Reviews in this issue:
- Jump - Faithful, Faithless
- Lelio Padovani - The Big Picture
- Soniq Theater - This Mortal Coil
- Soniq Theater - Pandromania
- No Name - Thoughts Pay No Toll [Single]
Jump - Faithful, Faithless
Tracklist: Shoulder To The Wheel (3:56), The Automated Modern Fool (3:26), Pride Of Britain (4:47), In A Second (3:50), Into The Light (4:54), Horse To Water (6:20), Whistle At The Ghost (4:12), Cold Wind Blow (5:11), The Mighty Fall (4:42), Clown School (4:24), Hero (4:39)
I've got a rather soft spot for this British band. For 15 years Jump has been ploughing on through the British music scene, producing a string of quality albums and building an enviable live reputation. Not for pigeonholing - by their own admission they should be filed under 'whatever takes your fancy' - they've resolutely stuck to their own mould and have built respect and a solid fan base across the UK.
They don't fall into a strict 'prog' category, but as they actually fail to fit into any category at all, I know they have a lot of fans from the prog community. A lot more, would have given them a try by now, if they'd heard of them!
On Impulse, their superb pic-n-mix rampage through rock styles, was one of my favourite releases a few years ago. Home Songs which followed, was a solid but rather too laid-back affair for my tastes. Their latest release, sits between the two - but rather closer to On Impulse). It will again be around the fringes, when it comes to considering my favourite albums from 2005.
The star of the Jump show, is undoubtedly singer and wordsmith John Dexter Jones. Equally at home on the straight rock of Shoulder To The Wheel or the pained, mournful ballad that is Horse To Water, he delivers throughout, with a joy, panache, and tongue-playing-around-cheek, that brings a real smile to the face. There are songs about commuters, vanity, trousers, stupidity and football violence. There's a touch of folk, a bit of blues, a lot of solid rock and a bit of pop. Steve Hayes knows exactly when to crank up the guitar and when to just gently caress it. The backing vocals of Holly Petrie add a worthy extra dimension.
Clown School irritates rather than charms with its quirky lyrics and the opening to The Mighty Fall is rather too Rocky Horror Show in its false bravado. But two minor blemishes in almost an hour of top-notch music, is inescapable for a band with its finger in so many pies. Faithful, Faithless merely serves to confirm that Jump is a very, very tasty band. Give 'em a go!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Lelio Padovani - The Big Picture
Tracklist: Escape (2:48), The Novel (4:34), On The Beach (3:52), The Brave Melody (5:37), Serena's Diary (3:51), The Big Picture (5:42), 22 Novembre (3:32), Into The Unknown (4:26)
We travel to Europe and to Parma in northern Italy to be exact, to find composer and guitarist Lelio Padovani. According to Padovani The Big Picture has been a long time in the making and is Lelio's follow up to the Unknown Evolution released in 2002.
I liked Lelio's brief comments on each of the tracks, and of the opening track he writes "Escape is fast, short, to the point". Couldn't have said it better myself. The rhythm is kept straightforward on this melodic rocker allowing the fluid Satriani-esque soloing to flow. A slighter slower tempo for The Novel, where once again Padovani's guitar themes, melodies and harmonies are expanded on. One major plus for the album is the lighter chordal backing which saves the sound from being cluttered.
On The Beach takes down the tempo still further (initially) and introduces not only an odd metered count, but also bassist Max Scaccaglin, the only other musician on the album. Again the soloing is precise and fluid with different sounds used courtesy of the Roland GR33 guitar synth. This in turns leads into The Brave Melody, "Padovani's variations". The bass and drums are kept simple, monotonously so I'm afraid, so as to allow the "melody to stand out". The track is "divided in six parts, all beginning with the same four-bar theme". Personally I would have let the rhythmic structure help the track more as at just over five minutes and with the repeated (although varying) themes did make the track drag.
Serena's Diary is gentle instrumental ballad with deft touches, nice sounds and the use of the E-bow gives the track a pleasant texture. All of which sets us up for the heaviest of the tracks from the album and the title track. The Big Picture opens with a grinding 7 string riff, before the upbeat "verses" kick in. Again one of the strong features of the music is that the backing chordal structure never dominates the sound. Even, as is the case here, where the distorted riff continues throughout the driving passages.
Two tracks remain, the first is gentle acoustic track with light and shade within the chord progressions. Whilst Into The Unknown echoes Padovani's previous album. This is somewhat twisting track, the rhythmic pattern is fairly open and free and track is replete with harmony sections, reminiscent of Steve Vai in parts and Yngwie Malmsteen in others.
And that's all folks. A fairly short album at just a little over half an hour, but it said what it needed too, and I don't think dragging it out another thirty minutes would have done it any favours.
In Lelio's accompanying literature he write of the album: "As always I wrote, played and produced it (and mastered, designed the covers, etc)". And there in lies the problem with this CD. Like many we receive at DPRP where, due to financial or logistical constraints, the album is the sole efforts of one musician. It is the lack of others that makes these albums invariably one dimensional. There is no doubting Padovani's abilities on the guitar, however this is not enough to lift The Big Picture above the crowd.
I don't wish to be overly critical of The Big Picture, it certainly doesn't deserve it. Lelio Padovani has obviously put a great deal of time and effort into this album and for this I salute him. Fans of melodic guitar instrumentals should certainly check out the sound files on Lelio's website.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Soniq Theater - This Mortal Coil
Tracklist: This Mortal Coil (5:13), Break The Frame (4:41), Minas Tirith (5:58), Flashpoint (4:43), Pacific Coast Highway (4:19), Menuetto (2:36), Bridge to Eternity (9:02), Screenplay (4:27), Mariana Rift (10:25)
Soniq Theater - Pandromania
Tracklist: Karma (4:21), Miles Beyond (3:34), Steve’s Dream (4:53), Deep Space (4:36), Pandromania (4:28), Lovely Lady (4:11), Wheel Of Fortune (9:33), Adagio in G (1:51), Pulsar (6:02), Flamingo (3:14 ), Last Realm (5:14)
I’m afraid to say that I found these latest two offerings from the home studio of Alfred Mueller (under his "Soniq Theater" guise) to be a bit disappointing. They are the fourth and fifth Soniq Theater releases and unfortunately they find him treading water, so to speak.
If you have heard any of the previous Soniq Theater discs, you should know exactly what to expect here – lots of bright digital synths, a variety of moods and tempos, and almost always, programmed percussion. The pieces are often very soundtrack-y in nature, but you will have to provide your own mind movies.
It’s not that the compositions are particularly inferior to his previous work (though Pandromania in particular seems to lack the necessary creative spark – Alfred seems to be running out of fresh ideas, and is going through the motions a bit) , it’s more a case of diminishing returns. Whilst there are some good ideas sprinkled throughout the discs, the overall impression is of pleasant, but inconsequential, light electronic music. If you are a huge fan of his work, you will probably enjoy these as well, but (aside from a vocal number on each disc- and, before you get too excited, the vocals are fairly ordinary too) there are very few surprises.
It’s not all doom and gloom, some of the tracks are pretty darn good, with my favourites being:
From This Mortal Coil:
- Minas Tirith – a Lord Of The Rings inspired piece, with a sweeping melody and orchestral keys delivering a suitably grandiose theme.
- Flashpoint – featuring brassy synth stabs and a flashy, stirring, classically inspired main theme
- Break The Frame – a vocal number with a pretty impressive vocal arrangement masking the shortcomings of the vocals. It breaks up the instrumentals to good effect.
- Deep Space – this is probably the best track on either of the two discs, it builds nicely with sequenced electronics and a pleasant theme – no prizes for spotting a Tangerine Dream influence here – in their Stratosfear period. I really like this one.
- Pulsa – The percussion has a much more organic feel on this one and it successfully creates a mysterious atmosphere. If only there were more tracks like these two, I would be feeling much more positive about the discs.
I don’t want to be too negative, Alfred is a talented musician, and any one of his discs makes for a pleasant listen, but I can’t see anyone needing all of them. I really wish he would come out of his studio and find himself a band. (An Invitation to... by the band Rachel’s Birthday was miles better than these two Soniq Theater discs, in my opinion)
This Mortal Coil : 6 out of 10
Pandromania : 5 out of 10
No Name - Thoughts Pay No Toll [Single]
Tracklist: Thoughts Pay No Toll (4:24), All My Life (5:01), Père Lachaise (3:10)
Originally founded in 1988, No Name have produced three studio albums, one EP, and with this release, their first single. Along with this the band have appeared on a number of compilation CDs and supported many household prog names. All of which makes it somewhat surprising that I have never come across them before.
The initial days for the band were, like many others, taken up by performing covers of their "favourite" bands. For No Name these included Marillion, Pendragon, IQ and Twelfth Night. I mention this as some of the material on Thoughts Pay No Toll reflects that early 80s Neo-prog movement.
Thoughts Pay No Toll single serves as a taster from the bands fourth album, entitled 4. Which although originally set for release in September 2005, has so far not appeared and like many bands before them, that desire to perfect each song has pushed the release further and further back. So to fill the void we have this single from the band, their first release since The Other Side (1998/9).
Its not clear whether or not all three tracks will appear on the new album (presumably re-mixed and refined), though Thoughts Pay No Toll would appear to be one of the "main tracks", according to the band. As mentioned, references to those bands above are evident, mixed together with a distinct commercial edge, albeit from the same period. Now I have to say I wasn't overly enamoured by the vocals here, the delivery being a little strained at the top end of the choruses and resorting to half sung/shouting delivery. Though in fairness the song is catchy and did grow on me with each listening.
Again and according to the band All My Life "was originally a project song, composed especially to work out the recording system". However the track must have grown on them as it appears on this single. A ballad in construction, with synthesized drums and gentle string washes in the background. I'm sure the band will be horrified by my next remark, though it is meant as a compliment, but the arrangement reminded much of 80s era George Michael. The middle instrumental however breaks this notion with a Saga like rhythm over phased strings. The song continues after the break with the chorus line repeated and accompanied by a synth lead line. The last 30 seconds of the song has a delicate flute and guitar section - nice, I would have liked more of this on the CD.
The band return to their early days for the final track. Père Lachaise, originally written back in 1991, is a Neo-prog instrumental work-out with a driving guitar riff, accompanied by synth lines and busy drumming. Probably the track most likely to win No Name favours within the prog community.
Not sure what to make of this single really - it is pleasant enough, but doesn't particularly do anything for me. It has a distinct 80s feel (not a great period musically for me) and the first two tracks have their feet implanted within two camps and neither particularly compliments the other. Père Lachaise seems to be somewhat out of context, merely in there to remind the listener that No Name are prog. However it would be unfair of me to offer a numerical conclusion on twelve minute "taster", so I think I'll reserve judgement until 4 is released.