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Reviews in this issue:
Anyone's Daughter - Wrong
Tracklist: The Wrong (7:28), Miscellaneous (6:12), Happy Go Lucky (4:27), Far Away (4:36), Fade Out (5:30), Your Time (3:58), Out Of This World (5:44), Without You (The Way It Was) (6:05), Helios Reloaded (4:05), Out Of This World – Radio Edit (3:50)
Sure-fire contender for the most boring album cover of the year, it would be a shame if people saw that as an obstacle to trying what is in fact a very decent slab at creating an individual slice of modern rock.
Based around Stuggart, Anyone's Daughter was apparently one of the most popular German art rock bands of the 70s and 80s, often mentioned in the same breath as Eloy and Triumvirat. After a long break they returned three years ago with just two original members - guitarist Uwe Karpa and keyboard player and main songwriter Matthias Ulmer - and a more modern sound with an album called Danger World. More modern rock than art rock, what is clear from the nine tracks on Wrong is that Ulmer is a very accomplished songwriter.
The opening coupling of The Wrong and Miscellaneous are two gorgeous slices of modern progressive rock - both boasting broad changes in dynamics with both with some catchy hooks. But from this point on, the band really does take its foot off the pedal. Far Away is an almost folky ballad; Kip Winger's solo stuff would be a good comparison for Fade Out, while Hall and Oats and Sting spring to mind on more than one occasion. However it the stadium, hard rock of Out Of This World that is the album's highlight. Think Jeff Scot Soto/Talisman with a bit of Sting and a bit of Prog and you've got one of the catchiest rock songs I've heard all year.
This album is released as a regular edition and a special edition with three bonus tracks including live versions of Danger World and Wheel of Fortune. Whether in being too poppy in parts and too varied in its styles will lessen its appeal for the average prog rock lover, only time will tell. But any music lover will appreciate the sheer quality of song writing here and take more than an ounce of enjoyment from at least half of the tracks. A pleasant surprise.
Stuttgart based Anyone's Daughter have long been associated with the German progressive rock scene and though having gone into hibernation for a number of years, they have returned to the recording scene with the advent of the new millennium. Their last album, Danger World was a personal disappointment from a progressive rock point of view especially when compared to their previous releases. However, Wrong sees those influences slowly creeping back in and the band successfully manage to fuse the "commercial" rock traits shown on Danger World as well as various progressive rock influences.
So what about this new album? Basically Anyone's Daughter seem to have tried to reach a middle-of-the-road musical bargain which would allow them to please their older fans by creating somewhat more complex music rather than straight ahead pop-rock whilst at the same time managing to retain those catchy choruses and hooks. However the main question to ask is "Does it work?". With vocalist André Carswell, the band have managed to do away with the restriction of having a German accent accompanying their music, yet it seems to have also shifted the musical influences away from one that was strongly European to one that has its roots based in American rock (Carswell being American). When one compares the rock scene in Europe and that in the USA, especially the prog-rock scene, the majority of bands from Europe seem to have been much more innovative as well as leaning more towards the overall instrumental output. On the other hand their American counterparts seem to have a stronger affinity for the more commercial side of things producing music that has a more ear-friendly approach.
One should also mention that the band seemed to have upped their "heavy approach" with some pieces such as the opening number The Wrong possessing some crunching guitar work. Pieces like Miscellaneous show the interaction between keyboards and guitars with the band providing some interesting changes in tempo and style as they flit from a ballad-like structure to more heavy charged rock. The generally acoustic Happy Go Lucky has that eighties Marillion keyboard sound (think Market Square Heroes!) and indeed there are a number of times, such as on Helios Reloaded where there were some vague hints at that neo-progressive sound.
Pieces like Your Time, Out Of This World and Without You (The Way It Was) have that radio-rock attitude. Incidentally Out Of This World is also presented as an edited single version at the end of the album and possesses a lovely running harmony between bass and guitar.
Overall the band have made a definite step forward when one compares Wrong to Danger World. However they have made a well-crafted melodic rock album with the occasional hint of progressive rock. To call this a progressive rock album would not be a fair representation of the album. From a melodic rock point of view, this is an excellent album with some great tunes and my vote is not reflective of the album's worth but rather it's worth from a progressive rock point of view.
I avoided Anyone’s Daughter’s comeback album Danger World as the reviews seemed to confirm my suspicions that the group had gone mainstream. With rumblings on the net suggesting that there was a stronger progressive element on this new CD, I took the chance to reacquaint myself with the group’s work. I liked their debut album Adonis a lot, Germanic prog in the vein of Eloy or Novalis, and my interest in the band was reawakened by the excellent archive release Requested Document Live 1980 -1983.
Unfortunately, though there is indeed a prog element (the synthesiser work of Matthias Ulmer) it strikes me as something of an afterthought. The main thrust of each song is a commercial tune - in a variety of styles –some heavy (The Wrong), some poppy (Happy Go Lucky), some Ballads (Far Away) - to which a brief synth run has been appended – usually towards the end, as if Ulmer has just remembered he has got his synth with him. In the case of Happy Go Lucky, the synth solo is at the beginning. It starts off sounding like vintage Marillion but after 30 seconds or so goes all sappy and acoustic.
The vocalist, Andre Carswell is probably one of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” singers – whilst he has undeniable talent and technique (and considerable power) he favours a very Soulful style which is very much at odds with the Prog genre. At times he reminds me of Glenn Hughes in soul mode – you can take this as a recommendation if you want.
The best track is Helios Reloaded, which appears to be a reworking of a track from Danger World – I notice that Nigel thought this was the best track on that album too! It would seem that the group are dangerously low on ideas; at least as far as progressive rock is concerned.
At the end of the day, the songs are well constructed, commercial hard rock with a splash or two of prog – I wouldn’t turn off the radio if these came on – but I don’t listen to the radio if I can help it. I suppose that if this was a pop group edging towards prog rock, I might be a little more favourable disposed to them, but as they are a once good (almost great) prog group, I can’t help but be disappointed. However good the musicians are (and of course, they are good) this just isn’t something I’d choose to listen to.
If I haven’t put you off, apparently there is a limited edition available; including live versions of two tracks from Danger World, but my promo didn’t include them. I don’t mind really.
VidnaObmana - Legacy
Tracklist: Canto (2:44); Bloodshift (7:04); Torment & Resolution (11:56); Sinner’s Tongue (7:33); The Virtual Insomnia (13:06); Cycle Of Agony (8:54); Impious Rising (11:42); Legacy (10:54)
VidnaObmana (which apparently translates - from which language I don’t know - as ‘Optical Illusion’) is the chosen moniker for a somewhat mysterious Belgian composer, who has been producing work for almost 20 years. Incredibly this is his 35th release, and is the final part in a trilogy inspired by Dante’s Inferno.
You may ask why an artist who has produced this many albums has so far slipped under the DPRP radar – the answer is that this is not, to all intents and purposes, a ‘progressive’ album. It may well have a unifying concept, but VidnaObmana is primarily an ambient techno artist. The lengthy pieces included here are basically dark, industrial soundscapes where the emphasis is on creating a particular atmosphere rather than on cramming as many notes and time changes in as possible. In fact, the latter are very thin on the ground, with most of the album an unchanging slow-to-mid-pace; some of the tracks have the ubiquitous ‘techno’ backbeat, although this is generally fairly unobtrusive. A combination of (heavily treated) electric guitars, ‘overtone flutes’(!) and various electronic and ‘found’ sounds are used to create the music, which it must be said does succeed in creating and sustaining the dark, oppressive atmosphere it obviously sets out to.
I’m imagining that the reason this has been sent to DPRP is the involvement of one Steven Wilson, who contributes a lengthy guitar solo to the concluding title track. That being said, the press blurb stating that this album is of interest to ‘fans of Porcupine Tree’ is a little misleading – ‘fans of Voyage 34’ might be more accurate, as it shares something of the spacey, psychedelic feel of that ‘track’ (I use the word loosely!).
Overall – not exactly thrill a minute stuff, but I found this to be a reasonable enough listen, especially as background music to doing something else – such as reading Dante’s epic poem, for instance (I had another go, but didn’t get very far – not the easiest of reads!). Of course, if you’re adverse to ambient grooves and the like you’ll want to give this a wide berth, but if you do enjoy this style of music, you might want to investigate further.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Grass - The Grass Big Biscuit Oogie Machine
Tracklist: The UGI Machine (0:38), Our Disembodied Sluice (3:03), Chocolate Shoes (5:15), Birds (3:35), Hey Ho (2:51), Megan Swings (2:06), "J" Is For Jesus (5:35), Mo Speaks (0:44), Lucien And Jaco (4:36), Mice (5:32), Go Black Jesus Go (4:39), Accenting The Union (3:03), Your Ways (4:23), Green Green Pots (2:49)
This release by Grass will raise the eternal question as what should be considered progressive and what shouldn't. Ultimately that is a discussion that has no resolution as, like most things in life, it comes down to personal taste. So, for the purpose of this review at least, I intend to dispense with any such discussion and try and concentrate on the music as opposed to labels and categories.
Grass's third album (released in 2001 and recently superceded in the 'latest release' category by the imminent appearance of the fourth album Zonk) continues the quite idiosyncratic musical meanderings of the Austin, Texas trio. The US seems to hold the monopoly in small independent bands peddling humorous and quirky music, groups such as Ookla The Mok and Dr Minz and the Chronic Harmonic atone to that (although the latter combo seem to have disappeared of late). Put it down to the legacy of Frank Zappa.
The music itself is guitar-orientated rock infused throughout with a degree of melody and harmony. The two instrumental tracks, Megan Swings and Accenting The Union display King Crimson influences; even if they are not as precise as Fripp's band the pieces are quite a joy to listen to, enhanced by their succinct nature. Elsewhere Mice is a reggae tinged piece about the little rodents looking for a home and the perils they face from Fat the cat; "J" Is For Jesus appears to preach religious tolerance through artificial stimulants and Birds consists of some quite bizarre conversations between a stork, a pelican, a vulture and a hummingbird!
On first hearing I have to admit to wondering what on earth was going on and what the album was trying to achieve. However, as time has gone on the album has grown on me considerable. There is a freshness and originality about it that pervades the consciousness. That the entire album was recorded at home with the instrumental backing for all tracks laid down in one day with only lead vocals and guitar overdubs added a day later is quite a testament to the band, particularly as the sonic quality of the album is nothing to be sniffed at. Yes I have a liking for some of the more obscure music adventures committed to tape and would recommend Grass to anyone who like anything out of the ordinary. However, I realise that it will not be to the taste of a large chunk of our readership and has been rated accordingly. Still, if you are intrigued, check out their website and make your own mind up!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
The Gak Omek -
Return Of The All-Powerful Light Beings
Tracklist: Return Of The All-Powerful Light Beings (15:06) Forbidden Technology Of The Lost Clown Civilisation (6:13) Cydonia (10:44) Apparitions Of Departed Human Personalities (10:45) Radio Hypnotic Intracerebral Control (6:54) Dance Of The Nine Unknown Men (9:35) Departure Of The All-Powerful Light Beings (2:57)
American Robert Burger returns us to the surreal fantasy worlds of his project The Gak Omek, previously encountered on 2003’s Alien Eye.
Once more, Burger is responsible for the whole package (including artwork and production) except for keyboards on the first and last tracks (Dave Cashin) and drums on the first track (Glen Robitaille).
Aside from digital drums, the music is solely created on guitar and guitar-synth, but the unusual compositional style, space rock and symphonic elements all pull this recording away from the realms of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and align it more with The Enid, Elegant Simplicity and Steve Hackett.
The best tracks are the opener and closer; perhaps because, boosted by the presence of real keys and drums (there is a fine organ solo on Return Of....), Burger seems freer to concentrate on the guitar and consequently pulls out some excellent melodic themes with a strong Hackett feel. The first track is, at 15 minutes, a touch too long and suffers from being episodic, but there are some great moments here (including a bouncy rhythmic section towards the end, overlaid with more guitar and synth) and the overall sound has a unique quality, rendering comparisons largely redundant.
Forbidden Technology Of The Lost Clown Civilisation is as quirky as its name implies, beginning with a slow, spooky, industrial march before opening out into a charming melodic section with noodly guitar, which may remind of Bill Nelson’s recent instrumental works, before upping the pace with more bouncing rhythms. The shorter length of this track means it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.
Cydonia opens with a brooding theme with a mysterious, cinematic quality; the guitar playing is fabulous and again reminds of Bill Nelson; after 4 minutes, the tune explodes into a rocky guitar solo over computerised percussion with a furious pace; this is racy stuff.
Apparitions Of Departed Human Personalities takes a while to get going but develops into a quaint and pretty theme; it’s a little too sugary for its own good, but there is, as usual, some tasty guitar soloing to liven things up. The guitar synth supplies some orchestral textures, giving an Enid air to proceedings, particularly the grandiose theme that enters at the midpoint of the track. Again, I found this track to be a bit too disjointed to entirely work, although there are some good moments and some interesting ideas at work.
Radio Hypnotic Intracerebral Control is a good track.... if, that is, you like eighties/nineties King Crimson. It has the same fractured and spiky minimalist approach, with repetitive spidery guitar lines writhing around. Given the distinctive and personal styles in evidence on the other tracks, the pretty much plagiaristic nature of this track makes it a disappointment. As an exercise in copying techniques, it is well done but if I want to hear this sound I can go direct to my Crimson discs.
Dance Of The Nine Unknown Men thankfully sees Burger return to his own ideas, which here include mixing some Sitar-ish jangles into the mix. Yet More Nelsonic noodling can be found on this track. Like Nelson, Burger is an appealing guitar player, with great technique, and could certainly benefit from the backing of a real group, as indeed could Mr Nelson himself. The remarkable advancements in recording technology make discs like this easy and cheap to produce, but ultimately cannot replace the need for real musicians with real instruments.
Departure... is the shortest track on offer, but is no less inventive for that. Again, real keyboards (piano) add an extra texture to the brew, and this track shows that Burger can produce a powerful statement in a short time. The grandeur and pomp of this closing number make you wish he had perhaps trimmed down one or two of the other numbers as well.
Overall, this is a worthwhile, home produced offering which should catch the fancy of guitar buffs, electronic/symphonic and space music fans. Burger displays an idiosyncratic and unique compositional style, which although in need of occasional pruning, makes for an enjoyable trip to unknown worlds in the company of a terrific guitarist.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Sonic Pulsar - Playing The Universe
Tracklist: Radio Silent 7:06, Dreamscapes 5:46, Sending Dead Flowers 6:13, Wasting 8:28, Old Man's Tale 2:41, Sonic Pulsar 3:56, I Have This Stone 4:29, In Slow Motion 6:41, This Is Not a Jam Session 6:53, New Perspective 5:56, Made of Dreams 2:58, Playing the Universe 4:46, Somewhere in the Universe 6:25
Playing The Universe is the debut by Sonic Pulsar. Pretty much a one-man project, it is led by Portuguese multi-instrumentalist Hugo Flores who has released a number of solo projects over recent years - the most recent of which was Atlantis in 2000. Vocals, guitars, bass, synthesizer and piano are credited to him. While musically he gets supported by guitarist/keyboarder Carlos Mateus, Flores has also written most of the songs, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the album.
The guys are about to release their second album called Out of Place, which looks to be going in a more direct Progressive rock/metal direction. The line-up on which, apart from Hugo and Carlos, features Nuno Ferreira on bass guitar. While they are awaiting a deal and release date for the album, it appears they are trying to raise awareness for their work with a fresh go at promoting this, their 2002 release.
In crude terms what we have here is space rock in the general direction of Hawkwind and Eloy. But Sonic Pulsar has generated their own sound by adding in a combination of classic Progressive Rock, Art Rock, Symphonic Rock and some spacey metal moments. There are some pretty extensive instrumental passages, which don't always go down too well with some, and there is a drum computer that doesn't go down too well with anyone. At 72 minutes it's also a bit on the longwinded side.
Radio Silent is good, catchy Prog Rock while Dreamscapes is an atmospheric, spacey instrumental. And Old Man's Tale is an arty rocky ballad. All vocals are in English and while Flores hasn't got a stunning voice and there's an identifiable accent, it is easily listenable. For the lovers of Classic Symphonic Space Rock with a heavy hand on the instrumental sections, this is worth a closer look.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tsukinoumi - Silve Redyc Chowder
Tracklist: Black In Purple (7:29), Sounds Strange (14:32), Black Of Night (9:01)
The rather strangely titled Silve Redyc Chowder is the third release from this young Japanese quintet and follows up their TsukiNoUmi and Inlet Of A Lunar World Travel albums. This third release is a live recording from October 2003 and is released on the Vital label - a subdivision of Poseidon Records. As mentioned in previous reviews the Vital label gives economic recording, pressing and distribution facilities to a number of bands. The audio quality is not normally a priority (although this recording seems not to suffer too badly) and the packaging is kept to a minimum thus making the release inexpensive.
So who are, and what might we expect from Tsukinoumi (which incidentally stands for Luner Mare)? Well the line-up consists of Ando Masahide (guitar, bass & vocals), Yamamoto Takao (bass & 12 string guitar), Tagawa Kaoru (percussion), Takahashi Susumu (drums), Wakita Yamao (saxophone). Musically their website offers the following genres of music as influences in their music - jazz/rock, progressive rock, art rock, psychedelic rock and avant-garde. From these (fairly accurate) suggestions I would probably say that the music leans more towards the avant-garde and jazz/rock fields with a liberal dose of the psychedelic, and owes little to the progressive rock field.
The album consists of three fairly lengthy instrumental tunes. The first piece Black In Purple opens as a fairly low-key affair building in intensity and with the introduction of drums and percussion the track reaches a suitable climax. If ever a name summed up a track then Sounds Strange has such a title. I've never been overly keen on drum solos, good or bad, and even the introduction various percussion (as here) they seldom raise my interest. The drumming on Sounds Strange I have to say is first rate, but with seven minutes of it before the introduction of any melody is just to much for me. Sadly the introduction of the guitars (and other instruments) does even less for the track. The whole thing just wimps out into an aimlessly long section of "parps and widdles" accompanied by sporadic percussion and twaddley solos. All of which seamlessly wends its way it the final track.
A couple of expressions came to mind while working my way through this album - "good musicians don't always make good music" - this somewhat applies here. My initial notes on this CD went along the lines of "meaningless, endless discordant music with intricate percussion and often irritating chanting" - little changed these early thoughts. I'm sure, and as another expression goes, "you had to be there". Well I wasn't !
I can only conclude by saying, "this one isn't for me" !
Conclusion: 4 out of 10