Vincent has been inspired by a traditional piece or two along the way.

‘Mammon’ opens in a really dark manner, with ambient drones slowly emerging from the speakers, before a massive, distorted noise, back-masked effect and 70s organs collide as if pulling an old King Crimson piece apart. The back-masking and noise goes on for so long it becomes rather disorienting, but eventually, a funereal bass drum and jangling guitar emerge, giving the wall of noise a completely different focus. As before, there seems to be no hurry to share an obvious melodic root, but for the patient, there will be some reward in hearing Carr exploring bluesy runs on his electric guitar, whilst a Rick Wright inspired backdrop swirls incessantly. Eventually, with the drums latching onto a solid groove, the 70s keys and moody guitar work finds a shared sound, and Carr’s deep dive into a very old prog sound results in something that sounds like a ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ offcut. If this doesn’t bring in new fans from the Prog magazine community, nothing will. Sure, it doesn’t always have quite as much original flair as some of SUMIC’s prior recordings, but by submitting to something more familiar, there’s certainly something far more accessible to most. When this dark, psychedelic groove reaches its peak, the combination of harsh chords and bluesy guitar sounds like something you’ve always known, but that doesn’t make it less cool. This could sustain the rest of the twenty minute workout but, as always, Carr has other ideas and at around the thirteen minute mark, the loud guitar falls away to reveal a different ambient drone and blues noodle. It’s hard not to liken this to a DIY take on bits of Floyd’s ‘Endless River’ but that, too, ensures it’ll find a loyal audience somewhere, assuming enough people can find their way to the SUMIC Bandcamp page and the album itself.

‘Jupiter Wrens: Fantasias’ is as different from ‘New Paeans’ as ‘New Paeans’ was from ‘Rekindled’, but that’s obviously a good thing. It shows how Carr understands the value of not just churning out something he’s comfortable with, or he feels his listeners will immediately like. The extended nature of its arrangements means that this isn’t a record to dip in and out of, or to be taken lightly. This is an album that needs the listener to be fully absorbed, and should preferably be preferably taken with a cup of tea and a lot of thinking time. Those already familiar with Carr’s work will discover a world of familiar musical hallmarks, but at the same time, find new joys to uncover. In time, that’ll lead to a record that’ll be much loved. With two twenty minute arrangements that take some big dramatic shifts, the best moments will likely differ from listener to listener, but there’s certainly something for most broad minded prog, folk rock and experimental music fans lurking within. ‘New Paeans’ is arguably the Carr masterpiece, but this shows a brilliantly wired mind with a lot more great music up his sleeve.

June 2023