Reviews in this issue:
RPWL - Stock
Tracklist DVD: (all tracks in 5.1 Mix) + Tourvideo
After releasing two splendid albums, God Has Failed and Trying To Kiss The Sun, RPWL thought it was about time to close this chapter in their career and move on to new projects. The band had, however, a small collection of material which did not make it to one of the mentioned albums. Instead of leaving these demo's and left-overs to gather dust in some archive, they decided it would be nice to release them on a CD which would help bridge the period until their next studio album, planned for 2004.
And so here it is, Stock, a bit of a weird collection of left-overs and rarities. It's always a bit of a surprise (positive or negative) with such CDs, sometimes they can be rather dubious, seemingly just released to milk the fans or finance a tour or album recording (e.g. Spock's Beard's From the Vault), while at other times the material is almost as good as the 'official' releases (e.g. Porcupine Tree's Recordings or Marillion's B-sides Themselves). RPWL's Stock lies somewhere in between these two extremes. First of all, let me state that RPWL is one of my favourite contemporary bands, and I've also enjoyed seeing them perform live several times. Considering the high quality of their previous two albums my expectations were pretty high. Maybe a bit too high, considering this is 'just' a collection of left-overs. As such, the level of quality of the material on Stock rarely comes near the average composition on God Has Failed or Trying To Kiss The Sun. Understandable, since these songs didn't get axed from the tracklists for nothing. Especially the three parts of Forgive Me sound like ideas which were not quite finished and certainly needed more work. Sun in the Sky, on the other hand, sounds like a finished product, with female backing vocals and all, but just fails to get me really excited.
Going Outside, Forgive Me part 1 and Perceptual Response are not much more than snippets of music and/or effects used to merge different compositions on the CD (which actually works quite well). That leaves us four more tracks which can be considered the actual interesting stuff of this album. First of all, the album opener Opel, which is actually a cover of a solo song by Syd Barrett. Whereas the original of the song was a rather dull vocals/guitar-only tune, RPWL have managed to transform it into a version Pink Floyd could have recorded when Syd was still with them. This version is a full band approach with an atmosphere reminding me of Astronomy Domine. Quite nice.
From a compositional point of view The Way It Is is without a doubt the strongest track on the album. Well written with a good melody hook in the chorus and not too far removed from the God Has Failed material. As a matter of fact, this tune, which also features a fine break with a powerful bass and a wonderful Banks-meets-Nolan keyboard duet, was played live by the band during the God Has Failed Tour.
Gentle Art of Swimming is the big epic on this album, and though the refrain and lyrics of the song seem a little weak, there's loads of interesting stuff in this track, including a drum solo (!) and a Floydian instrumental section in Animals-style. This makes it one of the most interesting tracks on the album.
Finally, Who Do You Think You Are is the original demo of a song that became Who Do You Think We Are on God Has Failed. The Beatles influence is already clearly present in this version, though more combined with a 10CC-like style here. Nevertheless it is a completely different song, and besides the title and the melody in the chorus it's hard to spot any traces of what it would eventually become. A nice rarity.
Oh, and let's not forget the hidden track, Moonflower, which is not mentioned on the tracklist. This is RPWL in your worst nightmare, turned into a calypso band. The most scaring thing is the fact that they play this style disturbingly well. Let's hope this is really just a joke and not the band's new musical direction.
There's a few more points of criticism to mention. First, the length of the album is rather short, especially if you don't count all of the small snippets used as bridges between tracks. It's a shame that the remaining capacity of the CD wasn't used to include the band's version of Cymbaline or some of the fine live versions of their material (like e.g. the freak-out version of Side By Side, the extended Spring of Freedom or some covers the band has been playing over the years).
Second, there are no liner notes or credits whatsoever in the CD booklet. I normally really enjoy reading liner notes on rarities albums, but now even the writing credits are absent !
Third, the CD comes with a DVD featuring a 5.1 mix of all tracks plus a tourvideo. My promo copy didn't include the DVD, but that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about it. I really like the idea of including bonus DVDs or other extra's, however, the added value of a 5.1 mix of second rate material is beyond me. Wasn't there a more imaginative choice of material ? Or they could have used the remaining space on the first disc for a multi-media section and drop the price of this release.
All in all, an album which leaves me with mixed thoughts. Unfortunately this will be the first RPWL release which does not get my full recommendation. If you are a big RPWL fan there's certainly enough material to be found you will enjoy. If you're not, I would rather refer you to God Has Failed and Trying To Kiss The Sun.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Singularity - Between Sunlight And Shadow
Singularity is a trio based out of Colorodo and consists of John Green (keyboards, vocals), Jamie McGregor (drums, vocals), and Matt Zafiratos (guitar, bass, vocals). Between Sunlight and Shadow is their 3rd album. Having not heard their previous releases, I cannot comment on the band’s growth, or compare this new CD with the old ones. This album is, however, a very mature statement by adept and creative musicians playing well in the firmly established tradition of bands like Rush and Marillion.
Between Sunlight and Shadow is a concept album that seems to deal with a tortured individual’s feelings of alienation as he struggles with the demons that haunt him. The album is structured as a number of pieces of varying dynamics, textures, and tempos all musically interconnected. While the band has certainly established a signature sound, it is not a style that will feel unfamiliar to those acquainted with the staples of the symphonic progressive rock catalogue. This is not a band whose compositions blaze paths through new unexplored territory, but one who writes and performs well balanced and clearly designed art rock with very strong melodies, great harmonies, catchy lyrics and memorable hooks. My favorite tracks are Flight, Metamorphosis, and Coming Undone, which all feature some wonderful keyboard playing reminiscent of Mark Kelly and Rick Wakeman’s work.
As an overall production, Between Sunlight and Shadow should receive good marks, especially being that it is an independent release. As is always helpful, especially with concept album, lyrics are included in the booklet. Overall, the CD’s engineering and production are very good. I would have preferred a more crisp drum mix and would like to hear stronger vocal execution, but otherwise this CD is a very enjoyable listen on the whole and allows for growing appreciation with each spin.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ivory Gates - Shapes Of Memory
This is the first album from the Brazilian band Ivory Gates and no prior material or demos have been released. Ivory Gates were formed by bassist Hugo Mazzotti and guitarist Matheus Armelin, with the aim to make music that mixes Metal, ProgMetal and Progrock. Matheus Armelin wrote a number of songs (all the music on this album is his) and after which they tried to find a line-up. The drummer, Fabricio Felix was the first to join, after which two singers - Miguel Puppin and Verusca Camillo - were recruited to complete the line-up. The keyboards and some extra vocals are played by guest musicians.
Ivory Gates describe their music as being influenced by bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning and Kansas with some Rush-Yes vocals arrangements. I took this description from their website, but the most obvious influences are probably Queensryche and Fates Warning: Ivory Gates incorporate the same high pitched vocals as used in the aforementioned. I must admit that I am not really a Queensryche fan although I do find they are all good musicians, and it is therefore just a matter of taste. Returning to the vocals, and as already mentioned, Ivory Gate's have two vocalists featured in their songs: Miguel Puppin and Verusca Camillo. This combination of male and female voices works just fine, but I would have liked to have heard Verusca take the lead vocals sometimes, as although Miguel is never out of tune, in some of the songs he really is straining his voice.
Ivory Gates incorporate a large number of tempo changes in each song, too large a collection in my opinion and this makes the songs too complex and incoherent. Furthermore the drummer is sloppy at times, as if he is not able to keep up with all tempo changes. I have learned that making music is always a matter of listening to one another, but when Ivory Gates burst into the more complex music I think they stop doing that.
As you might understand by now I am not really an Ivory Gates fan in the making, therefore I will only do a short track to track review on this album. Through The Ivory Gate starts off with a somewhat distorted keyboard melody, building up nice and slowly before it changes into the vocals, latterly accompanied by a acoustic guitar that eventually and seemlessly becomes Unchained which with its much heavier parts, only goes on to serve as a good example of my 'too complex' opinion. The Witness also serves as a good example to that same opinion. Masquerade is the best track on this album: it is on the heavier side, not too complex and the duet with guest vocalist Zinho Malagueta works well. Trancendence is also of a higher level than the other tracks, again a guest vocalist performs, and along with the inclusion of the cello, the track is somewhat above the rest of the material. Images Reflected is a uptempo track that I do not particulary like. What I Believe is meant to be the masterpiece of this album I think, although it has its good parts it does not really please me. The song ends with the same theme the albums starts with.
I did not enjoy Shapes of Memory because I get the idea Ivory Gates are too busy writing intelligent, complex music instead of just making music. For me there are only two songs on this album that show there is some potential in this band. Maybe if you really like Queensryche this could be your music, but I doubt it, Ivory Gates in my opinion is a no better than average band.
Conclusion: 5+ out of 10
Resin - Only Here
This is the second album by Canadian band Resin. In their press release they describe themselves as “A Psychedelic Art Rock Band” and they wonder if they fit the “broad definition of Prog Rock”. At first listen, so did I! There is nothing on this disc that sounds like Yes, Genesis, Marillion or IQ. Neither is there any hint of Dream Theater or anything metallic in nature. There is a Psychedelic vibe throughout, and the music is assuredly arty. It is, however, definitely Progressive in the sense that it skilfully blends influences from Folk and Jazz in particular, but also Funk, Rock and even Space Rock to create something that is distinctly their own. The Core band on this disc are: Julie Vik – Vocals and Guitar, Alex Varty – Guitar and Noises, Ian Cameron – Bass and Damian Graham – Drums. There is a long list of guests contributing, amongst other things, Clarinet, Violin, Harmonium, Accordion, Sax and Trumpet.
When The Water’s Clear begins with a shuffling beat - over which spacey effects and restrained guitar are added - to form a backdrop for Julie Vik’s poetic, playful and oblique lyrics, which she delivers in a confident semi-spoken style. Out Of Whack starts off all brassy and funky, but veers off into a section for cool Jazz organ. The next funky break is followed by a squealing sax groove that, oddly, reminds me of Gong. A lot of creative energy is packed into the song’s short duration. Fog Driving is a haunting, evocative song with Julie sounding like Sade (remember Smooth Operator?) at times as she delivers her metaphorical musings over atmospheric saxophone. For It’s Not What’s Missing we’re back in Brass rock territory. There is some nice restrained guitar playing and good solos for Sax and Trumpet.
Next up is Promise, which, though mournful and sombre in mood, is a clear highlight. The plaintive vocal is heavy with foreboding and longing. There is also some first-rate spacey guitar adding to the mood. Let The Pieces Fall again has a breezy brassy opening, with a “light on its feet” percussion groove and dancing basslines. Julie Vik’s vocal performance is confident and persuasive. Shudder is another favourite of mine. It starts off slowly, featuring a beautiful guitar melody, before building to a screeching violin break as the tension is heightened with great skill. The Title track starts with funky, urgent Clavinet playing which lends a strong Seventies aura to the piece, but is juxtaposed with wistful vocal sections and some terrific fuzzed-up guitar. Johnson’s Canyon is a dreamy, country flavoured stroll spiced with descending violin lines.
Marie Helene is, pure and simple, a great song – in a folk rock vein, with accordions and violins and a strong melodic hook. It makes for a convincing finish to an accomplished album that could offer a refreshing change for Progressive fans with a taste for cross-genre explorations.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Various Artists - Osmotic
Igneous Flame : Upsalla (2:38), Oosman (6:33), Angelica (3:46), Dissolved (10:27)
Darkness Within Darkness : 10,000 things (5:08), Sufi trails (5:34), Ascending (4:10), Deeper (5:56)
Formbank : Tau (3:20), Paru beat (3:34), Twinkle (3:25), Gumboot (3:27)
The Osmotic CD contains three separate performers of whom I can offer little information on, other than to say that both Formbank and Igenous Flame are two projects by Peter Kelly, and that Darkness within Darkness is headed by Enque. Search as I did, this is the sum of the information available, that I could find.
From the outset I have to say, that so even is the content of the first eight tracks, that I could quite easily have been led to believe that all these tracks came from the same stable, so as to speak. Somewhat of a surprise then to find that Igneous Flame and Forbank are the same. Musically the CD is presented as "ambient and progressive electronic music" and, as the name of the record label might suggest, designed to chill-out to, and in the right environment I am sure it would.
I am at somewhat of a loss to be able to describe in words the music to be found on tracks one through to eight, however here is my best shot. A gently undulating bed of sounds all closely interwound with neither structure or form - a bit like a calm ocean at dusk (very poetic Bob), but probably of little help. OK it also reminded me of a couple of things. Those atmospheric lulls just before the lead guitar break ala Pink Floyd, which of course never happens here. The other is of some incidental film music, perhaps on a desolate and uninhabited planet. So even are these tracks that once you've heard one you've experienced them all. Although in fairness Ascending does have some musicality to it.
Formbank is however a departure from the rest of the CD and is up-tempo, with a constant bassdrum beat, busy hi-hats bass synths and a collage of lead synth textures. As I listen to very little of this type of music I can only point you to one the better and listenable expononets - The Chemical Brothers. I base this on the performance I saw from Glastonbury last year.
It is difficult to offer any real conclusions on the material offered by Igneous Flame or Darkness within Darkness as it neither moved me, or as is often the case, irritate me. I came across a similar type of ambient offering last year when I visited a huge air filled construction, billed as an audio-visual experience. A very calming and enjoyable experience - for about ten minutes. Formbank, well again as stated, I am sure at Glastonbury it might be well received.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10