Though they have very little in common at first glance, Mike Vennart and Jamie Lenman have actually ended up in very similar career paths. Both rode the 2000s Britrock renaissance in bands that, by all rights, should have been bigger than they were, and ultimately ended up with solo projects that are more free-flowing and self-expressive. The difference is that Vennart actually reached the rockstar heights that Oceansize never did by serving as Biffy Clyro’s live guitarist, though this time with his eponymous solo project, he’s returned to a similar brand of progressive rock that his main band was known for.
And here, it’s worth looking at both Vennart and Lenman again, given that they both seem to adhere to different approaches to solo material even if they end up at the same goal. Lenman’s work in the past has been far looser and more vibrant, flitting around genres on a whim; Vennart’s, on the other hand, has imposed a certain degree of poise of poise and atmospheric reserve. Thus, the fact that To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea is ostensibly about maturing as a person while retaining brief hints of childhood wonder (which is why some of these track have titles like Donkey Kong and Robots In Disguise) serves as a handy analogy for the album itself, one whose focus ends up at smoother, less noteworthy passages with a sense of real excitement only showing up in short bursts.
That unfortunately means that To Cure A Blizzard… doesn’t hit all the marks it really needs to, but that’s not a case of not trying. It’s clear how talented as a technical musician Vennart is, given how frequently these often-extended pieces careen into adjacent genres for an album that’s definitely varied enough. The likes of Binary and That’s Not Entertainment are deeply entrenched in the softer ‘70s style of prog, but with the borderline Britpop tones of Friends Don’t Owe or Sentientia’s big, theatrical strokes condensed into the album’s most immediate hit, the effort to make this a more diverse listen is definitely appreciated. And while Vennart himself is rather limited in the vocal department, there’s an ease in his actual playing that flows incredibly well; it’s not always ear-catching, but is consistently easy to listen to.
But therein lies the biggest problem, in that, for a disproportionate amount of time, this can be a particularly unresponsive listen. The long, languid guitars sound fine on their own, but stretched out to the five- and six-minute mark like they are here, they just start to float away, and a lot of the album ends up as startlingly anonymous and ephemeral. Thus, it’s telling that the best moments are when Vennart’s clear talent are confined to tigher boundaries like on Sentientia, or when there’s a bit more intensity in his delivery like on Diamond Ballgag. Even amidst the constantly shifting sounds, very few actually stick in the long run, and it leaves the overall longevity of this hour-long album as something to be desired.
That really does limit the appeal of an album like this greatly, regardless of how well-crafted it is. That’s definitely still a factor and is useful to take into account, but that deeper level of depth isn’t really there, and To Cure A Blizzard… can be a rather hollow listen because of it. That’s not a slight on Vennart’s skills as an artist either – even here he shows his talents off in an excellent light – but they probably need repurposing in some fashion to get the most out of them.
For fans of: Oceansize, Amplifier, The Pineapple Thief
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea’ by Vennart is released on 14th September on Medium Format.