Reviews in this issue:
- Kopecky - Blood
- Annie Haslam with Magenta - Night And Day [Single]
- Ty Tabor - Rock Garden
- Ixion - Talisman
- Keith Caputo - Hearts Blood On Your Dawn
- Khatsaturjan – Aramed Forces Of Simantipak
- Kara - Kara
- Robin Taylor – X Position Vol.2
- Taylor's Free Universe (TFU) – Manipulated By Taylor
- Robin Taylor – Deutsche Schule
Kopecky - Blood
Tracklist: Garden of Immolation (7:10), Infernal Desire Machine (4:48), Moontown (7:20), Windows (11:21), Eden’s Flow (4:58), The Red Path (8:43), Opium (12:56)
Virtuosi prog: How does that grab you?
Blood is the fifth release by the Brothers Kopecky, following the 1999 debut, 2000’s Serpentine Kaleidoscope, 2001’s live Orion, and 2003’s Sunset Gun. Strangely enough, Kopecky seems to have fallen under my prog radar, since I had never heard of the band prior to receiving Blood for review. (And maybe that’s not so strange: there is a virtual shitload of progressive rock on the market these days and I can hardly give every release the once- , twice- , and thrice-over, as I might like. Ah, the lost joys of the teenager days, with nary a responsibility or care in the world except to don the headphones and explore all music, great and small!)
The band, hailing from Wisconsin, features Joe Kopecky on guitar; William Kopecky on bass guitar; and Paul Kopecky on drums. Each is simply expert on his respective instrument: there’s just nothing to say about the individual performances except that they are inventive, adept, lively, intense, and (fittingly enough) progressive.
The music itself leans severely into the realm of harder-edged progressive rock. The best analogues I can offer are Wetton-era King Crimson, Univers Zero, and Present. BUT…my exposure to this sub-genre of prog rock is slight, so Kopecky probably shares similarities with other, mostly contemporary (I’m guessing) ensembles. There is a definite nod of the head to all things metal on Blood, but it’s the after-midnight, witching hour, beware the undead kind, rather than 80s big-hair band or speed thrash. The album at the least echoes its title well, as throughout the tracks a large, mean streak of sinister attitude and devilish sneer resides. (Although, don’t miss the beautiful melodic strains on, e.g., Windows.)
I won’t pick apart the tracks in this review because I don’t think verbal description can do justice to the performances, which are tight, focused, and precise. Mostly, I thought this was a more than worthwhile release but it’s one that requires a matching mood. I generally prefer symphonic prog, which Blood is not, and at times I wearied of the riff-laden jamming. But, for all things there is a season, and I found that when I was in the proper spirit for this sort of sound, Blood sat with me very, very well. Sometimes it’s enough to hear thoughtful composition and masterful playing, which the Brothers Kopecky offer both in abundance.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Would I feel cheated had I bought this CD? Absolutely not. Blood isn’t a CD I’ll reach for all that often, but it’s still excellent. Would I recommend that you buy this CD? Yes, if the steelier moments of Red and Univers Zero’s output excite you. Would I recommend that you hear this CD via begging, borrowing, or stealing? Yes indeed, if you choose not to buy it. Blood does proffer some amazing, virtuosi musicianship and more than its fair share of “How’d he do that?” highlights.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Annie Haslam with Magenta - Night And Day [Single]
Tracklist: Night And Day (4:37), Night And Day (Evening Mix) (4:37), Essence Of Love (4:54), Night And Day [duet with Christina] (4:37)
Given the number of discs the DPRP receives to review, CD singles are something of a rarity, which should come as no surprise. So when this release arrived I was eager to carryout the review, especially given the names involved. With lyrics by Christina Booth and music by Rob Reed, the Magenta pair had Annie Haslam in mind when Night And Day was conceived. Annie recorded her vocals in Pennsylvania, USA where she currently resides and the band completed their parts in their native South Wales. Supporting Annie is the regular Magenta line-up with Christina providing vocals, Rob Reed keyboards, Chris Fry lead guitar, Dan Fry bass, Allan Mason-Jones drums, Martin Rosser acoustic and 12 string guitars, and the ever dependable Troy Donockley from Iona on Uilleann pipes and flutes.
The CD includes three alternative versions of the title song although in truth there is little to set them apart. Magenta’s pop sensibilities take a front seat here, utilising an economically but skilfully structured mainstream song approach. The first cut opens with lush Bruce Hornsby style piano from Reed quickly joined by Annie’s honey drenched, crystal clear vocal tones. Crisp drumming and mellow bass drive the song along at a relaxed pace, with solid but unobtrusive vocal support from Christina building to a surging chorus. Synth strings, pipes and guitar blend to produce a sweeping symphonic backdrop to Christina’s evocative lyrics. There is no doubt that this a well-crafted song flawlessly produced by Reed. In the sleeve notes, Annie likens the song to Renaissance’s UK hit single Northern Lights, although Night And Day has a more romantic and laidback feel.
Night And Day (Evening Mix) is an unplugged variant that omits the rhythm section, synth parts and guitar, leaving piano, vocals, pipes and flute to carry the song. The stripped down feel emphasises the quality of Annie’s voice, but the overall mood doesn’t differ from the opening version. The closing mix is referred to as a duet, which is not strictly true given the circumstances under which the tracks were recorded. In reality Annie’s vocal has been replaced with Christina’s for some of the verse parts. This does provide a useful opportunity to hear their voices side by side as many reviewers including myself have drawn comparisons. The contrast in style and tone however is clearly evident here.
If I had to be a tad critical then I would say that the alternative versions add little in terms of variety. An extended mix with greater instrumental development along the lines of the ProgAID single (also produced by Reed) would have been preferable. By way of compensation the disc includes a beautiful instrumental Essence Of Love performed by Rob Reed. This piece was inspired by Annie Haslam’s striking cover artwork, which took its own inspiration from the title song. Mike Oldfield references abound throughout, from the lyrical guitar style to the re-occurring tubular bell sounds. Both sweeping and reflective, the mood created compliments the title song perfectly.
Sadly this disc is unlikely to set the charts alight, but it is a must for Magenta and Annie Haslam devotees, and for those that have an ear for the lighter more melodic end of prog. Following hot on the heels of the Home album it’s further evidence that Magenta is one of the fastest maturing talents operating in the current prog scene.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ty Tabor - Rock Garden
Tracklist: Ride (4:53), Stalker (4:47), I Know What I'm Missing (3:11), Afraid (3:39), Play (6:51), Beautiful Sky (4:07), She's A Tree (3:32), Take It Back (3:00), Wading In (3:26), Thankful (3:26), Pretty Good (4:00)
If you are familiar with King's X or Platypus/Jelly Jam, you are familiar with Ty Tabor. He is the guitarist with both those outfits and the full-time singer on all the Platypus & Jelly Jam albums. In addition he has three solo albums, one of them having been reviewed here. Most of what Bob Mulvey wrote about Safety applies to Rock Garden too, so the rest will be only what I have to add.
In the three years between these albums, Ty Tabor has - Surprise! - not become a radio star, although Bob and I are among many fans pulling for him. Take a guy who riffs like Billy Gibbons, solos like Cream-era Eric Clapton, sings like John Lennon, and writes better songs than Tom Petty, and you should have the total package. But then I've been over this all before...
One thing I can say is, I really prefer Ty's work with his bands because of the way he blends with them. As positive as it sounds to describe him as a total package, I haven't gone out of my way to acquire anything with Gibbons, Clapton, Lennon or Petty in over 25 years. Were those guys prog? Most would say "no". Are King's X and Platypus prog? Most would say "yes". So... By himself, Ty Tabor is pop star material, but the sweetest fruit is borne in his prog bands. Steve Walsh and Neal Morse know all about that conundrum, too.
Hey, I just had a cool idea: Tabor, Walsh & Morse should get together, they could call themselves King's Street Prayer. If Woodstock III happens, they could debut like CSN did in 1968.
Alright, snap out of it...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Ixion - Talisman
Tracklist: The Crimson Puppeteer (8:30), Legend (2:45), Dawn (5:08), The Raven and the Stone (7:32), Redemption (0:43), The Abyss (10:42), Non Nobis (8:23), Sea Of Cortez (10:06), Prelude (2:04), Catherine (6:24), Talisman Revisited (5:39)
So sue me: I’m a sucker for concept albums. (Could that fact have something to do with the first progressive-metal album I ever bought – Rush’s Hemispheres? Surely not!) I therefore come to an album like Talisman prejudiced in favour of the enterprise, very much wanting to like it – it’s only fair for me to reveal that bias at the outset. Talisman – the project of Jankees Braam, the album’s bassist/keyboardist/composer/lyricist – is the extended (over more than an hour) story of an ancient evil talisman that influences the actions of various historical figures over two centuries (though, we’re told in the lavishly illustrated and annotated booklet, “the talisman is very old, but we don’t pick up its trail until the start of ‘modern history,’” when it comes into the hands of Judas Iscariot) – figures including King Arthur, Cortez, and Catherine the Great. The talisman ends up in the hands of a young woman in 2006 in the final song, which begins with the flattest lyrics of the album (it might have been that Braam was less interested in contemporary than in historical figures): “I am holding a piece of jewellery / I picked up in a shop full of relics from the past. . . .” So this is an ambitious album, to be sure, a bold new reinterpretation of history set to music. What’s not to like?
Well, of course, the story and lyrics are only part of the album, and I’ll say that, for the most part, the lyrics are very good and tell the story well – not too obviously (excepting of course in the lines that I just quoted) but interestingly. But what of the songs themselves and the music? I’ll begin with simple facts, ones that will strike every listener on first hearing the album: the songs are long and the music is slow. This is an album that requires a great deal of attention and patience, and I think my job here is to assess to what degree the rewards of the album repay the attention and patience demanded of the listener.
I have to say that, even if the CD booklet and promo letter didn’t make this fact clear, I’m pretty sure I would have guessed that the compositions and creative control all belonged to one person. I suspect that, if Ixion were a traditional band rather than a project on which many guest musicians were invited to perform parts (nine musicians and singers besides Braam himself), the song’s tempos would have ended up more varied, and a lot of cuts might have been made. While it’s true that each song is interesting and superbly performed, I believe Braam is asking too much of his listeners here. I mean, excepting the two brief instrumentals (Redemption and Prelude), all the songs but two exceed five minutes, and six of them are between six and eleven minutes long. I’ve nothing against extended compositions, but Braam gives us too little musical variety in these songs – Sea Of Cortez and Catherine burst out into brief faster sections, but most of the others cruise along at icebreaker speed, providing individually, for sure, interesting melodies and instrumentation and, throughout, first-rate singing and musicianship, but not really sustaining interest in the narrative. It’s a neat story, but the music doesn’t serve it as powerfully as it ought.
About the musicianship. Braam has gathered around himself some excellent musicians, among whom I’ll single out vocalist (one of three!) Maaike Breijman and guitarist Gerton Leijdekker. Leijdekker’s repertoire of sounds is impressive, and he plays a mean acoustic guitar, but what I best like is the lovely Steve Hackett tone he uses for most of the solos and fills on most of the songs here. It’s perfectly suited to the music, as is every note Leijdekker plays; I can’t imagine better guitar work for Braam’s purposes than Leijdekker supplies.
The production, too, also by Braam, is impeccable. Despite Braam’s army of musicians, the sound is at all times deep, clear, and uncluttered, every instrument and vocal standing out but none drowning the others. That includes Braam’s bass guitar (he began his musical career as the bassist for symphonic rock band Sangamo, a job he held for twelve years), which is both an essential part of many songs and tastefully understated; perhaps because he’s the composer as well as the bassist, Braam knows that all the instruments must serve each song, so he never shows off, which is not to say that his bass lines aren’t inventive and impressive.
But as for the whole? I have to confess to being a bit disappointed. I restate my point that, as interesting as the narrative is, the music doesn’t serve it as well as it easily might have. A collaborator might have trimmed the songs to eliminate the excess, allowing the music to support the words and then just stop – and move on to the next song. Braam has so much to say here, both musically and lyrically, but I think he needed to sacrifice some of the former to the latter.
A fine album, ambitious and enjoyable, then – but too darned long and too darned slow, or at least so I think. With the reservations I’ve expressed here, though, I can happily recommend the CD to fans of concept albums, of symphonic rock, and even of metal opera (such as the recent Aina and Avantasia projects). But when you press “Play,” be prepared to be patient.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Keith Caputo - Hearts Blood On Your Dawn
Tracklist: Departure Into The New Affection And New Noise (0:27), Mother (4:14), Monkey (3:59), Ramshackle (4:16), Droom Kleuren (4:07), Lamb To The Slaughter (Hearts Blood On Your Dawn Part 1) (4:14), How Happy Is This Heart of Mine? (1:11), I Wanna Fly (Hearts Blood On Your Dawn Part 2) (4:40), Always (3:44), Fix Pop Bang Shot (3:53), Kill With God (3:24), Livin The Blues (7:28), Our Moon Our Stars (The Shakes) (6:08)
The name sounded familiar when I heard it a couple of months ago... Indeed, checking it out on the web I discovered Keith Caputo was/is the ex-frontman of Life Of Agony, that did not go "kaput" but set out on a solo career. Then, what I do remember of Life Of Agony (beware: I am not familiar with LOA!) is not very inviting: it is a band that started out in the spirit of Korn, Limb Bizkit, System Of A Down etc. Not exactly my cup of tea, and I guess the average prog fan will not bow down in front of these bands either. So it was with a raised eyebrow that I gave this CD a chance. Before putting the disk into the player I had a fast look in the informative leaflet usually accompanying releases for review. Songwriter. Wow. Now THAT is a big word. Everybody playing "minimalist" music with just a guitar calls himself a songwriter nowadays, especially in the indie music genre. Then again, something looked strange and beautiful, and beauty did reveal itself. Soon, even by the first listen. It should also be mentioned that this is the second personal album of Keith Caputo, after 2000's Died Laughing.
So is it a "songwriter" album? Yes it is, but this does not imply empty songs or lack of ideas and music. Obviously the songs are composed by Keith himself, they have a really strong personal touch and feeling but they are extremely well performed, with a lot of imagination, inspiration, variety and surprises. Keith stands completely naked in front of us all and exposes his soul, expressing love, sweetness, views, ideas, social beliefs, but also nerve and anger. Concerning the band, it is composed by Keith that sings and plays acoustic guitar and a guitarist, bass player and drummer. The singing is apparently in the spotlight, sometimes revealing a sensitive-fragile man, sometimes a warrior or an activist. Whatever it is, it is always honest, intelligent and highly professional.
The music bears no resemblance to his Life Of Agony past - in fact it has nothing to do with metal. It ranges from Lennon inspired ballad-like tunes (Mother), to Floyd-ian acoustic tracks, like the heartbreaking I Wanna Fly and the almost cathartic Our Moon Our Stars. The southern/blues influence is very evident in Droom Kleuren which brings Cave's Let Love In era to mind, or alternatively Cash meets Calexico, but also in the political Kill With God. More variety in the influences to come though; U2 meets Elbow, Radiohead meets Pearl Jam, in either happier mid-tempo tunes like Monkey, or in the full of rage and passion Lamb To The Slaughter. Buckley seems to smile somewhere in the back of the stage with Ramshackle. -"Let's just get out of this mess...". Overall, if I had to describe what the album sounds like with one word, my closest hit would be Grace. Rather ambitious comparison, but still I can't avoid it! Not that the music sounds the same, but something in the ambience and the feeling...and the soul. Always is a very simple ballad, with a coolness reminiscent of Starsailor. However, I wonder how can it sound SO good. - "If my plane happens to crash know that I'll always love you...". So simple...
This album has everything. Simple moments, grandiose moments (see for instance the catchy super-track Livin The Blues), moments when the thoughts inside you drown you (Hearts Blood Part 2), versus moments when they burst out and you explode (Hearts Blood Part 1). You start, and you drink it bottoms up. No skipping tracks, no getting bored, no valleys, no hills. It's pages torn out of a personal diary talking about loss and love but also about the author's view of the world, converted to audio by a magic wand. Do not miss the experience as I missed Caputo's concert back in May, in my city, not knowing him back then. What more can I say? Touched me a lot. Absolutely in the top 5 of 2006. Keith will summarise it all better: "and the pain sure brings out the best...".
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Khatsaturjan – Aramed Forces Of Simantipak
Tracklist: Prelude (0:38), The Grand Pariah Lament (5:14), Oh, Cosmic Pearl [No Return To What Never Has Been] (8:35), Advent Rise (4:23), Scenario Triangular: [i] No Integrity [ii] Babylon Taxi [iii] A Short Dance With The Melodyman (11:57), The New Masters Of My Body (2:38), I’ve Got Your Daddy’s Phonenumber! (4:00), Guidance Of Blinded Light (4:16), Chromatic Movement (7:02), The Mass : [i] Self Prior To Insight [ii] Qualm / To Measure the Given [iii] Venture My Own Road (15:09), Upon The Plummeth (3:50)
Often found to be talking up their Artists, Musea for once are selling Khatsaturjan short – Their press release says “ ….the album often recalls Yes, Genesis or Gentle Giant” but whilst this young (they are in their 20’s) Finnish band clearly finds much inspiration in the classic Prog bands of the 70’s, their biggest selling point is the surprisingly original and distinctive musical identity they have managed to create on this, only their second release.
The first (mini) album was a private release (it may be hard to come by now), and featured a few classical adaptations including the Prog staple Night On A Bare Mountain. As far as I can tell, the band has developed at an alarmingly quick rate, eschewing covers for their own material (though there is a quote from Handel on one track) and Aramed Forces.. is a very mature, fully realised example of symphonic rock, heavily featuring sophisticated vocal /choral arrangements, which combine with delightfully varied and richly colourful instrumental backing, performed by a tight knit combo of multi instrumentalists, and achieving fantastic results. All four members play keyboards, and there is also cello, violin and melodica to be heard as well as guitar, bass and drums..
The album flows beautifully as a single piece of music, but is divided into many sections including two lengthy ones, Scenario Triangular and The Mass. The latter of these two is particularly impressive, building to a considerably powerful conclusion. The music is full of intricate twists and turns, with many surprising and delightful moments. Skewed dance rhythms pop up often and acoustic passages collide with full on symphonic sections. The emphasis is on the vocals and its here that their strengths lie.
The vocal arrangements are slightly eccentric in places – in fact if I had to make a comparison to another band, it would not be Yes Or Genesis, but The Enid. The vocals do occasionally remind me of those on The Spell for instance, but Khatsaturjan are better singers, and not quite so quirky as Robert John Godfrey, in case this comparison was putting you off. Overall, the vocals are really striking and memorable. There are a lot of lyrics but not being given to lyrical analysis, I can only say that the lyrics describe some sort of philosophical/ spiritual quest, and may well hold up to greater in depth inspection than I had time or inclination for.
I was very impressed with this CD, it’s hard to believe quite how different it sounds to most other 70’s inspired Prog Acts – there’s no need to play “spot the Genesis riff”, or “Name that Yes tune” here.
If I have a criticism, it is that the title is rather contrived and pretentious. Apparently the group intend to include Aram in the title of all their albums, as it is the first name of Khatsaturjan (or Khatachurian as he is known in England), but I’d drop this clumsy gimmick if I was them – but they are only young so this affectation is forgivable, I think
I can see that Khatsaturjan’s unique style may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s such a refreshing take on the symphonic genre, confidently delivered, that I heartily recommend you give it a try – they are surely a band with a lot of promise.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Kara - Kara
Tracklist: Sanctuary (3:55), Things Happen (4:43), She Moves Through The Fair (3:17), Time (3:53), Eye Of The Great God (6:12), Homeland (4:25), The Gathering (5:36), Kingdoms, Part One (1:35), Kingdoms Part Two (7:36)
This debut CD from the Norfolk based trio presents a bit of mixed bag. On one hand it's broadly speaking a collection of melodic, fairly mellow, easy-listening, somewhat Celtic, folky songs that perhaps your parents would enjoy. The other aspect is that it's adorned throughout with the beautiful guitar work of Colin Mold and there are certainly proggy passages scattered across the CD which make it actually more interesting than might be indicated by a casual first listen.
Classically trained Colin formed Kara in 2004 with Steve Barfoot on drums and singer Kirsta Johnston; Kirsta is Scottish and, amongst others, has previously been in traditional Scottish bands and I suspect this is the main source of the Celtic flavour to the music. All three had already collaborated musically in the past but Colin wanted some like-minded musicians to help realise his own compositions. Kara got a bit of a break in the prog scene when they landed a gig supporting Magenta at the Rotherham Classic Rock Society. Colin also plays keyboards and violin whilst Kirsta adds further instrumental support with recorder and flute.
Opening the CD, Sanctuary is a fairly harmless song, somewhat lacking in dynamics but innocuous enough. Things Happen is far more interesting and upbeat with lush keyboards and the lead vocal taken by Colin with Kirsta mirroring the lyric an eigth of a note later. This is the first track where we really get to hear Colin's fluid and melodic guitar playing, gently supporting the chorus but really kicking-in for a solo around the 3:45 mark. The drumming is nice too - no technical awards on offer but it's very bright and effective, complementing the music excellently and holding the upbeat rhythm.
Apparently, She Moves Through The Fair is a folk standard, not that I think I've heard it before. This is an instrumental with some delicate acoustic guitar and a Celtic rhythm - quite up-tempo but relaxed at the same time. Again the guitar of Colin shines with the electric taking on the melody half-way through with loads of sustain and reverb - very nice indeed. Time is a piano-led ballad showcasing Kirsta's voice and again some nice keys and good drumming. Kirsta's voice is very pleasant and suits the music well, it's a gentle voice, in the same vein as Maddy Prior or Enya. All that being said, I personally find this track a little flat and boring.
Eye Of The Great God starts well, more nice keys and Colin's guitar forming an opening instrumental - here the guitar is somewhat evocative of late 70's Mike Oldfield. The song changes quite dramatically, for the worse, when the voice starts. I don't have too much a problem with the music here but the lyrics sound a bit clichéd and naïve - in fact that's perhaps my biggest criticism throughout the whole CD and they should certainly work on making them more meaningful in the future. Fortunately the song reverts and ends the same way it started, which is good! Homeland is another slow ballad, perhaps again a little clichéd sounding on the lyrics but Kirsta's voice is very good - she's singing in a higher key and it really work well.
The Gathering is the second instrumental on the album and we are again treated to that great electric guitar. Perhaps the most progressive track on offer it goes through various changes of tempo and mood, even bordering on the heavy side in places; it constantly returns to it's roots, in this case, again a somewhat folky/Celtic rhythm. Kingdoms Parts One & Two can be viewed as one track - Part One provides a rich and mellow keyboard/guitar introduction, again with a distinctly Oldfield feel. Part Two is a more upbeat vocal section with some lovely acoustic guitar touches that once again remind of Mike Oldfield, this time around the Earth Moving period. This is actually a great song although I find the drums somewhat subdued and less interesting that the rest of the CD. Furthermore, the CD is lacking a more grandiose ending - there was scope for one last solo on the electric but for some reason it's not there, shame...
Overall this is a pretty good effort and although it's certainly not my particular cup of tea I do find myself enjoying it. I think with a little more attention to the lyrical content and perhaps pushing the progressive/symphonic aspects a little further Kara could become a very interesting band indeed. In the meantime this will certainly appeal to people that already like the folk/rock genre but won't do a lot for mainstream prog listeners. On the other hand it's not a bad CD either and although I can't say "Rush out and buy it" I can't say "Don't rush out and buy it" neither.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Robin Taylor - X Position Vol.2
Tracklist: Drogdensgade (5:37), Svaneklint (2:27), Finanslovsforslag (3:24), Operette (0:35), RME (3:54), Ude Og Hjemme (7:31), Metal Pa Metal (2:45), Arkitekter (7:19), Svaneklint II (6:47), Flimmerland (6:21)
As we have covered many releases over the past year from experimental Danish musician Robin Taylor I will forego the usual background info and move straight onto the releases in front of me. As this album title suggests this is the second of the "Project '85" X Position releases - John's views on the previous offering X Position Vol.1 can be found by following the hyper-link. X Position Vol.2 continues Robin Taylor's forays into his own personal archives with this collection of ten tunes. Robin undertakes the vast majority of instrumentation himself (guitars, guitar & keyboard synths, glockenspiel, piano, harmonica, percussion, doumbeck, clay drums, vocals and vocalisations). Along with a number of taped noises and loops. For this release he is joined by a slightly smaller cast than the previous releases with just Jan Fischer (voice, Stringman, harmonica) and Mads Hansen (drums - tracks 9, 10) accompanying.
The album is an odd mix of tracks which sit fairly well together, considering their diverse nature. None of the pieces are particularly jarring, so the overall effect is quite soothing, if not a little taxing at times. In many respects Robin Taylor reminds of Robert Wyatt, not necessarily musically, but in his "this is what I do approach - like it or lump it". And good on him for this, although such an approach tends to nurture avid believers and distinctly hostile non believers. And in a niche market such as prog, you need all the friends you can find.
Drogdensgade works as an effect atmospheric opener with the synth bass nicely pulsing the track and the chordal guitar work of Svaneklint gives an initial kudos to the album. The tracks that work best for me are the two that feature Mads Hansen's drumming, purely as they are more concise pieces - the latter of the two being the strongest track from X Position Vol.2. RME is also a strong piece that moves along and certainly shows that Robin Taylor could have a much greater appeal. However the "vocal" tracks border on the comical. Metal Pa Metal appears to be a drunken sing-song on the way back from the "Bierkeller", whilst Ude Og Hjemme would appear to have enlisted one of the cast from South Park.
Overall I can't say that this is a particularly cohesive or satisfying piece of work and more represents the desire of Robin Taylor to release as much of his back catalogue as possible. I'm not knocking him for doing this, although personally I hope that it does not fall at my doorstep to review them all. The album is not without it's moments, but I cannot see this having a mass appeal. Snippets of each of the tracks can be heard by following the "click here" link above.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Taylor's Free Universe - Manipulated By Taylor
Tracklist: Introducing Mr. Gregory (4:45), Music Quiz (6:20), The Danger Of Modern Art (4:51), Evil Force (3:22), Collective Acid Dive (11:22), Forum (1:51), Energizing (2:20), East Of Sweden (3:19), [Never Understood] Manestreem Bob (5:41), Iron Sausage End (7:06)
Of the three CDs reviewed in this crop of releases from Robin Taylor I have to say that this has been by far the most difficult to digest. Although my admiration for Robin Taylor as a composer and musician has grown throughout these three CDs, it still cannot convince me to appreciate this particular album. Manipulated By Taylor is a live registration recorded on 15th September 2005 at the Copenhagen JazzHouse by Taylor's Free Universe (TFU). For the concert Taylor (keyboards, guitar, percussion, voices tapes, treatments and odd sounds) is joined by long time collaborator Karsten Vogel (saxophones), Louise Nipper (voices) and Rasmus Grosell (additional drums).
The music offers little in the way of charm, although the opener Introducing Mr. Gregory is gentle atmospheric tune, with Karsten Vogel showing restraint on the sax, over an assortment of tape loops and percussion. The rhythm section of Hovman and Juul smoulder neatly away underneath. Music Quiz maintains the atmospheric vibe although the playing is so light and deft it becomes almost inaudible other than on headphones - the last two minutes of the track do pick-up slightly. Taylor moves into his "manipulations on The Danger Of Modern Art (there may be a message in that title), with his Frippian noodlings.
Evil Force welcomes the whole band to the party in this busy little number - freeform jazz with Vogel taking the top-line. The albums "epic" again is a headphone only track - with caution - again the track is much like Music Quiz, with the emphasis on layered sound effects and sporadic playing. At just over eleven minutes I have to admit my interest had waned. Two shorter pieces follow the first a rather disjointed offering with samples, whilst Energizing is just cacophonous. More atmospherics for neatly titled East Of Sweden, followed by what is possibly the most accessible track on the album, [Never Understood] Manestreem Bob. Perhaps the title is aimed at me? The album closer features Pierre Tassone on violin, however this does not herald the entrance of any discernable melody - rather adding a shimmering texture to yet another atmospheric piece.
I can't see that this album will or could grow on me as it took a great deal of will power to wade through this disc twice for the purposes of this review. And although two listenings is not a sufficient airing to offer a review, prolonged exposure to this music would I fear have been detrimental. So with this in mind it would be not only unfair and pointless for me to award any numerical conclusion to this offering from RTU. It's appeal lies with those who have penchant for atmospheric and freeform avant-garde, experimental jazz. In the right CD player this may well be a masterpiece - sadly in mine it is not.
Robin Taylor - Deutsche Schule
Tracklist: Misch Musch (5:18), Eisenbahn Mit Sauerkraut (4:26), Karl Spielt Klavier (5:12), Noch Ein Zahnartzt (6:21), Neue Stimmen (8:26), Gesang Der Tauben (6:01), Das Experiment (9:15)
One thing that certainly cannot be levelled at Robin Taylor is sticking to a formula and milking it. Although not every release that comes from the Marvel Of Beauty label may appeal across the board surely the varied nature of the output must give a greater spectrum of opportunity to capture a wider audience. And as mentioned above - in prog circles we need all the friends we can find. Finally we move on to the third of Robin Taylor releases covered in this update and Deutsche Schule, by far the most accessible and certainly the most enjoyable album, certainly to my ears.
Deutsche Schule, according to Robin Taylor "was inspired by some of the freakier German Krautrock artists of the 70s". So as to pointers bands such as Can, Amon Düül II, Faust and Ash Ra Tempel might be cited. However the music here has a lightness and listen-ability that may also draw in the likes of Kraftwerk and Neu!. But I must stress here my distinct lack of expertise in this area.
But Taylor is Taylor and not content with merely mimicking or copying these bands, his own personal slant is incorporated into the music. For instance he notes on the CD cover that not all the keyboards used here are "state of the art", in fact he has employed some fairly dodgy, inexpensive keyboards - Casio and Yamaha Portasound. But this appears to be the nature of the man and his manipulation and incorporation of these sounds is very effective. And although some of these sounds are recognisable within the music, with the Taylor treatment they blend in with the more accepted instruments to form a rich tapestry of sound.
Each of the tracks has it's own distinct flavour with only perhaps Das Experiment falling outside the realms of electronic music and more towards Taylor's atmospheric jazzy leanings. Certainly Eisenbahn Mit Sauerkraut, with its' Eastern vocalisations must sit comfortably within the electronic market? And with Karsten Vogel adding some excellent saxophone, this track is one of the stronger tunes on the album. Then there is the delightful Karl Spielt Klavier with its' haunting, atmospheric almost Celtic vibe. Although personally I could have done without the (brief but annoying) pitch-shifted spoken bits.
Most obvious of the "inexpensive keyboard" tracks is Noch Ein Zahnartzt - salvaged mainly by Vogel's soprano sax, which is interesting if not great. Neue Stimmen on the other hand pulses along well with its' plodding bass and drums, percussive timbres, industrial rhythms and once again Vogels sax sets up the track. A twist in the middle, but that's to be expected. Gesang Der Tauben is infectious with a predominant bass-line taking the focus and embellished with vocal samples and a number of interwoven guitar effects. Das Experiment concludes.
During the reviewing process of these three albums my admiration for Robin Taylor grew and grew. Granted not all the material appealed and in fact some of it did NOT, but the diversity of the man's compositional skill is impressive. Three contrasting albums showing some of the range of this man's abilities. In the past a number of Robin Taylor's releases have landed on the DPRP table and previously I have only given them a cursory listen to add some notes to the DPRP pipeline, which offers reviewers an insight as to what they might find. As with most music the more you listen the more is revealed and certainly in the future I would hope to offer a greater insight into the material of RT.
Tricky one to bag-up as I'm wary that my greater appreciation of this releases is tempered against the previous two offerings. However this is an album that is richly melodic (which goes a long way in my book), catchy, whilst retaining enough quirkiness to retain the interest levels. Karsten Vogel's saxophone adds meat to the arrangements and I have to say lifts the material above (noting again my limited knowledge) the majority of electronica based music I've come into contact with. Certainly worth investigating.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10