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Reviews in this issue:
- Poor Genetic Material – Spring Tidings
- Nemo - SI Partie I
- Abarax - Crying Of The Whales
- Kampec Dolores – Earth Mother, Sky Father
- Mary – In The Head Of A Dreamer
- Incandescent Sky - Paths And Angles
- Unitopia – More Than A Dream
- Robin Taylor - X Position Vol. 1
- Taylor's Free Universe - Family Shot
Poor Genetic Material – Spring Tidings
Tracklist: Three Steps Back (2:22), Blow-up (4:04), April (6:56), Watercolours (9:30), Tidings (6:25), La Ville Qui N’existait Pas (10:29), Lotus-Eaters (6:57), . . . Or Right Ahead (3:50)
I was listening to Spring Tidings in the car with a friend. Remarking on a passage from the middle of Watercolours, the very long fourth track, I said “Now, doesn’t that remind you of – “ – and as I spoke the word “Genesis,” he simultaneously said “Styx.” Now, frankly, I think my comparison was more accurate than his, but I’ll give him credit (thanks, Neb!) for helping me make one point about Poor Genetic Material’s latest album: audible here and there are numerous influences both more (Styx) and less (early Genesis) commercial. But those influences are audible only in this or that section of this or that song; as a whole, this album is an original spin on seventies progressive rock, and fans of the great bands of that decade will love this album.
I won’t repeat the good overview of Poor Genetic Material’s work provided by Dries Doktor in a recent review of their album Free to Random (review available here), but I will say that Alias Eye vocalist Phil Griffiths, who has sung on the previous three albums in the band’s “Seasons” cycle (Summerland, Leap Into Fall, and Winter’s Edge – “the four seasons,” get it?), is responsible for many of the best moments on this album, although on repeated listenings a few of his vocal choices can grate a bit. Readers who’ve followed my reviews over the last couple of years will know (and be tired of hearing) that I’m ambivalent about histrionic vocalists. However, I’ve come to think that it’s not the histrionics themselves or even the degree to which they affect the singing that’s a fault or a virtue: what matters (as is the case with every element of a song) is whether the “drama” of the singing suits each song. And, wow, in some songs here, Griffith’s vocals really nail the mood.
Let me begin with Tidings, perhaps my favourite track. It’s the one that most puts me in mind of Wind And Wuthering-era Genesis, and it’s the one in which Griffith’s vocals rise from dramatic to majestic, as he half-sings half-intones lines borrowed from Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” – lines that, frankly, work better as progressive-rock lyrics than they did as verse: “I have heard the mermaids singing / I don’t think they’ll sing to me / Sing for me. . . .” I’ll never again read that poem without hearing Griffith’s delivery, and that’s a good thing. Or take April, in which the band, and Griffiths along with them, get almost somewhere near funky, the vocals sounding like a weird hybrid of Paul Rodgers's and Michael Sadler’s. At such moments, of which there are many, I can’t imagine a better singer for this band.
But once in a while, once in a while – it’s probably the combination of the self-consciously literary lyrics (there are more borrowings from Eliot in other songs, and, wow, check out the grim William-Blake-ism, also from Tidings: “Our own filth it blights our marriage hearse” – yuck!) and the elevated delivery – once in a while, I could wish for a slightly more straightforward delivery. The music itself, after all, deserves attention, and occasionally Griffith’s singing takes away that attention.
So let’s refocus it. What about the players? They’re excellent. Thinking about which musician should get my highest praise – guitarist Stefan Glomb? Keyboardist Philipp Jaehne? Bassist Dennis Sturm? New drummer Dominik Steinbacher (who gets credit, in the promo material, for the “powerful and dynamic elements” on the album)? – I’m happy to report that I can’t single any of them out. This is superb ensemble work throughout. Again, only Griffith’s vocals sometimes draw particular attention to themselves; each other musician simply plays what the song needs at each moment. I guess I’d have to say, though, that Glomb’s gorgeous, sustained, soaring, Hackett-like guitar lines are what remain most strongly with me when the CD is over.
This is a very fine progressive concept album – good enough that it makes me want to seek out the three previous “seasons” albums. Just very incidentally, the gorgeous abstract cover art, credited to “Munich-based artist Oliver Schollenberger,” makes the album a pleasure to hold and look at and, I’d say, perfectly complements the music. All in all, this is good stuff.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Nemo - SI Partie I
Tracklist: Douce Mort (16:26), Ici, Maintenant (6:27), Miroirs (6:44), Si (8:00), Apprentis Sorciers (20:05)
Well, it is always the same question after you first listen to a Nemo album: “Will they ever top this one?” and the answer is “Probably yes, just check out this amazing French prog band’s next album”. And I’m not talking about a sequence which starts from bad and evolves to mediocre, then good and so on. All of their offerings are truly unique, great efforts. Fortunately, SI Partie I is no exception regarding this issue.
The most beautiful thing about Nemo is that all of their albums are stylistically different compared to each other, yet still maintain that unique sound. The band doesn’t get perfect by practicing the same thing over and over again, which makes a non-stop run through their discography a fun journey, well if you have the time of course. And their latest one is once again no exception. SI Partie I is the darkest Nemo album yet, and it’s a conceptual piece of art. I wish I knew French to fully appreciate the concept, but from a musical point of view it’s one of the best conceptual records I’ve heard during the last years and it doesn’t achieve this by the classic formula of recurring themes and variations. There’s an undeniable atmosphere that surrounds this album and although the tracks aren’t necessarily connected musically, it’s inevitable to escape the feeling that you’re listening to a whole song throughout the album. Once again, I wish I knew French in order to be able to fully digest what’s going on in the lyrics, but music alone is worth praise.
And... I thought their previous albums (Présages and Prélude à La Ruine) were a perfect blend of jazz, hard rock, prog and metal. Oh, I was wrong. This one is even better. Once again they groove like hell, use time-signature changes like whirlwind, craft infectious melody lines and grooves, and keep all of this in context without losing the balance between emotion and intelligence. And all this in such a cohesive unity although the styles within songs change quite frequently... Truly spectacular.
Another spectacular thing about the album is the progress of Louveton’s vocals. I still wonder how he managed to improve his vocals in such a short time. The difference is huge if compared with his previous performances where even a mediocre ear could catch his faults. In SI Partie I he not only hits the notes without flaws, but also uses his voice in an amazingly expressive way. You really can delete my comments about his vocals in the interview I conducted with him some time ago. One more album, and he may be one of my favourite vocalists... Instrumentally the band still is top notch. Fontaine creates wonderful symphonic textures with his keyboards whereas Louveton’s guitars deliver jaw-dropping solos and crunchy rhythms. That’s usual for Nemo, but this time the rhythm section really shows its guts. Guichard on bass and Itier on drums do a very solid effort by weaving tight and versatile textures. Not that they weren’t this good before, but the long songs really help the listeners to appreciate what’s going on in the background, which could have been ignored in the past by some ears.
Unlike its predecessors, SI Partie I may be a hard album to get into at the first spins, but time unfolds its beauty (Oh, how surprising. Yes, I forgot we were talking about prog). With enough time invested, it’s inevitable to realize the effort that went into this piece of art. And all this is presented in a quality package with a fine artwork and a good production once again .
Their previous record Prélude à La Ruine was a milestone for the band, but this one surely is a milestone for prog rock/metal. It’s hard to categorize the sound, so is to name some comparisons (if you insist, well, old Dream Theater and Yes). But this is simply Nemo-rock, and it’s good!
Coming to a CD-Player near you soon!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Abarax - Crying Of The Whales
Tracklist: Crying Of The Whales Part I (10:08), Journey's End (7:32), Whale Massacre (12:34), Part Of Evolution (3:09), Nature's Voice (5:36), Point Of No Return (6:21), All These Walls (8:37), Crying Of The Whales Part II (7:19)
Abarax are a new progressive band hailing from Enger in North Germany. Well maybe not so new as it seems that the group is a side project of a band called Taste Of Timeless, that have been around since 1993. The two groups also seem to share essentially the same personnel: Udo Grasekamp (keyboards), his three sons Dennis (guitar, drums, bass, vocals), André (bass) and Michael (drums, guitar and piano), along with Howard Hanks (guitar), André Blaeute (vocals and guitar) and Peter Schlüter (keyboards). However, of these musicians only Udo, Dennis, André B and Howard appear on the album. The band state that the album “describes the imaginative truth about the whales and the reasons for their existence", make of that what you will.
Let's make no bones about this, the album is firmly influenced by Pink Floyd, a group who are thanked for 'inspiration' in the CD booklet and mentioned twice in the Cyclops press release. So from the off one should have a fair idea on the style of music on offer. However, the band are not as eclectic as the Floyd, and certainly not as angst-ridden. The main similarities come in the epic guitar soloing which is prevalent throughout the album particularly on the longer tracks, some of which are essentially one long solo! Having said that, the album is infused with melody, harmony and a high degree of taste. The solos are structured, thoughtful and interesting to listen to, which is a definite bonus.
On a concept album about whales it would be tempting to include a mass of whale song and although such samples are used, particularly on the intro to Journey's End, they are nicely blended into the compositions. This track also features some nice group harmonies and atmospheric synth playing prior to the layered guitar solo with definite Gilmour overtones. Epic track Whale Massacre begins with synthesised strings, some high range vocals (sounds like at least one female voice but no female singers are credited) and a melancholic harmonised guitar. Very atmospheric with a funereal bass line the effect is dramatic and emotive.
Elsewhere Nature's Voice mixes acoustic guitar and Hammond organ in a more commercially sounding song, Point Of No Return is more bombastic and keyboard dominated (but still with the inevitable guitar solo), Part Of Evolution is pretty much filler material and All Of These Walls is a more soulful number. The title track top and tails the album and despite the rather limpid narration is a strong piece of writing.
If you are a fan of symphonically orientated progressive rock with a strong emphasis on guitar solos then Abarax are well worth checking out as they are very good at what they do. In addition, the CD booklet contains some marvellous photography!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kampec Dolores – Earth Mother, Sky Father
Tracklist: Introduction (1:37) Were I Able To Fly (4:37) Szurgundejnem (4:45) Shikadam (4:49) Kalimba (7:21) I’ll Run So (7:29) Night Train (7:17) Mountains Should Move, Though (7:00) Fifteen (9:23)
This is the sixth studio album of Hungarian combo Kampec Dolores and has proved quite a challenge to this reviewer. They are one of those groups who seem to exist in their own little world, making comparisons and recommendations hard to get a handle on.
Sure, I could say they are an ethnic pop group with a large art-rock inclination, but that would only scrape the surface of what Kampec are all about. Yes, I could cite the occasional pop-reggae Police-style beats, but this too is quite misleading.
Hungarian (and possibly other) folk influences are definitely present, but I couldn’t call them a folk band per se.
A lot of instrumental colour is provided by the sax and other wind instruments of Hu Grencso, whose passionate wailing gives a decidedly modern jazz slant to proceedings, but Kampec Dolores are far too accessible and approachable to really fit in those brackets.
With earlier CD’s by the band receiving distribution by ReR Megacorp, and links with Chris Cutler and Fred Frith, I could cite R.I.O. as a possible pointer, and whilst this might help entice some potential listeners, I wouldn’t want it to discourage those who find much Avant rock to be a taste they’d rather not acquire..
If I compared singer Gabi Kenderesi to Kate Bush, or Bjork, it wouldn’t imply that she apes or sounds like ether of them, it would merely indicate that she too has her own unique character and otherworldly style. I don’t understand Hungarian, of course, but I am lead to believe that her vocalising incorporates made-up language and wordless vocal effects. The lyrics supposedly have a surreal quality, and I can easily believe this.
After a short and somewhat tentative opening piece, with a shimmering, atmospheric quality, built on minimal rhythms, and ethereal vocals, the CD springs to life with Were I Able To Fly, The first of 3 four and a half minute folk pop romps, where repetitive, minimalist bass and drums create a hypnotic base for strong vocal melodies and, towards the end of each piece, short instrumental breaks, which feature (amongst other textures) smoky sax breaks, experimental, spiky guitar and cool flute flights. Add in a few electronic samples and you have a heady brew which reveals subtle little twists with each fresh listen. Shikadam is perhaps my favourite of these pieces, with throbbing bass underpinning, and an addictive, compelling vocal performance – though the brief Duck- call (!?!) solo is a bit mystifying.
The second half of the disc is given over to longer songs, each around the seven minute mark, which lose some of the more straightforward pop structures, and make room for longer instrumental sections, increasing the experimental edges without sacrificing melody. As a prime example, I’ll Run So begins with a mellow feel, and a subdued vocal, giving way to a jazzy guitar break with a late-night feel, and a deliciously seductive flute solo, before exploding into a concise, controlled, chaotic skronking guitar/flute melee. This in turn gives way to a highly rhythmically charged section with repetitive guitar under a swirling sax motif, before the vocals join the fray once more. It’s hard to describe all that is crammed into this tune, but it’s an intensely rewarding piece of music.
With tracks like Night Train and Fifteen even managing to include some textures and rhythmic motifs which remind me of fellow Hungarians After Crying (but without the symphonic excesses), the eclecticism continues to intrigue and baffle as the CD progresses.
This CD does not fit easily into any pre-existing niche, but as most prog fans have fairly eclectic tastes and often like to experiment with fringe music of diverse types, I feel sure that Kampec Dolores should win many fans over to their addictive hybrid of experimental World/Folk/Prog/Jazz/Art-Rock. Expand your horizons with this enjoyable and interesting CD soon.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mary – In The Head Of A Dreamer
Tracklist: Will You Be There (6:15), Flaws And Wrinkles (4:08), He Went Into A Painting (5:58), Try In My Heartland (3:55), A Prayer From God (4:45), Reality Is Only Imagination (4:47), In The Head Of A Dreamer (3:51) All The Way Around (4:52), Cradlesong (4:37)
When this album first arrived, as I so often do, I played it in the car as I drove to the office. On this particular occasion, after only one hearing my mind was pretty well made up. The music was pleasant and gentle on the ear but lacked sufficient depth to appeal to the average prog listener. Or so I thought. Fortunately, DPRP policy and good sense dictates that all new releases are allowed to mature before a review is submitted. Following several more spins my opinion soon changed. Hidden strengths began to surface, displaying a refreshing individuality that was hard to ignore.
Mary is not, as the title would suggest, the name of the attractive female artist pictured on the album cover. She is songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Marie Ingerslev, and Mary is in fact the name of her band. Although to be fair this does feel more like the work of a solo artist than it does a band project. Joining Marie are Kenneth Hansen on keyboards, Thommy Andersson on bass and double bass, Kalle Mathiesen on drums and keyboards, and Torben Snekkestad on saxophones and bass clarinet. None of these names may ring any bells, but Mathiesen is drummer and inspiration behind Kalle's World Tour whose album Start received a DPRP recommendation just five months ago. Marie herself was the lead vocalist on that release, prompting the reviewer to infuse that she was “the female vocal find of the year”. I’m not about to dispute that sentiment; she really does have a remarkable voice. Apparently, Marie has been performing her own songs for many years prior to this debut release. This comes as no surprise, the strength and maturity of the material does suggest the work of a skilled songwriter.
The songs create a variety of moods ranging from sunny and breezy to calm and meditative to tender and romantic. In terms of dynamics, Marie and her band take each song at a leisurely pace, occasionally breaking into a mid tempo trot. Marie’s voice, wisely in my view, dominates the sound with instrumentation providing a melodic backdrop. The songs benefit from crystalline production courtesy of Mathiesen and Ingerslev. This teaming probably explains why, with the exception of the vocals, it is only the drum sound that draws attention to itself. This is evident in the opening, and probably strongest track, Will You Be There. At six minutes plus it may reach prog proportions in terms of length, but the acoustic instrumentation, subtle key changes, and reflective vocal suggest a slow burning folk tinged ballad. The English lyrics are delivered without a hint of accent rendering every word sharp and clear. Gentle acoustic guitar and shimmering keys are driven by the busy percussion, which develops into an impressive display of snare drum rolls and fills.
Flaws And Wrinkles retains that same lightness of touch, whilst incorporating more than a hint of jazz swing reminiscent of Fairground Attraction and Swing Out Sister. The dreamy He Went Into A Painting is another song that is given lots of time and space to develop, culminating with hypnotic organ and moody saxophone. Try In My Heartland forgoes the usual instrumentation and relies solely on clarinet and saxophone to create a sultry late night listening mood. In A Prayer From God, the verse vocals may prompt Bjork comparisons, but in truth the similarities are fleeting. This mid tempo song shows an ability for imaginative off the wall lines like “If I were human I would do all of these things but I’m not, I’m only God”. The double tracked vocals in the chorus evoke the harmonies of The Corrs.
Reality Is Only Imagination combines a sharp snare drum sound, bright acoustic guitar, and a rare but lyrical synth solo with the pop sensibility of Everything But The Girl. In more enlightened times the title track In The Head Of A Dreamer would have hit potential written all over it. This is a snappy mid tempo song dominated by an incessant chorus this time with a looser vocal style. Vocoder style keys, piano, persistent bass, and stark percussion provide the songs impetus. All The Way Around returns to the albums more familiar territory with a relaxed Annie Haslam style vocal against a backdrop of sublime string and keyboard atmospherics. The concluding Cradlesong sees the singer at her purest with a delightful lullaby style vocal and the simplest of backing including gentle guitar, rippling piano and a splash of cymbals.
To describe this album as easy listening would I feel be doing it an injustice. It certainly has the power to calm and soothe though, which works wonders when you’re stuck in a traffic jam! Its undeniable qualities almost compelled me to give it a higher rating than the one I eventually settled for. I was however conscious that the absence of major shifts in tempo and dynamic soloing, especially lead guitar, might prove to be a hurdle for diehard prog rock fans. On the other hand, the fusion of diverse styles, intelligent lyrics, and strong musicianship are all aspects it shares with prog. Keep an open mind and give this album a try, you will be pleasantly surprised. To misquote that infamous line from Star Trek, “It’s prog Jim, but not as we know it”.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Incandescent Sky - Paths And Angles
Tracklist: There Is Hope (3:58), Ataranxiety (7:30), Angles (7:24), The Path Of Resistance (5:58), Inside Irises (7:00), After All (5:33), The May Rules (10:54), Trade Winds (7:17)
Incandescent Sky started out as an improvisation psychedelic jam session, and this is their third release since 2001. Their sound though has evolved in something rather coherent and songs have structure along with exploration. Five musicians contribute to this instrumental album creating a rather "independent" release, influenced by progressive rock, jazz, ambient and soft psychedelia.
The albums starts very well with There Is Hope, which immediately brings to mind some Porcupine Tree elements. The track flows really nice but I would prefer the drums a bit more inspired and less flat. Beautiful track with an underlying melancholy that spreads in a very balanced way, which says just enough - good idea to keep it short. Ataranxiety goes on into more psychedelic areas, with the omni-present in these cases spoken texts, yielding a feeling reminiscent of the Metanoia and Voyage 34 era of Porcupine Tree. A good track, although better is to follow. Angles is probably the most prog track of the album, with changes in the rhythm, keyboard solos and a more symphonic approach towards its end. Nevertheless, to me it is among the weakest tracks of the album. The changes are way too abrupt and the almost progressive metal-like synth solos do not blend in with the atmosphere created up to the moment. I am rather curious if the band actually made an effort to include some mainstream progressive references in their material. Still, I like the beginning and the ending of the track.
Dark ambience and psychedelic elements reappear with The Path Of Resistance, which sounds a lot like Mesmer from Metanoia. The conflict between the ambient/psychedelic and the mainstream prog face of the band is again evident in Inside Irises, where the sweet pop piano tune that introduces the track gives way to some keyboard solos with a distorted guitar driven abrupt change. Again the track gives me mixed feelings, but I like the dark and slow middle part which brings to mind haunted moments produced by the genius of Tangerine Dream.
At this moment we arrive to the two best tracks of the album, which, for me, in case they would serve as a basis for future song-writing, could reveal the talent of the band and set the grounds for further evolution. After All is an emotional jazzy tune with wonderful keyboard work (I cannot say more about the best track of the album!), and the 10 minute long The May Rules draws inspiration from soundscapes explored by Sylvian/Fripp, even though the sound effects give me a post-rock ` la Tortoise feeling on top of that. Wonderful. Unfortunately the last track Trade Winds puts an end to the pleasure, since it is a bad choice for a closing title. The ideas inside are not bad, rather witty rhythm section, but I do not see any reason to get fast and technical at this point.
This is a band that has a lot of talent, and I admit I was captured by There Is Hope, After All and The May Rules. Looks to me that Incandescent Sky should decide on a direction and focus. Preferably aiming less at mainstream prog and incorporating more ambient, jazz and post-rock. A better and clearer production combined with better drums at some points would also render a more enjoyable result. Check it out if you want to discover a band with potential, especially if you are into ambient or if you like early Porcupine Tree works. Very sympathetic and sure worth keeping in mind for the future.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Unitopia – More Than A Dream
Tracklist: Common Goal (4.36), Fate (4.57), Justify (12.52), Take Good Care (8.36), Ride (3.44), More Than a Dream (5.42), Slow Down (8.09), Lives Go 'Round (6.31), Still Here (6.40)
Since reviewing albums for this website, I've been constantly surprised by the quality of music coming from Australia. Due to their inconvenient location, the difficulties faced by musicians in 'selling' their music from 'Down Under' are well-documented. Little surprise therefore, that until a few years ago, my musical knowledge of the Australian scene extended about as far as Icehouse, AC/DC, Men At Work and INXS. However, albums from the likes of Voyager, Without Ending and Divided Sky have displayed a great sense of adventure and considerable quality. Now I can add to that list, the name of Unitopia.
More Than A Dream is their debut release and a musical adventure combining the vocal and song-writing skills of Mark Trueack, with the production, song writing, keyboard and vocal skills of Sean Timms. Add in two more vocalists, Matt Williams (who also plays guitar) and David Grice (who also plays the bass), along with the percussion of Monty Ruggiero and Tim Irrgang and the multi-instrumentalism of Peter Reynolds, and you have a very professional-sounding slice of modern pop/prog/rock/electronica, with more than an occasional dash of classical, ethnic and dance influences.
Unitopia began in the late 1990s, when a mutual friend introduced Mark and Sean after realising the two had very similar musical tastes. After developing their songwriting partnership, the pair gathered together some fine musicians and singers to contribute to their project, including conductor, arranger and composer Tim Sexton and the Adelaide Art Orchestra. As a result, the standard of playing on the CD is excellent, helped by a very modern production.
The music sits lightly within a progressive rock framework but it really is a combination of styles. The closest comparisons would be Peter Gabriel and Chris Rea with a touch of Phil Collins. Prog-lite if you like.
Now, this isn't my usual musical bag, but I'll give a few hints as to what works and what doesn't work for me across the nine-tracks.
The most effective parts, are those that bring in outside elements to augment the band's basic sound. The use of ethnic influences and oboe (?) on Fate; the aboriginal rhythms and full orchestra that embellishes Take Good Care, and the strings and female operatics that direct the closing section of Justify.
The vocals throughout are strong and fit the music well - especially the sense of melody and phrasing on Slow Down and the Cannata-style delivery on More Than A Dream. The guitar rarely comes to the fore, but when it does, as on the John Lord/Ritchie Blackmore guitar/keyboard duelling on Justify, it is effective.
The lyrics deal with thought-provoking topics but in a clumsy manner. A bit like some of the more blatant examples of Christian rock - it comes across as rather preachy, instead of getting you to consider the issues and make up your own mind. Take this from Justify as an example: "Ozone depleting. Global Heating. Child, child with no future. What a shame. Can't you see the forest for the trees? I forgot, we chopped them all down". As a result they detract from, rather than add to the musical content. My notes on almost every track, mention, 'clumsy lyrics' with Justify, Take Good Care and Ride, the worst culprits.
At times too, the music does take the odd wrong turning. The 'woa woa woa' vocals on Justify are regrettable and in having absolutely no relation to what has gone before, the sudden arrival of the orchestra halfway through Slow Down, rather spoils, what was until then, a good, gentle, melodic rock song. The choruses on the whole are pretty lightweight. Good, basic, catchy melodies for sure. But if you have an aversion to the Eurovision Song Contest, then they may leave a rather cheesy taste in the mouth.
Unitopia are currently in the studio working on their follow-up release and playing live shows wherever possible. The above reservations mean that this will sit somewhere between a 6 ('An enjoyable album - not all brilliant but with good moments') and a 7 ('A worthy album that you will return to from time to time'). Those who like modern prog-rock, lightened with pop, electronic and classical influences, may give this a higher mark. But there are samples of all the tracks from the band's website - so you can make up your own minds.
Additional Info: The band signed to Unicorn Digital Records in 2007 and the album was re-issued.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Robin Taylor - X Position Vol. 1
Tracklist: Black Country Ruffle (7:58), Hi Life! [For Maria] (5:05), Don’t Drink & Drive [While on Duty] (1:52), Baroque Ideas (3:53), Bill Knudsen (1:50), Ether Spirit (8:24), City Life and Blah Blah Blah (8:23), Lass Mich Los (12:21)
Even third time is not the charm with Robin Taylor.
X Position Vol. 1 is the third CD I’ve reviewed for DPRP recently that features the playing, arranging, and composing of Mr. Taylor. I found Oyster’s Apprenticea lukewarm affair, at best, with Karsten Vogel’s horn work saving some of the tracks; I hated Family Shot (below) and gave it a “1,” which rank I had previously sworn no artist would get. With X Position (“a compilation of previous [sic] unreleased tracks from numerous recording sessions in the past…as well as a couple of live recorded tracks”), Mr. Taylor doesn’t really move any further into my musical favour.
I guess what it boils down to is this. In my (idiosyncratic, perhaps) musicology, there is a continuum by which I judge all musical effort. At each end of the continuum is an “ideal” (what Plato would have called an “Eternal Idea”: really, just the archetypes by which we sound out perfection in an imperfect world). On one end there is “Noise,” that is, a collective of sounds and vibrations in which there is absolutely no true internal congruence. “Free Jazz” is exemplary here, as a style of music that allows every musician to follow his or her whim with disregard for traditional structure (or any structure). At the other end of the continuum is “Music”, that is, a collective of sounds and vibrations that manifest as a complementary congruence of harmonic interplay. “Swing Jazz” might be exemplary here, or “British Invasion Pop,” as styles of music in which modulation and progression, i.e., movement as measured and ruled by ratio relationships, are dominant. Now, I know that there is a subjective factor in music appreciation; hell, let’s say it: music appreciation is wholly subjective. And if you love “Free Jazz” and I do not, that’s fine, that’s a matter of valuation. What I’m saying is that, according my musicological definitions, “Free Jazz” isn’t music…regardless of who loves it or detests it. It’s just noise, “sound and fury/signifying nothing.” Like W’s Iraq rhetoric and national energy policies.
You know, if you play Haydn for mice, they groove to it: they eat their cheese, copulate, avoid cats, run through mazes, and perform the entire gamut of mousy activity. However, if you subject mice to death metal, RIO, or other discordant “musical” forms, they exhibit true psychological distress, in the form of Mouse Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mouse Psychosis, Mouse Neurosis, etc. You can pretend all you want that there are objective norms for evaluating “music” and “noise,” but physiology can’t be duped. The body responds poorly to noise, even in the guise of “free” music. And Robin Taylor could kill many, many mice. (“And the mouse police/never sleeps!”)
I mean, to be fair, there are a few mildly interesting moments of X Position. (Which, by the way, features Karsten Vogel: sax; Pierre Tassone: violin; Jan Marsfeldt: keyboards [who also composed “Bill Knudsen”; Robin Taylor: “instruments”; Mads Hansen: drums; Johan Segerberg: bass; Kalie Mathiesen: drums; Louise Nipper: voice; and Jan Fischer: voice.)
I don’t mind the opening and closing sections of Black Country Ruffle, with the fey female background vocals and the loose piano chords behind them. (I can live without the bomb-site sax blowing in-between, though, even if it is suggestive of the angrier portions of the King Crimson repertoire.)
Hi Life! [For Maria] is actually a sweet, pastoral moment with a couple of devilish kicks in the chord progression. It’s just a piano–percussion affair, with some sound effects and bright (soprano?) sax. A tolerable tune, if a bit repetitive.
Baroque Ideas is decent, if trite. It revolves around a faux-harpsichord motif and it has a New Wave-with-a-ballroom-powdered-wig feel. It levels out into a stately, dirge-like processional piece, which is quite the denouement, and finishes up with a reprise of the original bouncy harpsichord, reminding me of an early Atari video game soundtrack.
Even Bill Knudsen is a passable track. It’s very simple, with piano, tuned percussion, and keyboards, but it’s pleasant: a welcome oasis on any Robin Taylor offering.
The remainder of the CD showcases either noisier experiments with sonic texture or live free jazz improv, neither of which fills me with glee. Overall, and this includes the few tracks that I can stand, X Position is just too incoherent and random for me too enjoy or recommend. My suspicion is that Mr. Taylor makes music for his own satisfaction and follows his singular muse, all of which I can appreciate. But at the same time, it’s hard for me to imagine that his output is especially marketable, and I’m hard pressed to envision which music fans would want to hear Mr. Taylor’s work. If you like Yes, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Genesis, etc., and your fondness for those bands brought you to DPRP, then you will dislike Mr. Taylor’s releases. If you like “Free Jazz” and the more discordant, aimless type of progressive rock, X Position Vol. 1 may be your next delight. But don’t blame me if you can’t eat your cheese or avoid the cat’s claws after listening.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Taylor’s Free Universe - Family Shot
Tracklist: Strategy (2:26), M’Fisto Rubberphunk (15:09), Angel Stairs (3:37), First Piece (0:23), Second Piece (0:20), Third Piece (0:20), Fourth Piece (0:31), Fifth Piece (0:40), Sixth Piece (1:12), Seventh Piece (0:48), Eighth Piece (1:36), Ninth Piece (3:55), Like a Nervous Car Wreck (4:05), The Elephant Cure (7:19), Z Return (13:05)
Noise, not music, by Pierre Tassone (processed violin, percussion); Kim Menzer (clarinet, trombone, “strange flute”); Robin Taylor (guitars, loops, “manipulations”); Peter Friis Nielsen (bass guitar); and Lars Juul (drums, “objects”).
Conclusion: 1 out of 10