Reviews in this issue:
King Crimson - The Power To Believe
The latest and, if recent musings from Robert Fripp are to be believed, possibly last King Crimson album sees the band heading off into a slightly heavier direction than in recent years. And a welcome move it is too. Predominently an instrumental album, only Eyes Wide Open, Facts Of Life and Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With have vocals, the style, complexity and sheer power of the music is reminiscent of the Starless and Bible Black / Red period of the band's history and is every bit as good.
The current line-up of Fripp on guitar, Adrian Belew on guitar and vocals, Trey Gunn on Warr guitar and Pat Mastelotto on traps and buttons (drums and percusion to you and me!) deliver exactly what is expected from the band, high quality music played with exemplary precision and sounding superb. If it wasn't for the presence of inumerable live recordings and (sadly) infrequent tours one would believe that it was all down to studio artistry, but no! this band can really replicate their material live and take great pride in doing so.
There is probably no one with a more characteristic guitar style than mainman Robert Fripp and he lives up to his considerable reputation on tracks such as Level Five and Dangerous Curves, even introducing some of his guitar soundscapes in Facts Of Life: Intro which is followed by some great soloing in the main Facts Of Life track. Elektrik, as the name suggests, utilises more electronic instrumentation, with Trey Gunn's fretless having overtones of Mick Karn, while the various parts of Power To Believe are rather more ambient interspersed with percussive breaks.
Dangerous Curves builds in an exciting and insistent manner, rather like Ravel's Bolero. However, I feel the tension and anticipation built up during the first five minutes of the track is marred by a rather weak ending. Of the vocal tracks, Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With uncharacteristically follows an almost regular song structure, although with the usual Crimson twists, even including a chorus with the lyrics "I'm gonna have to write a chorus, We're gonna need to have a chorus, and this would seem to be as good a place as any to sing it 'til I'm blue in the face". A very infectious song - it is not surprising that it was selected for release as a 'taster' for the album. The term 'single' is entirely inappropriate considering the format and content of the release would have prevented it's consideration for the UK charts and, besides, I believe the band would gawk at anything so crass as releasing singles! Eyes Wide Open is the album's ballad and, again, the more pop sensibilities of Adrian Belew shine through.
Overall, if you are a fan of King Crimson then this album will not disappoint. If you've never heard any of their stuff then this is a good as place to start as any, as quality always shines through.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Kansas - The Ultimate Kansas
Disc1: Carry On Wayward Son (5:22), Song For America (10:01), The Wall (4:48), Lonely Street (5:42), Journey From Mariabronn (7:57), Child Of Innocence (4:31), Mysteries And Mayhem (4:12), The Pinnacle (9:34), Bringing It Back (3:33), Down The Road (3:44), What's On My Mind (3:28), Death Of Mother Nature Suite (7:53)
Disc2: Point of Know Return (3:11), Cheyenne Anthem (6:53), Fight Fire with Fire (3:39), Dust In The Wind (3:26), Hold On (3:51), No One Together (6:57), Play The Game Tonight (3:26), Closet Chronicles (6:29), Sparks Of The Tempest (4:12), Portrait [He Knew] (4:32), On The Other Side (6:23), People Of The South Wind (3:37), A Glimpse Of Home (6:33), Magnum Opus [Live] (8:58)
First of all I have to say that I normally don't like, or purchase, compilations mainly because of the invariably exploitative nature of the beast. However being a total cheap-skate and seeing that this double CD was reasonably priced at (£8 UK or 13 Euros), not only was I getting a bargain but I also felt some of the balance was redressed. Finally on the subject of compilations and my dislike of them, is having that track, which is most synonomous with the band, on several other albums. However on this occasion as I didn't have another copy of Carry on Wayward Son - this presented no problems.
For the confirmed Kansas fan, I doubt there is anything in this article that they don't already know. But prompted by the many emails from those devotees of the band asking why they are not covered in the DPRP CD Reviews Section, this is a small token and at least a start. Perhaps Kansas' record label may read this review and decide to send us a copy or two of any recent/future releases? Before pressing on with the review I must confess that although I have been aware of Kansas' career, and briefly heard most of their albums, that with the exception of Leftoverture I have no other album by them. And even this is banished with the rest of my vinyl to the attic (no gramaphone nowadays). So this compilation was a pleasant and rewarding find and will, I feel, prompt me to track down further albums.
At their best Kansas utilise those musical ideals, that make them worthy contemporaries, of those deemed to be at the forefront of the early progressive movement. Take a listen to Song For America, Magnum Opus, The Wall and Journey to Mariabronn, as tasters. All the ingredients are there, tight and interesting arrangements, thoughtful lyrics and strong vocal/vocal harmonies. Add to this the variation that Bobby Steinhardt's electric violin makes and we have a formidable ensemble. Ever since I bought this CD and have had to listen more intently than perhaps I have in the past, the melodies and themes have been rattling around in my head.
Disc one takes all of its tracks from the band's first four albums, whilst the second disc concentrates (with some exceptions) on material from 1977 through to 1983. If I had a gripe with The Ultimate Kansas, it would be with the more Americanised AOR material which is more prevalent on disc two. This is possibly one of the reasons why I overlooked the band in the past and I still find that their more "commercial" material leaves me cold. For me, Kansas (like most bands) are at their very best when they allow the themes and instrumentation to develop. Notable exceptions here would be the gentle Dust in the Wind and the excellent bluesy, classic rock track - Lonely Street.
So who might this collection appeal to, other than me of course, well hopefully many "prog" fans who like myself have mistakenly overlooked Kansas in the first place. I would also hope that this may be an excellent opportunity for those younger "proggers" to discover some strong accessible songs, enveloped (at times) in fairly complex arrangements but always with compelling melodies. Should you think that Kansas may just be a relic from the past, let me assure you that as a reviewer of a lot of new releases, Kansas have been a major and somewhat understated influence in Melodic and Progressive Rock. Not a DPRP Recommended purely and simply because there is no new material to be found here - however perhaps a DPRP Suggested!
Conclusion: -8 out of 10
Mindgames - International Daylight
Mindgames are a new band from Belgium. This fact alone makes them something of a rarity – I can only think of a handful of bands from that country, and none that could be said to have had a great deal of International success. (Univers Zero, Now and Machiavel are the only ones that seem to have made any kind of impression here in the U.K.)
The overall style is a modern (though only slightly Neo) version of classic 70’s English/European Symphonic Progressive rock, with apparent influences from Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Focus, Starcastle and Pendragon. There is nothing particularly new on offer, but it is an interesting blend of tried and tested styles. The general approach is to feature mostly long, intricately structured, songs, where several disparate styles are pieced together in jigsaw fashion, in the manner of the Classic Italian bands from the 70’s (PFM, Banco, Maxophone etc.), but with a much lighter touch.
The core group is the standard Guitar/Bass/Drums/Keyboards/Vocals unit, with the emphasis very much on ensemble playing. There is much use of electric piano, giving a Supertramp / Kayak air in places. All the players are accomplished but there is no grandstanding here. At various points on the disc, the sound is augmented with Flute, Cello, Flugelhorn and Vibraphone, lending a nice sense of variety to the songs.
A track by track guide is not really appropriate here as each track has many elements, chopping and changing as it goes along. The first track alone has amongst its various sections; a mournful cello introduction; a slightly baroque part, a cheesy cinema intermission type organ bit (the weakest part of the album in my opinion), an almost rock’n’roll bit (again thankfully brief), and vibraphone parts (which hint at Gentle Giant or Zappa). And all this is delivered in merely five minutes.
The vocalist sings in English, with the barest hint of an accent. He has a high voice that has a wistful charm and reminds me of Al Stewart in places and Nick Barrett of Pendragon, particularly where the music takes on that Neo Floydian sound that Pendragon have developed over the years (as on the epic An Approach To Mankind). I find the vocals highly enjoyable, but they may not be to everyone’s taste.
The whole album is pleasing, with only brief segments not being to my taste, but there is always a surprising twist waiting around the corner. I would like to single out for special mention Beggars Breakfast and Signs From The Sky. The former is a brief but enchanting ballad that has an atmosphere, created by rippling piano and cello, which has something of the feel of Eleanor Rigby about it, and the melody sticks in your head long after the track has finished. The latter track has a propulsive bass line and bright production that is very much akin to the kind of Yes-ish material purveyed by Starcastle.
Overall, I would say that this is a very successful first album, which could have a wide appeal, and is well worth a try if you like the bands mentioned above. Even if you don’t, there may be something here that you do like. I await their second album with interest.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Luminos - Seize The Day
Seize The Day is the debut nine-track album from Essex quartet Luminos. Comprised of Neville Dean (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards), Anni Meehan (vocals), Lee Williams (electric guitars) and William Sarginston (drums), the band play melodic progressive rock that focuses more on the melody and song arrangement rather than over-indulgent displays of flash musicianship. And all the better it is for it. The songs are very well structured and the arrangements make the best use of the undeniable talents of the band. Although having a female vocalist, Anni Meehan only actually sings lead on three tracks with one of those being a duet! This is a shame as I feel Anni's voice is underused throughout the album, it would have been nice to hear her doing a lot more harmony work as the blend of her and Neville Dean's voices, as on tracks like Angel and The Voyage (Ocean Freedom) is very effective.
The music itself is quite reminiscent of Jadis at their best, particularly on the aforementioned The Voyage and the superb It's Your Turn To Fly where flute (played by guest musician Jenny Burns) especially enforces the comparison. There are also tones of Rennaisance and even early Heart (when they played acoustics and mandolins and before the dreaded power ballads) to be found in places, whilst the twin electric guitar work on sole instrumental Echoes In A Lonely City brings to mind Wishbone Ash.
The liner notes state that the songs on the album "measure this land's culture and essence in the Luminos collective's focus on love, life, loss and reward", weighty topics indeed. However, the overall tone is unrelenting optimisim and of looking for and taking the wider perspective. Being a mature bunch of musicians (that is, despite Seize The Day being the band's debut, they are not a group of fresh-faced school-leavers!), the lyrics and subject matter have considerable depth. The true story of Kevin Carter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who committed suicide after leaving a famine-raged child, the subject of his prize photograph, to die and then lying about it, is very well dealt with in A Small Boy, A Bird In History.
Overall, a fine debut album full of memorable, well-played songs. There is a balanced blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation, similar in feel, if not style, to Karnataka and Mostly Autumn. Predominently guitar based, keyboards are used for tone and texture (although the synthesised strings on Always In My Heart are particularly effective), the quality of the recording and production (by Neville Dean) is top drawer, the acoustic guitars are particularly crisp and well-placed in the mix. Hopefully Luminos will be able to find an audience as I, for one, am looking forward to hearing more of their music.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tesis Arsis - Ilusoes
Tesis Arsis is the brainchild of Brazilian Anderson Rodrigues and presents five satisfying slabs of Symphonic Progressive Rock. Rodrigues plays all instruments here, primarily guitars and keyboards, with programmed bass and drums. Although this can often be a drawback with one-man productions, the rhythm section work is kept simple and does not intrude overmuch. In fact I doubt I would have realized that it was programmed if I had not been informed.
Ilusoes has a terrific opening, with soaring guitar played over walls of keyboards, immediately establishing the feel of the album. With all tracks bar one exceeding the ten minute mark, the themes are always given plenty of time for leisurely development.
Anderson is no guitar mimic, having a fairly distinctive style, but on this track a comparison with Steve Hackett circa Spectral Mornings is valid, although the scale attempted here is grander and lengthier than the pieces on that album. This is a great start to the disc and one that fully justifies its length, having plenty of tempo and mood changes to keep ones interest throughout.
Cemiterio dos Vivos (Cemetery of the Alive) begins with strident organ chiming, topped with a more aggressive tone to the guitar. This is an exciting, tension-building track, in the finest progressive tradition, with maybe a little ELP influence showing through, and a heavier approach than the previous track. Anderson is a fine player on both guitar and keys, and his influences are used subtly, and to good effect. There are passages on this track that are suitably moody and atmospheric, given the title, and just over halfway there is a beautiful section of rising organ and melodic guitar that has a warmly optimistic quality, which is particularly pleasing. The up tempo section towards the end also has a nice feel, with interesting keyboard voicing, before the track slows down for an eerie climax, straight out of a Hollywood horror flick.
Global has a fast paced, rocky beginning, backed by organ chords and gradually taking on a more symphonic edge as the track progresses. Once more, the Hackett influence is felt, but again, stops short of the derivative. Like the rest of this disc, this is ideal for headphone listening, having fine production, and rewarding close attention. The coda to this track establishes a calmer, almost New Age mood, which is carried over into Num Tempo So. This is the shortest track on the album, and also the most subdued, with a pleasant, if relatively simple, melody played on the keyboards. Not the most engaging of tracks, but a useful interlude before the epic closer, and a nice piece of background music.
Halle Bopp is the aforementioned epic, clocking in at a mammoth 19:17. It attempts to synthesise all the elements of the previous tracks, along with a few new twists - including Tubular Bells - amidst the lush symphonics, and is largely successful. It starts quietly, with an orchestral feel, building the mood slowly before taking on a rockier aspect as the drums are introduced, signalling the start of several quick changes in tempo. The music becomes more dramatic and hard-edged, building and releasing tension with admirable skill.
There is a sombre atmosphere here, with another of Anderson’s compelling, melodic guitar solos, which are at the heart of this disc. Again the sound is ably filled out by banks of keyboards, confidently handled with precision and feeling. There are passages that are lighter and more melodic, and all the transitions are handled smoothly. The track opts for a restrained finish, with a three-minute section of quietly pulsing keys, which, whilst nice enough, is slightly anti-climactic. This track has some excellent moments, but maybe could have stood a little pruning, as it is the one track where I felt my attention wavering momentarily, at times, before being engaged again by a change in tempo or instrumental texture.
Overall, this is an agreeably gratifying disc that should please fans of richly textured, symphonic, instrumental progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Just a quick note - we have had little success tracking down any positive web links to Anderson Rodrigues/Tesis Arsis. We have therefore included the following link to a website that is selling this release - Schroom Productions.