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Reviews in this issue:
Yes - Yestoday
Tracklist Disc 2: Open Your Eyes (5.16), Face To Face (5.04), New Language (9.22), From The Balcony (2.43), Fortune Seller (5.02), If Only You Knew (5.43), Somehow Someday (4.45), To Be Alive (Hep Yadda) (5.10), Awaken (live, 2000) (17.03)
While browsing through the website of Snapper Music I coincidentally came across this Yes CD which I had not heard of before. Snapper was kind enough to send us a promo copy, which I'm reviewing here. Judging from the cover of the CD as shown on the Snapper website the ugly psychadelic design in which it arrived instead is a replacement of an initial cover with a big Yes logo. I wonder why it was replaced .... maybe an attempt by the band to fight this release ? For seriously, the reason for this double album fully escapes me.
According to the (quite reasonable) liner notes in the booklet and judging from the album's title, this double album is supposed to represent the band in their post-Rabin period (1996-now). The liner notes give a pretty elaborate description of the history of the band since 1995 up to the release of Magnification. The song writing credits for the CD ('all songs written by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Billy Sherwood, Chris Squire, Alan White & Igor Khoroshev') are in strong contrast with the accuracy of these liner notes, written by one Paul Russell.
Yestoday is basically a compilation album taking tracks from three other albums; Open Your Eyes, The Ladder and Live at the House of Blues. Now, herein lies one of my main criticisms regaring the double CD. If the CD is really trying to give a representative picture of the band in the last 6 years, why weren´t tracks from the Keys to Ascension and Magnification albums included ? It's probably a copyrights related thing, but it does undermine the credibility of the album. What's more, if the album is stressing the continued creativity of the band, why include 4 classic tracks from the seventies and eighties as selections from House of Blues ? It just doesn´t make sense.
Since this album contains material from Open Your Eyes (a CD I normally refer to as 'Close Your Ears' since I consider it to be one
of the worst things the band has ever done) the listerner is treated to some daft fluff like Universal Garden, From the Balcony, Somehow Someday and Fortune Seller. Fortunately, the two decent songs from Open Your Eyes (New State of Mind and the title track) have been chosen as other selections from that album.
The selection from The Ladder takes some of the best songs from that album, although I wonder why the brilliant single Lightning Strikes is missing. Also, the fact that the intro to Face to Face has not been edited and still contains traces of the previous track on The Ladder shows how much of a 'quick and dirty' release Yestoday is.
All in all a double album that doesn't make too much sense. Yes fans will already have all of the individual albums and people
wanting to sample the contemporary Yes do not get a representative collection either. Furthermore, they would be better of
buying The Ladder and Magnification instead of spending their time and money on the Open Your Eyes rubbish.
So isn´t there anything good about this album. Well, besides the liner notes there's one more thing: the CD is sold at about $15, which is a very good deal for 2 hours of music (even when some of it is pretty mediocre). So, if you can find any good reason why you should buy this album, it certainly isn't a big rip-off !
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Gazpacho - Get It While It's Cold (37°C)
A few months ago I reviewed Gazpacho's first demo, Get it While It's Cold, which impressed me a lot. Since then the band have been on a roll. The same month saw them winning the finals in the monthly contest at 'Make a star' with the song Sea of Tranquility. The month after they made it to the finals once more, with the track Ghost, yet they didn't win it this time. The track Nemo saw them recently get to the finals for the third consecutive time, and they won it yet again.
Positive reviews on various websites, plus their popularity at 'Make a Star', led to the wise decision for a commercial release of their demo. With the help of MP3.com they have now produced an updated version of Get It While It's Cold, which is available through the MP3.com website for an outrageously low price of only $7.98. All profits for this CD will be used for further promotion, which should eventually result in a record deal somewhere.
The music of this quartet, consisting of Jan Henrik "O" (vocals), Jon A. Vilbo (guitars), Thomas Andersen (keys) and Roy Funner (bass) falls in that grey area between prog and alternative rock, using the best of both to create their own unique sound.
Three of the four songs from the original demo made it to this EP, and four new tracks have been added. Since I already reviewed their first demo, I will focus this review on the four new tracks that can be found on this EP.
Of the new songs Nemo was the first one that was released for download through their website. It is a great little rock song, with good lyrics and a very catchy melody, very much in the style of British indie bands like Travis or Pulp, but, as said before, with an own identity. In my opinion it is just a little too short, they could have extended it for another half minute or so.
The track they released through their website was The Secret, which is a lot more 'prog'. You can actually divide this track into three parts. The first part is based on a drum loop, which sounds quite a bit like Marillion's Interior Lulu. Then comes a mid-section which you could describe as 10CC doing a horror sound track: a piano-theme based on musical scales, altered with a haunting violin, courtesy of Mikael Krømer who also did *that* violin solo in Bravo (strangely enough he is not mentioned in the liner notes). This bit is accompanied by some very devilish singing by "O" pretty much in the style of some more theatrical 10CC tracks.
The last bit is the band's interpretation of the Radiohead sound: roaring guitars and very high, almost inarticulate vocals. The icing on the cake is a cool, analogue synth solo.
Sun God is probably the darkest thing they have recorded so far. A very dark, electronic rhythm with heavy synthesised basses. "O" manages to sing yet an octave higher here, which makes it impossible to sing along to this one. With the use of very subtle samples they manage to create a very eerie atmosphere, which fits the mood of the lyrics perfectly.
The last of the new tracks, Delete Home, is what 10CC could have sounded like today. A somewhat electronic approach, with lots of tempo changes and multiple vocal melodies, all in a mere 3 minutes. It took me a while to get into this track but it is one of my favourites now, mainly because there is so much going on in such a short time.
And then you have the three tracks that are carried over from their first demo, the melancholic, effects laden Sea Of Tranquility, the more straight-forward Ghost and the truly outstanding epic Bravo which I still rate as their pinnacle.
The version of Bravo is slightly different here than it was on the first demo. Instead of a fade-out they now let the track run to its end, extending it for another 10 seconds, and laying even more emphasis on the applause at the end.
It's a pity the song Scares Me didn't make it to this EP, but the band felt the production wasn't up to the standard of the rest of tracks so instead they added the short Delete Home, which is not available for download. Although I regret that Scares Me is not on this album, I can see how it is a good thing to have at least one song on the album that is not available for download, and one song for download, which is not included on this album.
The CD comes in a decent package. Of course for such a cheap price you can't expect anything too fancy, so the booklet is nothing more than a two-fold inlay, but it includes all lyrics to the songs and (printed very small) the artwork that they have created for each of the songs.
As a bonus MP3 files of all songs are included as well.
In conclusion, what can I say? I have seldomly been blown away this much by a new band. Very accessable music, yet with good song structures, lots of variety, imaginative lyrics and pretty much a unique sound. It doesn't happen often that I say: buy this record!!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Mark Kmit - Umilenye
Mark Kmit is a mime, an artist, a teacher, a dancer, a choreographer and a musician with an interest in progressive rock. His new album Umilenye is just as versatile, containing influences from (neo)progressive rock to movie soundtracks, from oriental to classical music and from Russian folk to one of the all-time synthesiser greats.
Umilenye (which means "a feeling in which melancholy, sadness and exaltation are combined; bittersweet; beauty which moves one to tears" in Russian) is not the first of Mark Kmit's material which has been released; some of his songs were included on Another Listen Is In Order and Clearing The Air, both from 1989, neither of which I have heard. The nine tracks on Umilenye are all instrumental and are all written and played on keyboard by Mark Kmit himself. The artwork on the cover and backside of the CD is by Scott Radke. His creepy looking keyboard player, who must be related to Pinocchio, is responsible for the music to which some sad puppets and a chained monkey are dancing, while a gnome on a tricycle rides by - a weird and disturbing image which captures the atmosphere of some parts of the songs on the album rather well.
The fact that keyboards are the only instruments used on this album is both a good and a bad thing. It is interesting to see that one does not need a guitar to create a nice piece of music (which ELP fans, among others, already knew, of course), but I tend to miss the presence of a real drummer and bass player. The drum sound that Kmit uses in, for example, Hurrah! For the Lost Paladins is rather tinny and artificial. Although I like the melodies on this track, reminding me of IQ's great double album Subterranea, the drums spoil it for me. Another problem is that Kmit only used a limited supply of keyboard sounds on the album. This makes some songs sound a bit too similar, which is a shame, considering that the man often has interesting ideas.
Being a mime, Kmit has written several pieces to accompany the acts of other mimes. Listening to Esperanto, "To Ride Pegasus..." and DragonsDance one can imagine the moves and expressions the mimes must have made accompanied by this music. No matter how well the music probably works with such a visual accompaniment, it lacks some content to be able to stand on its own. Some parts are repeated too often, whereas in others not much seems to be happening at all.
More shards of IQ's Subterranea can be found combined with Mike Oldfield's sound in "To Ride Pegasus...", and in a really lovely mix with Genesis's quieter songs from Trick of the Tail (e.g. Entangled) in Berceuse (For Jessica). The marriage between acoustic guitar sounds and carefully wrought keyboard lines in the latter track makes it my favourite on this album.
The Oriental influences are most prominent in Esperanto, Yuruichi and DragonsDance. It is sad though, that Kmit used pretty much the same arsenal of keyboard sounds for all three songs, since that makes them sound a bit too alike. Kmit's Russian background becomes apparent in Rodina, a musical sightseeing tour along Russia's country side. With its 12:20 minutes it is the longest track on the album and, considering the quality of some of the "sights", I think that that is a bit too long.
Another reference I think of when listening to Umilenye is movie soundtracks and music for a TV series. The film score-like feeling is present in many songs, but can be heard more clearly in two songs in particular. The beginning of Progress features some echoes from the soundtrack from Halloween, although the rest of the song contains some low points in the form of cheesy, geese-like trumpets and laughter played back at different speeds. Dancing on the Faultline is much in the vein of Jan Hammer's work for Miami Vice, although not as good.
Although I can certainly appreciate a good piece of instrumental music, I am not that impressed by Mark Kmit's Umilenye. With Berceuse (For Jessica) being the positive exception, I think that most of his songs more or less need some visual accompaniment to keep the audience occupied. Some more variation in sounds and themes, as well as the addition of a real bass player and a real drummer would probably improve the overall sound quite a bit. Still, if you like some not too wild instrumental music with the above mentioned references, you may appreciate this album.
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10.
Inner Soul - Leaving The Soul Within
Hailing from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, Inner soul are a new band on the progressive rock/metal scene and feature Andrew Ficco (drums and percussion), Dave Hudson (bass guitar), Matt Ormsby (lead and rhythm guitars) and Granmt Wythoff (lead vocals). The band describe themselves as a progressive metal band, yet I would prefer their categorisation within the hard rock/metal field.
The music has a dark and brooding nature to it giving a grungy feel, not helped by Wythoff's vocal style that would sound like a cross between Eddie Vedder and Layne Staley. Add this to the rather poor production of this demo and very often one gets a deeply muddled sound. The fact that the band are working on just one guitar to create all the musical diversity alongside a strong rhythm section and one gets a bland sound that rarely during the album rises above the Sabbath-type of groove.
After hearing the album a number of times, one of the main questions that I pose is what makes this band decide to consider themselves as a progressive rock/metal band. It seems that the rise in popularity of this genre in recent years has also leant to the belief that the occasional riff change and perhaps slight shift in time signature is suffice to be labelled as so. Should this have been a heavy metal column, then outcome of the review would well have been different. Unfortunately for Inner Soul this is not the case and apart from the odd occasion, the whole of the album was a rather boring affair from the progressive rock point of view. There are a number of interesting ideas, yet the band should try to concentrate on a different type of audience and get their production work sorted out with their next release.
Should anyone be interested in obtaining a copy of Leaving The Soul Within, all one has to do is send an email and the band will get in contact with you.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Magus - The Garden
Andrew Robinson is back with another Magus release. After the rather disappointing The Green Earth, Andrew Robinson has managed to pick himself up musically and come up trumps with The Garden. The main difference between this album and its predecessor is the presence of a group effort on this particular offering. In fact one could even add that Robinson has managed to create a form of super-group to aid him on The Garden. Thus we get Tomas Hjort (Cross) on drums, Gary Strater (Starcastle) on bass, Lynnette Shelley (vocals) and Nathan-Andrew Dewin (harp) from The Red Masque together with Jesse Cross-Nickerson on keyboards, Joe Boyle (Aloha Steamtrain) on guitar, Dan DeWalt on piano and Bob Stabach on flute (both from Simba).
The album opens with the epic title track, The Garden which in itself is subdivided into twelve segments.
Based on a story written by Robinson himself, the piece features all of the guest musicians involved on the project
playing (or singing) at one point or another. With the addition of such musicians, the music was expanded into a
number of different styles and directions which added to the broad diversity of this grand piece.
Beginning with an synthesised intro, Robinson's voice takes over in Kate And I and his melodic style immediately comes to the fore. On his previous album, one of the main bands with whom I could make a direct reference was the Alan Parsons Project, and influence which creeps up occasionally throughout the track. However, the most striking effect is the guitar and flute interludes which gives the music that extra something special. With All The Days we get Lynette Shelley's vocal entering the fray and her delivery gives the track a theatrical almost musical-like approach as her voice has great strength as well as feel associated with it.
One of the main drawbacks on the track, in my opinion, are the lengthy and at times tedious keyboard solos which do not seem to have a defined goal and feel as if they are there just as fillers. Track such as Damen Krandle And Justin Dano add a certain flair to the music by introducing a colder yet bolder approach. However, one of the highlights of The Garden is the additional bass playing of Gary Strater towards the end of the piece as his bass line simply fills up the whole of the sun with its nonstop rumble. In fact it is a pity that his playing is not featured throughout the whole of the piece.
Following the plethora of musicians on The Garden, The Sailor On the Seas Of Fate features just Robinson and his keyboards. Much of the track features a series of sound effects much like German bands Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel to then merge into a Jean-Michel Jarre styled piece of music. With Grains Of Sand, the whole track is filled out by a spacey keyboard sound that complements Robinson's dreamy vocals as Boyle's guitar work rises once again to the occasion.
The album comes to a conclusion with The Stone Circle which once again features Robinson's New Age-styled backdrop. This complemented with the presence of a harp and the enchanting vocals of Lynette Shelly adds to the mystical qualities of this piece of music. The final section of The Stone Circle reaffirms Robinson's love of the electronic genre with hints of Jarre surfacing.
The Garden has marked a remarkable step forward for Andrew Robinson and Magus. It has long been a desire for Robinson to have a fully fledged band assembled around him to be able to fully express his musical qualities. Unfortunately whenever this has seemed to be coming to fruition, one problem or another has always cropped up, at least until this album where with the help of various guest musicians the music and sound has acquired a much richer and homogenous touch. This album is by far the more superior of all the Magus albums I have come across insofar. There are still a number of lacunae within the musical framework, though after the faux-pas of The Green Earth, it seems that Magus are back on the right track.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.