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Reviews in this issue:
- Mostly Autumn - Storms Over Still Water
- Porcupine Tree - XMII
- Alan Emslie - Dark Matter
- Lady Lake - Supercleandreammachine
- The Carpet Knights - Lost And So Strange Is My Mind
- Kracq - Circumvision
Mostly Autumn - Storms Over Still Water
Tracklist: Out Of The Green Sky (3:40), Broken Glass (3:44), Ghost In Dreamland (3:12), Heartlife (5:50), End Of The World (4:04), Black Rain (3:53), Coming To (2:52), Candle To The Sky (8:19), Carpe Diem (8:05), Storms Over Still Water (7:39), Tomorrow (3:40)
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Mostly Autumn. Back in '99 they were (justly) heralded as the next best thing on this very site and I still rate their first three albums amongst the best of the past decade. However, it was as if their move from Cyclops to Classic Rock Productions had required the band to sell their souls back in 2001, as creativity dried up alarmingly fast when the band changed record label.
Classic Rock Productions released a seemingly endless string of compilations, re-recordings, live albums and DVDs, at a rate which rivals the release schedule of Marillion. The two studio albums that were released during the CRP period, Music Inspired by The Lord Of The Rings and Passengers both failed to deliver. At the same time the band started taking the "Next Pink Floyd" tag a little too seriously. Whether this was forced upon them by the record company or their own ego is unclear, but probably a bit of both, as I don't think the band would have toured as a Pink Floyd cover band just because their record company said so.
But the thing is, when you go to the Classic Rock Productions website and you buy their "ultimate Pink Floyd bundle" you get one DVD on which Mostly Autumn plays Pink Floyd tunes, one DVD on which Mostly Autumn talks about Pink Floyd and one DVD which has the keyboardist of Mostly Autumn playing Floyd tunes with a chamber orchestra. I cannot see how such scams can do anything but hurt the band. I can't see any Pink Floyd fan who finds out he's been ripped off by CRP going "oh well, this sounds like a nice band too, let's check out their albums". And judging from the comments I've read on Pink Floyd forums, they don't! Fortunately the band seems to have finally gotten their act together again and they parted ways with CRP to start their own record label Autumn Records.
So the first release of Autumn Records is a fact. Adopting the tried and tested pre-order scheme made famous by Marillion the band was able to correct one of their biggest shortcomings from their previous albums: production. Where the previous albums all sounded rather flat, Storms Over Still Waters has a much more rich and lush sound to it. At the same time, producing the album all by themselves has also resulted in what I think is the biggest shortcoming on this album: the song-order. It is as if the album is split in two. The first half of the album contains mainly poppy rock-tunes, much in the vein of their previous album Passengers, while the second half contains much more proggy tunes, harking back to their Cyclops days. It was probably done deliberately, but it fails to convince me, as I find myself simply skipping the first six songs when I play the album.
As is tradition with Mostly Autumn albums the song starts with the fading notes of the preceding album, and Out Of The Green Sky opens the album quite heavily, with Gilmouresque slide-guitar and Mike Oldfield-like riffs (Five Miles Out era). The verses are sung by Bryan Josh, who also vocally tries to do his best Gilmour impression, while the choruses are a bit of a shock as Heather Findlay tries to adopt a kind of hard-rock style singing which doesn't suit her frail voice at all!
The high pace is maintained with Broken Glass, a poppy tune somewhat in the vein of Deep Purple and Ghost In Dreamland, a very eighties sounding prog-pop tune. Neither of these songs are particularly good and can best be skipped to get to the next one, Heartlife, which is easily the best track of "side one" of the album.
It starts as a nice ballad with Heather Findlay shifting back to a vocal style which suits her voice better. For the first part of the song she is only accompanied by acoustic guitar and Angela Gordon's flute. Speaking of which, Angela Gordon is criminally underused on the album, as the band seems to have abandoned all their Celtic references of the past thereby reducing Gordon to nothing more than a guest musician. Heartlife draws more heavily on 'that other band' which seems to have given Mostly Autumn most of their inspiration: Deep Purple. Great Hammond organ and some firing guitarwork.
End Of The World is an interesting song, which is both lyrically and musically inspired by Peter Gabriel era Genesis. The interplay between Findlay (verses) and Josh (choruses) works particularly well, and there is an unexpected but welcome Roger Waters-style bite in both the delivery of the lyrics and the musical arrangement.
Black Rain is another heavy rocker which reminds me a lot of their earlier track Never The Rainbow, from The Last Bright Light. Again, Deep Purple or possibly Uriah Heep come to mind as references, and once again the song isn't much to write home about either.
Apart from Heartlife and End Of The World the songs that make up the first half of the album these songs are characterised by a steady monotonous rhythm, which is definitely the least imaginative style of drumming I have ever heard on a prog album. Of course, not all prog songs have to be in a 13/8 time signature, but there is no reason keeping a 2/4 signature without a single fill either. A band like Coldplay might get away with it, but this ain't Colplay-style music. I've heard drum computers play more exciting rhythms...
Instrumental Coming To is the turning point on the album. The short instrumental is very reminiscent to the instrumentals of former label mates Pineappe Thief. Written by keyboardist Iain Jennings who has become Mostly Autumn's second-most important composer. I'm not too sure about his role though, since most of drivel on the first half of the album are his compositions.
The whole album quickly picks up from here. Candle To The Sky has been described by many as "Dark Side Of The Moon in eight minutes" and the Floyd reference is over-obvious, though not necessarily Dark Side. The album starts as something which could have come from an Alan Parsons album, with a chorus which echoes Floyd's Eclipse. It then turns into a happy Beatles Hey Jude-style sing-along, but quickly shifts another 180 degrees into a very Floydian improvisation which actually echoes uhm... Echoes.
From a musical point of view epic number two, Carpe Diem, seems to be the counterpart to The Gap Is Too Wide, from the band's second album The Spirit Of Autumn Past, and it's just as beautiful. Troy Donockley of Iona reprises his role on Uilleann pipes, giving the song a Celtic feel. Bryan Josh' soaring guitar solo is one of his best ever.
Finally, the title track stays within familiar Mostly Autumn territory with heavenly vocals by Heather Findlay and another three minutes worth of soaring guitar solos.
The album is closed with an unnecessary instrumental ditty, which actually sounds like an instrumental version of a track from one of their earlier albums.
On the new album Bryan Josh shows he's a master of the six string. David Gilmour and possibly even more so Steve Rothery are obvious references, but with distortion and original licks Josh manages to develop an own identity. His singing on the other hand... he also produced the album and that was probably his biggest mistake - a producer from outside the band could have convinced him to leave more of the vocal parts up to the other focal point of the band, Heather Findlay. Findlay who disappoints slightly on the album. One because she doesn't sing enough, and two because she tries to adopt a more hard-rock and at times even gothic style of singing which doesn't suit her voice at all.
So for a final conclusion? A tough one. The band is clearly back on the right track and Storms Over Still Water contains some of the best material they have ever released. Yet at the same time it is a highly unbalanced album with a great second half, and a rather mediocre first. If Storms Over Still Waters had been two separate EP-length albums, I would have rated the first with 6 out of 10, and the second with 9 out of 10. Hence my final rating of:
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - XMII
Tracklist: Shesmovedon (5:11), Fadeaway (5:20), Trains (5:30), Hatesong (8:31), Pure Narcotic (5:12), Russia On Ice (12:06), Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled (4:59), Feel So Low (3:51)
In November 2002, Porcupine Tree performed their first 'live in the studio session' for XM radio. The session was eventually released on the bands Transmission label in 2003. I remember being quite pissed off about the fact that I only found out after it had completely sold out, even though I had signed up for the band's e-mail newsletter. Strange enough it was never announced before the stock had gone. Fortunately I got my hands on a bootleg version of the sessions, which even included the interviews and acoustic tracks which were not on the 'official' CD. On the 21st July 2003 the band returned to the Washington studio for another session. This second session had now been released under the obvious name of XMII. It's being sold through the band's online store and merchandise stalls at shows.
Those who expect a full blown live concert should be warned. Since the recordings were done in a radio studio, it does not feature any audience. As such there is no audience noise present whatsoever. Some might consider this to be non-atmospheric but I personally quite like it since it gives you very pure live renditions of the songs, unspoiled by screams and whistles, almost like they are playing in your own living room (or on the backseat of your car, depending on where you're listening). And pure these renditions are indeed. Even though you might miss a thing every now and then (e.g. the handclaps in Trains), all of the songs stand up very well in these live versions, sometimes even sounding refreshingly 'bare'.
While the band has without a doubt used backing tapes in the past to solve the problem of multiple guitar parts and harmony vocals, the addition of John Wesley to the tour line-up means an extra voice and guitar. As a result, stuff like the combined acoustic and electric guitar parts in Trains sounds splendid. Also, most of the harmony vocals sound much less 'fabricated' than for instance those on the Warsawa live album. Finally some sections, like the heavy middle section of Russia On Ice, sounds much more full and powerful than any pre-In Absentia live version I've heard. At the same time however, I have to admit that where I still consider Gavin Harrison to be the weaker drummer in PT's history, John Wesley's backing vocals at times can't live up to the splendour of Chris Maitland's voice either. As a matter of fact, the inclusion of golden oldie Fadeaway in the set is a marvellous choice, but I still can't get used to Wesley's high-pitched performance on this song or in the quieter parts of Shesmovedon. It almost had me checking the digipack sleeve for credits of a female vocalist ...
Fortunately the setlist for this XMII session is completely different from the one for the first session, so there's no duplication between the two session albums. What's also remarkable is the fact that while the first XM session focussed more on In Absentia, this second session only has one song from that (at the time) new album and instead has most of the selections taken from Lightbulb Sun, still one of my favourites. Special mention should go to the slightly extended version of Hatesong and the wonderful acoustic Pure Narcotic and first half of Last Chance ....
It's a shame that they didn't include a couple of bonus tracks on this album. There's probably a few more studio session, like for instance the acoustic XM tracks that were not released on either of the XM CDs. Now there's just 50 minutes of music on the disc, leaving capacity for another 30. Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended purchase for avid Tree huggers like me, although not a must have for the more occasional listener, hence the rating just below 'DPRP Recommended'.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Alan Emslie - Dark Matter
Tracklist: Misanthropic Myopic Man (5:47), Incomplete (5:09), Dark Matter (5:32), Charon (6:36), Living Monster (7:03), All The Time (6:27), On Your Knees (4:47), Two Threads (3:10)
Prior to this review I decided to revisit my ever growing Alan Emslie collection and also to re-read previous review comments. I have to admit to being somewhat inconsistent in certain areas. Initially with the Floating album I had suggested that perhaps the album lacked a finishing ingredient, implying that a vocalist might make the music more accessible to wider audience. However on Driven Heavy, where Alan took up this mantle himself, I was somewhat reserved in my comments, suggesting that the instrumental tracks provided the stronger material. Nothing like being consistent :0). So to Dark Matter where the vocals feature even more prominently than before - perhaps time to get my act together.
But before this, time to put in some background information on the band and this project. The musicians for Dark Matter sees the continuing relationship between Alan Emslie (drums, percussion, keyboards & vocals) and John Irvine (guitars). Alan is a classically trained percussionist and viewers in the UK may have caught him not only acting, but also performing in BBC2's mini Beethoven series, screened in the summer. John is also a studied musician and has written for film and TV, been involved in theatre productions and currently teaches music at both The City of Edinburgh Music School and St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh. Perhaps not surprising then with this calibre of musicianship that all the drums for Dark Matter were recorded in just 4 hours and that the vocals and mixing took only one day each. An album produced in a week - sounds like the earliest days of rock revisited.
So there is one thing that cannot be levelled at Alan Emslie, and that is predictability. Given the preamble above one might expect a slightly different album than the one currently in my CD player. Now each successive album that I have listened to from the man has been different and this latest release continues that trend. Dark Matter does however progress his sound further into the heavier sound adopted on Driven Heavy. The album opener, the unusually titled Misanthropic Myopic Man, which musically leaps out and grabs you by the throat confirms this. Great riff from John Irvine and driven as usual by Alan Emslie's solid drumming. Couldn't help thinking of some of Led Zeppelin's early tracks. And in similar fashion to Alan's last album the vocals are presented with a fair measure of distortion added to the voice, giving credence to our short sighted misanthrope.
It did take me some time to come to terms with the vocal sound and its heavily distorted approach. Now this technique is not new, but does seem to be one adopted more and more within the progressive field. Should we be surprised, I mean the guitar has had distortion added for many years, the keyboard sounds use the effect to give grit within its timbres. So why not the vocals - presumably time will see this as innovative or serve only to date it the music to a time frame. But here on Dark Matter it gives a hard edge to the sound, without destroying the melodic vocal structures. Worth mentioning that this is an area greatly improved since Driven Heavy and the vocal delivery is more convincing and controlled.
The slower tempo of Incomplete has the vocals put through their paces with varying levels of intensity - much befitting the music. These range from the chanted almost shouted vocal sections to the more delicate, whispered Gabrielesque nuances. Possibly one of the more difficult tracks to get into, but one certainly full of dynamics. We leave the intensity of Incomplete and proceed to the busy, keyboard lead title track. Again there are good dynamics, this time ranging from dark atmospherics to the driving Rush like vibes. Certainly the drumming recalls Neal Peart at his best and John Irvine's themes conjure up Mr Lifeson's guitar work.
From here we move to one of my favourite tracks Charon, at times it has the feel of a late 80s synth pop song, but one that is continually interrupted and savaged by choppy driving metallic chords and a precise drum rhythm. Great atmospheric guitar solo from John Irvine in the middle of the track, before returning once more to the melodic verse/chorus structure. To save repeating my comments the album continues through a pattern of rather intense, dark and heavy progressive songs with Messrs Emslie and Irvine pulling out all the stops. Although in contrast to what has gone on before the album concludes with a gentle instrumental - clean delayed guitar layers take the album to a final resting point.
Now before summarizing I feel I should remark on the distinctly live feel to the album. I believe this is deliberate as all these songs are to be played live and without the addition of other musicians. The keyboard parts and sound effects are sequenced, but the rest is intended to be reproduce in a live environment. This is not infer that there is any lack of quality, as I have come to expect from Mr Emslie, the recording is clear and precise and the production values true to the instrumentation.
I have to admit that this is certainly heavier than my usual digest of progressive music. But once again Alan Emslie has produced an album that has won me over. The combination of dark progressive rock with distinct metallic overtones mixed in with "chilled soundscapes" is one I shall return to often. One day hopefully I will have the opportunity to see these two guys in action.
All of which nicely leads us into the Special CD Launch show on the 31st August 2005, held at The Bongo Club, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh. So if you are able to get along the concert kicks off at 8:30 pm and tell them DPRP sent you and you will get two tickets for the price of one!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Lady Lake - Supercleandreammachine
Tracklist: The Untold Want [I. Children's Playground, II. Be Still! Mum's The Word, III. Grow Up! For Heaven's Sake, IV. Mystery Spot, V. The Untold Want, VI. Seen From A Train, VII. Die Maienfelder Furgga, VIII. A Coign Of True Felicity, IX. I Don't Mind If I Do, X. Too Far! Too Late! Already Bolder Proggers Were At The Gate!, XI. Children's Playsong, XII. Stumped] (14:05), Doo Dah Damage (7:17), Wet Sounds (5:05), Ford Theatre (11:02), No One Will Ever Know (Fare Thee Well) (6:05), The Chief (5:50), Radio Reminiscence (4:44), Children's Playground Revisited (0:36)
Does the Lady Lake name seem familiar to you? Well I suppose it all depends on your situation. If you are Dutch and of a certain age you may recall a band of that name whose debut album, No Pictures, was reissued by Musea back in 1997 (although you'd be unlikely to remember the original release twenty years earlier as there were only a very limited number pressed). If you are from the UK and of an even older age (or a dedicated early 1970s music fan) you may recall the name being the title of the second album by Gnidrolog. Or you just may be a fan of Arthurian legends. Well, Supercleandreammachine (apparently the name of a radio programme) is the second album from the 1970s Dutch group, who do have a connection with Gnidrolog and have no connection (as far as I know) with Lancelot, Guinnivere and their pals.
Founded in 1973 by guitarist Fred Rosenkamp the group lasted for just over a year, eventually re-establishing itself when the young guitarist met up with Leendert Korstanje (keyboards), Eddy Bakker (bass) and Joop van Leeuwen (drums) in 1976. A year later the band recorded their debut album although unhappy with the results the band underwent several line-up changes (including replacing Van Leeuwen with >Jan Dubbe who had played with Korstanje in Delay) before finally splitting in 1982. Reunions for one-off concerts were held in 1991 and 1993 without Bakker, but a more permanent reunification did not occur until 1997 when Musea expressed a desire to re-release the No Pictures album, for which the trio of musicians recorded six new tracks. Over the next few years the group continued to play sporadic concerts and demo new material until last year they dragged themselves back into the studio to record this, their second album.
And pretty impressive it is too. Purely instrumental, the melodic compositions can be loosely compared with the Canterbury scene of the early 1970s. This is no more evident than on the opening number The Untold Want which has shades of both Caravan and Hatfield And The North (and not just in the wacky titles of the various parts either!). Although split into 12 sections, the piece does flow seamlessly throughout its fourteen minutes with Rosenkamp's guitar work being of particular note, passing through a gamut of styles. Doo Dah Damage has a more of a Camel groove with Korstanje's Hammond organ being more prominent while Wet Sounds contains some very nice guitar work that even Andy Latimer himself would be proud of. Ford Theatre takes a degree of influence from fellow Dutch band Focus, the guitar and keyboard interplay being especially well worked out. Again, shades of the Hatfields shine through in places.
No One Will Ever Know (Fare Thee Well) is a more reflective, almost melancholic, piece successfully managing to merge elements of all the above mentioned bands to provide something quite unique, the double tracked guitar being particularly effective. However, the piece is firmly rooted in the 1970s and, if The High Llamas hadn't got their first, they could easily have called this cut 'Period Music'. The Chief is a rockier number based on an electric guitar groove. The jazzier direction this piece takes doesn't work as well for me, lacking the emotive power found elsewhere on the album. Still the players do mesh together well and there are some interesting guitar flourishes. Radio Reminiscence sums up all that has gone before in a very succinct and powerful way. With a glorious melody and fine performances by all the band this is a great penultimate number. Everthing is brought to a close by a brief piano reprise of the first part of The Untold Want neatly rounding things off.
Although Lady Lake don't offer anything startlingly new on their first new album in 28 years, and are seemingly well rooted in the 1970s, they do write and perform music of extremely high quality. If you are an admirer of bands such as Camel and Focus, like your music instrumental and think that mood and atmosphere rank higher than speed and bombast, then Lady Lake are certainly worth checking out. If you think that it all sounds rather dated, then perhaps it would help if you consider it as a lost follow-up that was originally recorded immediately after the band's first album. In conclusion, a fine album and one that I'm sure will mature well with repeated playing over the years to come.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Carpet Knights - Lost And So Strange Is My Mind
Tracklist: All Be The Same (3:05), No Space To Spare (4:23), Zonked (3:21), The Mist (4:46), Fools And Silent Callers (4:58), Sad Soul (6:48), Feel It (6:47), Dab Nekan (3:38), Last Of Many (10:42)
The Carpet Knights is a five-piece band from Malmö, Sweden, that formed in 1998. Although at times the line-up has fluctuated, it’s been stable since 2002 and consists of Mattias Ankarbranth on drums and percussion; Tobias Wulff on guitars; Magnus Nilsson on vocals and flute; Joakim Jönsson on guitars and vocals; and Nils Andersson on bass guitar. The Carpet Knights have released a debut CD titled Lost And So Strange Is My Mind, which is being distributed by Record Heaven, a label I’ve always known to release and/or promote very excellent progressive and progressive-tinged rock music. The Carpet Knights (especially with the band’s mild similarity to Lucifer Was) fit into Record Heaven’s niche very well.
One strength of this band is its use of flute. And, really, I might say that the band’s refusal to overuse the flute is also a strength. For example, All Be the Same begins with a touch of Nilsson’s flute work that echoes Roots To Branches-era Tull, a period in which Ian Anderson changed from a throaty, Kirkian blower into a discrete but still powerful woodwindist. The song features a flute solo as well that is far more charming than biting, and yet, it doesn’t rob the track of intensity. And, with or without the flute, this song is one of the best on the release, showcasing a lead vocalist with a rich, developed delivery and tempered phrasing. The 15/8 count in the verses is tricky but never jarring. I also enjoyed the background vocals but I thought that they could’ve been more pronounced. If the flute tones are noteworthy on this track, the guitar tone isn’t always, especially in the solo, where it’s thin and brittle and too weak. All-in-all, though, a first-rate track and a smart way to start off the proceedings.
Fools And Silent Callers is another track containing just enough flute accents to keep the sound enjoyable rather than tedious. Hats off to The Carpet Knights for managing the flute convention well. On this track, the rhythm section of Ankarbranth and Andersson shine with deft playing that recalls the old-school style of The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Led Zeppelin. Again, I’m impressed by the vocals; the singer has a slightly nasally but very professional voice: it fits the music very well and constantly draws attention. The band does a great job with some irregular signatures on this track and the Asian/Indian dual guitar work is an appreciable study in counterpoint and balance.
There are a few standout tracks that do not feature the flute, as well.
No Space To Spare is a neat, lizard-loungy groove with some spacey guitar. The dual vocals are perfect and the main guitar riff is awkward, slippery, and slanted but it’s ideal for the song. This track recalls The Doors, especially in the quarter-tone inflected, sitar-style solo. There’s no great pop hook here but it’s a solid song, and the choruses are catchy.
Zonked is heavy and throbbing and I’d swear to a S. T. P./Scott Weiland influence on the vocals. This song doesn’t have enormous grip and the spacey effects are trite, but there’s kind of a cool stoner ambience in the bridge vocal section. This might sound really good live…
The Mist is one of a couple very mellow offerings. The drumming is very tight and crisp on this song and keeps the listener’s sleepiness at bay. In some ways, the tune reminds me of latter-day, lower-ranged Geoff Tate Queensrÿche. An effective effort at mood and coloration. The chorus is very powerful but controlled to convey sneakiness and sinister planning.
A few tracks didn’t work as well as others.
Dab Nekan is instrumental except for the background vocals and has a crawling intro that moves into a more playful organ riff. There’s a spare bit of acoustic guitar and the whole song reminds me a little of some of the more exotic stuff on Cheap Trick’s last album, Special One. This one never really gets off the ground.
I found “Feel It” to be OK, in a Doors-meets-Pink Floyd fashion, and I expect stoners will eat this up, but it seemed gratuitous and too static. The balance between the metal riffs and the spacey passages is appropriate, although it’s not exactly my thing.
Sad Soul is another mellow track with a dreamy opening and more syncopated, irregular timing. I felt like this song could be a relative hit in the mainstream if it were set in 4/4. Yeah, it might be selling out to use a standard signature, but on a 10-song CD, if you sell out on one track, you’ve got nine more on which to “do your own thing”… Sad Soul has a fluid chorus to break up the drone-like verses. The closing section reminds me somewhat of middle-period Yes, especially with the echoed guitar chords floating above the rhythm section. This is a decent track but I think it might work better “unprogged”.
By the time I got to the final track, Last of Many, I was a little tired of The Carpet Knights. Yes, the singing is fine, the playing is accomplished, and there’s definitely some verve in the tracks, but I felt like the sound wasn’t deviating that much. I did like the electric piano opening and the track does have a good, early 70s heavy-rock quality but, by 48-plus minutes, I needed a novel noise and this wasn’t it. Despite any shortcomings, Lost And So Strange Is My Mind is a quality disc. The whole album has a contemporary sound, almost a blend of the better alt-rock with prog, but pushed forward into “The Now”. There’s a modicum of heaviness to many tracks but nothing ever crosses into scream-o. I can recommend this on the strength of the singing, the songs themselves, the use of the flute, and the intelligent arrangements. The CD is perhaps too long and maybe The Carpet Knights need to expand the instrumentation and tonal palette to fend of the sonic blur between tracks, but I still think this is worth the time of prog fans. If you enjoy Tull or Lucifer Was, or any Record Heaven release, you can safely give Lost And So Strange Is My Mind a try.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Kracq - Circumvision
Tracklist: Summer Of My Life (7:08), Day In Day Out (5:13), Somewhere In The Evening (5:29), Y (5:17), Cobweb (0:30), Y Live (2:05), Opening Of The Gate Of Noise (0:10), Put Up The Organized Fight (4:29), Crimpse [part 1] (0:20), To A Square (5:40), Intercaps (0:10), Partnership (3:42), Crimpse [part 2] (1:05), Keep Control Of What I Am (8:07) [including Metal Kids, Noise, The Gate Of Noise, Boy Under Iron Bridge], Encount (0:10)
This time you can't blame (most of) the delay of this review on me! Circumvision by Dutch group Kracq was already released in 1978, on old-fashioned vinyl of course, but the world had to wait until 2003 before this album became available on a broader scale, re-released this time on CD by Polumnia.
Coming directly to a preliminary conclusion I think that this was not a bad decision, not that this album is a long-lost pearl the world was deprived from for too long, but it's surely an album worth hearing!
The label Polumnia is an odd ball in the music industry; originally a publisher of literary lyrics, devotes itself to bringing out music and music lyrics with a significant content or message. It stimulates every serious attempt to create music without the pressures and demands of commercial considerations. Strangely enough recently all information on their musical releases have disappeared from their website!
The band Kracq was formed in 1977 by members of the band King's Ransom (Twan van der Heijden, Cees Michielsen and Bert Vermijs) and Jos Hustings then operating under the name Carmine Queen. This directly gives the explanation for the name of the band: King's Ransom And Carmine Queen. With Bert Vermijs on piano, string, synthesizer, clavinet and vocals; Jos Hustings on guitar and vocals; Cees Michielsen on drums and percussion and Twan van der Heiden on bass guitar and percussion and a few additional musicians they recorded Circumvision in 1978. This was their first and only studio album; later only a live album and an obscure 'cellar tapes trilogy', with a different formation, was released. The album was released in a limited edition of only 500 vinyl LP's through the Dutch Pop Promotion Foundation, but by 1979 the band already split up again.
Circumvision begins in a very unexpected (for a prog CD) way, with a very 70's style disco-funk based groove! Soon enough though these make way for some more expected prog elements, but the whole song keeps screaming 'Seventies' from every corner. Halfway Summer Of My Life there's a short transformation into repetitive chaotic tunes over which a voice speaks some French lyrics with a (perhaps deliberate?) a severe (Dutch) accent. Luckily this does not take too long and the song goes back to a normal structure with normal singing, although the chaos gets a reprise too.
Day In Day Out is one of the better songs on the album, fully instrumental that starts of with singing birds, a piano and then a siren sound before the ecstatic Wakeman-like (Tormato era) keyboards take over. The instrumental that follows, Somewhere In The Evening, has a more jazzy feeling to it, it is a bit chaotic and directionless and not really a memorable piece. Continuing with, much to my liking, yet another up-tempo instrumental, called Y, the album reaches another of its highlights with nice (a bit classical) piano and keyboard part; unfortunately it all ends a bit too soon with an abrupt quick fade-out.
Cobweb, just like all the other very short songs that follow later on, is no more than a short interlude between two regular songs, mostly consisting of weird noises (among which hitting pots and pans in this particular case). Musically viewed it's absolute rubbish, but artistically seen some of these interlude tracks are quite interesting, but would actually fit better on a CD with soundscapes and sound experiments or even a soundtrack for a film, but on a regular album these are only fillers since there's no connection whatsoever with the normal songs. The songtitle Y Live gives the, apparently false, impression it's a live version of the song Y, but it sounds more like it's an very early basement demo tape (indeed in poorer quality) of that song, with still lots of work in progress and some sobering up! The title of the next short interlude is very aptly chosen and is actually a good description for all these short interlude songs: Opening Of The Gate Of Noise.
Put Up The Organized Fight floats along a strong bass rhythm and some typical Yes-like keyboards (again Tormato era) but the partly inharmonious, poorly sung vocals don't do the song any good. With To A Square I again begin to wonder if I should take the way of singing seriously, but I just can't figure out if it's deliberately done this terrible way (out of tune, tone and taste, more speaking than singing) as a sort of artistic expression or that it's just very bad! A good decision by Kracq was to limit the vocals, which makes this album still listenable. The many instrumental bits are indeed far better than the vocals and in this song the keyboards sometimes have a groovy, funky feeling, but you have to be into the Seventies retro-sound to really like it (most of the album actually); still it has a great keys solo!
The interlude track Intercaps is still musically acceptable, being a sort of very short Hendrix guitar lick. Another song with a weak point, since it has singing in it, is Partnership, but the sound of probably the clavinet imitating the harpsichord sound is rather nice. Keep Control Of What I Am seems to consist of several segments, but I failed to spot them as there's one tune or melody that runs through the whole song; probably another case of artistic expression. But this song is one of the strongest on this album, well structured and with a bit Pink Floyd like building up, including some spooky sounds at the beginning and a thorough psychedelic feeling to it. The vocals are this time mostly put through a vocoder which actually makes them more acceptable than straight into your ears, but still the song would have been better without! There's also some pretty great keyboard work in this song, somewhat in a Keith Emerson grand style.
This album is probably mainly interesting for people who are much into the Seventies, late psychedelic, prog sound or people who are digging deeper in the obscure Dutch prog scene of that era of which this album might be a nice gem. The vocals definitely ruin the enjoyment of some parts of this album, but if you manage to manoeuvre around them and really like the freely used clavinet sound you'll end up with a very pleasant key based, although out-dated, album.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10