Reviews in this issue:
Lana Lane - Love Is An Illusion (Special Edition)
Love Is An Illusion is Lana's debut-album from 1995. Nope, it's from 1998, nope, it's from 2001. Que?
OK, here it goes. Back in early 1995, Lana Lane released her first album, after two years of hard work with her husband Erik Norlander. The album initiated her success in Japan, but was never released in Europe. In 1998 there was demand for a remastered version, including some bonus tracks, for the Japanese market. Erik, realising the mastering was quite well, but the recording and mixing had some flaws, decided to virtually re-record the album, add some instrumental sections and have Neil Citron replay almost all the guitar parts. The result, Love Is An Illusion -1998 version, is a much tighter, clearer album. However, it was still not released on the European market. Now, in 2001, this is finally done through Transmission Records. Instead of choosing either version, the clear 1998 one, or the warm 1995 one, they released both version: Love Is An Illusion Special Edition.
I will discuss the 1998 version only, since this is the most elaborate version, and my favourite. The 1995 version is indeed warmer, but also somehow a bit shaky. The power of the songs is much more obvious in the 1998 re-recorded version. The tracks denoted above with an asterisk are the bonus tracks.
Norlander features his pre-inter-postlude structure on this album too, and indeed
it binds the album together. The Prelude is an atmospheric synthesiser/Hammond track,
laying down a flowing melody line that returns in the other "ludes". It flows
into the powerful title track Love Is An Illusion. This rocking track
is symphonic indeed, in the definition of Lana. In the interview I had with her, she said
the definition of symphonic rock was that it features commercial elements. Indeed,
this album is not without catchy choruses and power chord structures. But the
rich clear sound, with Lana's souring vocals over it, and Norlander's synthesiser
playing make it a must for every prog fan as well.
Coloured Life disappointed me a bit, it didn't sound like Lana. A look in the (thick) booklet revealed the reason, it wasn't written by them. A cover therefore. Forgivable for a debut album, but a bit of a bum note to me in the structure of the album. Cold Outside which follows, is also a bit more of a rock ballad, but with enough changes in the structure of the melody to keep it interesting. Still not one of my favourites, too sweet to my taste. What then is my favourite? Well it's one of the bonus tracks: Into The Ether. This track rocks! Deep rhythm guitar, howlin' Hammond and a guitar solo to start the track, wow! The mysterious voice of Lana, now darker than on any other track, and the good lyrics, make this a top-track. It is comparable in heavyness as some of Norlanders' solo works, a macho song. It also features some of the finest guitar playing on the album.
Through The Fire has a bit of a Marco Borsato feeling to it
(for the Dutchies). Don't get me wrong, it is not bad, just as Borsato has some
fine compositions (really!), but the commercial elements are quite obvious here.
In other words, a really catchy chorus, verses not too difficult, and a good flow.
The interlude basically is a variation on the prelude, and gives a structure to
the album. It is especially written for the 1998 version and is also heavier than
most of the original tracks. This is I guess a bit of a tendency of Norlander and
Lane, they tend to become progressively (in both meanings of the word) heavier with
The mildly heavy Through The Rain follows, which has a good drive to it. A nice track in general, and quite catchy again. A good guitar solo lifts this song above average, as do the Hammond and keyboard soli. Combined with Lana's powerful vocals (and knowing how powerful this track is live), it is one of the highlights of the album. The last minute consists of a mysterious yet gorgeously melodic part and it flows into the ballad Faerie Tale State of Mind. This is definitely one of Lana's best ballads. The emotional chorus truly gives me shivers down my spine and the track as a whole is wonderfully composed, the different section flow into each other perfectly and are beautifully orchestrated. Too bad she didn't do this one live at the concert I attended.
Dream Burnin' Down is another cover, and again I am not too fond of it.
A bit of an average pop song, transformed into a Lana Lane track.
Can't Find My Way Home is a slow rock track that strongly reminds in its verses
of another band, but I can't exactly remember which one.
The chorus is a bit Scorpions-like in the guitar part. Guitar is an essential
part of this track anyway as it features a handful of different guitar soli.
A Night In The Garden, being a 1998 track, leans more to the metal side of the Lana Lane spectrum. I can truly say I like this side of her much better than the overly sweet ballads. Norlander here knows to bring some spice to the music of Lana, which somehow is not there when a (covered) ballad is performed. This is especially noticeable in the melody, which has some nice unexpected little turns and twists. This does not immediately digest as easily, but in the long run it makes it a much better track.
The album finishes with the Postlude (in the radio-chaos you can even hear a Dutch sentence .... Lana speaks some Dutch). It is a kind of hymn, close harmony song, which subsequently revisits the main "themes" of the album instrumentally.
Lana Lane does not make intricate and delicate progressive rock. As she herself states, she makes symphonic rock, sometimes edging to metal, and is not afraid to use "commercial" elements. This may sometimes yield a track that sounds a bit too "naturally flowing" (meaning, giving the impression you heard it before), but it also produces some true highlights (like Into The Ether, Through The Rain and Faerie Tale State of Mind). Here too, as on the Ballad Collection, the covers are my least favourite tracks. Still, the general impression is definitely good.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Mark 1 - Absolute Zero
Hailing from Gloucester, Masachussets, this trio of young musicians have been playing as a band since 1997 and together have managed to create music which has its roots firmly embedded in their seventies influences. However, at the same time the group have managed to incorporate within their musical structure a modern element, giving their music a fresh and new sound.
The group are Kyle Jones (lead voice, Yamaha SY85, ARP Pro Soloist, bass), Chris Molinski (drums, percussion, programming, voices) and Robert Difazio (electric guitar, voices). All linked by a love for Steely Dan, the three also had their diverse musical tastes ranging from The Police to Led Zeppelin. However the album that sparked off their musical creativity was Selling England By the Pound (Genesis) which in turn led the band to further explore their musical dimensions as well as to create themes revolving around their music. On Absolute Zero the band talk of everyman's struggle against an oppressive, mechanized society.
The album opens with Through The Looking Glass and the impressive nature of this album is immediately apparent. An extremely tight number, the Genesis touch is felt both in the use and manipulation of the vocals as well as in the keyboard licks, though I should also mention that the vocals have a similarity to Peter Hammill. During the guitar solo there is a cue taken from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Genesis) (the bass and drum section) and this is something that the group often revert to, with great effect.
Again And Again has a Steely Dan touch with its laid back seventies jazz-funk feel. Here one must mention that the mastering on the album was done by none other than Roger Nichols, known for his work with Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Crosby, Stills & Nash. His work with such luminaries from the seventies must have been great to the band and his input must have complemented the band's feel and love for that musical genre.
Oscar The Office Supply Thief shows that the band do not only take their cues from the bigger and more propgressive bands of the sevenmties. The various styles also seem to have rubbed off on the band with a jazz-funk rhythm permeating through, while Exodus has a more dramatic feel to it as Difazio creates some lovely guitar licks.
The Mind Eraser starts off with a Genesis-like introduction, though its eventual development has cues taken more from the Steve Hackett of late (ie Darktown) with use of an industrial electronic sound to the music. I must admit that Jones' voice started to get to me slightly by this partry of the album as it seems to be limited in its range and sounds constantly strained. Ultramodern Blues has the band slowing down the beat considerably to another piece of electronic-based music which has the main musical brunt born by the keyboards.
Easy Way Out reminded me of the work that Peter Hammill has been producing lately, one of progressive rock's most underrated vocalists and composers. On the other hand, Showdown comes as a contrast to most of what the album has offered so far. This is because the music seems to more accessible and straight forward, almost too commercial sounding for Mark 1. This time round the music seems to be a nod in the neo-progressive direction and could pass as a demo vrsion of an early Marillion or IQ track. The reason why I say that the track could be a demo is because Mark 1 tend to rather minimalistic in their approach and cut out the frills from their music presenting just the bare minimum as regards instrumentation and structure. This track then progresses into Identity Crisis which once again a nod in the direction in the classical progressive rock direction with a rhythm that reminded me of Robbery, Assault And Battery (Genesis). The album comes to a close with Meltdown, a lengthy instrumental, once again heavily based on keyboards.
With a nod in the direction of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, with regards to the storyline, Absolute Zero is an impressive debut, made even more so when one considers the fact that the group are still in their teens. After listening to this album, it seems that the future for this band should be bright as they mature both in age and musically. Ultramodern Rock or Nu-Prog seems to be here to stay and Mark 1 are at the forefront of this movement
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Thieves' Kitchen - Argot
Yes, my dear proggin' readers, an album with four epics. Didn't we long pass that era? Well in a sense we have. The music has a complexity not often heard nowadays anymore, combined with many elements from old and modern classical music. The music theorists amongst you will have something to sink their teeth in. Melodies and contra-melodies, truly odd time signatures. Classical organ and keyboard playing (mixtures between Emerson and Wakeman), fine interplay between the guitar and keys and an ELP-like rhythmic section. It is all present here. This makes it also a difficult album to write a long review about.
Argot, the secret language of thieves, is an album which every prog-lover should own. Not because the melodies are so beautiful (in fact, in my opinion they are rather clinical), not because it "rocks" (it does everything but that), but because this is music that is composed, in the literal meaning of the word, and appeals to the intelligence of the listener, just as "the old ones" (ELP, Yes, Gentle Giant) used to do, a long time ago. These folks are the true heirs to their crown, in the sense that they adhere most strictly to the paths paved by these dinosaurs. The booklet, which is in itself nicely produced, features the lyrics to the tracks in Arab, Russian, Swedish and Polish (I guess). This is a funny feature, however, I would have preferred an English version (on the album, everything is sung in English) as well. Especially since it features something that I tend to think on the Dutch roads sometimes as well: "Should I ram the car right next to me? A millisecond can change your destiny" ;-).
Anyway, I will not waste anymore words. I urge you to check out the sound clips and then buy the album. You will not like it at first (I guess), but it grows, trust me. I can recommend it, since it really appeals to my conception of progressive music: It should pose a bit of a challenge to the listener, but at the same keep him convinced he can follow what is happening. Thieves' Kitchen do succeed in doing that.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Taal - Mister Green
Mister Green is the debut album for Taal, a group from Poitiers, France. The members making up this band, also were part of the band Stratus, and are Loïc Bernardeau (Drums, percussions, Lead vocal), Sébastian Constant (Keyboards, background vocals), David "Stuart" Dosnon (Bass, background vocals) and Anthony Gabard (Guitar, background vocals). I must admit that the French have rarely impressed me with their progressive rock vein, especially with regards to inventiveness, though there are a few exceptions, Caféine just to mention one. Taal manage to fall into this latter category with their brand of music which does draw influences from a number of classic bands, yet on the other hand the band manage to create a sound of their own making it very hard to define (and describe) their style.
The strength of this album is in the instrumental sections, which are long and full of imagination, in fact one could easily state that the weakest section on the album is the lead vocals, though these are not often present. The fifteen minute opener Barbituricus fuses elements of classic progressive rock with Hammond Organs et al coupled with the driving rhythm and power of a prog-metal band. Thus the band fuse the sounds of bands such as Pink Floyd with the power of Dream Theater together with a dose of quirkiness from bands like Caravan. One of the strengths of this album is the sheer force of the music that is played, and the band also achieve this with the help of additional guest musicians which bring the total number of musicians up to ten! This is heard to full effect towards the end of the track as woodwind and brass instruments join in the fray competing with the traditional electronic instruments, creating an ending straight out of a soundtrack.
Coornibus opens with a Middle Eastern-tinged orchestral piece, something that Jon Lord (Deep Purple) would have added to his Concerto for Group and Orchestra. With a sound like rumbling thunder, the woodwind section is joined by the guitars forming a duet that is answered by a delightful keyboard piece. The pizzicato-like guitar work reminded me of eighties band Mekong Delta who were masters at fusing classical orchestral pieces with a heavy sounding band. Simply fantastic!
Flat Spectre maintains a similar thread to Coornibus, though the mood seems to be slightly darker on this track with a somewhat slower tempo. The band and string section are in continuous response, utilising a style that Michael Kamen loves to use, his latest most high profile example being Metallica's S & M album.
Ragtime has the band playing to a Vincent Boisseau's clarinet with a tune that is almost fifties sounding with a touch of The Klezmatics. No Way ! features a series of sound effects that include a man drinking and retching!
The almost circus-like feel that was present on Ragtime resurfaces on Mister Green though one cannot but remain intrigued at the complexity of the music that this band presents, incorporating various instruments and sounds together with continuous variations in both time signatures and musical styles. Mister Grey on the other hand sees the group returning to a more straight forward format with the music veering more or less into a progressive metal direction. Interesting nonetheless as they still introduce the occasional uncharacteristic sound and tune.
Aspartamus retains the happy feel that has been present on the previous four tracks though this time there is an increase in the orchestration with the string instruments (and keyboards) coming out in full force. The track flits between metal sections to ones of calmness and serenity, something that is also utilised to great effect on the closing track Super Flat Moon. once again on this track there is an Eastern influence in the tune, though the track features a march-like rhythm that creates a strength and power similar to what one gets in Le Sacre Du Primtemps by Stravnisky.
This album is a must for those who love to listen to instrumental music with a twist full of orchestrations and complex time signatures. Listening to the album one can pick out references from classic progressive rock bands, yet on the other hand Taal do not dwell for any substantial amount of time on these influences for one to be able to make a likeable comparison between bands. In plain simple language this group has come up with a sound of its own that is bound to please most progressive rock fans.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Tunnels - Painted Rock
Formed in the mid-nineties, Tunnels is the new band that bass player Percy Jones (Brand X, Return To Forever) is fronting, ably aided by Marc Wagnon (midi vibes), Frank Katz (drums) and Van Manakas (guitars). Painted Rock is the second release by this quartet. Together these four musicians have come up with a refreshing jazz fusion album which also has its moments of rock, with clear inspiration from classic bands such as King Crimson.
The music on the album can be divided into four distinct musical phases. The first is that which we find on Painted Rock, Land Of The Hazmats and Quai Des Brumes, which is a style not too dissimilar from what Percy Jones was involved with in the past with bands such as Brand X. Painted Rock is dedicated to the walls painted in the California Valley by the Chumash Indians while Quai Des Brumes was inspired by a classic French film and is based on the characters as well as the drab and heavy setting of the film, the docks. Both tracks have an underlying funk theme, with Quai Des Brunes being a bit more laid back in nature. Both tracks give ample space for Wagnon to wander off with his vibraphone playing while Manakas introduces some delicate guitar licks with hints of him departing from the structure of the track, yet this rarely materialises.
House Of Marc and Bad American Dream 2001 bring us to the second distinct phase present on this album. With these two tracks there seems to be more of an electronic influence, possibly due to Jones' interest in German techno music. House Of Marc is in itself divided into three sections, each one depicting a different level of New York. The first is the street level which is the most chaotic of the three levels. The second level is the building level, and is the level where one seeks solace while the third level is the rooftop level where one finds his peace and quiet. Each level has its unique musical qualities, each reflected by the different music with the level of contrast between instruments decreasing as one goes up the levels until the third and final level has the track flowing into an ear-friendly, almost Genesis-like, piece of music. Sarah Pillow, Wagnon's wife, also adds vocal effects to further enhance the various musical levels. Bad American Dream 2001 on the other hand utilises electronic sounds to broaden the musical expanse, creating a broader spectrum on which the band can lay down their musical palette. Based on he unpredictability of life, this track gives vent to the members of the band to fully express themselves allowing them to improvise throughout.
Boyz In The Ud stands alone as being the only occasion the band introduce elements of world music. The use of the ud as a solo instrument, makes this track of particular interest. The track starts off on an acoustic note and slowly progresses into a more electronic piece as the various instruments join in creating a drone that is kicked into life by the interjection of percussive elements, themselves ethnic such as hand percussion and finger cymbals.
Finally we have the more energetic, rock-based tracks present on the album , which are Neuro-Transmitter, Black Light, Lily's Dolphin and Unity Gain. Neuro-Transmitter is a showcase for Frank Katz' powerful drumming and is a reflection on the influence such drummers have had on many a progressive rock drummer, especially those who play prog-metal, such as Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). At times the music seems to be getting more and more powerful, especially with Manakas' increasingly distorted guitar work, almost delving into rock territory, to then suddenly deviate and move towards the experimental and free music that artists such as Frank Zappa would have favoured.
Black Light is the only Van Manakas composition on the album, and comes across as a slow (in tempo) number as opposed to Lilly's Dolphin which is full of rhythm with a great Wagnon solo. The album comes to a close with a fantastic powerful drum solo from Frank Katz, Unity Gain.
All in all this is an album that should appeal to those who like listening to jazz fusion with a close reference to bands like Brand X and Mahavishnu Orchestra. What is definite is that is always a pleasure to hear Percy Jones belt out those sounds from his bass guitar.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.