Australia has been the site of some of the most devastating and horrifying natural disasters in recent years, specifically its climate-crisis-driven bushfires of late 2019 and 2020. Scorching temperatures, drastic loss of wildlife, decimated crops, and sudden floods have all been visited on the country, making it a bellwether of sorts for future life on the rest of the planet.
In response to this rapidly evolving problem, Australian percussionist Laurence Pike has come up with Prophecy, a gentle, limber, searching collection of tracks that expresses both Pike’s anxiety about the state of the world as well as his hope for what can still be done. As he puts it: “Beyond an interest in exploring a musical language to express my own experience, my hope is that the music might share the possibility that we are truly free in spirit, and free to determine our future.”
The opening track, “Goldens” sets the tone, beginning with a ringing, metallic drumroll that sounds somewhat like a distant alarm, soon followed by Pike’s spare, jazz-inflected drumming. A stepped bassline drops in followed by a bright if muted motif on keys – and suddenly a song is born. Pike keeps all the elements in play, adding additional keys and chimes at one point to create a colorful mobile of sound before the piece drops to an abrupt close.
That appealing, loosely wrapped quality of “Goldens” is braided through the entirety of Prophecy and is indicative of Pike’s feel and vision for his music. “Nero” is a perfect example, a driving, questing track, undergirded by a fuzzed-out, monophonic drone. Pike provides tons of energy here, avoiding any sort of bombast, while worrying a tiny shaker, slapping occasionally at a China cymbal, or banging on an array of percussive instruments. You rarely get the sense that he’s using more than one or two drums from his kit at any given time, as if to suggest this is what drumming will be like in a diminished future – less grandiose perhaps, quite different than what we’ve become accustomed to, but entirely possible. It’s tight but very much open.
“Heart Of The Sky” keeps all that energy going. Pike piles on new percussive ideas and textures while a slowly pulsing keyboard throbs in counterpoint before gradually taking over the direction of the piece and pulling it to ground in an uneasy truce. Melody predominates on the pensive “Ember” which features intimate piano, sporadic, tentative percussion, and the occasional presence of a ghostly, backward-masked vocal. The track feels almost alien yet never alienating; it’s a highlight.
The second half of the album has a somewhat more subdued quality, but is no less compelling for it. The title track “Prophecy” is a stately waltz of glittering chimes, cycling keys, and tumbling drums, suspended over a subterranean pulse. “New Normal,” with the steady tension of its drumming and the cinematic intrigue of what sounds like a dulcimer, resembles a kit of parts that fit together precisely while retaining their independent functions. The burning organ drone, random flute sample, and spattered drum patterns of “Rapture,” come across like a miniature template for something by The Necks. And the album closer, “Echoes Of Earth” is evocative of an empty vista at midday, glints of light rising here and there from a dusty landscape, while Pike’s close, quietly frenzied drumming suggests a busy world of unseen wildlife.
Considering the enormous motivating themes this album is addressing, Prophecy could have become an overblown if sincere cri de cœur. By focusing on the future, however, instead of obsessing over feeling powerless in the present, Pike has avoided that pitfall and produced an album that teems with ideas and emotion. It’s improvisational but it feels carefully structured. It flirts with jazz without committing to it. You can listen to it over and over (as I have) and always find something fresh, some new hook, or idea, or feeling. Give it a try.
And while you’re at it, check out this dazzling video for “Nero,” directed by Clemens Habicht.