Reviews in this issue:
Enchant - Juggling 9 or Dropping 10
Tracklist: Paint The Picture (7.03), Rough Draft (6.14), What To Say (4.20), Bite My Tongue (5.41), Colors Fade (5.25), Juggling Knives (5.02), Black Eyes & Broken Glass (4.33), Elyse (5.47), Shell Of A Man (6.01), Broken Wave (5.22), Traces (7.19), Know That (1.27)
Enchant can be considered one of the best prog bands around at the moment, at least if you judge them by their upcoming release Juggling 9 or Dropping 10. With a very modern sound, and strong songs, Enchant comes close to the likes of Spock's Beard, but has more roots in mainstream rock, and may even be safely compared to Rush. This may also be the adversary some people have against them: lack of a typical Enchant sound and maybe not "prog" enough.
However, I think that a lot of bands that are nowadays filed under "prog" or "prog-metal" will not be judged as belonging to that category by people who mistake prog with sympho. Enchant is clearly more rooted in mainstream rock, but it's progressive elements (which remind me a lot of Spock's Beard, which may or may not be a coincidence since they toured together in 1998, after their previous release Break) are plenty and good. I have not heard Break, or any of their previous work yet, but what I hear from others is that this album contains more progressive elements than their previous efforts. So if you liked them then, you will like them even better now. If you, like me, were unaware of their music, then I will guide you through their new work here.
The first track, Paint The Picture, is a forceful sympho track with a pounding bass, and driving keyboards opening.
Think of recent Landmarq or Egdon Heath here. The next part, with acoustic guitar, is quite
Rush-like, and the vocals....I thought they put a Spock's Beard track in! It's so similar to Morse!
The bass does some cool things under the vocals. Lots of breaks and intermezzo's make this a really strong prog track, maybe
even the strongest track on the album.
Rough Draft is a bit in the same Rush-vein, powerful but no metal. This song is typical of the album: if you hear it once, you think: 'oh, nice track, bwah'. Next time you think, 'hmmm, doesn't get any better'. By the time you hear it for the seventh time, you just love it! In that respect, this music is a bit similar to contemporary Marillion (come to think of it, the music, especially the vocal/instrument interactions are a bit like H's Marillion at times).
What To Say is such an example of a Hogarth-like track, almost edging to pop music, but with a much better
composition and with excellent souring vocals. The same is true for the next track Bite My Tongue; good rock
track with some good instrumental breaks and nice electric guitar work. Even a Beardish Spanish/Carribean acoustic guitar
intermezzo! Really fine track and I would love to see this released as a single and see it get some airplay, I think it might
even do fine on the radio if correctly supported.
Colors Fade is back to power. Rush pops to mind again. Nice track, with a good guitar solo, but not the strongest one on the album. Juggling Knives features some funky bass work and good and complex rhythmic changes (a bit like the Yes of Trevor Rabin). This rock track is based more on the rhythm section then on melody.
Black Eyes & Broken Glass, with its acoustic guitar opening, and then the electrical section that bursts in, reminded me of the track Lightbulb Sun on the newest Porcupine Tree album, but the Marillion reference is also valid here.
Elyse comes close to the opening track with respect to symphonic content, and is quite Beardish again, but heavier, as
is Shell Of A Man. This song features a lot of dissonant and floating chords and it becomes quite disconnected as a
result. Quite a weird composition.
Broken Wave is in the same vein as Colors Fade, nice but nothing really special. This can not be said of Traces, what a marvelous track that is! Very catchy chorus, powerful melody and very diverse. Actually a bit Porcupine Tree-like, highly dynamic with its variation of soft and hard. Halfway through the track, all is very quiet, with piano and vocals, but already the mood is pregnant with the coming climax, slowly building up until finally the track ends in an orgasmic outburst of sound, which in my opinion might have lasted a bit longer than it does now.
Know That is a mildly depressive guitar-and-vocal track to end the album.
In summary, this is an album that consists of some excellent songs. Not in the complex symphonic way with 20 minute tracks, but good solid rock tracks with clear progressive elements. The musical production is up to standards and the cover is nice. I cannot judge the rest of the booklet, since the promo copies don't include them, but I guess it will be quite nice as well. Anyone with a taste for good music (and the will to play it a couple of times to let it grow) will appreciate this album.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Peter Hannan + Henry Kucharzyk - phh!k
Ever since Progressive Rock was coined as a term by critics this section of music has seen no boundaries and has come to encapsulate various genres and styles. The album in question here is one of those particular albums that one would have difficulty in categorizing. The amount of experimentation involved as well as the heavy use of a battery of instruments both digital and analog gives this release that progressive slant.
Both musicians/composers started their musical career in traditional academic music studies but both have veered away from this field and moved on towards experimenting with synthesizers and more importantly gesture-controlled instruments. Examples of such instruments are the Theremin and the Lightning, a creation of synthesizer wizard Don Buchla. The Theremin was created in the 1920's and is the instrument used to create the famous wailing eeee-ooo on old horror films. It has been utilized by various rock musicians such as the Beach Boys (Good Vibrations) and Mercury Rev just to mention two. Both instruments emit sounds of different pitch and duration which vary according to the proximity of the body to the instrument allowing the musicians to play or program the space around them.
The music provided can be divided into two sections. The background rhythm is provided by Henry Kucharzyk who uses various samples including voices (Hiro), drum loops (Satisfied) and rhythmic chords. Furthermore he gives depth to the tracks by including drones and various other sound-effects. At times you feel you are hearing a range of ethnic instruments all playing together something which I experienced hearing the album Passion:The Last Temptation Of Christ by Peter Gabriel. However, this time the whole cacophony of instruments that is created has only two musicians. The music seems to transport the listener all over the world with diverse musical influences involved such as middle eastern drones, African rhythms up until modern day electronica! One of the most intriguing things about the way Kucharzyk introduces various rhythms is that they are done so at a phenomenal rate. No sooner has the listener grasped the new rhythm and accepted the beat then a new one has been delved out to shift the balance of the song. Basically Henry Kucharzyk has come up with a rhythm section that keeps the listener on his/her toes and does not allow one to sit back to and digest the electronic bombardment coming his/her way.
On the other hand we have Peter Hannan who is the equivalent of the lead guitarist in a routine rock band. Most of his work is done using the Yamaha WX-7, which is a clarinet that controls synthesizers instead of its own noise, as well as the Lightning. Together with Kucharzyk he has come up with a combination of both synthetic and natural sounds which complement the ever changing rhythm being created.
On the whole this is not an album for those who are looking for something that is easy listening and melodious. Not that it is devoid of melody but one has to really sit down and listen to the album paying attention to detail to appreciate it.
I recommend this album to those who like listening to the Experimental Prog groups especially those of the electronic kind such as Tangerine Dream, Can, Faust as well as those who appreciate the works of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. This album is an interesting insight into avant-garde music with examples of musique concrete and pattern music appearing throughout. This is one of those albums that grows on you!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Gong - Zero to Infinity
This latest Gong offering features original members Daevid Allen (glissando and lead guitar, vocals, piano), Gilli Smyth ("voicewhisper, horsewhisper and birdsong"), Mike Howlett (bass) and Didier Malherbe (doudouk, alto sax and bamboo flute) joined by award winning saxophonist Theo Travis (tenor and soprano sax, flute, keyboards, samples) and ex Soul II Soul member Chris Taylor (drums and percussion).
The CD is very nicely presented, with mysterious and spacey images on the extensive sleeve,
which also includes full lyrics and a six page commentary on the underlying storyline. Yes, storyline.
You will need to put on your concept album hat in order to fully take in Zero To Infinity.
But is this enough to make it prog?
Maybe I'm just too conscious to fully absorb myself into the world that is Gong. The story revolves around a person ("our hero" - I can't help noticing that the storyline for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway also refers to the central figure as "our hero". What is it about concept albums?) called 'Zero', who through a variety of bizarre occurrences detailed in previous episodes, finds himself without a body. This album portrays his discovery of the considerable advantages of body-free virtual existence.
The album opens with Foolefare, 42 seconds of brass harmonies, opening the album
with a slightly jazzy feel. The track apparently portrays "our hero" choosing to become a
benign observer from behind the sensory cortex of any living creature. Apparently.
Magdalene starts with a mysterious fast sax pattern which ripples along over a continuous drum groove. After a few bars, the main melodic theme appears in the form of a sax rif and a similar vocal line. The song describes "our hero" moving through a forest and into a Tesco car park, where he is drawn to the face of the triple goddess represented by Magdalene, Diana, and Witch Yoni. The song continues in a single direction with very few changes, but with some mellow sax soloing keeping the flow moving.
According to the essential storyline commentary, The Invisible Temple portrays
Witch Yoni swooping down and zapping the dream destroyers who ride on nightmares.
The liberated dreamers soar with Zero and taste infinitea fresh from the Yonipot.
Looking down through red mists they see vast concentric rings of romping animal energies
shimmering in waves, around an invisible temple. From a angel's egg in the centre steps
a mythical creature called a Gongolope.
Yes, that's roughly what I thought. Readers who experienced the first months of the BBC's coverage of the UK's National Lottery, will recognise the style of Mystic Meg telling this part of the story on the opening of The Invisible Temple. That kind of "fortune telling booth" mystery voice that never really sounds believable, but just sounds like it's supposed to sound odd and mystic in some shallow sense. For me these spoken vocals ("voicewhisper") completely distract from the great music. It's very difficult to take seriously, and it's not sufficiently funny, spooky, obscure, eccentric, surreal to be taken in any of those ways. Without chemical assistance, at least.
Musically, the majority of the eleven and a half minutes are spent grooving along with improvised sax and lead guitar, in a style very reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, with some very soothing ambient textures, unusual sound effects and so on. Not a bad track (if you can swallow the narration), though without a great deal of structure or variety.
Zeroid breaks in with a rather angular, almost King Crimson bass pattern, with threatening effected whispered vocals and soaring sax. This track held my prog attention the longest out of all the tracks on the album, purely because for me it had the most interesting and original composition and instrumentation. The storyline has "our hero" sliding down a fireman's pole and taking a subway to New York, where he sits behind the mind of Lorde Tonsil of Aplomb, who is meeting Professor Paradox for a chat. As you can imagine. The second half of the track takes a dive down from the aggresive intro, with softer vocals and a more reflective feel. More narrative-style words (not sung) over the music, portraying the story perhaps a little too literally for my taste. Many other concept albums hide the details of the storyline behind a layer of ambiguity, allowing the listener to create their own interpretation in their own mind. Gong take the other extreme and tell you the specifics.
Wise Man in your Heart reminds me a LOT of various modern Peter Gabriel solo tracks.
Probably the best comparison is Blood of Eden from "Us", with its undulating vocal harmony
layers and sparse production. Interestingly the drums on this track are strongly reminiscent
of Manu Katche's contributions to many similar Gabriel tracks, with a bassline not a million
miles from many a Tony Levin groove. It works well, especially with the dream-like sax floating
in and out.
The next track, The Mad Monk, portrays "our hero" in a meeting with the Mad Monk, alledgedly a "dreadlocked giggle guru", who wisely teaches him that if you can make a proper cuppa tea, then you can virtually do anything. This of course is apparent from the music which comes in a slightly quirky modern jazz style (Django Bates style, with brass harmonies and Thelonious Monk-esque piano), with humorous vocals.
Yoni on Mars starts off with some very spacey sound effects and an improvised feel.
A beautiful theramin sample marks a melodic motif which reappears later in the form of
sax patterns, and represents the most memorable part of the tune. As many of the vocal parts
on the album have no melodic content - just spoken narrative - these melodic parts are essential,
and they work well. The storyline digs itself deep into pun-land, describing Witch Yoni on Mars,
taking time out in a mars bar etc etc. A quiet, thoughtful track that kind of slides along
without making a great impact, but still leaving a pleasant taste.
Damaged Man comes next, beginning with quiet sound effects, and a nice atonal piano texture bubbling away in the depths of the mix. In come some desperate-sounding vocals, strongly reminiscent of those Don't Leave Me Now vocals from Pink Floyd's The Wall. The song captures "our hero's" thoughts on ending it all, until he realises that there's nothing to end as he has no body. Around four minutes into this desolate musical scene, all manner of improvised hell breaks out, including a ringing telephone sample (more Floyd references!).
In Bodilingus, "our hero" picks up the phone to discover his body at the other end
reminding him of its continued existence. The somewhat flippant vocals ("My poor old bum! My bum!
My scrotum is bitching, it's tetchy, it's twitching") are certainly an acquired taste,
and form the main focus of this somewhat humorous track.
The penultimate track, Tali's Song brings the mood down again from the mad festivities of the previous number, as happy childhood memories return to "our hero". It's a soft song with an acoustic feel, and features various flute parts and solos by Theo Travis.
Infinitea ends the album and concludes this episode of the Zeroid's story. Starting with a trancelike cycling drum groove, with various textures coming in and out, many minutes pass without any real feeling of achievement or direction. A nice track for ambient lovers, but I suspect many prog fans would wish for a little more action, more changes, more composition. After around six minutes, we're treated to a sax solo, which ends the track and the album.
All in all a reasonable and listenable album, and very nicely produced and recorded. All of the musicianship is excellent - the drums in particular stand out to me as being very good; nothing exciting prog-wise, no odd time signatures etc, but very precisely played grooves with a perfect feel - ideal for this kind of music. The two sax players do a sterling job in keeping up the melodic content, which is virtually ignored from a vocal perspective. If you don't mind the more ambient, groove-based end of prog, with leanings towards Pink Floyd (without their strong vocals) or early Porcupine Tree (without their strong prog appeal), then this could be a great album for you. If you're heavily into surreal storylines and have a high threshold for corniness, then the vocals will be a hit with you. The narrative vocals are a central part to most of the tracks. For me they distracted from the underlying music and spoilt several tracks, but that's just my interpretation. If you're looking for more of a prog album, with interesting time signatures, songs with changes in them, and synth parts, then I feel you will probably be disappointed.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Ian McDonald - Drivers Eyes
Mention Ian McDonald to any proggie and immediately you will receive a
barrage of names of great bands with whom he has been associated such as King
Crimson, Foreigner, Fruup, Centipede..... Some might even mention
McDonald & Giles, his collaborations on albums by T-Rex, Phil Manzanera and
Steve Hackett to mention a few. But what is lacking is an Ian McDonald solo album....that is
To say that this album has been long waited for is an understatement. The contributor to such beautiful masterpieces in the Seventies surely must have had something up his sleeve! The result is the album Drivers Eyes which in an ideal situation, in a world of music that is not ruled by corporations, would go on to be a best seller topping charts worldwide ... well worth the 30 year wait!
The lineup is even more impressive, one that practically incorporates the history of rock from the late Sixties to the Seventies with amongst others Gary Brooker (Procol Harum), Lou Gramm (Foreigner), John Waite (The Babys), Peter Frampton, Steve Holley (Wings), Steve Hackett, John Wetton (King Crimson/UK/Asia), Mike Giles (King Crimson) and Pete Sinfield (King Crimson)
Ian Mcdonald's musical history starts in 1969 when he teamed up with Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, and Pete Sinfield to form King Crimson and release In The Court Of The Crimson King, an album which was to change the face of rock music. Eight years later he would redefine the sound of FM Rock by forming the group Foreigner.
What about the album then? Ian Mcdonald has managed to fuse all the musical genres he has managed to be a part of over the years into one album. We have jazz (Sax Fifth Avenue), prog (Forever And Ever, Straight Back To You), art-rock (Let There Be Light) and FM rock (You Are A Part Of Me).
The album opens with the instrumental 70's sounding Overture to
lead into the heavier In Your Hands which fits into the Foreigner
style. Here we have G. E. Smith playing the guitar solo complimenting some neat
fretwork from Mr McDonald himself. You Are A Part Of Me features
the voice of John Waite (remember Missing You?) and as is fitting for his voice
we are regaled with a rock-ballad.
Sax Fifth Avenue shifts the album to more of a jazz leaning with Ian McDonald showing off his prowess on the alto saxophone. The union of John Wetton's voice and Ian McDonald's flute, last heard together in the studio during the Red album sessions for King Crimson takes us into Forever And Ever. This is classic Progressive rock that characterized the Seventies the likes of which we struggle to hear nowadays!
Saturday Night In Tokyo and Straight Back to You are written in a similar vein and that is the classic FM Rock of the Seventies. The main difference between the 2 tracks is that the latter has the drive and force of the vocal contribution of Lou Gramm coupled with a guitar solo from Steve Hackett. They sound as if they could have fitted in on any of the Foreigner classic albums such as Double Vision or Head Games.
The last 2 instrumentals on the album are Hawaii and
Demimonde. Both are relaxed affairs with Hawaii interspersed
between Saturday Night and Straight Back To You, the
latter being a duet between Michael Giles and Ian McDonald and bringing memories
of the 70's album McDonald & Giles.
If I Was is another 70's sounding easy-to-listen track featuring Peter Frampton, however, the closing number on this album is in actual fact the curtain raiser. Let There Be Light is the first collaboration between Ian McDonald and lyricist Peter Sinfield since 1969, the days of King Crimson Mk1. This is a classic example of art-rock with an orchestra accompanying the band from the first bar. The tone of this song is dramatic and the vocals of Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) further dramaticise this piece of music. Dramatic and touching, I can see this song if written 20-30 years ago being extrapolated into a 20 minute epic suite!
This is one of those albums that HAS to be heard, a must for collections. Two thoughts cross my mind when concluding this piece and they are both directed to Ian McDonald. Why did you wait 30 years to release a solo album when we could have had 30 years of Ian McDonald solo material? I sincerely hope that we do not have to wait so long for the follow up, but if that is what is required then I'll gladly wait!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Radiohead - Kid A
One of the most eagerly awaited albums of 2000 has finally arrived. Ever since Radiohead announced that they were assuming work on the follow up to OK Computer in late 1998 the musical world has been in eager anticipation to see what this group would come up with next. The result is one of sheer surprise to all and sundry! Rumors have been abounding about the musical direction the group was taking and the lengthy process in recording certain numbers.
What can one expect from this album? Think about all the other Radiohead albums and you're nowhere near! Think of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno - you're getting close! From a group of three guitarists, guitars only make a fleeting appearance and when that does happen they only are a nail in the framework and ambience surrounding the music. Instead we have a musical landscape made up of drum loops, computers and mellotrons which help to create an even bleaker and somber tone to the group. In simple terms Radiohead have embraced electronica with wide open arms on this album.
The opening track Everything In Its Right Place has Thom Yorke's voice
being looped backwards and forwards with the ambience filled by by an eerie
synth line and a pulsing beat in the background. Kid A has the vocals of
Thom Yorke played backwards and vocodered while a nursery rhyme-like synthesisd
tune acts as an intro and outro.
The National Anthem and finally we get to hear drums and bass yet still no guitars. This is Ornette Coleman territory. As the bass line builds up into a crescendo we get swirling synthesized sounds with the horn section interjecting complete disorganized organization. Thom Yorke pleads and wails to "turn it off" but fails as the horn section takes over to give a a jazzy ending to the track. This track, as does the whole of the album, shows that the group is moving away from having the vocals as the centre point of the band and Thom Yorke's inability to "turn off" the horns probably proves that point.
How To Disappear Completely brings us back to Radiohead
territory and is the first track with which the listener can identify with past
works from the group and finally we get to hear guitar! Written by Yorke in
1997 it was originally titled This Is Not Happening. This is the Radiohead
we had been accustomed to even though the bass line is once again loose and
jazzy with synth-sound effects interspersed initially as if to accentuate the
pauses between one line and another. By the end of the song the synthesizer and
Thom Yorke's vocals have fused into one. A track which fits the mood of
the album which can be described as psychotic and disturbing.
Treefingers brings us back to the Eno-like setting which prevails on this album. No melody here but totally ambient. Optimistic is probably the best track on the album and the main reason is that it brings a nostalgia of the "old" Radiohead. A nice meaty guitar riff greets us on this song with a tom-tom driven polyrhythmic drumbeat together with vocals, wails et al.
During In Limbo, Thom Yorke complains about having lost his way with
the group pushing further into jazz territory complete with free-falling guitar
chords while Idioteque takes us back to experimentation. This is a love-it or
hate-it song complete with dance beat. The sonic effects once again bring a
sense of Brian Eno meets Aphex Twin and remind me of the ambient surrounding
that the Eno/Lanois team create on Peter Gabriel albums.
Morning Bell once again utilizes tape loops and effects but is one of the more accessible and catchier songs on the album while Motion Picture Soundtrack draws the album to a close. Written but rejected for OK Computer it has been played and available (in MP3 format on the web!) as an acoustic song. The introductory notes are played by a harmonium until joined in by Thom Yorke's voice and a choir of harp chords which give the whole song that uplifting airy feeling.
This album will be ranked with the classics, but as often happens will fail to appeal to the general public. Though repeated listening allows the songs to grow on you, there is no single track which has a tune that can be remembered and sung. Hence the probable reason why the group have not released any singles from Kid A. Radiohead started off a movement in 1993 that has influenced the majority of rock bands till this day. It seems that with OK Computer they reached the pinnacle of their success regarding that genre. Now they have decided to move on in a completely new direction. If there is one band that is capable in succeeding with this venture it is Radiohead. The question is whether the fans will follow suit and how the Music Corporations will react. It seems that rock in the new millennium is going to be in for some major upheavals!
I end with just one suggestion. Go out and buy this. Sit down and listen to it, listen to it again and again and again. Each time you will notice something different which will urge you on to listening to it again. I'm addicted!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.