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Reviews in this issue:
Cyclops Sampler 5 - Various Artists
CD1: Rob Andrews Lake Vinuela 2 (6:15), Flamborough Head Limestone Rock (alternate version) (10:24), Guardians Office Dark Girl (alternate version) (6:32), Henry Fool Pills In The Afternoon (5:43), Karda Estra The Projected Future (4:28), Lands End Coming Down In Sheets (10:22), Manning A Strange Place (live) (4:58), Mostly Autumn Prints In The Stone (single version) (4:44), Mostly Autumn Noise From My Head (3:04), Mysterkah Red Daylight (8:56), Nice Beaver Culley On Bleaker Street (alternate version) (5:54)
CD2: Odyssice - Scream (live) (8:02), Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Blues For Lear (studio jam) (7:24), Pineapple Thief - Variations On A Dream Pt 0 (7:05), Saens Escaping From The Hands Of God pt 2 (7:12), Sphere3 An Unusual January (Monkyfrog Mix) (5:48), Transience No Turning Back Now (10:53), Tr3nity Which Way (alternate version) (13:57), Twelfth Night Fact And Fiction (alternate version) (3:58), Vulgar Unicorn Gliders (7:26)
The latest compilation album from the UK's finest Progressive Rock label offers over two hours in new music. What is more, 19 of the 20 tracks are exclusive to this album with the various bands providing new, re-recorded or remixed songs specifically for inclusion on the compilation.
Disc one kicks off with an instrumental, Lake Vinuela 2 by Rob Andrews. The start of the track is very atmospheric, akin to something from a Nic Potter album. However, as soon as the drums (provided by Cyclops founder Malcolm Parker), bass and guitar kick in, things speed up with some very funky bass driving the sound. With a few changes in tempo, the track provides a splendid introduction to the album. Flamborough Head offer a reworked and extended version of a track from their last album One For The Crow. With a musical nod in the direction of Camel and a new female vocalist adding flute and recorders to the band's instrumentation, Limestone Rock is a rather lush and flowing song with some subtle guitar flourishes. Guardian's Office, a side project by Fruitcake's drummer Päl Søvik, is a rather darker affair, a deep bass rumble (from keyboards and guitars) underlaying acoustic guitar, synths and quite haunting vocals. Henry Fool is the latest album to feature the characteristic vocals of Tim Bowness where he is joined by prog stalwarts Stephen Bennet and Fudge Smith. The new track, Pills In The Afternoon, is a mostly acoustic affair that is pleasant enough in its own simplicity but doesn't really go anywhere. Karda Estra also provide a brand new track, The Projected Future. The song continues Richard Wileman's exploration into the fusion of classical and progressive music with interesting, and pleasing, results. Land's End return to recording and provide a taster of the direction their forthcoming album with Coming Down In Sheets. A more laid back song there are some nice moments but overall it would have benefitted from some editing.
The tempo is raised with one of only two live tracks on the album, A Strange Place by Manning. A faithful rendition of the song from the Cascade album, the track features a great guitar solo, although, personally, I find Guy Manning's vocals rather weak. Mostly Autumn are the only band to feature twice on the album. Prints In The Stone a reworking of the track from the debut album originally released as a single, displays the more folk side to the band with Troy Donockley guesting on uilleann pipes. Noise From My Head is a rockier number that doesn't really do the band justice. Mysterkah are fronted by Yleah White, who is not only an exceptionally fine singer but also a very accomplished keyboard player. Red Daylight, the first track recorded with new bassist Roy Regis, is classic progressive rock with some wonderful guitar and keyboard interplay. The final track on the first disc is by a Dutch group with a terrible name, Nice Beaver. Culley On Bleaker Street, an alternative recording of the track from their On Dry Land album, is also prime prog. A driving song with some great guitar work by Hans Gerritse and forceful vocals by Erik Groeneweg who sounds like a less soulful Michael McDonald.
Disc two opens with an archive live instrumental from Odyssice. With prominent, searing guitar, this is a wonderful recording and performance, and one of the highlights of the whole album. Parallel Or 90 Degreees offer up a studio jam based around their song Blues For Leah. A fine song from this excellent band, this jam version adds a new dimension to the studio cut with some wonderful piano work by Sam Baine. Maintaining the high quality is the otherwise unavailable Variations On A Dream by the brilliant Pineapple Thief. This track alone is worth the price of the album, every bit as good as the best of their previous releases and on a par with the latest album that everyone should own! French group Saens offer something a bit different. Intricate and multilayered, there is a tremendous amount going on in the seven minutes that the track lasts. Over-brimming with ideas, the group is undoubtedly forging a new direction in progressive music but I found it rather hard going. Sphere3 are also doing something a bit different, taking a more jazz-orientated approach to progressive rock. This crisp remix of An Unusual Journey certainly gets the toes tapping and the fingers clicking! Some brilliant keyboard work by Neil Durant is backed by fabulously concise drums, guitar and bass. Even if the mere thought of jazz sends shivers down your spine, Sphere3 are well worth checking out.
Transience is the side project of Land's End's keyboard player Fred Hunter. Suffering from being played solely on keyboards and electronic instumentation (the drums and bass in particular sound very artificial), No Turning Back Now is none the less an emotive piece with sympathetic vocals from Jeff McFarlane. A reworked and expanded version of Which Way by Tr3nity follows. Not fully convinced by their The Cold Light Of Darkness album, Which Way stood out as the 'classic' track. This reworked version has some additional keyboards and guitars which help maintain the interest throughout the 14 minutes of the song, which, one hastens to add, never tires or bores despite its lengh. With nods towards Pink Floyd in terms of structure and some of the guitar work, the song stands up well away from the concept of the album and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by fans of Pendragon as well as Dave Gilmour's guitar sound. A stonking version of Twelfth Night's Fact And Fiction provides another reason for exchanging hard cash for a copy of this CD. Recorded at CBS studios when the label expressed an interest in signing the group, the recording is top quality and is the only studio version to feature Rick 'Bonkers' Battersby on keyboards. An alternate version of Gliders, a new track by Vulgar Unicorn, ends the CD. Reminiscent of early Porcupine Tree, this is a another track that explores different aspects of progressive rock, and completes a fascinating trip through some of the most interesting releases of recent years.
Undoubtedly, not everything on the double album will be to everyone's taste. However, with 20 tracks from 19 bands and over 140 minutes of exclusive music, all at a very reasonable price, this has to be one of the best value for money releases currently available from any progressive label. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy, I guarantee you will discover at least one band that you had never heard before but will want to hear more of.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
ScapeLand Wish – The Ghost Of Autumn
ScapeLand Wish hail from Connecticut USA and this CD follows their debut from 2000, Reason. I would categorize this disc as sophisticated, laid-back, soft rock with progressive tendencies. The band is in the classic guitar, bass, drums format, with the bassist providing elegant backwashes of keyboards, but with the focus on melodic guitar and strong vocals (with attractive harmonies). The prog factor is apparent in the length of the tracks – six of them exceed seven minutes - which allows the melodies time to evolve naturally, and for plenty of instrumental breaks. The prevailing vibe is mellow and unhurried, with several tunes having a cool, jazzy feel.
Misty’s Cage is a strong opener, beginning with gentle acoustic guitar and the soft-as-velvet tones of Josh Ramirez (whose singing is appealing throughout). Then the rhythm section comes in and the guitar changes up to electric for an attractive melody that builds slowly to a climax featuring some great harmonies, and takes in a little bluesy Hendrix feel along the way. The production on this disc is far better than it’s home-produced Garage status might lead you to expect, the clarity and lushness achieved is quite something. As with most of the tracks, subtlety is a keyword here, and repeated listens only serve to enrich the melodies and increase one’s enjoyment.
The Highway and Reflection conjure a similar mood to that achieved by Marillion circa Holidays In Eden and are both gorgeously melodic and utterly charming. Ostrich Alternative and Nemo are the two instrumentals on the album, which help to vary the proceedings, and the former in particular is a sprightly little number with a hint of latter-day Rush in the rhythm section.
My favourite track is The Willow Song with a melodic refrain “can you hear it…. Can you feel it?” that hooks into your consciousness and refuses to let go. The temptation to press repeat at the end of this track is always hard to resist.
Although the tracks are too long to be Radio Friendly, this material has a strong potential to reach a more mainstream audience. However, the sheer class on display (both vocally and instrumentally), and the sophistication of the arrangements should mean that fans of High-End Neo Prog (Marillion, Collage, Galleon, Jadis) should find this the ideal soundtrack to chill out to at the end of the day. Whilst this may not be for those who favour the more experimental side of things, there is a lot more to these songs than just verse/chorus/verse. This is the type of release that could seriously challenge your preconceptions and win over fans of other types of music.
In the final analysis, the two instrumentals are probably necessary to add some variety, but are really little more than a pleasant diversion from the main attraction, which is the beautifully crafted songs and richly melodic vocals. From reviews of their first album, I thought this might not be to my taste, but it has really won me over.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pig Farm On The Moon - Orbital
Some of you may know the feeling: you are listening to an album by a pretty unknown band and you can not understand why the whole world is not completely in love with this band. You can of course tell all your friends about this band and hope they enjoy this music also (they should of course remember that it was you who introduced this band). I am in the fortunate position that in such a case I can write a review and get an ever greater audience interested.
I had this feeling while I was listening to Orbital by Pig Farm On The Moon. It will never be an Album top 100 band, because their music is certainly not mainstream (why, oh why is the mainstream taste not a better taste?), but prog lovers would most certainly enjoy this album. Even before listening, this band had me curious. How did they come up with this name? The artwork on the cover is also nice, strange, but nice. It has been done by Michael Bennet, who has done artwork for Cast, Scott McGill, Triggering Myth, NEARfest and ProgDay.
On their record company's site their music is described as "a mixture of Yes, Genesis and ELP with a touch of Dream Theater and a lot of PFOTM". I find that especially the last part is true. PFOTM make original music that hints to other artists but none of these references is very obvious. PFOTM is a six piece band, so at first I feared this music would be crowded with sounds and smart bombastic composition. But the opposite is true, the songs are not overcrowded and the production of this album is just great. No particular instrument dominates on this album, a number of nice interactions between any combination of all instruments can be heard.
The first 10 seconds of Awaken From Reality remind of Propaganda but the the guitar and keyboard that follow make this comparison fade fast. I can understand some of the influences mentioned and would like to add another (and please do not stop reading after I have mentioned it): Andreas Vollenweider. Now do not think this music is a sort of "new-age, I relax and fall aspleep"-kind of music. But at times the acoustic guitar sounds are so clear and pure that this name popped-up a number of times. Genesis (instrumental) is the song in which the Genesis influence is less obvious, this one has a number of hints to Dream Theater, it is a bit more lightweight. While it lasts more than 9 minutes and does not have vocals it stays interesting without getting too complex. Lost My Wings the vocals are almost too soft, almost, not completely. This song is kind of a ballad that has an uptempo piece halfway the song after which an incoherent cacafony debouch into a new melody (indeed this might be the ELP influence). The Queen Maibe starts with tranquil guitar and vocals that has a keyboard sound on the background. Around 3 minutes this gets replaced by a super guitar and keyboards 'duet'. Especially the end of The Return On The Rain is a good example of the originallity of the music of Pig Farm On The Moon a Mike Oldfield-like tune made old by adding a scratched-record sound.
Througout his complete album there are more references to other music than the one mentioned. Especially the keyboards remind of an early Mark Kelly (like on Garden Party) mixed with IQ. The guitars hint towards Spocks Beard and Pendragon at places. It has been said before naming influences and sounds recognised might be a good way to help identify the music. Problem is: one might think that this band is a copy of another band. Pig Farm On The Moon makes original somewhat old fashioned prog rock. At the end of the year I have to fill in my top 10 for 2003. If nothing happens in the coming 6 months (like all upcoming releases are classics), Pig Farm On The Moon Orbital will be on that list.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Aebsence - Unusual
'I'll try anything once' is one of my guiding principals in life (well within reason anyway!) and since starting to write for this site six months ago, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to put this into action. So when a new album from a Hungarian band that I'd never heard of before - a band that promises to mix folksong elements with Metal, Rock, Prog and a heavy dose of Grunge - is offered for review, I jumped in to give it a go.
Aebsence has been together since the end of 1995 and despite getting good reviews for their self-produced debut album, they've found it difficult to overcome the general apathy towards rock music in their homeland. In a bid to attract attention further afield, they have dispatched some promos in a bid to raise their profile and attract record company interest.
The first half of this disc is very listenable - mainly because of its high energy levels, some great vocal harmonies and the addition of some interesting progressive asides.
Particular highlights are the opening song Countdawn, which, with a deep grungy riff, some very good harmonies and some interesting, discordant instrumental passages, sets out the Aebsence stall at a refreshingly dynamic pace. Domestic Orders Only continues with more strong harmonies mixed with some interesting dynamics (flute and some strange keyboard sounds).
Throughout, the band mixes lyrics in both English and their mothertongue which adds to the cultural mix. The vocalist (no names given) has a very distinctive voice and there's certainly plenty of power on offer. The juiciest moment comes on the belting Ultrasound, with a blindingly catchy chorus.
However, halfway through, this album really runs out of creative juices. Track seven, Old Black Song, resorts to a 'na na na' chorus, some babyish vocals and rather formulaic riffs. By the next track, those chugging riffs are wearing a bit thin - the guitars desperately need to vary their tone and dynamics through an album. The following song, 7/4, plumps for another 'na na na' chorus and the good harmonies and progressive ideas that made the first half of the album rather listenable, have been replaced by a fairly predictable and tired grunge/indie guitar rock.
From the first half of the album its clear that Aebsence have the potential to be a very interesting proposition. Like a good wine, I hope they are given time to develop.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Daniel Patrick Quinn - The Winter Hills
CD1: The Winter Hills (7:16), Pathways (5:18), Of Things To Come (3:17), Pilgrims' Way (4:05)
CD2: For Her Atoms (3:46), Towards The Sun (4:34), The Stonecutter (2:38), Red Roads (8:30), A Coastal Journey (9:48)
Daniel Patrick Quinn is a young musician hailing from Lancashire, England and offers up a strange mixture of traditional folk combined with ambient drones and ethereal backings. The tracks have been derived from a combination of more traditional instruments such as cello, violin, trumpet, percussion and voice, mixed with analogue synths and a "broken bass". Musically the tracks tend to meander along, sometimes too much so, and are held together in the main by a bass drum, cymbals and occasional percussion which act as a "pulse", rather than offering any rhythmic sense to the pieces. The synths in general act as a drone, similar to that produced by the chord buttons from an accordian and on CD1, underpin the somewhat simplistic poetic vocal arrangements.
Strangely there are two CD's in this package and I did muse the reasoning for this, as cummulatively neither exceed the total recording time possible on a single CD. One can only assume that this is to separate and distinguish the recordings into the principally vocal offerings of CD1 and the almost entirely instrumental second CD.
On a side note, I was taken by the pencil drawings of William Bashford that form the cover artwork for The Winter Hills.
To conclude, the music produced by Daniel Patrick Quinn, has an earthy and organic feel throughout and is somewhat stark and bleak. The nature of the melodies are haunting and combined with the droning qualities within the music the combination works effectively. Sadly, however, not my cup of tea and I cannot say I was totally convinced by this first offering from Daniel. But there again I tend to like my music more on the intricate and complex side. Cited in the literature that accompanied the album was a list of Daniel's musical influences and interests, Nico, Jon Hassell, Robert Wyatt and Brian Eno, so perhaps if any of the following feature in your collection perhaps The Winter Hills may be worth checking out.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10