Reviews in this issue:
Panurge - Erectangle
The beauty of reviewing CD's of unknown bands is that occasionally this allows you to uncover gems which you would have otherwise found hard to come by. This definitely applies to the album by Panurge. My first reaction when hearing them was that they sounded so very British and I must admit to being very surprised to find out that they are in fact Canadian.
Musically they combine what I tend to refer to as being fringe progressive rock as they manage fuse a variety of influences, the majority of which derive from the sixties beat culture, yet still come out with a sound that is refreshing and modern sounding. The group is a trio and consists of Chris Lovell (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Fantom (bass, vocals, guitar, keyboards) and DJ Si Unyil (percussion, programming, keyboards, turntables). Musically they have been around for the last few months with their tracks available on the internet in MP3 format with their single Listen To Your Own receiving over 20,000 downloads on MP3.com alone.
The album opens with the Erectangle Prelude, which is a valid indicator of what the album is to provide musically which is a heavy dose of electronica mixed with sixties flavored guitar and vocals. This becomes apparent on Listen To Your Own, the group's first single, and it is no wonder that it has been so successful. A voice that reminds me of musicians such as Donovan with a flowing acoustic guitar and rhythmic bass occasionally interrupted to include that quirky sound effect, this group are following hot in the footsteps of bands such as The Beta Band.
All Wooden Boys retains a similar musical style to Listen To Your Own, though it is more of a straight forward tune with a very catchy chorus and a Beatlesque bass line. Once again there is the occasional delve into electronic territory with scratching and sound effects. At times there are hints of indie bands such as The Inspiral Carpets while at others I am reminded of Super Furry Animals. Up comes My Last Breath and this time the band acquire a more modern sound. The initial segment of the track does away with the acoustic guitars, who only make a brief appearance in the chorus section. Instead we get a heavy dose of effects that are fused together in a most adventurous yet successful way.
Nothing Cleans You Like Fire is the most Beta Band-sounding track on the album as the vocals are sung in an almost monotone level with a heavy drone forming the backbone of the track. There is so much going on at the same time creating a sense of disorganised organisation while they still manage to extricate themselves from this occasionally to produce an ear-friendly chorus. Erectangle Suite could be considered to be the title track of the album and is also the most simplistic track present. It features a constant rhythm that never varies through out the four plus minutes with the occasional sitar lick and sound effect. Simple yet effective.
The simplisticity of the Erectangle Suite is followed by the sixties rock sounding P.A.L. For once the guitars are amplified and cranked up to full volume giving the track an alternative rock slant. Summer Is A Place In Your Head sees a return to melancholic vocals coupled with acoustic guitars, very much along the lines of Beck. Chocolate Ice Cream is almost ballad-like in nature with the track laid back and mellow together with a solid beat.The repetitiveness of the track reminds me very much of The Beta Band here. The album comes to a close with the Erectangle Reprise, short and sweet!
On the whole this is an extremely pleasant album, innovative and easy to listen to. Some listeners might have doubts about the progressive nature of the album and that can be understood as it is nothing like what one understands to be the classical progressive rock. On the other hand, I am one of those who feels that progressive rock is continuously expanding and exploring new boundaries with groups such as Super Furry Animals, The Beta Band and now Panurge at the forefront of this new progressive movement.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Synthology - Between Day And Night
Hailing from Montreal, Canada, Between Day And Night is the first album for Synthology, a band that basically consists of two musicians, John and James Alarcon. In actual fact Synthology is a studio based progressive rock project born out of the love for classical prog-rock of these two men. John Alarcon handles the piano, synthesizers and is the main composer while James Alarcon plays the guitars. Helping out in the recording of this album is also Marysa Mardini (vocals), Churchill Downes (bass) and "The Winkler" (drums). "The Winkler" is only another word for computer generated drums!
One has to admit that the band state right from the start that their music is based on what their influences are and as they themselves state "that includes bands and artists like Genesis, Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Rick Wakeman, PFM, ELP, Mike Oldfield, Supertramp, King Crimson and many other artists who are not afraid to blur the lines between musical genres." Thus the album is replete with musical references to such bands.
The album opens with Come The Night, an instrumental track. In fact one must say that half the tracks on the album are instrumentals. With a nod to the Steve Hackett instrumentals, this track makes a warm opener to this album featuring some nice interplay between guitar and keyboards. Abracadabra, is the first track to feature the vocals of Marysa Mardini who has a rich wide-ranged voice. The use of a piano sound as well as Mardini's voice draws comparisons with Renaissance. The final section of the track has a delightful lengthy guitar solo from James Alarcon.
The initial segment to Carousel features an original caliope from a now-dismantled carousel. This then progresses into a track, once again with Mardini's vocals, that is slightly different from the rest of the album. There is less of the heavy organ sound that we had in the first two tracks, instead there is an almost folk-tinged waltzy-like feel to the music here.
The short Prelude To Darkness is a piano introduction to the instrumental The Voyage Of Dexius. Alarcon's keyboard playing is definitely influenced by Genesis' Tony Banks and the keyboard parts used on this track borrow heavily from his style of playing. The title track Between Day And Night retains the complex keyboard playing though this time round there is also room for some guitar interplay, a guitar with a Hackett-like sound too. The increase in duration of the track, close to seven and a half minutes, allows for the group to further explore their musical capabilities within the boundary of a single track and is something that they should keep in mind for future releases.
Where Does The Wind Blow, as its name suggests, has a mellower touch to it verging on New Age, such is the airy feel the keyboards has. If I had to try and find a comparison, or influence, for this track one could look at some of the works of Anthony Philips or latter-day Jade Warrior. Living In Dreamland has that solo Hackett feel while Nosferatu re-evokes the Renaissance influence due to the combination of a classically infused style coupled with piano and Mardini's delicate vocals. In fact I found it quite strange that something as dark as the vampire Nosferatu would be attributed such a mellow track!
The album comes to a close with Curtain Call, another seventies veiled track. On the whole this track makes a very pleasant listen and should appeal to those who are nostalgic for a style that is set in the seventies. On a negative note the album does not offer anything musically innovative and may feel somewhat repetitive at times. However one must also consider that this is also the debut album from Synthology and thus this augers well for the future.
Synthology are currently working on their second release, to be titled The Fairest of Moments. In fact their MP3.com site also features a track from this coming album which the band promise will be in the same musical vein as their debut but will this time feature lengthier tracks and should appeal to fans of both the neo-prog as well as of classical progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
YUD - Crossing Borders
YUD, which stands for Young Urban Disciple, is a one man band with the member being Jan Willem Key. Born in 1964, Key was a relatively late starter in the world of music, first picking up a guitar at the age of twenty. As most new guitarists, the area into which he ventured was the world of heavy metal, or grunge as it was called in the early nineties, though he soon progressed into the blues realm with Elmore James, BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughan mentioned as major influences. Furthermore reference is made to the influence of electronic music with Moby, Tricky and Underworld cited.
Musically the album involves a fusion of the electronic with guitar licks, a venture I quite enjoyed, however the degree of progressive rock involved in it is questionable. At times there are tracks which are quite stale with just a guitar solo though I must admit that there were sections and tracks that grabbed my attention. One example would be the title track, Crossing Borders where the use of an electronic backdrop with slow and lengthy guitar licks reminded me of the vibe and atmosphere bands such as Ash Ra Tempel manage to create.
The use of loops such as on Floating In Big Brown Bubbles also helps create a good effect though it could have done with a certain amount of elaboration. Toward the end of the album Key uses a certain amount of distortion which further pushes the tracks into the Satriani vein of instrumental, though on a more simplified level.
Overall the album is a decent attempt at presenting a set of instrumentals. On the other hand no new ground is broken with this album and the majority of the tracks can be classified as slow rock numbers with little or no progressive element involved.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Iconoclasta - En Busca De Sentido
Iconoclasta have been around for quite some time. Formed in 1980, the Mexicans have released eight studio albums up until now, the sixth of which is the now rereleased En Busca De Sentido. The band has received the title "Mexico's best rock band of the year" three times (in 1994, 1998 and 1999) and is seen as one of the most important groups on the Mexican progressive rock scene.
Hector Hernandez (electric guitar), Alfredo Raigosa (bass guitar), Ricardo Ortegon (electric guitar), Victor Baldovinos (drums and percussion) and Ricardo Moreno (keyboards) play instrumental music, all of which is written by Moreno. Five of the six tracks are over 7 minutes long, one is over 5 minutes long.
The black-and-white cover is a bit weird. Four men (a guy blowing up a plastic bag, a policeman with a microphone, a biker and a priest) have a bunch of mouse traps stuck to their clothing. Since my knowledge of Spanish is all but non-existent, I cannot say whether this is a reflection of the album title or the name of any of the songs. Inside the booklet one can find the credits, a the history of Mexican progressive rock in general and of Iconoclasta in particular, and a poem of the same title as the first song (in Spanish) by Yolanda Ortiz together with its English and French translation.
Most noticeable about this band is its rather Genesis-like sound. The guitars seem to have taken their somewhat raw sound directly from the album And Then There Were Three... and the keyboards seem to have the same source. Apart from that, the bass parts have "Rutherford" written all over them, and some melodies and chord progressions seem to be copied directly from those prog icons. The drums, on the other hand, have a very artificial, dry sound; not like Genesis at all. I remember hearing the same kind of sound on the Argentinian Chaneton's first album, so maybe this is a sound favoured in Middle and South America. I cannot say I like it very much, though. And Baldovinos is not as good at drumming a steady rhythm all the time as Phil Collins.
All songs have a rather jam session-like approach. They are built around a recurrent
theme over which the solos are played. When I say "solos", I mean "guitar solos",
because the keyboards play a rather supportive role on the entire album. A big shame,
in my opinion, since a juicy keyboard solo might have been able to add some
much-needed variation to the songs.
As many prog fans have found out with projects like Liquid Tension Experiment, a jam-like approach can result into a very interesting album. En Busca De Sentido does have its moments, but most of it lacks dynamics and is just plain boring, in my opinion. The guitar solos only rarely have real climaxes; they just go on and on, and seem to be based on the belief "the more notes per minute the better". Even when the solos do work towards a climax, the other instruments are playing on with the same intensity as before, which does not really put the solo into the limelight where it deserves to be.
Another weakness is that the band uses the same set of sounds on the entire album. This applies to the keyboards (a very irritating horns sound seems to be one of Moreno's favourites), the guitars (both of which have pretty much the same sound) and the bass guitar. And this repetition of sounds makes the feeling that I am listening to the same song all the time even stronger.
Track 4, La Muerte Complemento De La Consagracion, probably has the best moments, but also demonstrates a really bad mix (the bass guitar is actually louder than the guitar solo at times) as well as that annoying horns sound. La Obsesion Por Buscar A Alguien, on the other hand, is the absolute low of the album. It is built around a slow rhythm and nothing much different really happens. And this utterly boring track is actually the longest on the album with its 8:19 minutes!
There are some nice moments on Iconoclasta's En Busca De Sentido, but not enough to make this an album that I will play very often. I am sure that these are good musicians, but they could use some better compositions and a better-balanced, more varied sound. Not a good example of how interesting and exciting instrumental music can be.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Gerard - The Ruins Of A Glass Fortress
The Japanese band Gerard have been around since the early eighties and even though I have been meaning to check them out for quite some time now, I never got around to it. I guess that the main reason for that is recognisable to many fans of music: there are so many bands to get to know that it is nigh impossible to do so within one lifetime. However, when I got the opportunity to review Gerard's latest album The Ruins Of A Glass Fortress I took it and I must say that I was not disappointed.
Gerard is a three piece band, consisting of Toshio Egawa (keyboards, ex-Novela, ex-Scheherazade, ex-Earthshaker), Atsushi Hasegawa (bass) and Masuhiro Goto (drums and percussion). Gerard are specialised in instrumental music, but every now and then they collaborate with a vocalist. On The Ruins Of A Glass Fortress, two tracks feature the voice of special guest Jean-Luc "F. Nazaki". The vocals in the choruses are handled by Shingo "Numero" Ueno (also producer of the album and writer of the lyrics), Masuhiro Goto, Atsushi Hasegawa and N. Nakajima.
The cover looks a lot like one of those etchings one can find in old books. It depicts an old man rowing a dead (?) girl who lies on a bier towards a castle (which does not look as if it is made out of glass, by the way). The inside of the booklet is not very impressive, but functional. Printed on a vague rendition of the castle from the front are the credits, the lyrics of the two non-instrumental tracks on the album, and photographs of the three members.
Most of the instrumental tracks (1, 2 and 4) are based on a pretty fast drum/bass
rhythm over which the keyboards drape a kind of haunted, mysterious layer of sound.
The great, raw Hammond organ and Moog sequences, which remind me a lot of Spock's
Beard, Arena and early Genesis, are complemented by much
smoother keyboard sounds which are more like the ones you can hear on early Genesis
albums. The bass guitar and the drums play a large role in all this by helping to
raise and release the tension whenever the music requires that.
Although Gerard has no guitar player, one can still find the sound of a guitar on this album. Bass player Hasegawa often uses a bass guitar synthesizer to play solo guitar and manages to deliver some brilliant, Porcupine Tree-like solos that cut through the thick layer of keyboard chords like a scalpel. Apart from these (bass) guitar solos, there are some great keyboard-, Hammond- and Moog solos to be found on this album.
Fall Into A Doze, is one of the two slower tracks, but it also features that
mixture of early-Genesis and Spock's Beard. The end of the track is much faster,
and reminds me a bit of A.C.T. The Ruins of A Glass Fortress (Part One)
is the other slower track on the album and probably the song I like the least. It
introduces the recurring theme of The Ruins of A Glass Fortress part 1 and 2,
but after that we get a rather corny clarinet sound (which is replaced later on by
an equally corny violin sound) which seems to follow the same chord progression as
Hotel California by The Eagles. Not really my kind of thing.
The Ruins of A Glass Fortress (Part One) flows seamlessly into the second non-instrumental track, The Ruins of A Glass Fortress (Part Two). The heavy accent and mispronunciation of the English words is very obvious here. I actually think that the vocals spoil the rest of the track, since the instrumental part following them is excellent, and the one before them is not bad either. Egawa plays some brilliant Tony Banks-like (period Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering) Hammond and keyboard parts over the theme introduced in part 1. Strong bass lines and some heavy drumming make this into one of my favourite sections on the album.
The other non-instrumental track, Time Paradox, is the most interesting of the two, in my opinion. It opens with a fast keyboard/bass rhythm which reminds me a lot of Genesis' The Knife, whereas some other parts of the song have more of a Spock's Beard feel to them. The vocals are distorted here and sound a lot like the vocals on King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man. That, together with the heavy accent, has a rather alienating effect which I like a lot.
I would definitely recommend this album to anyone who likes instrumental music "with a bite", and especially to those who can appreciate early Genesis, Spock's Beard and some Porcupine Tree-like (bass) guitar solos here and there. The Ruins Of A Glass Fortress features great musicianship from all three band members, resulting in an exciting, high-charged blend of hard rock and prog. Instrumental music can sometimes get a bit boring after a while, but Gerard manage to keep me tied to the speakers.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.