Genuine originality is a rare commodity in progressive rock today, however Carptree is an exception. Insiders speak of a parallel to Fish/Marillion regarding Niclas Flinck and Carl Westholm’s project, possibly due to Niclas’ voice, but apart from that there is no comparison. It is a crutch at best, to categorize the complex songs by the Swedish duo and conveys to the listener, a vague impression of what to expect of Carptree. Their third album “Man Made Machine” is a beguiling, somewhat dark and strange sounding combination of diverse styles that are deeply rooted in progressive rock.

The band’s core of Flinck (vocals) and Westholm (keyboards) have known each other for 20 years now and have previously played together in various groups. They formed Carptree in 1997 with a goal “to combine good and sometimes catchy melodies with dramatic and progressive arrangements”. In 2001 their self-titled debut album was released to critical acclaim. In 2003 they recruited the “No Future Orchestra”, which comprises seven musicians, and recorded the successor “Superhero“. With this release, they established a style which has now reached full maturity with “Man Made Machine”.

The “No Future Orchestra” once again contributes all kinds of rock instrumentation as well as backing vocals to the album. So they are guest musicians? “No, no”, says Westholm, “They are much more than that. However, they are also not really part of the band or even a band themselves. I never work with all of the musicians together at any one time, always just individually. At some point we invented this name for them, which seems to fit somehow. Without them, what we are doing now would never have come into existence at all”.

This is the first hint of strangeness to come from these guys. The band even hired the Trollhättaner chamber choir for one song on “Man Made Machine”, directed by Westholm himself who has enjoyed a musical education. Further hints of oddness come with the band’s musical influences. Apart from (obviously) Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, they also come up with a few surprises. Westholm: “Throughout my life I have played all kinds of styles including various traditional types of music due to professional reasons. I like Keith Jarrett in particular though. He has influenced me a lot. In recent years I have also listened to a lot of heavy metal. The Swedish band Opeth is one of my favourites from that genre because they work with more prog elements than many prog bands”. Niclas Flinck adds: “My first album was ‘Led Zeppelin II’. I believe that everything you are listening to defines and re-defines your own music and you can’t get around that fact”.

Single parts of the album can’t really be evaluated in an isolated way because the songs are woven together much too densely. As is the case with an excellent short story, each note has its place here and there is not one note too many. If you had regarded the early Genesis epics as suites or little symphonies and then edited them into individual songs, then the result is close to the essence of what Carptree have done. Their compositions are defined by mood, in which songs often suggest more than being explicit, and yet despite this, they have more depth than many complex epics. So it’s no wonder when Carl Westholm tells us that both Carptree members sometimes work with a single idea for several weeks in order to explore it, shape it and polish it long enough until they both feel that they have attained the optimum from it.

Clearly distinctive is Westholm’s brilliant piano playing, which gives many songs a very distinct feel. For instance the dark, classically influenced mood set in the album’s opening track “Titans Clash Aggressively To Keep An Even Score”, which produces a dramatic and surreally disconcerting mood with urgent vocals together with symphonic eruptions. “The Weakening Sound” evokes the feeling of a dream on a moonless night with strings, enthralled voice and haunting choir. More shall not be revealed here however – you just have to listen to “Man Made Machine” to find out more about the enigma of Carptree.

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Man Made Machine