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Reviews in this issue:
Frameshift - Unweaving The Rainbow
Tracklist: Above The Grass – Part 1 (0:43), The Gene Machine (5:32), Spiders (4:14), River Out Of Eden (5:42), Message From The Mountain (9:57), Your Eyes (2:57), La Mer (5:57), Nice Guys Finish First (5:45), Arms Races (8:34), Origins And Miracles (5:07), Off The Ground (5:49), Walking Through Genetic Space (4:07), Cultural Genetics (4:25), Bats (4:00), Above The Grass – Part 2 (6:51)
Frameshift is a very interesting new progressive rock project written and produced by Henning Pauly of Chain for James LaBrie; the voice of one of the best prog metal bands of this time Dream Theater. The music on this album is based on the books on evolution by Richard Dawkins. Composer Pauly has used a lot of different musical styles, like e.g. metal, ambient, techno, orchestral, rock, pop and also loop based music. Knowing that James would be doing the singing, he wanted to offer him an opportunity to sing like he has never done before. As you probably know James is a huge Queen-fan and so Henning uses a lot of large vocal arrangements in the songs (like in La Mer). Some of the songs were even written with a few a capella parts (Walking Through Genetic Space) and remind me of superb progressive rock bands like Spock’s Beard or Gentle Giant. Some Dream Theater fans (at least they claim to be so) criticised James’s vocals on DT’s latest killer album Train Of Thought; stating that he was just “screaming”. Well, those criticasters should really dig this album, because on Unweaving The Rainbow, James proves them wrong. He can sing, but we already knew this for a long time ...
The CD features 15 tracks, which are basically 14 songs, framed by Above The Grass Parts 1 & 2. The underlying idea was to reach three goals: produce an album featuring James LaBrie in ways that no one has heard him before, combine elements of progressive rock, film scoring and modern production and last, use the work of Dawkins as a concept that connects all the songs. Well, I can tell you that these three goals are definitely reached, listen to the album several times and you will be “hooked”. Right from the start with The Gene Machine, which is filled with excellent guitar hooks, dreamy keyboard parts and awesome vocals, you will love this album. Message From The Mountain, the longest track, starts with a bombastic musical intro and later on it turns into a very melodic rock song, with dominant keyboards and James singing like a young god. On this track, his vocals remind me of the part he sang on the Leonardo-Project; really top notch. For listeners who like their music a bit heavier, there are songs like Nice Guys Finish First (mysterious, complex and filled with staccato guitar riffs) or Cultural Genetics, a song with some Dream Theater characteristics.
Further highlights are: Above The Grass Part 2, with a beautiful orchestral overture, an overwhelming guitar solo and amazing singing, Off The Ground, a really fast track, and the almost “jazzy” vocals of James in River Out Of Eden. However there are two songs that are not really my cup of tea, Your Eyes, which tends to become very boring after 1 minute and I have “problems” with Bats, which sounds spacy and I do not like the sax solo in there. But, all in all, this is an excellent progressive rock album, and James is really second to none here. Buy or die!
Conclusion: 8.5 of 10
The Gathering - Sleepy Buildings
Tracklist: Locked Away (3:36), Saturnine (4:55), Amity (5:51), The Mirror Waters (6:42), Red Is A Slow Colour (5:39), Sleepy Buildings (2:54), Travel (9:08), Shrink (2:59), In Motion Part II (4:31), Stonegarden (5:11), My Electricity (3:23), Eleanor (5:32), Marooned (5:30), Like Fountains (6:47)
So here it is, five months later. The album that is The Gathering's final goodbye to the Century Media label, but what a way to end a relationship! Recorded in Nijmegen’s Lux Theater in late August of 2003 - The Gathering looked back on their impressive back catalogue and decided to bring in the acoustic treatment. The idea was to do at least one song from all the earlier albums, excepting Souvenirs, that album was released on their own label Psychonaut Records, last year. There ís one new song on the album and that is the title track, Sleepy Buildings.
I was present at both shows The Gathering did to record this special album and all I can say is, that this album is the soundtrack to what still wanders in my visual imagebank. But for those who weren’t there, Sleepy Bulidings is an absolute must! Hear how subtle songs from the ‘heavy days’ are translated into wonderful and melodic jewels. Two songs didn’t make the final cut; Nighttime Birds and The May Song, both from album Nighttime Birds. All the selections that did make it are wonderful, warm and atmospheric and still hold that unique The Gathering signature.
The band will do a tour in support of this album - Europe, USA, Mexico and other countries will be treated with acoustic gigs. Take your chance is my advise, it will be now or never. After the tour The Gathering will take a break for a while but I’m sure they will be writing new recipies for new and delicious Trip Rock Candy.
Sleepy Buildings also marks the last album on which bass player Hugo Prinsen-Geerligs can be heard, he has chosen to become more family orientated and his place has been filled by 'Oss-born' Marjolein (no not Ozzy related, she comes from Oss, like all the rest of the guys in the band).
Conclusion : 9 out of 10
Phid3aux - Fiendish
Tracklist: Fragment (4:12), Animal Games (3:30), 100 Mg (3:12), 100 Coda (2:24), Hellphone (2:10), Little Monster (5:12), Headstones (4:15), Fiendish (2:59), Vultures and Mosquitoes (4:18), Soundblast (7:17), Space Brother (5:23)
Phideaux Xavier is an American singer songwriter, although the music he presents on Fiendish, his second solo album, has a definite English feel. The album is very eclectic with a seemingly bizarre mixture of psychedelic, folk, space rock and prog all linked together with narrative lyrics. In may ways comparisons can be drawn with Martin Newell. The seemingly odd mixture is not surprising considering the influences (or 'reference points' as Phideaux labels them) cited on a promotional card that accompanied the CD. Everything from The Beatles to Van Der Graaf Generator and Nick Drake to Kristin Herrsh. One certainly can't claim that Phideaux doesn't have impeccable musical tastes!
The instrumentation is pretty much standard fair - Phideaux plays guitars, the majority of the keyboards as well as most of the lead vocals, while an assortment of supporting musical accomplices provide drums, bass and backing vocals along with a variety of other instruments (such as theremin, cello, English horn, harpsicord and the intriguing 'funeral water'!). Production is first class - crystal clear sound and superb balance between instruments and voices. It doesn't sound any better than on Little Monster where the various voices are layered with precise clarity. Indeed, the arrangements are such that there is enough space to differentiate the separate instruments but with enough complexity to hear new things with each listen.
Tracks range from relatively sparse and acoustic numbers such as Headstones and Fiendish, to more fuller electric songs such as Animal Games and 100 mg. The keyword here is songs. Forget all notion of long instrumental sections or self-indulgent solos, here it is the narrative and atmosphere of the song that is important. The album is, as a whole, generally low key, with tempos tending towards the slower end of the scale. The result is very relaxing, even on the haunting and totally absorbing Soundblast which deals with the use of atomic weapons on Japan in 1945. This song, the highlight amongst a collection of highs, is probably one of the most moving songs dealing with this slice of history that I have ever heard. It is worth getting hold of a copy of the album just for this track. This song also ably demonstrates the wonderful vocal contributions of Valerie Gracious and Ariel Farber, whose understated parts throughout the album lift the songs onto another level.
Put simply, it is somewhat irrelevant what musical classification Fiendish will be pigeon-holed into. With songs this good who cares what you call it apart from a very fine effort by a very talented individual. What is more, Phideaux is giving away free copies of the album upon request (although contributions towards postage are appreciated, particularly from outside of the US), see the above link to his website for further details. If an individual can write, record and produce CDs as good a quality, both sonically and visually, as Fiendish, and then give them away, major record labels have a right to be worried.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Crooked Mouth - Crooked Mouth
Tracklist: Crossing The Rubicon (0:57), Strange Days (5:08), Mass Driver II (6:17), Oceans & Sky (6:42), Raindance (7:06), Acrobat (8:20), Time & Again [Erosion] (6:56), Last Call For Captain Trips (4:18)
The DPRP mailbox receives many a varied collection of musical offerings and one of the many joys for me is discovering hitherto unknown bands or debut releases. Both these criteria apply with Crooked Mouth, a self financed project from Edinburgh song writer Ken Campbell. This is Ken's fourth independent offering, which I believe to be the first as Crooked Mouth. The band members on this project are Simon Ellis (keyboards), Ken Haig (vocals), Tony Hodge (drums and percussion), Chris Stonehouse (bass) and Ken Campbell (guitars, backing vocals and additional keyboards). Added to this core ensemble are Lynne Campbell and Eilidh Swanson who add their splendid supporting vocals, and last but by no means least Alison Mitchell (flute).
Musically we are in an area of carefully crafted, intelligently written songs, and with lyrics that are both attentive and observant. It was most refreshing to hear songs that lasted more than five minutes without being extended by solo sections, which in turn allowed the atmosphere of track, lyrics and the melodies to speak for themselves. Although much of the material had a verse/chorus arrangement and at times the choruses were repeated several times, it never quite fell into the ad nauseam repetitions of many a 'pop' song.
After the brief instrumental Crossing The Rubicon, which acts as a somewhat misleading introduction to the album, we are into an immediate winner with Strange Days. The lightly strummed acoustic guitar leads to our first taster of of Ken Haig's fine vocals. His slightly hoarse voice adding contrast to the gentle opening arrangement, with its simple, repetitive and highly infectious melody. The track builds at a stately pace, and with the introduction of the thick (almost mellotron like) strings, midway through, reminded me of a latter-day Night's In White Satin. The tempo moves up a gear for the hook laden Mass Driver II, again led by the acoustic guitar, and accompanied by deft piano touches and light rhythm, the sparseness of verses giving greater impetus to the chorus sections. Our first introduction to, what is to become a trademark throughout the album, as the female vocals strongly counterpoint the main vocal of Ken Haig. Even the guitar parts stirred memories of Lyndsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. Simon Ellis provides an organ solo (not too sure about the sound) while Tony Hodge cooks it up with the double bass drums towards the end.
"God took the day off, to see what it was like" lyrically opens the raunchy Ocean Sky, musically we are still in similar territory as the previous track although a harder rock edge has been added to the sound - again another strong track with some evidence of early Seventies rock influences or perhaps Counting Crows. Raindance sadly proved to be my least favourite track, not that it was particularly bad, but Haig's voice here reminded too much of a famous, to remain un-named, American singer (who I dislike intensely). Still a pleasant enough ballad with some nice piano interludes from Simon Ellis.
The longest song from the album comes in the form of Acrobat, a composition that builds from start to finish. Gently picked guitar and some haunting flute from Alison Mitchell lay the foundations for this wonderful track. Nothing about this track is rushed and although there is no guitar solo (pity), the tempo and general aura reminded of Camel's Ice. The end guitar picking section could have gone on much longer for me.
The tempo is lifted once more for Time & Again [Erosion], again driven as is much of the album by the acoustic guitar. A good track with a balanced mixture of vocal and instrumental sections. As with most of Crooked Mouth, the strong backing (I use the term losely) is one of its most endearing qualities - a nice twist here as the song is taken down for the earlier choruses. We finish as we started with an instrumental, although this time a track befitting the album. Last Call For Captain Trips, with its rippling, Hackett-like guitar textures, interlaced with moody piano, see's Ken Campbell delicately 'E-bowing' us out of the album.
Mention here, and before concluding, that Crooked Mouth is available from the bands website and when purchased from them directly a donation of 20% of the sale price is given to Sight Savers International.
So an enjoyable album with good songs following on from each other. Particularly pleasing was the combination of Ken Haig's distinctive voice, set against the more delicate timbres of Lynne Campbell and Eilidh Swanson. Most effective was the contrast between the predominately acoustic arrangements of the tracks and Ken Campbell's appropriate use of the raunchier guitar parts. 'Progressively' speaking we are skirting the boundaries, however there are enough references in the music to suggest a proggier past for Ken. I do tend to take my music instrumentally rich and overtly complex, however Crooked Mouth has offered me an pleasant contrast to my usual excesses. Although on the surface Crooked Mouth would not have fitted into my 'normal' listening pattern, or I fear likely to sit well with the prog purist, this cannot take away the quality of this release. Therefore should your CD collection be looking for something different, or perhaps need a slightly less instrumental replete version of perhaps Mostly Autumn then this may well be worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Temple 8 – Enter The Temple
Tracklist Enter The Temple (6:34), Ideas Of the Mind (5:14), Confessions Of An Old Soul - Pt 2 (5:00), Turn Left - intro (0:08), Turn Left (5:36), At The Summit (7:13), Danger Zone (3:12), The Big Picture (9:00), Tension (2:10), It's Allright (5:10), Confessions Of An Old Soul - Pt 1 (5:19), Hope (8:14)
It took me several months to form an opinion on this debut album of Cleveland based Temple 8. Why? Because I was both excited as surprised by Enter The Temple and I wanted to do the album justice. So I left it for a while and decided to write the review later. One of my conclusions was that what When Dream And Day Unite meant for Dream Theater, then this album could mean the same for Temple 8.
The songs and music all breath something fresh but also familiar. You can detect bands such as Rush, Pink Floyd and Marillion in the music, well at least I do, but it never sounds copied or borrowed. Remarkable considering the fact that this band consists of only two members; Kurt Tischer and David Clark. Tischer is singer/songwriter/musician and Clark the drummer/percussionist. Except for the cheap sound effects used to create a narrative voice the vocal offerings of Tischer holds the attention. The only other vocal contribution is a certain G.W. Bush, who makes a guest appearance in ‘Turn Left’, but I doubt if he knows that himself.
The production of the album isn’t bad but could have been given more balls - but understand that it isn’t bad at all. Maybe someday a remix will be done, like Dream Theater did with the aforementioned album.
There’s no need to go into separate song details, there just aren’t any weak spots, except for the narrative voice. That could and should have been done better, more impressively. So now I’m curious to see if and how Temple 8 can translate this album and music into a live performance.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Object Permanence - The Ripple Effect
Tracklist: Misdirection (6:11), Truth (2:48), Changes (5:51), Journey (5:55), Memory (3:05), Life (4:14), Reach (4:59), Fate (7:45), Chaos (5:38), Radiate (5:25), Waves(6:18)
Almost three years in the making, The Ripple Effect is the first album by Object Permanence, essentially a solo project from Michael DeMichele who sings and plays all instruments with the exception of live drums on four tracks. Beating the skins on those four tracks is Simon Janis.
My over-riding impression of the album was that it was all very similar and had a rather flat audio spectrum. The main issue was with the vocals which lack significant impact, possibly because they are, in many cases, too far back in the mix. However, tracks such as Journey do compensate for this by having a multitude of guitar solos. It is obvious that DeMichele's main instrument is the guitar as it the most prominent instrument throughout the album. Unfortunately, given the possibilities of modern electronic and digital manipulation, the guitar has the same basic sound in most of the tracks which contributes to the previously mentioned 'flatness' of the album. Although Reach does have an acoustic guitar backing, I found the electronic percussion rhythm and chorus rather grating and the acoustic / synthesised insect noises ending incongruous with the rest of the song and, ultimately, superfluous.
Fate is the closest it gets to progressive and is a reasonable effort, the instrumental sections (especially the guitar solos) in particular making this track stand out. The other highlight is Radiate, which has a very good opening (replicated half-way through the song), an interesting recurring riff , a passable chorus and altogether is strung together pretty well. Final track, Waves, has some interesting ideas and does offer some variety in the sounds extracted from the guitar but overall is too disjointed - if one didn't know that it was the product of a one-man band once could be mistaken in thinking that it was a recording of a group's rehearsal jam!
Overall, the album does not really offer anything essential to the discerning progressive rock fan. Clearly DeMichele has some interesting ideas as well as the technical ability (although his drumming is rather basic!) to perform them. However, perhaps he needs to find a collaborator who could perhaps add a bit more structure and take over some of the vocal duties.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10