Reviews in this issue:
Happy Accidents - Scitatics
The Wilde Flowers is THE band that gave rise to the genre within progressive rock known as the Canterbury Scene. The group itself witnessed a diverse number of lineup changes with various members leaving and being replaced at different times. Furthermore the books also quote the band as having given rise to two of the main protagonists of this musical scene, Soft Machine and Caravan. However there are also a number of smaller bands or offshoots that can trace their origins in the Wilde Flowers and Happy Accidents is one such band. The link between the two bands is Graham Flight who is the leader of Happy Accidents and was also a member of the Wilde Flowers in 1965 when he replaced Kevin Ayers in the band.
Together with Graham Flight on keyboards, the group also includes Mavernie Fuller (vocals), Will Glanfield (alto sax, clarinet), Mick Grierson (guitar), Nigel Hobbins (bass), Robert Jarvis (trombone), Justin Mitchell (keyboards, trumpet), Alexi Nonis (guitar), Neil Sloman (soprano, tenor saxes) and Matt Williamson (drums).
Musically the band present a music that is both diverse and original making it extremely hard to classify as theirs is a fusion of solid jazz roots with artists such as Ornette Coleman, Charlie Mingus and Sun Ra together with a modern slant and the use of computer aided sound effects. Possibly one could say that the group play a form of avant-garde jazz, though the group are playing a style that was started in the sixties within the Canterbury area, most notably with Soft Machine, and has been classified as progressive rock!
One of the things that gripped my attention when listening to the album was the group's ability to shift from one particular style to another. At times they are extremely abstract, especially with the introduction of Fuller's voice on tracks such as Travelling Soul and Love Falls Down. The rhythm of tracks such as the opener, and title-track, Scitatics, also contribute to the significance of this album. Even Robert Wyatt, who as a drummer with Soft Machine created similar sensations with his drumming, was blown away when hearing this album for the first time and commented "I want to be in that band! On some numbers, the drummer gives the impression that he is playing the wrong rhythm and is not keeping up with the beat whereas this is precisely what he is intending. That trick is so difficult to pull-off with such confidence!"
Another feature of the group is their roots in various other jazz genres. An example would be Shirt in Heaven with its big band arrangements which introduce a sense of post-war swing fused with the modern free element the album's music possesses. The same could be said of The Bowl Of Life with its bossanova-like introduction and Shake Like A Fish with its barrage of instruments that initially sound so much out of place and uncoordinated, yet which after a few listens fit into place like a jigsaw puzzle.
Mention must be made of Shirt In Heaven, which is an uncharacteristic piece of music, when compared to the rest of the album. The acapella introduction sounds like The Beach Boys meeting a Gospel choir, while the harmonies persist accompanied by a loosely structured rhythm until the whole thing "degenerates" into a big band ensemble. Simply Fantastic.
This album is a must for most progressive rock listeners. For those who are enamoured of the Canterbury scene, this album is a worthy addition to your collection while for those who love jazz, of whom progressive rock is a very close relative, this album is great. It is indeed heartening that there are still bands out there who are ready to stretch the boundaries of progressive rock without being to the whims of record companies who deem that the only music worth promoting has to have a certain commercial value. For this Voiceprint deserve a word of mention as through their endeavours we can appreciate such works of wonder. Indeed coming across this band has been a Happy Accident.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Agent Cooper - Agent Cooper
Originally released in 1999, I had heard of the band for some time now, finally managing to lay my hands on their debut album and thus present a review. I must admit that it has been well worth the wait.
Clocking in at under forty minutes, this relatively short album presents us with a quartet that manage to fuse the melodies and hooks of classic American hard rock together with a sound reminiscent of many seventies American/Canadian progressive rock bands such as Rush, and Saga. The group consist of Doug Busbee (guitars, voice) (Salem Ash), Eric Frampton (keyboards), Glenn Longmuuir (bass) and Forrest Robinson (drums, percussion, voice).
The album opens with Wasting Away which immediately puts things into perspective vis-a-vis the bands musical tendencies. Flirting between acoustic Hammond backed guitars and well driven power chords, the group show that they have managed to use the commercial traits used to full effect by heavier bands such as Live and Creed, yet at the same time also incorporating an amount of technicality within the musical structure with time signature changes as well as a variance in the mood settings.
Don't Get Up is more approachable as a track and should appeal to a wider audience than the opening track with some nice syncopated rhythm. Doug Busbee possesses a fine voice which is both rich and high pitched and extremely pleasant to listen too. He is capable of conveying a sense of anger and power without distorting his clean voice. A 13 Year, on the other hand, starts off with a Rush-like hook and in true Rush fashion has the group alternating mellow quiet scenes with heavy full-blast distortion. The bass guitar comes to the fore while Busbee reminds me of Geoff Tate's (Queensryche) voice during the narrative sequences.
Little Town opens with an acoustic guitar that sounded like Working Class Hero (John Lennon) to me, but this did not last long. Actually there was a Queensryche feel as the acoustic guitar was interrupted by the drums to then move into a truly melodious and moving piece of music. One of the few flaws that I found on this album was that at times the sound needed a bit of beefing up, especially as regards the keyboards sections which are relegated to the background for most of the album. A nice strong string/orchestra accompaniment on this track would have made it a classic! Definitely this track is one of the album highlights.
Disinfect Your Mind brings out the rocking edge of the band with the band moving towards a Jane's Addiction meets Rage Against The Machine, though they never abandon the commercial feel to their music. The Desolate Supreme has the band moving towards a British alternative feel. Busbee's vocals are melancholic and high-pitched, something which is de rigeur for their overseas counterparts yet at the same time reminds me of the late and sadly missed Jeff Buckley. Furthermore the track is acoustic, and should this track have been presented to a British audience it would have definitely been a success (in my opinion!).
Helmet Head has the band resorting to the American rock roots with a nod in the Live direction while Good For My Soul has the tempo upped with the group adopting a great progressive stance with some nice signature changes and interplay between keyboards and guitars. One could describe this track as a cross between the technicality of groups as Kansas and Rush and the melodic rock nature of bands such as Creed and the aforementioned Live. Also, one finally gets to hear some great keyboard, and the fact that it is so good makes me wonder why this particular style was not further "abused".
The album comes to a close with one of the album highlights, The Drive Song. Starting off with a fantastic introduction with some great backing rhythms, the group move into a melodic piece of music, though this lasts the chorus as they then revert to the original rhythm of the introductory section. A great way to finish off a great album.
The fact that this album was not released under a major label signing shows the sorry state of the music bluishness. These guys manage to fuse a variety of musical influences and genres allowing to be classified as a progressive rock band. Do not expect long solos and a complexity of musical arrangement, yet on the other hand be prepared for a heavy dose of melodic rock which is one step beyond the average rock band in that Agent Cooper manage to instill an element of musicianship on par with many prog-rock bands out there.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Versus X - The Turbulent Zone
I have been waiting for this one! The previous Versus X album, Disturbance, I thought was amazing. The Genesis-like melodies in a modern way. Arne Schäffer's compositional abilities are great. I really love his feeling for melody and his way of singing. He has a warm voice, and not the typical high prog voice without warmth and emotion I hear with too many bands.
What a wonderful feeling for melodies Schaeffer has... His playing reminds me of his fellow countryman guitarist of Chandelier. Keyboard player Ekkehard Nahm and he make a perfect team. The press info surprised me by telling me their music was influenced more by Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill than before. I was getting even more curious than I was. But hearing the opening of the second track, this is cleared. The piano is so unmistakably Hammill. The atmosphere, the piano playing, and in a lesser degree the vocal lines as well. It still remains merely influences, because later when guitar joins in and the first break comes up, it's pure Versus X again, with just a touch of Hammill. I think this has largely to do with Nahm's part in songwriting. The combination of Schaeffer and Nahm results in very interesting tunes!
What I noticed right away was the increase of lyrics. Unfortunately, this is at the cost of melodic parts, which I found the most interesting part of Versus X's music. Not that I don't like Schaeffer voice. I do, he has a warm voice. But it's like the music had to move over to let more vocals join in. Well, the second half of the first track is instrumental, and the others contain enough instrumental parts, but it seems not as full as the previous CD, not as impressive. Overall, music and compositions are still very good. The second half of Strange Attractor, for example, is the kind of music I like best. Guitar and piano, somewhat repetitive melodies - a lot like the previous album, the kind of Versus X music that can make me dream away.
I find it hard to tell the truth that my opinion on this CD is that it's a little less interesting than their previous CD. I was hoping for something more in the line of that one. Maybe that is what spoilt it for me - I expected too much. But no, also objectively, I can say that the music is less full. The extra influences, the new touches, are very interesting, but it's a step away from what my musical taste prefers. That does not have to mean it's a bad album, or less good than the previous. The music is maybe a little more complex than before. Getting the lyrics on the music probably required more thinking than before? I don't know, but it feels more complex, a bit forced even.
In short, if you like their previous albums, you will like this one, too - no doubt about that. Depending on your musical preferences, you might like this one more or less than their previous album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Jadis - Medium Rare
Over the last years, quite some archive-CDs with rarities have been released, for example by Asia, Pendragon, Ayreon and Spock's Beard. Now Jadis have one out with the apt title "Medium Rare". Only 'medium', since half of the album has been released before in EP-format, but these tracks weren't any longer available anymore. Now they come with an addition.
The first three tracks saw the light of day on the -now deleted- "Once Upon a Time" mini-disc in 1993. Follow Me To Salzburg is a slow song, with a big feeling to it. I sounds great with it's warm keyboards and lovely backing-vocals by Martin Orford. Gary Chandler himself provides his trademark guitar-work. This song would have fitted on their debut album and because of its strength it appears live every now and then, which is quite an achievement for a relatively obscure EP-track.
All In One Day is a more upbeat song with great drums-breaks by Steve Christey and heavy riffs alternated by subtle guitar-playing. Not the strongest song from a vocal point of view, I especially like the instrumental middle part of the song and the key-solo near the end, which takes you by surprise. There's a lot of stuff going on there!
Being a 7-minute-long instrumental, View From Above features many time changes within the first few minutes. The end of the track, on the other hand, is very atmospheric, with another lovely keyboard-solo, followed by a repetition of the main theme.
The next tracks are from the '97 mini-disc "Once Or Twice", which means it features the 'other' line-up bringing in Mike Torr on keyboards and Steve Hunt on bass. The latter does a very interesting job in This Changing Face, which is present in two versions on this album. This one is the full, electric version, and that's what it is.
Anyone who visited Marillion's 'Clutching'-tour with Jadis support, has heard In The Dark as the first song on that night. It was only recorded nine (!) years later. Although a nice track -awesome keyboard-solo-, it somehow lacks direction.
Taking Your Time indeed takes a bit of time to get into. It's a nicely balanced track with both acoustic and electric guitars. A track to close your eyes and let go.
A live favourite from "More Than Meets The Eye", Hiding In The Corner was the fourth track on the original EP. Recorded in Amsterdam, it brings the sheer power of Jadis live, which I always though where Jadis are strongest: on stage. The band's tight, focused and powerful, something they fortunately also managed to achieve on "Understand", there latest studio-effort.
This is where the rarities start: 7 more, unreleased tracks. Gary Chandler once confessed he thought the "Somersault" album was a bit 'too complex'. Hence they tried an edited, simpler version of Live This Lie, to get some airplay. Still I don't think it's an ear-friendly track and as a result not my favourite Jadis-song.
Strangely enough, there are some tracking mistakes in the booklet, but next is the demo-version of Giraffe Chariot. Since this was one of the tracks already present on the set-list before the recording of "Understand", this version isn't too different from the final version.
The World On Your Side was taken from the same concert as Hiding In The Corner, which makes me wonder why they haven't been put together here. This track is one of my personal favourites and I always missed it on As Daylight Fades, the live-album. After the next studio-album, I think Jadis should do another live-album including older gems like this one and Follow Me To Salzburg.
The acoustic medley Martin Orford and Gary Chandler did as support for Pendragon really is a rarity. Since I was there when it was recorded, it's a nice thing to have. Regrettably it is faded out, apparently since the second part of the medley featured IQ tracks. What a pity! And wasn't there any other material of that show? Great, but too short.
Of the two This Changing Face-versions, this 'stripped' one definitely is my favourite. The beautiful harmonies, another Jadis-trademark, are so prominent here, that you can't help liking them.
The demo-version of Alive Inside is, like Giraffe Chariot not too different. John Jowitt's bass is a bit more prominent and very interesting to listening to. Also Christey's drumming pattern creates a pleasantly uneasy pace. The second part isn't as strong as the final version, but the guitar-solo is great.
The close to the original version of Old and Wise -originally by Alan Parsons Project- was recorded as a training for Chandlers big-band adventure. I liked it then and I like it now. Chandler deals with the lovely melody with great comfort. Warning: this one sticks to your mind.
To conclude: "Medium Rare" is a nice compilation of songs. It's great to have the EP-tracks available, although these tracks are not the 'core' of the Jadis catalogue. Of the remaining tracks, I especially like the live-version of The World On Your Side and the acoustic This Changing Face. The liner notes are informative and the artwork -by brother Geoff Chandler- features elements from all studio-albums, as well as lots of pictures.
On the other hand, I think the CD as a whole would have been a bit more comfortable if Chandler had chosen: either acoustic, or live, or demo-tracks. At least the different 'types' of recordings could have been put together. Moving from live to acoustic to demo-recordings, makes the album a bit inconsistent. But then again, that's probably not the major aim of a rarities album. This one is not meant as a starting point for new listeners, it's a worthy addition to your existing Jadis-collection.
Consider it this way: when you planned to buy the original EP's at some point anyway, you would have been surprised to get so many interesting, extra tracks. This is what Medium Rare does. The overall quality of both songs and sound is good. Something that probably wouldn't be the case when the 'really rare' demos from the 80's would have been released. I'm still waiting for that stuff....
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Coldplay - Parachutes
Every once in a while you come across an album that isn't really prog in a strict way of
speaking, that isn't supposed or claims to be prog either, yet that contains music which much
is closer to Progressive Rock than much of the metal type of music that we at DPRP get so often
offered for review purposes.
When a friend of mine played me this tape in the car I had no idea that this young band was as big as they apparently are. It was only afterwards that I found out they apparently are the hottest hit in the British charts, finally bringing some sense after all the Britneys, Christinas, girl- or boy bands and the, frankly, horrible Oasis brothers.
They are marketed as some sort of new Radiohead, but although some of the tracks
(especially singles like Shiver and Yellow) sound quite like Radiohead on their
first two albums, there is a lot more to be found on the album.
Singer Chris Martin follows Thom Yorke's style of singing, by turning into a falsetto voice almost every other sentence, yet he resembles more of the late Jeff Buckly than of Yorke, and on a track like Shiver you'd even think that you hear Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.
Guitarist John Buckland has a diverse style of playing. Sometimes playing like the average "alternative" player, you know, guitar low on the waist and producing not much more than some hard hammered chords. Yet sometimes his playing comes closer to U2's The Edge or even some heavenly Pink Floyd-style slide playing, but he is at his best on the few acoustic tracks on the album.
Bassist Guy Berryman proves very versatile with a heavy (probably) Trace Elliot sound on the heavier tracks like Shiver to a very warm and delightful sound on High Speed. Yet its drummer Wil Champion who probably plays the most underrated role on the album. On most of the tracks he plays with brushes, quietly providing (seemingly) minimal support to the songs, yet it is on these tracks where he provides the more interesting rhythms. And his percussionist-style drumming on Spies is far more innovative than anything most MTV-style alternative bands can come up with.
The showpiece on the album is Trouble, the only piano-based track on the CD. The way Chris Martin sings here resembles Colin Blunstone (The Zombies, Alan Parsons Project) while guitarist Buckland changes to a more Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree style of playing. In fact, it wouldn't be out of place on one of the earlier Porcupine Tree albums, or, in respect of the vocals, on an Alan Parsons album.
Other tracks fall more into a melodic rock category, like the beautifully warm High Speed, Sparks or We Never Change. The final track Everything's Not Lost, which, despite its cheesy lyrics and Beatles-esque style ending, is a worthy album closer, also contains all of the only three guitarsolos on the album. Three times the same solo, I must add, which sound rather like Pendragon's Am I Really Losing You? but give the song a more progressive rock type of feel, as it keeps switching between the quiet, serene vocal parts, and the more rocky guitar parts.
The only thing I can't understand is the "hidden track" that follows Everything's Not Lost after about a minute silence. It's not such a bad track actually, but it's just completely misplaced after this worthy album-closer. And, honestly, we've seen those hidden track tricks by now guys. When Nirvana did it 10 years ago, it was kinda cool - nowadays it only provoces an "oh no, not again" feel.
Now, apart from the music, everything else on the album is as wrong as it can be - it's all done in the typical EMI style. The young foursome were skyrocketed into stardom and no less than four singles have already been pulled off the album (including the short Don’t Panic , which works fine as an album opener, but is hardly enough of a song to make a stand-alone single). The disc comes with a four-page booklet which contains no lyrics nor any information about the band or whatsoever. The official website isn't much more of a help here either. And then there is the ridiculously short playing time of the album. Excluding the minute silence and the hidden track this comes down to a mere 38 minutes of music, hardly justifying paying chart-price for it. An seeing that the band had released two demos before this album, and that all singles contain non-album tracks, I wonder whether they couldn't have put a few more songs on the album.
But, all politics aside, the album contains some pretty good and overall highly enjoyable music and is recommended to any prog-fan who's into Radiohead and the likes.Conclusion: 8- out of 10.