Reviews in this issue:
Matthew Parmenter - Astray
Tracklist: Now (9:58), Distracted (7:39), Dirty Mind (9:21), Another Vision (7:08), Some Fear Growing Old (6:56), Between Me And The End (5:58), Modern Times (21:09)
"Discipline" rate very highly on a lot of peoples list of favourite progressive bands, even if their work rate makes bands such as IQ seem to be the epitome of prolific. In seventeen years the group's discography comprises four cassettes, one video, two studio CDs and a live CD, and most of that has been deleted! The sporadic releases and the general apathy from the mainstream towards progressive rock has meant that Discipline are hardly a name on everyone's lips, therefore it may seem strange that lead singer and keyboardist Matthew Parmenter has decided that the time is right to launch a solo career. But then again, Parmenter is, with all due respects to the other three members, Discipline. He is the sole writer, main arranger and, one suspects, arbiter for the group.
The solo album has been a long time in coming, it is well over a year, probably two, since the project was first announced, and it really is a solo album. With the exception of bass (played by Discipline and Eyestrings member Mathew Kennedy), Parmenter plays sings and produces. No half measures either; guitars, vocals, drums, organ, piano, synthesisers, sax, violin, there's even a marimba thrown in if you care to listen for it. Unsurprisingly, in the main the key reference is to the parent group, particularly on opening track Now, although elsewhere new avenues are explored as in the more acoustic Some Fear Growing Old and the slow-psychedelia of Another Vision. As ever, the lyrics tackle darker issues, but are cleverly written to offer up several alternate interpretations. Words are obviously something that Parmenter puts a lot of stock in; lines like "With gaze cast outward from the now lest I should bold behold this furrowed brow" (Distracted) draw parallels with the word craft of Peter Hammill. With the shortest track being six minutes, there is plenty of scope within each of the songs for Parmenter to include instrumental sections. Indeed, opener Now could effectively be split into two separate pieces, one vocal and one instrumental, there is even a break in the song that delineates where the song ends and the instrumental starts. There is quite a lot of piano on the album, particularly on Dirty Mind, where it is blended to great effect with the electric guitar, and the very wonderful Between Me And The End which with it's combination of piano and sax would have fitted well on Hammill's Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night album. A contrast is provided by the aforementioned Some Fear Growing Old with its acoustic guitar and violin set within a relatively simple structure, however, the song may have benefited from being a minute or two shorter and I think that multi-tracking the vocals on the chorus may have provided an appropriate emphasis to the lyrics.
Final track is the 21-minute Modern Times where Parmenter lets lose his heavy rock ambitions and riffs away on the guitar. Not only is it unexpected but it is refreshing to once again hear decent riffs thundering through a piece as opposed to fret board antics that cram in as many notes per minute in flights of self-congratulatory guitar masturbation. There are, obviously, other sections in this song that don't rely on the guitar but the six string is prominent throughout. This is a song that will take quite a while to permeate through the skull as one would be hard pushed to fully appreciate it after only limited airings. However, those of you that know Parmenter's work with Discipline know that he is adept at developing and maintaining a song without lapsing into parody or overt repetition, Canto IV (In Limbo) being a fine example. I suspect he has also achieved it with Modern Times.
Quite simply, Astray is one of the best solo progressive albums I have heard in a long while, fans of Discipline won't be disappointed as it has been worth the wait.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Eyestrings - Burdened Hands
Tracklist: Recovery (10:00), Itchy Tickler (4:05), Dead Supermen (6:37), Anachronism (5:42), Funnel (4:28), Just A Body (4:59), Slackjaw (8:45), Nothing (5:09), Time Will Tell (3:36), Empty Box (12:37)
Burdened Hands is the debut album from Detroit quartet Eyestrings, a name apparently lifted directly from a volume of Shakespeare. The four musicians of the group are primary composer, keyboardist and vocalist Ryan Parmenter, bassist Mathew Kennedy, drummer Bob Young and guitarist Alan Rutter. If the name Parmenter sounds familiar then no doubt you are familiar with the excellent band Discipline featuring main man and recently turned solo artist Matthew Parmenter, Ryan's uncle. The band originally came together in 2000 when Kennedy, also a member of Discipline, invited some local musicians to join him in some casual playing to keep his hand in while Discipline were in hiatus. Parmenter, recently returned from college, quickly took the opportunity to bring in a selection of his own compositions and it wasn't long before the duo were seeking musicians who could commit to something more than informal gatherings. Enter Rutter, recently relocated from Los Angeles where he had recorded a live album with the progressive group RCA Project and Young, who had previously played with Kennedy on a number of occasions.
Eyestrings are best viewed as a distant relation to Discipline. In keeping with the relationship of the main composers of the two groups, the resemblance is familial: there are sufficient shared genes to spot the resemblance but enough variety to avoid being a direct clone. This is amply demonstrated on album opener Recovery the striking melody of which grabs the attention from the off. Whereas his uncle relishes in the darker side of prog, the younger Parmenter is not afraid to infuse more upbeat segments into his writing and the lyrics, at least at the end of Recovery, are undeniably positive. Unusually for a track that reaches double figures in length, there are not any extended solos. Yes, Rutter provides some tasty fret work here and there, but the writer has the confidence to sustain the lyrical component of the song throughout the entire ten minutes. Itchy Tickler continues in quite a playful, teasing manner and, once again, contains a very good chorus. Dead Supermen is a lamentation on the fallibility of us all, no matter how strong and seemingly invincible there is always a dose of our own personal kryptonite lurking to trip us up in the shower. This song also contains probably my favourite lyric on the album: "I was a superman, sent down from space to be kicked in the face, I was a superman, wind in my hair 'til shot down from the air". Anachronism is a more straight-forward song, with Mellotron sampler liberally sprinkled throughout and an insistent guitar riff. Complying to the formula of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, final verse and chorus, once again the progressive habit of including long solos is avoided. Although Parmenter is the main composer, the album is definitely a group effort; the playing is solid and the emphasis is placed more on the overall sound, and lyrics, than flashy displays of virtuosity.
Funnel has distinct Echolyn overtones, never a bad thing in my book, and is the most immediately stand-out track on the album. The almost whimsy of Just A Body merges prog with pop with some clever wordplay while Slackjaw is sung in a bar room drawl, taking influence from the likes of Tom Waits. With quite a sleazy feel generated by what sounds like a lazy trombone, I found the initial part of the song slightly wearing but it is saved by the very good closing instrumental section featuring a jaunty piano amongst the keyboards and guitars. Things are slowed and quietened for the ballad Nothing before Time Will Tell picks up the pace and the more sinister lyrics - It is surprising just how jolly the lines "And you saw how he turned out with his head blown out on the wall, remember the sound she made when the pavement had broken her fall" are delivered. Final track, and proto epic Empty Box, starts off as a slow burning melodic piece before developing into the most classically progressive piece on the album. Variations in tempo, prominent instrumental sections featuring a variety of keyboards and melodic (there's that word again!) guitar solos combine to make this track one that is full of interest and character. Not a song that strikes one immediately but it certainly rewards the attentive and repeat listener.
Overall, Eyestrings have come up with a very impressive debut album. With work already underway on composing material for a follow-up once can only hope that the group are able to live up to the early promise.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Muse - Absolution
Tracklist: Intro (0:22), Apocalypse Please (4:13), Time Is Running Out (3:56), Sing For Absolution (4:55), Stockholm Syndrome (4:58), Falling Away With You (4:41), Interlude (0:37), Hysteria (3:48), Blackout (4:22), Butterflies & Hurricanes (5:02), The Small Print (3:29), Endlessly (3:49), Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist (3:11), Ruled By Secrecy (4:52)
On the edges of DPRP territory, tucked away in a far corner by traditional prog en symphonic lovers we can find Muse on the DPRP. Reviewing their latest album Absolution here could lead to a discussion about the exact boundaries of the DPRP, but despite that possibility this album is certainly worthwhile to review and discover! Absolution does not offer much symphonic elements apart from the incidental keyboard chords just used to strengthen and enrich the already powerful music, but it certainly can be called progressive in the original sense of the word and it surely rocks like the best!
For those who missed the rise of Muse altogether a short history sketch: the three man band was formed around 1998 and consists of Matthew Bellamy, the musical genius, vocals, guitar and keyboards, Chris Wolstenholme, bass guitar and backing vocals and Dominic Howard, drums and percussion. In 1999 their first album Showbiz was released which earned them mainly, apart from many acclamations, comparisons with Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, partly due to the sometimes high pitched and creative voice of Bellamy. Power and bombast ruled on their second album Origin Of Symmetry (2001) that surely made clear that Muse had much to offer and would go far. The live album (and DVD) Hullabaloo (2002) filled up the time until their next studio album and made it very clear that live they produce pure rock power energy with a limited spot for subtle and fine details. And now there’s Absolution, without doubt their best album by far until, with which they have proved to even the biggest critic that they found their own place in music history and have become a benchmark of their own!
The distinct sound of Muse has now come to full growth and can be signified by the brilliant and sometimes surprising melody lines of Bellamy and the superb use of his voice ranging from breakable single tones to outbursts of anger. The way he uses his voice is really more like an instrument than that he’s ‘just singing’ and that also explains why their music sounds so rich, even live on stage, even though they’re only a 3-piece of which 2 play ‘just’ basic beat instruments. With his voice, guitar, keyboards and occasionally and a voice distorter or even a megaphone Bellamy manages to solely cover the thoroughly laid basic layers of his companions with so much variation and enriched sounds that their final product is not easy to capture.
On Absolution they found the perfect balance between almost over the top bombast and theatrical chaos and gossamer woven musical lines. The album clearly offers not only food for the ears but also the mind. The album starts with the sound of marching, probably (neo-) Nazi, soldiers which has been sampled in a way that it sounds like a musical beat that fluently flows over in Apocalypse Please which indeed almost sounds like Armageddon is about to happen, big time, as Bellamy bangs on his grand piano screaming his lungs out! Time Is Running Out matches perfectly with that song theme wise, but the song itself is more poppy with a catchy finger-clicking beat making it indeed the logical choice for the first single.
Sing For Absolution brings a moment of serenity and is just a pure delight for the ear, subtle and yet occasionally restrained powerful; it was chosen as the 3rd single from this album and the accompanying video clip is a delight to watch showing the band members as astronauts in a futuristic world being launched to another world. Stockholm Syndrome then kicks with its straight powerful rock song, but still with a very distinctive subtle Muse sauce, but it’s certainly not one of my favourites from this album and even needs several listening sessions to get used to. Falling Away With You then starts with really bringing in a moment of rest, but it builds up soon again into a nice, but not much more, semi-ballad with again a driven voice of Bellamy. The short Interlude performed by just one distorted guitar (another one of Bellamy’s specific trademarks) then goes over into Hysteria, to my opinion wrongly chosen as the second single in which opinion I’m strengthened by the sale figures. This song clearly stands out as the weakest song of the album as it provides no real musical surprises or uplifting moments that we’re now already expect to hear from Muse. I would have saved this song for a B-side release.
Then the sheer beauty and geniality of this album passes by, starting with Blackout that sounds like a Russian choir and is so serene that you automatically close your eyes and picture bearded men in colourful costumes playing balalaikas. The dramatic and almost whining voice of Bellamy then sings in a long stretched way only further accompanied by a thin snare drum and a very distorted guitar. This masterpiece comes very close to their other goose-bumps raising song Unintended from their first album. Butterflies & Hurricanes then starts in the same atmosphere, but soon enough builds up into in a driven more up-tempo song in which even a violin chamber orchestra can be heard. In the middle it then all drops down again into some single piano tones and then Bellamy’s partiality for classical music presents itself in the form of a delightful mini piano concerto followed by an outburst of bombast that ends pretty abruptly, which has actually annoyed me, but also tickled my longing for originality. The Small Print is then a rocky song again and occasionally reminds me of the early Queen sound, which is by the way not so strange because it has already been noticed that many (former) Queen fans are very keen on Muse too. This song is not one of the highlights of this album though. Endlessly then starts with some jazzy drums filled in by Bellamy with a soft voice, clearly again in ballad-modus, some small keyboard inputs and even slightly scratching samples complete the song.
Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist is a song whose title already indicates some hefty emotions which Muse manages to bring over very powerful in this up-tempo song. The lines ‘it scares the hell out of me and the end is all I can see” I frequently frantically scream along in my car and since it grabs you so easily it’s certainly another one of my favourites from this album. But then the big finale comes in the shape of Ruled By Secrecy, definitely another masterpiece! Until half-way you’re lead to believe you’re treated with just another soft and mellow ballad, but then the grand piano kicks in and starts building up to a dramatic climax which eventually doesn’t really come, leaving the listener surprised once again. I can only advise to hit the Play button again just in case you didn’t activate the Replay button already before !
If Muse continue to evolve in this way my mind can’t start to imagine what we can expect to hear from them in the future!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Inquire - Melancholia
Tracklist CD2: "Welcome To My Rock Und Roll" - Allegro Maestoso (3:31), Cantilène (2:49), Intermezzo (3:43), Adagio (2:04), Final (5:51)
Melancholia is the third album from Germany’s Inquire. Hiding behind this unprepossessing title is a hugely ambitious interpretation of Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialist classic Nausea. Obviously, a 70-minute musical presentation is not going to reveal the depths of such an intellectual and philosophical work, but if it encourages anyone to seek out the book then it could be deemed to be a (conceptual) success. I would think that this CD could easily achieve this aim.
Musically, the prevailing atmospheres invoke Marillion, IQ and similar bands, with soaring guitars and keyboards providing the melodic thrust. However, these mostly long pieces push far beyond conventional song structures, with satisfying extended instrumental passages, orchestral textures, recurring and developing themes, unusual time signatures and occasional use of spoken word and sound effects to convey mood and ambience. Although the musical textures have a melodic Neo sound, structurally Inquire have more in common with ELP, Yes and Genesis, and occasionally brief moments do remind of some of these bands.
To appreciate this work fully, it requires hearing as a complete work, but at 70 minutes in length this may prove to be impractical for regular listens.
The Museum and Melancholia at 13 minutes each are good examples of the invention and ability at work here, with plenty of surprising twists and turns and lots of drama and tension. Given the nature of the book on which this work is based, the music is suitably moody, often unsettling and uneasy, so this probably is a disc to be brought out when you’re in a sombre, thoughtful mood, rather than for partying on a Saturday night.
The Chestnut Tree includes snatches of classical organ themes, bringing the sound closer to ELP. It is also a good track to highlight the main flaw with this recording. The vocals on this track (and elsewhere) remind me of Pal Sovik of Norwegians Fruitcake. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but in my opinion the vocals throughout the album are the one thing that keeps this from being the classic it could be. Dieter Croman is a great guitarist but his vocals are at best fairly ordinary and at worst somewhat flat. His English pronunciation is a little off in places too. This is why I prefer singers to stick to their native tongues.
Overall, this is a brave and largely successful attempt at a weighty concept piece, imbued with suitable gravitas by consummate musicians and should appeal to fans of ELP and Genesis as much as adherents of Marillion and IQ. The group’s admirable ambition outreaches the execution this time but the margins are reducing. If they (and we) stick with it, Inquire may yet produce a masterpiece. But wait, not content with this marathon concept piece alone, the band has also seen fit to include a bonus second disc, which contains an unrelated piece, namely a 18 minute reinterpretation of a 20th Century organ symphony by French composer Louis Vierne.
I must admit to having a penchant for this style of classical symphonic progressive rock, and much as I enjoyed Melancholia, the bonus disc really floated my boat. Comparisons with ELP’s treatment of Pictures At An Exhibition and many other 70’s proggified classics are inevitable, but Inquire stand up to the competition with ease. Welcome To My Rock’n’Roll is, despite the odd title, a terrific time trip back to the halcyon days of progressive’s prime. Entirely instrumental, the 5-movement work is a terrific listen from start to finish. There are no traces of the Neo influences to be found here, and ELP are the most useful comparison, but this is no carbon copy. From the dramatic organ and guitar-heavy opening, the music moves through more reflective orchestral textures, taking in the herky-jerky melodies of the third movement and concluding with a superb, melodic finale. I am not familiar with the original work (or its composer) but I thoroughly enjoyed this rocked up version. I would be interested to compare it with the original symphony. What else is there to say but Bravo!
(The only thing that puzzles me is what any of this has to do with rock and roll?)
As always, this was a difficult disc to rate, but the potential loss of points for the vocals on disc one were made up for by the sheer exuberance and excellence of disc two, and the mix of the two styles should ensure that most prog fans should find something to their tastes here.
Is this Inquire's swan song? Earlier this year the band announced they were splitting. Melancholia, their third studio album, a double CD released at the end of 2003, is based on "Nausea", the well known book by famous French author Jean-Paul Sarte. The second CD, titled Welcome to My Rock & Roll, is an adaptation of Symphony no.3 in F# minor, Op. 28. from French composer Louis Vierne. The album is dedicated to the memory of these two French artists.
Inquire was formed in 1996 by two members of Trespass (the short-lived German prog band), bassist Dieter Cromen (now on guitar and vocal) and drummer Thomas Kohls, with Robert Köhler (keyboards & bass pedals). The album was mastered by Eroc (Joachim Ehrig), drummer and leader of famous German prog rock band Grobschnitt.
Bienvenue à Bouville introduce the main character with a French narration followed by some accordion music (played by Werner Webwer). This short intro leads into a powerful instrumental featuring great interplay between distorted guitar and keyboards. The music settles down for some more French narration, exposing the theme. Basically, a French historian named Antoine Roquentin discovers the meaning of life while trying to figure out why he's suffering from nausea. The narrator announces we are Monday January 25th (in French again), Nausea starts like a song from French avant-garde musician Albert Marcoeur, proposing intricate gentle guitar arpeggios, but not for long. The song changes musical texture every minute or so, never repeating itself, with male and female (Ursula Becker) vocals in English, orchestral bits, soaring guitar solo over drenched organ pads, the works. The rest of the album will mostly be built on the arrangements exposed in the first two pieces.
"Mardi Gras" (Shrove Tuesday) calls the narrator. Anny [part 1] is a short slow paced piece featuring English narration by Gabriele Proux. We skip a day and find ourselves on Thursday at the library for Der Autodidakt. The instrumental intro is dominated by the piano, accompanied by bass, guitar and drums. It turns into a furious dialogue between guitar and synth that ends with a German robotic voice enumerating a list of great thinkers (one for each letter of the alphabet) before resuming into the aggressive guitar/organ mode. The mood swings to a mellower tone for a bit of French dialog between Roquentin and the librarian, followed by yet another electric guitar part, soon joined by the pounding organ. The robotic voice does it again, this time with concepts and theories, still one for each letter of the alphabet.
We skip another two days and it is The End Of A Sunday. This song alternates singing and dialogue parts, some in English, some in German. Here again, great interplay between guitar and synth, some good space rock passages and climatic orchestral sections. This could be one of the highlights of the album, progressive rock at its very best. Anny [part 2] brings us back to Saturday morning (or is it six days later?). A short narration follows an intro on piano and acoustic guitar with mellotron-like pads in the same pace as Anny [part 1]. It's followed by a solo on low-frequencies synth with portamento. Later on the same day, we follow our "hero" to The Museum, one of two 13 minutes plus epics featured on the album. After a short dialog in French between Roquentin and a clerk from the museum, we embark on a mainly fast paced song, in English, full of mood and tempo changes, electric guitar charges, industrious keyboard playing and some avant-garde stuff.
After a Tuesday of doing nothing (just being) we jump to Wednesday afternoon with the very aggressive starting The Chestnut Tree. The pace drastically slows down for the singing (in English) then moves to a long and uplifting solo part staring guitar and Hammond. This is followed by a break closed to ambient that fades into Anny [part 3]. We are now Saturday in Paris for this very short instrumental serving as an intro for the main course of the programme, Melancholia, the title track of the CD. It is here that Roquentin concludes that he must do nothing because : "doing something is creating existence, and there is enough existence already". This track is superb, definitively a highlight. Very moving melodies alternate with groovy rhythms, always retaining a melancholic feeling. The classical ending, with the sound of the train slowly moving, is particularly strong. All in all this first CD has to be listened to as you would see a movie.
The second, and much shorter CD, is entirely instrumental. It is the "free" adaptation of a symphony composed for organ in 1911. Although the comparison to Emerson, Lake & Palmer adaptation of Pictures At An Exhibition is tempting, mostly in Allegro Maestoso and Final, Inquire's work here is more in the line of Ekseption. But yet, there is something here that is more modern, more original. One of the big differences with the original (apart from the orchestration) is the length of the pieces. The adaptation is at least eleven minutes shorter! Inquire states that this work from Vierne was the precursor of rock & roll.
This double CD is so rich and original it deserves the "DPRP Recommended!" status.
Circles End - Hang On To That Kite
Tracklist: Echoes (6:13), Tiny Lights (3:11), Red Words (4:28), Too Few Feet (5:10), Long Shot (4:25), Charlie (3:58), At Shore (4:45), Peeping Tom (5:09), The Dogfather Has Entered The Lift (4:36)
Circles End are a six-piece Norwegian band who originally got together as young teenagers at the tail end of 1994. Their first release, an eponymous five-track EP released in 1998, gained critical acclaim, particularly in France, and encouraged the young band to start seriously pursuing a record company contract. A new demo in 1999 failed to elicit any major interest so the group pooled their resources and recorded and released In Dialogue With The Moon as an independent concern at the beginning of 2001. It was another two years before the next release, a 7" single put out as a taster of the new music then being written. The single came to the attention of Karisma, a small Norwegian record company who, suitably impressed, inked the contract for the release of the curiously titled Hang On To That Kite.
Over the years Circles End have had their fair share of line-up changes before finally stabilising on their current configuration. Omar Emanuel Johnsen, Trond Lunden and Jarle Pettersen (guitars, guitars and drums, respectively) remain from the original line-up and are joined by Karl Riis Jacobsen on vocals, Audun Halland on Rhodes electric piano, organ and synthesisers and Patrick Wilder on bass and cello. The album also features guest saxophonist Jon Trygve Olsen.
So what do you get for your money? The album belies the relatively young age of the band, still mostly in their mid twenties, displaying a maturity in composition and performance that many bands don't achieve until their fifth or sixth release. The album displays a band performing as a whole, as opposed to a collection of like-minded musicians laying down individual performances. The players and their instruments gel together superbly - tight ensemble playing at its best with the sum greater than the parts, which is not to denigrate the abilities of each of the musicians! It would be fair to say that Hang On To That Kite is not an album that takes progressive music forward into any new and unchartered territories. The music has definite links to the heyday of seventies prog, although look towards the Canterbury scene and bands like Caravan (for the harmonies and melody) and Hatfield And The North (for the jazz inflections) rather than the more excessive leanings of Yes and ELP, for influences. However, this is no retro release, there is a modernity to the album, which coupled with the sharp, succinct writing makes this a very enjoyable album. Karl Riis Jacobsen has a very mellow, smooth and warm voice that invokes a calmness and laid-back vibe and reminds me in many ways of Shawn Smith from Brad. This is no better exemplified than on At Shore, primarily a blend of acoustic guitar, double bass, cello and vocals that simply flows delightfully. Elsewhere, opening track Echoes is a slice of classic progressive rock, Too Few Feet has a quite funky groove and Peeping Tom mixes the electric piano and electric guitars to great effect. The album contains two instrumentals, Charlie and album closer The Dogfather Has Entered The Lift, which allow the band to let loose, particularly on the former with its twinned electric guitars and prominent organ. Dogfather... has a slow build but really gets going when saxophonist Jon Trygve Olsen begins his solo which escalates into an energetic jam with the rest of the group.
On the whole a very enjoyable album if, like me, you have a fondness for music that is atavistic without being derivative, familiar but different if you will. Anyone who is a fan of the Canterbury scene would find pleasure in this album and to such people I heartily recommend this CD. However, I appreciate it may not be to the tastes of all, being a bit too mellow and considered, and possibly even retro, for many. This is the sole reason I haven't given Hang On To That Kite an overall DPRP recommendation but it is worth checking out the samples on the band's web pages anyway as music is a voyage of discovery! Absolutely terrible sleeve though.
I have to say that the CD cover did bring a smile to my face and therefore it probably accomplishes what Circles End set out to achieve. I do share Mark's sentiments here and if this album was lying in amongst many others in a record shop, I fear I would pass it by for the more "proggy" design. However we are not buying the cover, more the music that is encompassed inside it - the old adage "never judge a book by its cover" does spring to mind.
I pretty much took a liking to this album from the very outset (unusual for me), mainly triggered by the opening track Echoes. From here the album moves through a number of differing styles whilst always retaining an overall sound. For me the biggest asset that Circles End possess is chemistry, and as touched on by Mark, it is the sum of all the musicians input that gives strength and character to their music. This is nicely captured in the brief Tiny Lights, which manages to capture much of the bands flavour in three brief minutes.
Circles End blend mellow and aggressive with great ease, the contrast of Karl Riis Jacobsen's rich and distinctive voice is set against a generally strident guitar background and busy drumming. It is these contrasts that give the music its own particular flavour. The songs have a modern feel but could well have been written many decades ago, drawing influence from the earliest days of prog. The music also draws from many fields and amongst those already mentioned might be smatterings of jazz rock and at times possibly early jazz funk. The overall result I have to say is very rewarding.
The album contains two instrumentals, Charlie and The Dogfather Has Entered The Lift and normally I would lean to these tracks, however on this occasion it is the warm and distinctive voice of Karl Jacobsen which has pulled in the reins. The general timbre and intonation of Jacobsen's voice along with the engaging harmonies did capture my imagination. Back to the two instrumentals and it is not that there is anything particularly wrong with these pieces, they just didn't stand above the other tracks. I found the rhythm guitar tone a little distracting on Charlie, although the track jogs along nicely. The Dogfather... however brings out more of the bands jazzy, Canterbury style to the forefront with the guitars, keys and sax offering a rich and harmonious sound. So (and for a change) the highlights from Hang On to That Kite would be the vocal tracks - first up would be the opening track Echoes, great driving rhythm from the bass, drums and guitar, nice variation in mood and all complemented by Jacobsen's rich voice. Next for me was the gentle At Shore, very laid-back, but with power and emotion. The instrumentation here is splendid with the acoustic guitar nicely set against the double bass, brushed drums and light piano giving a great "jazzy feel". Excellent!
This is a fine album, perhaps nowadays a little lean at just over forty two minutes, but as one who grew up with releases that were pretty much all of this length, I have no problem with it and felt the band had said enough for me to eagerly await their next album.
Tiles - Window Dressing
Tracklist: Window Dressing (17:11), Remember To Forget (5:00), All She Knows (4:37), Capture The Flag (8:58), Tear-Water Tea (4:15), Stop Gap (2:53), Unicornicopia (5:10), Paintings (4:41), A.02 (1:14), Slippers In The Snow (4:05), Spindrift (9:25)
Founded by guitarist Chris Herin just over a decade ago, Detroit-based Tiles fairly sprinted onto the progressive rock scene in 1994 when their self-titled debut won outstanding reviews across the board. The disc was a superb slice of hard-edged, melodic, progressive rock with brains. Hopes were high that this quartet would be the natural replacements for Canadian Prog titans Rush - to whom their music owed more than a passing nod of respect.
Sadly, whilst fairly respectable efforts, the two albums that followed - Fence the Clear and Presents of Mind - failed to build on the impact of the debut and the opportunity for following in their idols' footsteps was lost. Even more sadly, Window Dressing is a further step backwards.
When I listen to albums, I tend to scribble a few words by each track to jog my memory when I write a review. The word Rush appears next to almost every track on this album.
As opposed to taking inspiration from the Canadian progmeisters, Window Dressing merely plagiarises. Clocking in at a weighty 17 minutes the opening track does add a certain Led Zep' vibe to the mix, as does the next with a riff that bears a remarkable resemblance to Black Dog. However the bass of Jeff Whittle and the guitar of Chris Herin echoes that Lee and Lifeson, while the voice of Paul Rarick...well, it isn't as strong as it used to be. The third track is just a tribute band version of New World Man.
To reinforce the point, the whole thing is produced by Terry Brown - whose creditable list of credits includes...you've guessed it - Rush.
I've got tickets for two Rush concerts in September - that's what I call a 'real' night on the Tiles! I do rather like the album cover though.
I was really looking forward to this album. One would think that five years after the release of their impressive Presents of Mind album the band would have had enough time to come up with a masterpiece. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Window Dressing never reaches the same level of quality as its predecessor.
Whereas most bands save the big epic for last, Tiles open their new album with the 17 minute title track. It does contain a couple of very interesting instrumental sections and good riffs but the vocal sections don't do anything for me at all. As with most of the rest of the album the vocal melody seems to be quite unrelated to the other things that go on in the songs, as if you're listening to two different songs at the same time. Also, the band quickly falls victim to the obvious danger of repetition.
Other people have commented on this album in terms of 'the Rush influence has turned into blatant plagiarism'. Personally I can't really judge if this is true or not since I've never been into Rush and therefore have little knowledge of that band. It is however a frequently heard complaint and interestingly enough, the album was produced by Terry Brown of Rush and IQ fame.
My own biggest complaint would be that the melodic strength of the wonderful Presents of Mind album is fully missing on this album. None of the songs grab my attention or contain any lasting melodic hooks in the vocals that stick in my mind. Instrumentally there's quite a few good moments on the album, so there definitely was potential for a good CD. As a matter of fact I find myself wishing Paul Rarick would just shut up for an hour. His voice is not one which has a wide range or a lot of different styles and quickly turns into the same dissonant scream for most of the album.
Another complaint would be that whereas the music on Presents of Mind had a lot of 'space' the sound on this new album is very much 'in your face' and thereby overwhelming and (for me) tiring. Especially the bass-guitar combination is 'massive', and that's not meant in a positive way.
Now, so far this could all be considered a 'matter of taste', but when we arrive at the middle of the album we find something that can only be described as below par album fillers. The three instrumentals Stop Gap, Unicornicopia and A.02 are just plain rubbish. The first contains the worst violin solo I have ever heard. Unicornicopia is a piano-violin duet which feels really out of place between the noisy rest of the songs on this album, not to mention that it just seems to go on forever. A.02 is a throw away one minute guitar intermezzo that doesn't seem to have a real purpose either. Strange really, when I'm at times wishing the album could be fully instrumental that the actual instrumental tracks are some of the worst on the album. Also, artwork and a keyboard appearance by Hugh Syme cannot help this album from being a really disappointing follow-up to a fine CD.
Tom Janssen - The Element of Surprise
Tracklist: Another Element Of Surprise [Instrumental] (5:28), Are You Surprised (7:40), Spider (6:36), Guardian Angel (3:20), Don't Give It Up Now (5:04), Stardance (4:42), The Air That I Breathe (4:38), Earth (6:10), The Discovery Part 2 [Instrumental] (5:02)
I can offer very little insight to Tom Janssen, save to say that he has come up with extremely enjoyable album for me to review. Currently there is not a website available, although hopefully this will be rectified in the not to distant future. What I do know is that he lives in Arnhem region of the Netherlands, makes his living from his primary instrument and that The Element of Surprise is the end result of two years toil within his own studio. On this CD Tom plays all manor of bass guitars along with the keyboards, synths, guitar and takes much on in the vocal department. Additional contributions come from Henke Lamers (vocals on tracks 2, 5 & 7), with the very complimentary harmony vocals of Elles Jansen (no relation), which features throughout and Vincent Bodt provides the drumming.
I always tend to worry a little when I receive a CD that is primarily the work of one person, fearful that we will have an album of single ideas and over indulgence on their chosen instrument, or even worse both. So first time in the CD player for The Element of Surprise came as a pleasant surprise as the music was readily acceptable with strong musicianship all encompassed within a structured writing format. Categorising Tom Janssen's music (as a guide for the prospective purchaser) has proved somewhat difficult. The album opens and closes with two instrumentals that would owe their allegiances to the jazz rock field. The remaining seven tracks however range from catchy, simply arranged songs to those that combine Tom's armoury of prog influences within a concise structure.
A quick overview of the tracks from the album might help, starting with Another Element of Surprise. A good opener with some busy drumming from Vincent Bodt combined with equally fine playing from Tom Janssen - this strong rhythm section straightaway confirms that this is likely to be a crafted album. Added to the bass and drums are a number of organ, guitar and synth themes which drift in and out. Anyone familiar with Alan Emslie's music might well find much to their liking in this piece. Are You Surprised? - Yes I was! Well certainly for the first minute or so as the music changed to a gentle piano ballad, however things are quickly picked up and we are treated again to some fine playing from Messrs Janssen and Bodt. Similar territory to the opening number with a number of brief solos, this time interspersed with vocal sections. Then we have Spider and yes it is about a spider. Despite the subject matter possibly being a bit strange, this tongue in cheek track is one of the gems from the album. The story looks at life through a spiders eyes and contains one of my favourite lines " but I don't like vacuum cleaners, no I don't, I don't like them at all". If you were a spider I don't suppose you would!
The middle section of the album brings the vocals to the forefront and no better displayed than in Guardian Angel with Elles & Tom combining their voices in this mid tempo track. The vocals are at their best (for me) when they are in harmony - the two principal male voices although pleasant are not overly distinctive - personally I would like to have heard Elles voice let loose a bit more. In this day where the female voice is at the forefront of much of the music scene, it could well offer greater success. Don't Give Up is probably the strongest of the songs with a grooving beat, great bass work and with a strong vocal arrangement - a single perhaps? This nicely leads into Stardance, another favourite track, again a track that grooves along albeit a tad slower. Subtle bass work, effortless synths and the vocals are again infectious. Last in this mid section is The Air That I Breathe - the second single - nice fretless bass leads this distinctive "pop" song.
The end of the album is covered firstly by Earth opening with a big keyboard push but with the majority of the piece having an airy texture, sparse bass and again the vocals of Tom and Elles. Drifting through the piece are some lovely synth sounds very much in the style of Weather Report's Joe Zawinul. Album closer is The Discovery Part 2 [Instrumental] and a fine way to end the day. The heaviest piece from The Element of Surprise, again great playing throughout, good high's and lows and infectious themes. Great Jazz rock that even has a time to incorporate a bit of (e)mellotron - always new it was a prog album.
For an self produced independent release I found the production values extremely high (that's bass players for you) and the material of a consistently high standard - although I fear in traditional "prog" circles the albums commercial edge might not appeal to all. As mentioned above The Element of Surprise proved to be an extremely enjoyable album to listen to and one that I will return to often. I hope that Tom finds the time to record more material and I look forward to hearing the next album!
Since I received the The Element of Surprise CD from Tom Janssen, I believe that it is available through Musea Records as well as from Tom himself.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Billy Sherwood - No Comment
Track list: Metaphors (3:14), False Prophets (5:09), Man Over Bored (3:58), Dying Breed (4:13), Everyday Life (4:03), In The End (5:54), The Pendulum Swing (2:37), Merline’s Undone (4:19), Fortunes (4:50), Empty Castle (11:53), Fireworks (4:03), Silence (1:04), Hidden Instrumental (1:03)
Billy Sherwood started his musical career in a band called Lodgic (1980); later on he became world-known with his progressive rock band World Trade. They made two excellent albums; World Trade (1989) and Euphoria (1995). In 1989 Billy also started working together with Chris Squire (bass player of Yes). Their musical friendship continued under the name of Conspiracy in 2000 and they have released two albums under that name since then. The music of Conspiracy is a mix between World Trade and the “simple” work of Yes. Billy became an official band member of that famous progressive rock icon in August 1997. Before that he already contributed to Yes albums like Talk, Union and he did some production work for the fabulous Keys To Ascension albums. On albums like Open Your Eyes and The Ladder Billy’s song writing and vocals changed the obvious Yes-sound quite a bit. Furthermore Sherwood can be seen on the excellent House Of Yes DVD. On 14 June Sherwood packed his bags and left Yes to continue his solo career; which can be seen as a huge mistake …..
No Comment is Sherwood’s second solo album and he plays all the instruments; drums, percussion, keyboards, bass guitar, electric guitars, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo and of course all the vocals. At one point the album was supposed to have included a singer, namely Jimmy Haun, but for unknown reasons this did not happen, so this CD is a true Sherwood solo album.
The two Conspiracy albums were already not really my kind of music, something magical was missing there, but this CD is even worse. Where is the Billy Sherwood I know and appreciated, e.g. in his World Trade days?? This album contains boring, non-progressive rock music, of which Billy cannot be proud. Only two tracks are worth listening to, the musical opener Metaphors (World Trade like material, with a great melodic guitar solo) and Merline’s Undone, one of the rare progressive songs on this album. The rest is just mediocre, mostly acoustic stuff that tends to get on your nerves. Perfect examples of boring songs are In The End or Man Over Bored. Those are probably not even suitable as lullabies, if you catch my drift. This album is a true disappointment and if you like Sherwood’s World Trade and Yes stuff, then you should really forget about this CD. I think I will listen to his Conspiracy albums again, or maybe even better, I will put on The Ladder or Open Your Eyes … those were the days.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10