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Reviews in this issue:
- Various Artists - ProgAID [Single]
- Rhapsody - The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream [Single]
- Hidria Spacefolk - Live Eleven a.m.
- Etron Fou Leloublan - Les Sillons de la Terre
- Vivahead - We Love Infinity
ProgAID - All Around The World
Tracklist: All Around The World [single mix] (5.25), All Around The World [definitive mix] (11.58), All Around The World [air mix] (5.17), All Around The World [Cue Mix] (5.02), All Around The World [instrumental] (5.17), The Making Of... Documentary
This is one of the best examples of the power of Internet. In an e-mail conversation between Nick Gielkens from the Mostly Pink website and David Robinson of F2 Records, the idea came up to do something to help the victims of Tsunami struck South-East Asia. Two months later this single is released, containing contributions from over 40 musicians from all over the world. Never before have there been so many great (prog) artists gathered together on one record, let alone one song.
And if that feat isn't impressive enough in itself, the song turns out to be quite good too! All Around The World is an old song by Cyan, which appeared on their second album Pictures From The Other Side. I can understand the choice for this song, which appears here with slightly altered lyrics for relevance (the original was an anti-war stance), as it is quite accessible, easy to sing along with, i.e. commercial enough for radio airplay, yet at the same time proggy enough to fit in the genre.
The song appears in five different mixes on this EP. The best pick of the mixes is -obviously- the aptly titled "Definitive Mix". This 12-minute tour-de-force includes pretty much all contributions, including something like ten guitar solos and four keyboard solos. It is great fun picking out the work by your favourite artist in the song, but producer Robert Reed is clever enough not to give away a who-is-who list to anyone. "That is not the intention of the project anyway". I managed to pick out the solos by Arjen Lucassen and Roine Stolt, while I'm pretty sure to have spotted Clive Nolan's keyboard work as well.
The single mix is derived from the definitive mix, but plays less well. The main reason for this is that in an attempt to include as much of the performances in the five minutes, there are four or five of the guitar solos mixed into one, which makes it sound slightly messy.
Rather than let the vocalists focus on just one line, or chorus, Reed recorded takes of the full song from each of the vocalists. This enabled him to use different takes or different sections by the same artist for the different mixes. For example, the Air mix focuses on the British prog scene, with mainly vocals of Alan Reed, Pete Nicholls and Nick Barrett, and a Nick Barrett guitar solo, while original singer Nigel Voyle sings some lines in the chorus as well. The Cue mix focuses more on the international scene with Neal Morse and Roine Stolt (and a few I don't recognise) sharing the vocals, while guitar duties are shared by Stolt and Arjen Lucassen.
The instrumental version gives you the chance to appreciate the musicians that contributed to the single. There are violins, whistles, harp, flute, shakers and rattles. Noteworthy are Ant Phillips' twelve string guitar, Troy Donockley (Iona) on whistles and Ullean pipes and Martin Orford on flute (!).
Last but not least there is a making of documentary in quicktime format. Basically it is edited like a promo video to the single mix. It is obvious the various musicians had a tremendous amount of fun on the two day recording session. Makes the who is who guessing game a bit easier.
In the end the question remains whether this single will a major noticeable impact at all. It is doubtful, with a running time of 33 minutes the single is not chart eligible, and the five minute radio edit will still be deemed too radio unfriendly. Does it matter? Of course not, to the prog community such in impressive line-up on one recording is a major success already, and to quote Nick Barrett from an interview: "Well it's sure to raise some money for the victims, even if it only raises £5, it's a success because that's £5 more than they had before!"
It is likely that the single will raise more than just £5 though, as I'm sure plenty people will be interested in it. Transatlantic, Marillion, The Flower Kings, Arena, IQ, Pallas, Galahad, Mostly Autumn, Kino, Pendragon, Magenta, Karnataka, Jadis, Ayreon, Iona, Shadow Gallery, Landmarq, Glass Hammer, Pineapple Thief... if you're a fan of any of these bands you will have to buy this EP, because your favourite artist will be on it!
And at a price of just £5 (including p&p) there simply isn't any excuse not to buy it!
The single can be bought for £5 through Progrock.
Conclusion: An unbiased rating in difficult in this case. For the song, I would say 7.5 to 8 out of 10, however, for the incredible amount of work and organisation that went into creating the single, and the generosity of the musicians lending their time and talent to ProgAID, the scale from 1 to 10 isn't big enough!
Rhapsody - The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream
Tracklist: The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream [English Version] (3:42), The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream [Italian Version] (3:41), The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream [Album Version] (4:26), Lo Specchio D'Argento (4:15), The Last Angels' Call (4:39)
Rhapsody is an Italian metal band which makes music often dubbed "filmscore metal" because of their extensive use of orchestral arrangements. Christopher Lee is one of the most dignified actors alive, with an acting career spanning more than 55 years and nearly 225 roles to his credit - mostly villainous, ranging from his breakthrough performance of Dracula, to the monster of Frankenstein, the Mummy, The Man With The Golden Gun and more recently Saruman The White in The Lord Of The Rings and Count Dooku in Star Wars.
Put the two together in a room and you'd have a very interesting combination, me thinks. Lee narrated the role of the Wizard King on Rhapsody's latest album Symphony Of Enchanted Lands pt II - The Dark Secret. However, at the time he expressed concerns about not singing at all, despite being a talented singer himself with a rich bass/baritone voice. And so Rhapsody and Christopher Lee went into the studio together to record a new recording of The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream, one of the best songs on the album.
I was pleasantly surprised by Christopher Lee's rich baritone voice, which perfectly compliments Fabio Lione's not unimpressive vocal range. Certainly not bad for an eighty-two year-old!
The song is re-recorded with the 40-piece Cologne String orchestra, and features a 20-piece choirs. Talk about bombastic!
The band recorded the track in four different languages: English, Italian, German and French. All four of these versions appear on a limited edition digipack (which was not available for review), which will be released on Monday, April 11th.
During these recording sessions the band also recorded two new songs, Autumn Twilight (again, only available on the limited edition) and Lo Specchio D'Argento. The latter is sung in the band's mother tongue and quite different from their usual fare. Gone is the double bass drums, but instead it is a happy folk tune with whistles, acoustic guitars and harpsichord. It would not have surprised me if the band had inserted an electric guitar solo in this song, but they resisted the temptation and the song is entirely metal-free.
Rounding up the tracklist of the regular edition of this single are the album version of The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream and The Last Angel's Call also from Symphony Of Enchanted Lands pt II.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Hidria Spacefolk - Live Eleven a.m.
Tracklist: Kokkola (7:25), Pangaia (9:16), Kaikados (9:54), Jahwarp (7:53), Pajas (7:30), Pako Originaux (8:32), Tarapita (12:58), Astroban (8:05)
Hidria Spacefolk were formed in 1999 at the Hiidenlinna community in Finland. After endless jam sessions they started performing live and proceeded to record their first album, HDRSF-1, at home in glorious eight-track. Signing a deal with Silence Records they released Symbiosis in 2002 and Balansia in 2004. Later that year the five-piece instrumental band (Kimmo Dammert on bass, Sami Wirkkala on guitar and synthesiser, Janne Lounatvuori on synthesizers and electric piano, Mikko Happo on guitar and Teemu Kilponen on drums) were invited to appear at NEARfest, opening the proceedings on the morning of the last day of the festival.
There is no way of avoiding it so it may as well be stated upfront. Hidria Spacefolk are the Finnish Ozric Tentacles. There, I've said it. I'd go so far as to say that even music lovers with a little more than a passing acquaintance with either band would be hard pressed to distinguish one from the other, although the chances of seeing the Ozrics at a progressive rock festival are, one imagines, pretty slim! Perhaps the Spacefolk have a little less reggae/dub tinge to their music and a little more Steve Hillage (before he got involved with modern electro dance music that is). Spacey synth washes, freeform guitar riffing and a steady, almost hypnotic, beat combine to provide 70 minutes of altogether rather enjoyable music. Having two guitarists provides a rather greater pallet to draw from and allows the rhythm to be maintained during solos, for example on Pangaia. However there are sections where both guitarists are hardly evident, in particular during Kaikados which tends to lose its way during the middle of the piece during an improvised synth section. Having not heard the studio albums I cannot comment similarities between studio and live. However, one imagines, and certainly gets the audible impression, that live the Spacefolk are eager to explore the boundaries of their compositions and are happy to jam around a central theme or structure. Fortunately they are good enough, and there is enough understanding between the musicians, for these improvisations to come over almost seamlessly. The inclusion of electric piano is also a nice addition, even if it is sometimes a bit low in the mix (as in Jahwarp).
The bulk of the set is, unsurprisingly, drawn from the most recent CD, Balanasia, with five of that album's six tracks being included on the live album. The remaining three tracks are all from the second album. However, the style of music doesn't differ dramatically between the older and newer pieces. The group have managed to achieve a nice balance throughout the pieces with neither guitar nor synths really dominating - each instrument adds sufficient to ensure that the result is a fine blend of synth and guitar (and even guitar synth!).
The CD is well recorded and the performance throughout is consistent and hard to fault. Despite the unusual time of the performance (Space rock before lunch? Unheard of!) the group got a rousing reception from the NEARfest audience who obviously enjoyed the show. There is not really much more one can say other than if you like the Ozrics then you won't be disappointed with the Spacefolk. Oh yes indeed.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Etron Fou Leloublan - Les Sillons de la Terre
Tracklist: Phare Plafond (4:14), Les Vitres (4:47), Les Alsaciennes (1:59), Nouveau (4:14), L’Enfance De Guigou (6:08), Emoi (4:08), C’est Pas Bien (4:00), Et Qu’Cet Air’Là (2:54), Lavabo (5:09), Le Jeu L’Alcool Et Les Femmes (3:45)
Recently, I seem to have found myself reviewing CDs for DPRP that contain music created in the 1980s and that have been re-released largely in response to the insatiable appetite of the Internet progressive rock audience. My last couple of reviews involved releases by the American band Stencil Forest (in a corporate rock but prog-tinged vein), the Argentinean Redd Land (world music meets prog synths and metallic guitars), and now France’s Etron Fou Leloublan. In all cases, the bands produce music that was certainly part of some sub-genre of ‘80s pop music and so the compositions, arrangements, and playing must be judged both with hindsight (measuring how well the music must have fit into its niche) but also with a modern aesthetic sensibility (measuring how vital the music is for today’s prog rock listener). I’ll have to say that Etron Fou Leloublan’s release Les Sillons de la Terre (in English, The Furrows of the Earth) is only modestly successful by either measurement.
Les Sillons de la Terre was Etron Fou Leloublan’s next-to-last release, recorded in August of 1983. The line-up features Guigou Chenevier on percussion, tenor saxophone, and vocals; Bruno Meillier on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones; Ferdinand Richard on bass and vocals; and Jo Thirion on piano, organ, and vocals. (I suspect, based on the CD liner notes and Musea’s press release, that Bruno Meillier was a member for Les Sillons de la Terre only, but I can’t confirm this suspicion.) Apparently, this recording was heavier and more sparse than some of the band’s other studio work; as well, and unlike the band’s previous efforts, Les Sillons de la Terre protrudes considerably into the jazz realm, with occasional echoes of be-bop and fusion and a very prominent usurpation of avant garde and free jazz. The recording manages to blend jazz intensity and expressiveness (and discordance) with pop quirkiness and bounce. If you imagine The Talking Heads or Adrian Belew-era King Crimson (up through Three of a Perfect Pair) conjoined with Fred Firth (who produced Etron Fou Leloublan’s 1981 release Les Poumons Gonflés), Ornette Coleman, Frank Zappa, and maybe John Zorn, you’ve nearly got the idea, although the band does have a fairly unique, unborrowed sound. If Musea’s press notes can be trusted, this album is a “classic of underground French rock” and an exemplar of the “rock in opposition” movement. I can’t verify or dispute Musea’s claim, since I have no experience with French musical subterranea or RIO groups, so I’ll tell you what I liked and what I didn’t like about Les Sillons de la Terre.
First and foremost, the members of the band can play and play well. There isn’t a single moment of the disc that sounds unprofessional or even untalented. And the story here isn’t just chops but also taste. Et qu’cet air-la is an excellent example. The track opens with a catchy be-bop sax intro, moving into a nice duet with the acoustic piano. The music is classy and memorable, sounding a little like Lizard / Islands era King Crimson. L’enfance de Guigou is also crafty, with the synths and saxophone setting a very fluid, spacious mood. I especially like the balance on this tune: it’s not quite poppy but it’s still fun and not overly aggressive, and it’s accessible but not sugar-syrupy. There’s a great swirling sax line to exit the song. The band has a knack for not overplaying and for using rests as well as notes to colour the song. Jo Thirion is especially intelligent about her keyboard sounds, which often lend the proper atmosphere to the more jaunty sax and bass guitar parts. In short, Etron Fou Leloublan is a more than capable group of artists.
There are some aspects of Les Sillons de la Terre, though, for which I didn’t care, and probably these aspects would hallmark this band as a "rock in opposition" act.
There is a decided lack of melody throughout the disc: in the solos, the ensemble work, and the singing. The songs are largely rhythmic workouts with smatterings of jazz candy tossed into the mix. It's not so much that the songs meander—they're precise and well moulded—but they never seem to grip the ears. As well, even if the tracks are well arranged and well conceived, they generally struck me as mental masturbation with not much true heart behind and within them. For example, Phare Plafond offers a very percussive, twangy bass, odd measures, and is ominously angular and sharp. But it’s sterile. There’s no hook-line, really, just rhythmic snapping and quick sax bursts behind the vocals. It’s all kind of boring and unanchored and the shrill cacophony toward the end is unpleasant.
The singing on Les Sillons de la Terre is generally monotone when it’s even singing at all; most of the time it’s spoken-word lyrics delivered over a bass throb and speckled with sax leads. It’s not terrible at all but just a bit bland and unattractive. I will admit, though, that possibly the lyrics, and the phrasing of the lyrics, compliment the tracks perfectly and I miss this because I don’t speak French (in which language the lyrics are delivered). It’s hard to evaluate singing in a language you don’t comprehend, but ultimately I found the singing to be a distraction.
And finally, the recording suffers from too much similarity between the tracks. There’s not a great deal of internal variation within the songs and they tend to flutter in the same place. I think the sparseness maybe hurts the band on this recording as the music often locks into a pattern and hangs there. And without melody lines or even harmonic shifts, the music is abrupt, rigid, and chilly. Maybe these are all cherished elements in “rock in opposition” but the entire affair is old hat by the time it winds up with Le jeu l’alcool et les femmes.
Still, Les Sillons de la Terre is sometimes impressive and certain passages bounce with energized abandon. I admired the playing for the most part but the compositional style isn’t really my thing. The recording does have a sense of 80s fun to it while also offering some grittiness and tenacity. And the saxophone and keyboard work is almost always clever and fitting.
Overall, I’d say that the effort is refreshing as a break from more tradition pop and prog albums but that the shortcomings detract from the finer moments. "Rock in opposition" fans might have a higher degree of fondness for this release, perhaps. I can recommend the musicianship but, based purely on songcraft and compositional variety, I can only say that Les Sillons de la Terre is worth a spin but only really moderately satisfying.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Vivahead - We Love Infinity
Tracklist: Seduction (5:12), Pig Giddy (24:55), Cycle (5:26), In The Making (8:02), Peter (3:44), The Question (11:47), Concern For A Celebrity (0:48)
Lewis Gill and Neil Packer are the writing, recording and production team for Warrington (UK) based Vivahead who present us with another release from their seemingly endless output of minimalistic Electronic Music. However the albums seem to be arriving in reverse order as the CD in front of me precedes Cosmic Dunce, which I reviewed last year.
I have to say that We Love Infinity is easily more accessible and overall more melodically pleasing album than Cosmic Dunce. The content is a little more sparse (at times) and less challenging, but certainly more infectious, with the exception of the opening track which is ultimately tiresome on the ears, with its cacophonous backwash and irritating sampled voice. However the repetitive centrepiece for the album which follows is a much more engaging track. Pig Giddy uses a repeated melodic keyboard phrase (as a loose pointer think of the beginning of Tubular Bells), which is then countered by slow moving string parts and wind-like effects. As the track meanders through its almost 25 minute length, subtle sounds, sequences and textures are added and subtracted giving a pleasant ebb and flow to the track. So perhaps Tubular Bells offers a good pointer - although the melody-light approach and lack of multiple instruments does not make this a musical comparison.
The following track offers are a more pulsing and driving feel and one which continues Vivahead's liking for strange samples, opening with a chorus of "duck calls". Cycle as its title suggests employs a repeated sequence that rises over a number of bars, slowly changing texture and finally returning to the opening samples. In contrast In The Making has an almost random feel, with a rambling arpeggiated sequence, xylophone type sound, minimal backing and light shuffling beat. Melody returns with Peter, although the heavily sequenced approach does start to lend a sameness to the overall sound.
Probably the strongest piece on the whole album is The Question which starts off with some fairly strange and repeated keychanged samples, while the musical element of the track gradually builds up, initially with the use of rising strings before a piano-like motif heralds a strong driving bass drum rhythm. The majority of the remaining track has a dance-like nature, and I can imagine this working well with a suitable light show. Although I am still not overly convinced by the repeated voice samples, especially those using a pitch shifter, as it gives a tweeness and "been done" flavour to the track. The close out track is a brief set of notes in a repeated motif.
As I mentioned earlier this is certainly a more accessible album than the later Cosmic Dunce release, although I have to say that the music is still an acquired taste. There are sections of the album that are striking, but as a "progressive rock" reviewer I long for the pieces to develop far beyond their original ideas. But then it wouldn't be Vivahead.
I'm not entirely sure where Vivahead are aiming to go with their music. The lack of information on the two guys can't help their cause, as must the lack of a website enabling interested parties the facility to hear some samples or to purchase their albums. In what is already a "fringe" market, making things more difficult doesn't seem to make sense - but to each his own.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10