Reviews in this issue:
- The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute (Duo Review)
- Frogg Café - Fortunate Observer of Time
- Willowglass - Willowglass
- Frameshift - An Absence Of Empathy
- u i blue - Songbird's Cry
- Fraktal - Ask The Rabbit
The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute
Tracklist: Cygnus….Vismund Cygnus [Sarcophagi, Umbilical Syllables, Facilis Descensus Averni, Con Safo] (13:02), The Widow (5:50), L’Via L’Viaquez (12:21), Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore [Vade Mecum, Pour Another Icepick, Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma), Con Safo] (13:09), Casandra Geminni [Tarantism, Plant a Nail in the Navel Stream, Faminepulse, Multiple Spouse Wounds, Sarcophagi] (32:27)
Love them or loathe them – and there seems to be little middle ground as far as this band is concerned – two things about The Mars Volta surely can’t be denied. The first is that they really don’t sound like anyone else, and despite drawing upon a copious amount of influences (far beyond the usual frames of reference for a ‘progressive’ band) really have defined their own unique sound, and one that seemingly knows no boundaries. The second is that, by the very fact that the band have sailed on a wave of hype and have been the focus of reams of coverage in the music media, it has served to re-focus people on the wider progressive scene. I’ve lost count of the number of articles which, whilst perhaps mainly about The Mars Volta, also cover both the main movers of the original prog movement, and those in the vanguard today. This can surely only be a good thing for the scene as a whole as it brings it, often seen as an underground movement these days, back into the public eye.
Lyrically, Frances The Mute is a concept which is even stranger (if that were possible!) than that on the bands’ debut album De-Loused In The Comatorium. To be honest it makes very little sense to my mind (perhaps you have to be on certain substances…) and is quite difficult to condense into a few words, but here’s a brief synopsis:
The band see Frances The Mute (the album) as a character, a resurrected body based on the thoughts of a stranger seeking to find his adopted parents, as written in a diary found by Jeremy Ward, the former band-member who died prior to the band’s debut being released. Ward finished the incomplete writings himself. Its probably worth saying that I found this synopsis through a search on the net – the ‘story’ certainly isn’t particularly apparent from the lyrics themselves, which are colourful and often downright disturbing, but make very little actual sense – even less when you realise that vocalist and lyricist Cedric Bixler switches from English to Spanish seemingly at will. Overall, this concept makes the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway seem like the most logical tale on earth! That said, it does fit the equally colourful music to a tee.
The music has definitely evolved from that displayed on De-Loused… The band’s hardcore and emo roots, still on show on that album, have been almost completely erased here – particularly in the playing of guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez, whose solo-heavy, rather psychedelic, partly Hendrix-inspired style is surely the antithesis of the streamlined emo sound. Vocalist Bixler remains the main link to the bands past, but even his vocals are have far more range to them here, and are often distorted by various effects which help to take his voice to places it wouldn’t naturally be able to go to.
The opening ‘suite’ (it seems wrong to call the multi-part epics contained on this disc mere tracks!), Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus, gives a good indication of what The Mars Volta are all about. Opening as a languid, Latino-flavoured acoustic torch song, it soon morphs into a busy, up-tempo funk-rock track that comes on like a clash between the Red Hot Chilli Peppers at their most abrasive and Sly Stone. These sections are separated by a lengthy atmospheric proggy chill-out section, which builds up brilliantly – Jon Theodore’s controlled yet adventurous drumming keeps everything in check whilst Rodriguez gets some extremely ‘out there’ sounds from his guitar. The song ends with an even more ambient, spacey section which goes into electronica territory and recalls (to an extent) Tangerine Dream. Yes, it all sounds a bizarre mishmash, and some listeners will no doubt be irritated by the seemingly never-ending, improvised-sounding nature of some of the instrumental sections, but personally I think it works – what in the hands of other bands might come across as pretentious and boring seems inventive and invigorating when in The Mars Volta’s hands.
Next up, The Widow is, for its first half at least, by far the most ‘commercial’ piece, a sort of prog-tinged alt-rock ballad with typically twisted lyrics and Floyd-y guitar work from Rodriguez. The Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Flea makes a guest appearance on trumpet at the climax of the song proper, although the song drifts on into a fairly abstract ambient piece – which I imagine was cut when the song was released as a single! L’Via L’Viaquez gets things back on track, opening with a big hard rock riff that recalls Deep Purple in their early 70’s heyday. The song alternates between these earthy grooves (with some swirling Hammond in the mix) and a gentler ‘cha-cha’ rhythm which could almost have come from The Bueno Vista Social Club soundtrack – except for the fact that Bixler’s vocals become increasingly distorted and deranged as each section progresses, slowing to a rather unsettling drawl by the songs conclusion. Once again there’s plenty of wild instrumental work from Rodriguez and co, with some particularly good piano work from guest musician Larry Harlow.
Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore starts more peacefully, with some tranquil electronica overlaid by a ghostly female vocal – evocative stuff. Gradually the brass of a Mariachi band are introduced into the mix, with the initial fanfare of trumpets and trombones generating the sort of sound you’d expect from an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western soundtrack. This is set against more conventional guitar and vocal work producing an interesting and effective mix. Once again the song ebbs and flows, with both the melodies and instrumentation used (particularly effective being the violins) keeping things fresh and interesting throughout.
All this, however, is effectively just the appetiser for the main course, the 30-minute plus grandiose five part epic that is Cassandra Geminni. Incorporating many of the styles heard on the previous songs yet somehow going beyond, this is a real tour-de-force that moves smoothly from one superlative section to the next, and despite the unwieldy length it’s a fairly cohesive piece (in Mars Volta terms!) for much of the time, and contains some of the strongest melodies and a stick-in-the-head chorus. It even finishes with a reprise of the opening section of Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus, which serves to give the whole album more of a unifying feel, in keeping with its conceptual nature.
Overall, then, The Mars Volta have certainly bettered their previous work, and created an album which I’m sure will be in many people’s top ten of 2005 – and that includes non-prog fans. Yes, its pretentious, it occasionally over-reaches itself with its ambitions and the wave of hype that accompanied its release may have put many would-be fans off. Yet I found this an exhilarating and thoroughly entertaining listen. Many may think this review has been a long time in coming, and they’d be right, but the advantage of this is that I’ve had time to live with the album – and I’d say if anything that its appeal has grown over the passing months. This is one of those albums that has so much going on that you find something new on each different listen. OK, there are still areas for improvement – the main one being the spacey ambient stuff, which does have a tendency to meander and perhaps grate a little after a number of listens, and could do with being tightened up – but this is still a very strong, adventurous and fresh-sounding release which should appeal to a wide cross section of rock fans.
It’s interesting that, during the so-called “Dark Ages” of European civilization, when human hygiene and sanitation were at the absolute nadir, still, human culture produced wonderful high art, especially music, which never abandoned either harmonic agreement or sweet melodicism. It seems that as the physical reality became harsh, aesthetic fancy took flight. Interesting also is that, since the dominance of Western and American culture across the globe, and the spread of general bodily comfort and medical acumen, music has become more and more sick, declining into sheer noisiness, monotone singing, razorblade textures, bleak existentialist lyrics, or, perhaps worse, mindless, simplistic fluff: it’s either cankers or cake, I guess. There is very little spirit (unless raging angst and dull irony count) in modern popular music. If art and especially music are ever indicators of the robustness and healthiness of a culture and its zeitgeist, than Western culture is decadent through and through and dying, and perhaps The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute is the funeral dirge.
I’ve wanted to like TMV. Really. In 2003, I bought the four-song CD (The Mars Volta Live) after reading so much hoopla and hurrah about the band on internet web sites. The contemporary prog fans were especially buzzing about the music, and since I’m always up for a novel, even life-altering musical experience, I gave TMV a shot. I didn’t like what I heard: excessive abrasiveness, a banshee vocal delivery, muddiness, murkiness, and general histrionics. It was hard for me to love The Mars Volta Live in comparison with the many fine live CDs I’ve heard in my day ... and even with some of the less-than-fine efforts. But to be fair, I chalked my displeasure up to age and its attendant lack of tolerance. I figured the band probably merited some attention but that I was a jaded soul who should return to the “golden oldies” of Jethro Tull, The Beatles, Steely Dan, and The Who.
Then, in 2005, TMV released Frances the Mute to seemingly great and sweaty, hand-wringing anticipation. OK. I said, “Well, why not give it another go? Maybe you missed something first time out.” Well, I did, and I didn’t.
I won’t review this CD track-by-track. I was barely able to make it through my two listens, and each time I had to break the exposure up into small, just palatable doses. There’s no way I can sit through another play and offer a meditation on this music. So let me cut to the chase.
TMV sounds like what you’d have if you put equal parts Led Zeppelin, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, a local Tex-Mex band, and third-rate Americana Floyd-inspired sound effects into the blender and popped the “puree” button. The problem with the resulting beverage is:
- the singer’s imitation of Robert Plant is bad–very nasally, effeminate, biteless, and affected;
- the band is overbearing in the density and volume of its sonic attack;
- the sound effects don’t ever provide any sort of conceptual accent, they’re just vague filler; and
- the arrangements are too tricky, or too obviously tricky, like a monkey trying damn hard to somersault for a banana (and collect coin for the “organ grinder,” one suspects).
There are spots where the guitar work is decent, in a straightforward, you’ve-heard-this-one-before sort of way, and sometimes the more ambient parts of the recording were successful, especially when sans vocals. Also, the fact that keyboards were used at all was noteworthy (even if they were generally buried in the quagmirish mix). Finally, the small snippets of both Spanish-language singing and trumpet flourish were tolerable; the singer actually sounded passionate in a Romance tongue. But I still ultimately felt like this album was crafted with “craft” wholly in mind rather than emotion, soul, or artistic expression. But maybe it’s just me. TMV wears on me as does latter-day Radiohead: It all seems like a contrived joke that simultaneously thumbs its nose at the listener while pocketing his or her funds ... and I never hear the “Thank you” for my hard-earned cash, unless 77 minutes of whiplash antics is the payback.
I’m giving this a 2 because I’m certain ... well, nearly certain ... it’s not the worst thing I’ll ever hear, but there’s an abundance of rich, exciting, pleasurable music in the record stores and on-line shops to sample and I’m unwilling to spend time with anything this agonizingly painful. If TMV is the future of mainstream rock music, then I’m done. If it’s the future of the progressive rock revival, then I’m done. I guess, in the end, I wanted the gag and wished that Frances had in fact been mute.
Frogg Café - Fortunate Observer Of Time
Tracklist: Eternal Optimist (6:31) Fortunate Observer of Time (7:04) Reluctant Observer (9:27) No Regrets (8:13) Resign (1:05) You're Still Sleeping (10:43) Abyss of Dissension (14:38) Release (3:56)
When I received the CD of this album from Bob, I spun it right away and it blew my mind at first spin. This third album of the New York based contemporary prog band is my second experience after I enjoyed their excellent second album Creatures (2003). This new album has proved that the band is much more mature with their music creation. Even though the second album is an excellent record, this one is better. The band has significantly progressed in a positive direction in their own musical identity. I did not need to have another spin to accept the music of this album because I have been familiar with their music and the kind of Frank Zappa’s music. Another factor also is that, in a way the music of Frogg Café is similar to Discus and Anane (Indonesian prog bands).
The Frogg Café embryo was born in 1998 as a Frank Zappa cover band called "Lumpy Gravy" performing Zappa's difficult music on Long Island and New York City. In 2000, the band was in transition and found a new beginning with the addition of percussionist James Guarnieri to the band. At this point, the band changed its name to Frogg Café and started to perform original music with a host of discernable influences in their sound such as Zappa, Yes, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Focus, Genesis, and even the more avant-garde styles.
The members of this unique group are Nick Lieto (vocals, keyboards, trumpet), Steven Uh (guitars), Bill Ayasse (violin, mandolin), Andrew Sussman (bass), and James Guarnieri (drums). All of the members of Frogg Café are university trained in music. In this album, the band brings in seven additional musicians including ex Frank Zappa’s percussionist Ed Mann on the 15-minute epic Abyss of Dissension.
Having enjoyed two Frogg Café albums, I can confirm that their music blends elements from many styles like progressive rock, classic rock, jazz & improvisation, driving melody lines, angular harmonies, modern chamber music and avant-garde into a cohesive listening experience. In this album, you might hear influences from Zappa, Gentle Giant, Kansas, King Crimson, Phish even from jazz musicians like Chuck Mangione, Deodato, Miles Davis, etc.
Let’s have a look in great details …
The album opener Eternal Optimist starts off wonderfully with powerful and catchy voice of Lieto combined with excellent melodies and music harmonies. This is for sure a song-oriented composition that blends the sounds of seventies classic rock (with bands like Humble Pie, Grand Funk Railroad, or Cactus) with jazz rock, pop, and progressive rock. The meaty guitar licks of Steve Uh characterizes the style of this opening track. The music flow is floating steadily and moving from one style to another with relatively smooth transition.
Fortunate Observer Of Time begins with a beautiful exploration of violin and cello works that remind me of David Cross work (as solo artist and as member of King Crimson) combined with solid bass lines and stunning guitar. This instrumental track casts a jazzy nuance. The trombone solo in the middle of the track reminds me to the flugelhorn-based music of Chuck Mangione. Reluctant Observer is a great track with loads of intricate piano/guitar/violin/cello interplay augmented with excellent bass lines of Andy Sussman and the intricate drumming by James Guarnieri. Style-wise, this track provides us with tons of fusion groove. Lieto demonstrates how he has advanced himself as an excellent lead singer as his voice unifies melody and pop sensibilities. Ayasse's violin work gives the Kansas nuance as the violin sounds like Robby Steinhardt’s. It’s a wonderful track!
No Regrets starts with a moderately complex music that moves smoothly and brings us to a quieter passage where Lieto’s voice enters the music augmented with piano touches. Tempo-wise, it’s slower than the previous track. You might sense the similarity with Kansas music. The flugelhorn solo in the middle of the track played by Lieto is really good. Resign is a one-minute track that features powerful voice quality of Lieto backed with violin work. It continues almost seamlessly to You're Still Sleeping where I can sense the nuance of Echolyn music with great jazzy vocals. The piano touches that accompany the singing part is really stunning. This relatively long song (approx 10 minutes) is moderately complex in arrangement combining great work of violin, piano and guitar. Yes, there is some thin influence of Kansas but interestingly it is composed on top jazzy music textures. During the transition piece, I can sense the influence of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. The combination of bass work and piano is really awesome. It’s a great composition that favours those of you who like jazz-fusion style.
I think the album highlight is the approximately 15-minute epic Abyss of Dissension which starts off with long sustain notes of brass section followed with very nice funk / groove music with solid bass lines that flows wonderfully with brass section. This track is I think accessible (at least at the opening part) in addition to the album opener. Most of you would enjoy how great the harmonies created by brass work, vocal and accompanying music. The track also contains Latin music elements with its specific percussion work. The electric guitar solo is really stunning – it has a flavour of Carlos Santana’s style. This track is written by bassist Andy Sussman and also features former Frank Zappa vibes/marimba player Ed Mann. Of course I cannot forget the excellent combination of wah-wah guitars, thick horn section and vibes. It’s really a rewarding epic to enjoy! The concluding instrumental Release is an atmospheric piece with flutes (played by Sharon Ayasse), Sussman's cello, and violin. It’s explorative in nature.
Overall, Fortunate Observer of Time is a true gem as it has a very unique sound that blends many elements of various music styles. Musically, it is melodic, tasty - with memorable segments, composed in relatively complex structure and it’s explorative in nature. It’s a recommended album.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Willowglass - Willowglass
Tracklist: Peace (1:26), Remembering (8:34), Garden (8:15), Interlude No. 1 (1:36), Tower Of The King's Daughter (7:10), Summer's Lease (0:18), Into The Chase (4:29), A Blinding Light (6:36), Waking The Angels (5:45), The End (1:46)
Musically, Yorkshire is probably most associated with the Goth scene of the mid 1980s. In recent years only Gold, Frankincense and Diskdrive/Parallel or 90 Degrees spring to mind as flying the progressive flag for this proud county. However, a new name, Willowglass, has recently emerged that may change that with their debut eponymous album. A million miles away from the Sisters of Mercy, Willowglass, the album, is a collection of instrumental tracks focusing on the lighter and more melodic side of progressive rock. The album is the labour of love of one man, Andrew Marshall, who wrote, arranged, produced and played everything (except for some drumming assistance by Dave Brightman).
Taking inspiration from a variety of progressive rock artists from the sixties and seventies, particularly the more symphonic artists, Marshall has produced ten tracks that manage to blend the feel and atmosphere of those times with something a bit more modern. The overall feel is fairly laid back and almost pastoral at times, although the electric guitar is put through its paces on tracks such as Tower Of The King's Daughter. In some ways, the album could be considered a distillation of the many styles of Anthony Phillips and Ant fans will find a lot among these tracks to take pleasure in. From the short pieces such as the piano solo of Peace, the acoustic guitar solo of Interlude No. 1 and the rather delicious fretless bass on the The End, to longer tracks like A Blinding Light which harks back to The Geese And The Ghost era.
Camel are another good comparator, particularly in the way that the instrumentals build slowly, meandering around a theme, adding layers and textures in a fluid and somewhat lackadaisical manner. Into The Chase is a most amusing and interesting amalgamation of early Camel, a jazzy and jolly flute led introduction and guitar/synth ending, merged together by a slightly more sinister Mellotron-style keyboards that would not be out of place on an early Genesis album. The sound of the Mellotron is liberally spread throughout although it tends not to dominate. The only place it does seem out of place is on the rather incongruous Waking The Angels which seems a bit formulaic to my ears and is marred by the basic (programmed) drum pattern.
Marshall has produced a fine album in Willowglass; there is no denying his compositional skills, exemplified on tracks like Remembering which effortlessly chops and changes, or the more languid Garden which has vague reflections of the first couple of King Crimson albums. Although I don't think Willowglass will take the world by storm, it does make a perfect soundtrack for a reflective summer's afternoon sitting in a glade watching the world go by. For those with a more mellow state of mind this is a recommended release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Frameshift - An Absence Of Empathy
Tracklist: Human Grain (4:41), Just One More (5:49), Miseducation (5:41), I Killed You (9:01), This Is Gonna Hurt (4:34), Push The Button (6:09), In An Empty Room (5:51), Outcast (5:32), Blade (9:22), How Long Can I Resist (6:05), When I Look Into My Eyes (5:12), What Kind Of Animal (5:56)
Henning Pauly is a very busy body. In the past two years he has released five albums and for all those album he is the driving musical force. First of all he is part of the band Chain, they have released two albums that have both been reviewed on DPRP (Reconstruct and Chain.exe). Along with this he works on a project which goes under the name of Frameshift. The first Frameshift album Unweaving the Rainbow is best known because James Labrie of Dream Theater does the vocals, however for this second Frameshift album Henning Pauly has found another vocalist: Sebastian Bach best known as the lead singer of Skid Row.
An Absence Of Empathy is different to Unweaving The Rainbow, there is a certain bite in the music that is greatly amplified by Sebastian Bach's vocals, but still it is a very "Henning Pauly album". The guitar lines are complex and full, taking unexpected turns and because of that it is not a very easy album (again). The subject matter of this prog metal concept album is not really an uplifting one, examining different types of violence. Because of all the violence on the TV the main character becomes intrigued by the question why some of us come to violence while others do not. In dreams the main character commits and endures acts of violence, which allows him to eventually come to the conclusion that we all have the potential of violence. The protagonist decides that the only way to live with/control violence it to raise your children well.
Human Grain's intro has been heard before, with a radio switching channels, Hotel California is distinguishable and the track itself also does not contain much in the way of surprises - rock without too many progressive elements. Just One More continues in similar fashion, but with slightly more interesting touches put in. Miseducation is the first really interesting track with a superb guitar solo and luckily this is continued in I Killed You - a track in which the vocals and harmonies alternate from the left to the right side of the audio mix. This Is Gonna Hurt has a nice cooperation of guitars and vocals. Push The Button is another typical Henning song, wobbly guitars and piano's - the vocals then glue it all together.
Nice note: Saga's Michael Sadler forms part of the "gangland vocals" for Miseducation and Push The Button, as is ProgRecords own president Shawn Gordon.
In An Empty Room is a mellow track that has some elements that could well be taken from a musical (!) Outcast is also not an up tempo song, but incorporates a nice build up. Blade is an epic track with a large orchestration (out of a synthesizer), the guitar solos and vocals make this the best track of the album. How Long Can I Resist starts of with a real bite but the refrain is almost cheery, whereas When I Look Into My Eyes is very electronic with drum computers and all - it is the odd one out of this album - it kind of reminds me of Abydos. And finally What Kind Of Animal rounds off the album - a very touching, quiet track in which the rough voice of Sebastian Bach works really well.
But for me the voice of Sebastian Bach does not really work for this music in general. It is a voice very fitting for straight forward rock and that is something Frameshift is certainly not. It takes a real effort to listen past his voice and find there is actually pretty thought-out music behind it. A rather strange observation if you consider that Sebastian Bach started doing musicals after Skid Row. It is not that Sebastian has a bad voice or that I don't like it, it is just that the two don't seem to go together, the voice hides the music instead of strengthening it.
Maybe because of this voice this is not the best Henning Pauly album I've heard. Then again Sebastian Bach does all the tracks and it could be that his screaming voice lays bare that the music is also not too eventful. The best tracks are the four last ones and coincidentally these are also the tracks on which Sebastian Bach restrains his voice. Miseducation is also a very good track but still these five tracks are not tilting my opinion on the complete album.
This is not my first review of a Henning Pauly album so I can safely say that the man stands for quality in every aspect of his music. It is no different on this album and the album is indeed very good but unfortunately this album does not really do it for me. I am sure that anyone who liked the previous Frameshift album will like this one and the same goes for fans of the last Chain album - personally I think that one was just slightly better.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
u i blue - Songbird's Cry
Tracklist: The Songbird’s Cry - Part 1 (6:55), I Can't Help Myself (5:09), When You Call (4:55), Unbroken (3:43), Thoughts In An Hourglass (4:21), White City (4:16), I Waited (4:58), Dis-moi (2:43), Monologue (4:16), No One (5:59), Tomorrow (3:26), Roses Artificially Made (5:17), My Dove (4:24), Mad Keys (3:58), The Songbird’s Cry - Part 2 (7:13)
With the release of the latest Glass Hammer album, featured recently, it seemed an appropriate time to put to bed this album from u i blue which has spent too long a time awaiting review. You may be wondering what significance the Glass Hammer release has to do with this particular album. Well those familiar with GH will recognise the name Laura Lindstrom as one of the contributing vocalist on their latest album - Laura appears on Morrigan's Song from The Inconsolable Secret. If you then add to this the major musical contributions made by Messrs Babb and Schendel on Songbird's Cry, things may become more evident.
However we should not overly dwell on the GH references as this is not an offshoot album, but is primarily the work of Jon Paul and Laura Lindstrom with Babb and Schendel lending their musical expertise. Along with the aforementioned are a number of guest musicians including Terry Clouse (bass), who appears throughout and Jay Craven (clarinet), Tracy Boyette (additional vocals), Ben Davis (acoustic guitar) and the Adonia String trio (another familiar GH contributor), featuring on certain tracks.
Straight to the chase on this one and I have to say I've really struggled with this album and even at the point of finalising this review some misgivings still linger on. Why?
In its favour the album is well produced with the music being both lightweight and highly listenable. A fine balance is maintained throughout between a commercial edged sound, but with more than enough prog elements to safely cross both borders. Laura Lindstrom's voice is wonderful and the instrumentation and arrangements are well thought out. The vocal melodies are extremely infectious and this coupled with numerous well crafted elements and touches within the music does save this album from a degree of mediocrity. Those elements might be a delicate string arrangement, a brief violin solo or a clarinet melody, pricking up the ears and drawing you back again and again into the music.
Working against the album is that it suffers from being overly long (a bit like this review) and by the halfway point I started to tire of the overly pleasant sound, with a measure of dejà vu creeping into my thoughts as each track came and went. Also the songs and arrangements have a very even sound and in turn this did not help to keep the attention for what is well over an hour's worth of music. And finally, as touched on in the pros for the album, those engaging well crafted elements and touches are all too short and infrequent, with a little too much concentration on the vocals - however good. So perhaps a brief look at some of tracks from the album to highlight the points made.
The opener, The Songbird’s Cry, Part 1 does get things off to a good start with a rather subdued instrumental section, with its gentle acoustic timbres and percolating keyboard undercurrents. The song is allowed to gradually develop over seven minutes with the main body being jaunty and instantly hummable. We also have our first taster of Laura Lindstrom's lovely voice accompanied by husband Jon Paul's softly sung vocals. The track also contains a brief solo with some very Gilmour-esque note bends. The tone is nicely set for the album.
On to track two I Can't Help Myself and again those delicate touches are there immediately. The sounds and structure brought to mind some of Sting's later works - Jay Craven's clarinet work is particularly good here, as is the effective E-bowed guitar. But, and there is always a but, despite these great musical touches the lyrics and chorus melody are a little difficult to come to terms with. "I can't help myself, I can't stop loving you" is just too sugary and insipid for my pallett. It's my wife's favourite track - says it all really (to be taken out :0) before she reads this).
When You Call is a delicate number with gently picked acoustic guitar and Laura's haunting voice - superb. The track picks up at the halfway point with a large "mellotron" choir and plodding rhythm, before returning to the delicate opening section.
Now one thing that has slowly become evident as the album progresses is that u i blue don't appear to use a drummer (although Mr Schendel is credited in this role), relying more moving percussive time keeping sounds, although there are conventional "programmed" drum sounds and rhythms used on the album. Unbroken relies more on the former, which works really well, complimenting the song and giving it a commercial edge. I should say that the drums were never an issue when listening to the album.
Thoughts In An Hourglass and White City had my thoughts drifting towards the work of Renaissance, however the cracks are starting to show for me. Exacerbated by Jon Paul's vocals, whose lead lines are all sung in French, which added a tweeness to the music that grated with me after its appearance in the opening track. A shame really as there are some really good symphonic moments in these two tracks. More on the right track is I Waited with the main instrumentation being acoustic guitar, Lindstrom's voice and some deft piano touches. Again the song develops with some strong symphonic keyboards.
Sorry but I just had to skip past Dis-moi, dreadful song, all sung in French. Proceedings are somewhat saved by the lightweight instrumental Monolugue. Messrs Babb & Schendel contributing to the keyboard parts with some lovely Genesis-like flute sounds nicely complimented by the simple but effective acoustic guitar of Ben Davis.
The vocals return with the up-tempo No One and although this is one of the stronger songs on the album my interest had started to wane with the album by this point. An all too familiar formula is adopted with the ebb and flow of the track - although once again I can't get away from the fact there are some magic little moments in the music. With still twenty or so minutes of music still remaining on the album, I've pretty much exhausted ways to describe the individual tracks. There is still some fine music contained in these remaining songs, but if I haven't managed to convey my thoughts by now, I've failed in my intentions.
Highlights - difficult - certainly the opener and the instrumental track nine. No One and the closing track, The Songbird’s Cry, Part 2 with its distinct Eastern vibe.
Amongst my friends I stand alone in my opinion of Songbird's Cry and all who have heard this album played when visiting, or listening to it my car, have enquired as to the music and expressing their liking for what they are hearing. However I've listened over and over to this album yet I still have reservations - and as indicated above, I am still pondering why the music just hasn't fully grabbed me. Perhaps it just lacks bite! At the end of the day this is probably an excellent album that just did not appeal to me. Laura Lindstrom's crystalline voice is both delicate and beautiful and the music is tastefully executed and enjoyable, so I can well imagine that I will play this album often as a gentle background, but doubt it will grow on me any further.
All this said I can well imagine this finding great favour among the progressive rock community and would certainly recommend you check this album out. Also any of the Record Labels whose albums we regularly review here at DPRP might well do themselves a favour by getting in in touch with u i blue.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Fraktal - Ask The Rabbit
Fraktal hail from Argentina and Ask The Rabbit is their debut CD. Unfortunately the group didn't include any background information with the CD and the website, although interesting is rather sparse on biographical content.
The album sleeve imparts the fact that they are a four-piece band - Frederico F Fariña on guitars, Humberto Salazar on drums, Luciano Harbero on bass and Claudio J Rodriguez on lead vocal and guitar. A prog band without keyboards I hear you ask (they are joined by Juan J Lópex on keyboards and sound effects on six tracks), well Fraktal are anything but a characteristic progressive band. The most obvious resemblance throughout is Radiohead of the Kid A / Amnesiac period - disjointed, discordant, fractured and quite gripping.
The whole album has an overall downbeat feel, well one would expect as such considering one side of the CD bag simply contains the words "There Is No Hope"! However, within the somewhat limited range of tempos Fraktal manage to bend themselves round a comprehensive selection of styles and moods.
Opener Blind with its minimal lyrics ("Why me, me? I'm just blind. Sad and Empty, I stay there. See my eyes breathing. What if I lie, I'm just blind") starts acoustically gradually introducing electric guitar in an engaging manner that draws the listener in. For the main part the songs do not follow any regular structure, the compositions are arranged for mood and atmosphere. In that respect they share some similarity with Sigur Ros but bend things further apart, exemplified by Chickens And Worms where the faux crackles and scratches echo elements of the first Portishead album. Elsewhere the acoustic Falling Down and I Am Not blend with the experimental Past Present and Steps and the harder hitting and more energetic tracks such as Aneurysm and Endless ether (where Radiohead comparisons are particularly valid), the contrasts are pronounced.
Ask The Rabbit is one of those albums where the sum is definitely greater than the individual parts - the individual tracks take on new perspectives when played in conjunction with the rest of the album. Subtly layered the album gradually reveals itself with each hearing, divulging rhythms and melodies. It does take a degree of effort and concentration to get the most out of this album but ultimately it is worth it for the delights that tracks such as This Song Says Nothing and Tree offer. For anyone who is not adverse to something that little bit different Fraktal are a band to listen out for.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10