Reviews in this issue:
- A.C.T - Silence
- Morse :: Portnoy :: George - Cover To Cover
- Various Artists - A Taste Of Belgium
- No Name - 4
- Karcius - Kaleidoscope
- La Tulipe Noire - Nostimon Hemar
- Colin Scot - Colin Scot
- Wave – Preventor
- Brother Ape - Shangri-La
- Lu7 - Efflorescence
A.C.T - Silence
Tracklist: Truth Is Pain (4:10), Puppeteers (4:13), This Wonderful World (4:20), Out Of Ideas (4:47), Hope (4:29), Into The Unknown (3:55), No Longer Touching Ground (4:11), Useless Argument (4:49), The Voice Within (3:53), Call In Dead (2:51), Consequences (The Long One): Silent Screams (1:58), Introduction (0:51), The Millionaire (2:10), Joanna (3:09), A Father's Love (2:32), Memory To Fight (2:43), The Diary (3:10), A Wound That Won't Heal (4:32), The Final Silence (1:36)
It's been a long time - three years - since the release of Last Epic took these eccentric Swedish prog rockers from the underground into the musical spotlight. Huge critical acclaim, for what was a truly accomplished, yet unique album, won the band gigs in nine countries with Fish and Saga, acclaimed performances at three major festivals in their home country, and finally a record deal with Inside Out.
Finally Silence arrives as A.C.T's fourth album and with it comes the anticipation among their fans that this will be the one that finally brings them the success that their critical acclaim warrants.
Each A.C.T album has always been quite different from its predecessor. Their music is always built with a humorous, playful and progressive intent, around the same building blocks of the pomp rock reminiscent of Queen, ELO, Sytx and Saga. With the distinctive vocal style of Herman Samling, they've certainly developed a sound that they can call their own. However with each album, that sound has matured, developed and never become repetitive.
And there is certainly no change in the desire for change with Silence. This is easily the lightest, simplest, most accessible album that the band has produced. The heaviness and crunch that was a key ingredient to their sound until now, has all but disappeared. The sudden bursts and jabs of keys and guitars have been relegated to the sidelines with the vocals taking the lead on pretty much every track. It is this which I feel will disappoint as many existing fans as it pleases new ones.
I've given Silence a lot of spins - and I mean A LOT - and the only firm conclusion I have come to, is that a lot of existing fans of the band will find this a great disappointment. But providing it is well promoted, these could be more than replaced by new admirers.
That's not to say that this is not immediately recognisable as an A.C.T album. There's still a lot of Queen coming out, but now it comes with a much simpler pop sensibility, that brings to mind The Beatles and Supertramp. From more recent times, It Bites would be a good basis for comparisons, in the way that the band utilises up-tempo, progressive rhythms, with some clever song writing, based around simple melodic and lyrical phrases.
The album is divided into two. The opening ten tracks are self-contained, to-the-point, progressive pop rock tunes. The remainder make up the epic Consequences, (subtitled "The Long One") which tells the tragic story of Joanne, a young woman desperate for a child. Musically this takes a slighter deeper dive into progressive ideas.
Weak tracks are hard to find, but likewise there is nothing that really jumps out and makes me want to shout 'Wow'. Favourites would be the catchy opener Truth Is Pain, the oddball funky beat that opens Out Of Ideas and the driving guitars that darken the breezy melodies of Hope. The guitarist finally let out of the bag with great effect on Memory To Fight which is probably the closest here to anything on Last Epic.
With nineteen tracks and the quirky outbursts that are sprinkled throughout, it may just be too diverse for a mainstream pop audience. The almost total disappearance of the crunch and bite, through the relegation of the guitar to the role of bit-player, will alienate some fans of their previous work. And the pop sensibilities that dominate almost every track will be a little too obvious for those who demand a greater challenge in their music.
Despite all of this, you can't ignore that Silence is a very, very good album from a very, very talented band. Few listeners will be saying that they don't enjoy listening to it. Whether enough people really love this album enough to turn this band into major ACTors on the worldwide stage, then I'm afraid only time will tell.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Morse :: Portnoy :: George - Cover To Cover
Tracklist: 2005 ? Sessions: Pleasant Valley Sunday (4:44), Badge (2:51), Maybe I'm Amazed (4:03), Where Do The Children Play (4:40), I'm The Man (4:05), Feeling Stronger Everyday (5:39), Rock And Roll Suicide (3:28), 2004 One Sessions: Where The Streets Have No Name (5:47), Day After Day (3:26), What Is Life? (4:28), I'm Free/Sparks (6:36), 2003 Testimony Sessions: Tuesday Afternoon (6:32), Find My Way Back Home (6:49)
During the recording sessions of the last three solo albums of Neal Morse, the core band consisting of multi-instrumentalist Morse, drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy George always used up some studio time by playing their favourite covers. These covers ended up as a nice bonus on the second disc of the special editions of Testimony and One. Up to that point I can completely understand this all - just some guys having fun in the studio, and letting their fans share the fun.
Yet now someone figured it would be a good idea to release these covers as a standalone album. Despite the fact that these kind of albums are normally only interesting for the die-hard fans. Die-hard fans who are likely to already own half of the album as they've bought the limited editions of One and Testimony. And speaking of die-hard fans. I cannot see a fan of either Morse's Prog adventures or his religious outings automatically dig an album filled with classic rock covers.
Despite being an obvious cash-in the album is not marketed as another Neal Morse solo album or side project, but the album is actually released under the artist name Morse, Portnoy, George. This is further elaborated by having Mike Portnoy write the liner notes for the album. In fact, the official Neal Morse website contains absolutely no references of this album, so it may have been solely Mike Portnoy's or even Inside Out's idea to release this album.
If nothing else, it proves that these guys can literally play anything they want. Especially Neal Morse deserves special kudos for really singing like Bowie, McCartney or Bono. As is also acknowledged by Portnoy in the liner notes Morse proves himself to be a very versatile singer. What strikes me is how Morse's recent solo albums have all become so similar sounding, and to me personally exceptionally disappointing in the vocal department, while on this album Morse proves it is not the limitations of his singing (and playing) that cause the lack of variety.
All covers are played fairly close to the originals, with only U2's Where The Streets Have No Name having a slightly altered intro. Naturally some songs are more exciting than others, but whether you like the music or not comes mostly down to personal taste. To me the album is a nice alternative for the classic rock radio station which I play at work, but hardly anything I would play regularly. Like Fish' Songs From The Mirror 13 years back I like the album a lot, but barely see the point of releasing it. Having said that, there is plenty to enjoy. Morse does a mean McCartney in Maybe I'm Amazed, and George Harrison's What Is Life is also very commendable (though a far cry from the killer version of Beware Of Darkness off the same album, which Neal did with Spock's Beard years back). The best bit is saved for the end, with The Moody Blues' Tuesday Afternoon which segues remarkably well into Blind Faith's Find My Way Back Home. Not entirely surprisingly these were also the first covers recorded in this setting, back in 2003.
So to conclude, there's plenty to enjoy on the album, but you might wonder who would actually be waiting for such an album. It's a good thing the CD is sold at a reduced price, otherwise one might be inclined to think they were releasing it for some easy money....
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Various Artists - A Taste Of Belgium
Tracklist: Panopticum Say No More (6:02), Madelgaire Regrets (9:19), Quantum Fantay Niek Shlut (7:36), Beyond The Labyrinth (Tearing Down The) Icons (6:54), Ghiribizzi Don't Fear The Unknown (7:04), AmAndA Demain (6:36), Karma Depth Second Chance (10:52), Globalys Eagle, Eggs & Bacon/Premix 2006 (10:47)
Belgium may be one of the smallest countries in Europe but within its borders exists two diverse cultures separated by language as well as custom. To the northwest lies Flanders where Flemish is widely spoken, and to the southeast the Walloon region where French is the main language. During the 80’s I spent a year living and working in Belgium and fell in love with the country and people on both sides of the invisible border. Sadly during my stay I sampled very little of the local music scene. The majority of bands playing in Brussels at the time seemed to be the imported variety, mostly from the UK. This collaboration between Prog-Nose and Prog-résiste goes some way to addressing that situation by uniting four distinctive bands from each of the two national regions.
The splendid cover artwork is worth special mention being a clever parody of Belgium’s reputation for luxury chocolates. Inside the excellent booklet provides a host of information on each band including photographs, line-ups, discography and other trivia. I must confess that the majority of the acts are new to me although some have been previously reviewed on these pages. Previous recording credits average at one album apiece with new releases from several of the bands due out by 2007. The tracks are a mixture of yet to be released and previously released material dating back to 2002.
Flanders band Panopticum open the album in fine style with the song Say No More. The 90125 Yes style harmonies are a recognisable point of reference adding a gloss to the intro and the memorable chorus. The bands strident sound is characterised by hard driving guitar, busy drums, animated synths and inventive bass work. A respite comes in the form of a reflective mid section with piano and rippling guitar allowing the superb female lead vocal to shine through. The guitar work that follows veers from heavy riffs to complex licks before returning to the main melody. A great opener with tight performances throughout, that’s a tad too short for my money. This song originally appeared on the bands Reflection album, which received a DPRP recommendation last year.
Madelgaire respond with Regrets, which has an uneasy restless feel. Keyboards initially dominate with stark organ chords, urgent synth work and gothic mellotron washes. The high male vocal isn’t bad but soon disappears as the tension builds with Fripp like guitar seesawing between melodic phrases and angry discordant notes. Excellent upfront drum work and crashing organ add to the mood as it develops into an incessant riff that starts to drag before resolving with a thunderous crescendo. The inevitable tranquil section follows with mellotron and lightweight guitar noodling. The heavyweight riff resurfaces, stopping abruptly to allow sampled bird song, piano, 12-string and the return of the vocals to have the final word. The overall impression is King Crimson meets Genesis head on with Fripp and Co. winning on points.
Space rock is the order of the day from Quantum Fantay and the albums lone instrumental Niek Shlut. Abrasive sounding high-speed synth is tempered by equally fast but melodic Steve Hillage inflected guitar. The driving feel is compelling, although the bass and drums lack the complexity of the leads. The ambient bridge includes the sound of running water, Jean Michel Jarre synth meditations and a beautiful flute melody. The rhythm section comes into its own here sounding far more articulate. As the tempo builds the flute melody continues to dominate sounding superb underpinned by synth. A lighting fast guitar solo is immaculately played with loud synth blasts to close. These guys really know how to play with flute taking top honours for me.
(Tearing Down The) Icons by Beyond The Labyrinth comes from the bands Signs album, which featured in a DPRP prog metal special earlier this year. Maybe because the song has been remixed I’m not sure but prog metal doesn’t come instantly to my mind. Majestic synths, rippling guitar and dramatic staccato chords set the tone. The AOR style vocal isn’t bad although a little accented on the otherwise tuneful chorus. Lead guitar moves from melodic double tracked fills to powerful riffs sounding like the break from The Eagles’ Hotel California at one point. The song follows a traditional verse, chorus, middle eight pattern but the stately tempo maintained throughout gives it an edge. An above average metallic guitar solo lays the path for a pomp laden synth/guitar coda. As revealed on the DPRP news page recently the band has just lost three key members.
Speaking of prog metal, Don't Fear The Unknown by Ghiribizzi is definitely the real deal. A melodic neo prog style synth melody is the sweetener, followed by a bombastic male vocal and thunderous power chords. The otherwise powerful vocals are spoilt by a melodramatic delivery and uninspired lyrics, even though Fish comes to mind at times. The song moves at an energetic pace with heavy guitar riffs and effective if not over elaborate drums and bass. The melody and chorus could both be stronger but a soaring metal guitar solo, which is the songs best part compensates. The replying synth solo has its merits in a measured kind of way.
AmAndA are a band I first came across on the Prog-resiste Convention DVD released last year. Their contribution Demain is one of the most entertaining here. A bubbling synth melody is joined by theatrical French vocals bringing Ange instantly to mind. Guitars riff, but in a bright ear friendly way as the tempo moves up a gear driven by a sparkling synth rhythm. The bass and drums will sound a little lightweight to some ears but you cannot fail to be impressed by the symphonic synths in the dramatic bridge section. The falsetto vocal parts and operatic effects are reminiscent of Sparks’ current output, and the quirky style owes as much to 80’s synth pop as it does prog. This is a band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously and I love them for it.
In comparison, Second Chance by Karma Depth is a brooding thought provoking song with contrasting moments of light and shade. A reflective piano led introduction sets the scene for the smooth male vocals supported by a relaxed rhythm and a laidback funky guitar riff. Although no one particular band comes to mind the sound has a mature American soft rock feel. The mood becomes grittier with urgent guitar riffs, sweeping synths and edgier vocals. As the tempo rises and falls there is a definite Arena and Pallas atmosphere that builds to a soaring guitar solo. This is the highpoint of the album in my view with guitar and organ providing a complex riff reminiscent of the intro to Yes’ Perpetual Change. The tension eases with a beautifully played piano section and a relaxed blues guitar break before the dramatic coda.
Given the title Eagle, Eggs & Bacon I was expecting a quirky Gong inspired piece from Globalys but was pleasantly surprised. There is an abundance of clever instrumentation and tricky time signatures however and the style borders on but never quite ventures into jazz. The song opens and closes with serene ambient synths. In between the even tempo densely arranged passages include guitar, harpsichord, flute, piano and synths which all leave their mark. The occasional but harmonious Jon Anderson like high vocals are a plus as is the articulate drums and bass work which have a Bruford and Levin feel about them. The high point for me though is the strident orchestral punctuations and immaculate guitar work towards the end. Considering the band has yet to release an album this is a sensational track and a fitting closer.
To be fair none of the songs on this album really push the envelope in terms of originality. True each band has it’s own style and character but heavenly synths and crunching guitar riffs seem to come and go with almost predictable regularity. In every other aspect however this release ticks all the right boxes. Song quality, musicianship and production are all well above the average. It may seem unfair to single out any one band for special mention but just for the record my favourite performances came from Panopticum, AmAndA, Karma Depth and Globalys. In fact I will happily lend an ear to future releases from any one of these bands. If you have a few euros burning a hole in your pocket and an ear for fresh talent then this sampler is well worth investigation. This is clear proof that prog is alive and well in the land that has more to offer than rich chocolates and strong beer!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
No Name - 4
Tracklist: The Curse (10:42), Fountains of Dreams (5:25), Thoughts Pay No Toll (6:17), A Recollection of Dreams (16:46), Visions (10:10), Promises (6:26)
No Name are the first band that I have heard that hail from Luxembourg since accidentally stumbling upon an open-air free gig by a group called Blackout way back in 1982. As far as I know, Blackout never managed to release an album (shame, as I remember them as being very entertaining), so No Name have managed to go one better than "Luxembourg's Top Rock Band" (of the 1980s anyway!). Actually, as the album title suggests, they have actually gone four better, this latest release being the first album since 1999's The Other Side. In the intervening years the band have supported the likes of Barclay James Harvest, Golden Earring, Fish and IQ, lost a bass player (eventually replaced by drummer Christian Sonntag's sister, Iris), celebrated their 15th anniversary and taken two rather long sabbaticals. The silence was broken in late 2005 by the appearance of a single Thoughts Pay No Toll, the title track of which appears as an extended version on '4'.
The Curse opens the album with a nice interplay between the keyboards of Alex Rukavina and the guitars of Yves Di Prospero. With a soaring chorus and a driving rhythm by the Sonntag siblings the song is an energetic opening number. Vocalist Patrick Kiefer (Kuffi to his friends!) has come in for some criticism in the past but I have to so he does an admirable job on this number, particularly on the very melodic and symphonic closing section. Fountains Of Dreams is the latest composition by the group, and one they refer to as a 'melodic pop song'. Imbued with a couple of strong melody lines, the song is airy and would have made a good single in the 1980s, which is not to say it sounds dated, just that the musical climate of that time was more conducive to this sort of song.
Thoughts Pay No Toll, as Bob noted in his review of the single, is very catchy and, like the album as a whole, does grow and become lodged in the subconscious with each listen. An extended keyboard break adds to the single version and the vocals are much improved over the 2005 release. With two more poppier songs one might think that the band have drifted away from their progressive roots. Step up A Recollection Of Dreams. Although the 35-minute Tan'Iban on The Other Side may have been rather over-extended, No Name have got it just about right with the long track on 4. Although half the length of Tan'Iban, at 17 minutes it is still a weighty composition. First performed as Once Around Me at a concert in May 2001, the song has been revised, rewritten and renamed. Considered by the group themselves as something of a synopsis of the band's musical history it is an enjoyable romp through a variety of moods and tempos, which flows neatly throughout its duration.
The final two songs are both older compositions. Visions was written at the time of The Other Side although was not included on that album as the band couldn't decide on a suitable arrangement. With new keyboard sounds and having got to grips with technologies such as sequencers, the song has been souped up and given a more powerful sound. One can hear traces of IQ in the musical arrangement, yet it maintains an originality all of its own - No Name have certainly come up with an arrangement that satisfies! Promises was originally recorded and released in 1991 on the marvellously titled Heap Of Ruins tape issued following some success in a battle of the bands type competition. A piano-driven ballad, it rounds the album off nicely with some impressive playing by Rukavina and an entirely appropriate, restrained guitar solo by Di Prospero. The song may be 15 years old but like a fine wine it has matured well!
When I first played this CD I have to confess that I was not immediately struck, thinking it just another reasonable release by a group of competent musicians. However, I kept returning to the album and the fine melodies and decent arrangements gradually became increasingly familiar and enjoyable. Although unlikely to be an album of the year on many peoples lists come December, No Name have produced an album that they can be justifiably proud of, and you can't say fairer than that.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Karcius - Kaleidoscope
Tracklist: Hypothese A (6:44), Maintenant (6:02), Destination (6:10), Tunnel (7:11), Hypothese B (11:02), A-0-14 (5:10), Epilogue (6:35), Hypothese C (7:56)
Having reviewed French Canadian prog-jazz-rock fusionists Karcius’ debut album, Sphere, I was intrigued enough to put my hand up as soon as the follow-up appeared on the review pile. Whilst rather uneven in quality and somewhat rough around the edges, the album nonetheless showed promise, and thankfully much of that promise has been realised on what is a much improved sophomore effort.
Just from a cursory listen of the opening track Hypothese A it’s clear that the two main problems I had with Sphere – the rather disjointed nature of some of the songs and the rather jarring use of a harder-edged guitar sound – have clearly been addressed. Opening in a mellow style, the track gradually integrates some heavier guitar work in a far slicker and appropriate manner than before. The song flows well through a number of mood and tempo changes, and is graced with some fine elongated melodic solo’s from guitarist Simon L’Esperance, plus a particularly well executed breakdown and consequent build-up towards the end of the song.
Elsewhere, variety is the spice of life as far as Karcius are concerned. Maintenant is a languid, very chilled out number which has a bit of a lounge-jazzy feel to it but fortunately strays the right side of descending into Kenny G style muzak; Destination is a heavy track that has a slightly middle-eastern flavour to the rhythms and features particularly good interplay between L’Esperance and pianist Mingan Sauriol; Tunnel groves along in a 70’s hard rock style, with the prominent use of organ putting me in mind of Deep Purple, whilst Epilogue manages to blend a Latino feel into the jazz fusion framework.
Ultimately Kaleidoscope is a far more dynamic and cohesive collection than Sphere, and Karcius have gone a long way to establish a signature sound from their still fairly apparent influences (Brand X, Pat Metheny, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra etc). Occasionally the band still seem to lose focus and the material therefore drifts aimlessly in places, with some unnecessary noodling around dominating some sections (such as on the rather over-extended latter half of Hypothese B). Thankfully such moments are the exceptions rather than the rule, and Kaleidoscope can go down as a much improved effort. I imagine that Karcius’ third album will be something worth waiting for, but in the meantime fusion fans can invest with some confidence.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
La Tulipe Noire - Nostimon Hemar
Tracklist: Anakroussis (4:07), Oenops Pontos (6:08), Lotus Eaters (6:26), Polyphemus (6:58), Circe (7:05), Tiresias (5:01), Nissos Sirinon (9:11), Scylla and Charybdis (7:26), Calypso (7:16), Phaeacia (3:54), Ithaca (5:26)
Four years have passed since the third album Faded Leaves by the Greek progressive outfit Tulipe Noire saw the light of day. Guitarist Kontakis left the band (after thirteen years!) right after the release of Faded Leaves and his successor Pertsidines had other obligations before he could join the band. Even more importantly, drummer Nick Kassavetis had some nasty health problems that required half a day of surgery and a long recovery, so this hiatus was forced upon the band. Fortunately it seems the band is back stronger than ever with this latest offering.
An odyssey as only a band from the country where this name came from could realise. Although the song titles are according to the time hero Odysseus went astray and eventually found his way back to Ithaca, the lyrics by the contemporary writer Kavafis are not: the concept-album is therefore meant to be an allegory to Homer's Odyssey. Words like machine guns and even a fragment of one of Adolf Hitler's speeches are proof of this.
The music is in the vein of Seventies style progressive acts like Eloy, Novalis and so on. Some influences of Marillion (Calypso) also can be distinguished. Difference of course with the bands mentioned is that Tulipe Noire have a female vocalist (Ima). Her steady, clear and sometimes a bit aggressive voice is the bands trademark. Therefore the bands reminds me of the first albums by Solstice (UK). Guitars have the sound of those on albums by the German outfit Ramses, the bass by Hyde is a bit pumping, drums are subtle and elegant and the keyboards provide tasteful layers but especially the organ brings back memories from 30 years ago and back!
Not all the melodies are catchy but throughout the album most of the tunes that pop up are very nice. Because of the somewhat backdated sound and the obvious intention to play music from 25-35 years ago, this album is not amongst my favourites, because I like the genuine stuff better. But surely it's a good thing progressive rock is alive in Greece as well. Sound-clips are available on the band's website.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Colin Scot - Colin Scot
Tracklist: Do The Dance Now, Davey (5.28), My Rain (3.07), Take Me Away (3.23), Confusion (2.55), Baby In My Lady (4.07), Lead Us (4.34), You're Bound To Leave Me Now (4.36), The Boatman (3.08), Nite People (4.15), Hey! Sandy (4.14), Here We Are In Progress (4.27), Bonus tracks: Long Time Gone (3.26), Do The Dance Now, Davey [take 3] (5.42), My Rain [take 1] (3.51), Nite People [take 2] (4.42)
Wouldn't it be great if you could have members of Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator playing together on one album? Well, believe it or not, such an album already exists! Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Robert Fripp, Peter Hamill, David Jackson, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Gould... all came to the aid when singer/songwriter Colin Scot (1941-1999) was to record his debut album. In 1971 no less, when most of these people yet had to make it big. Oh, and the cover even features a picture of the Battersea Power Station, later made famous by a band with an obsession for pigs...
So with such a line-up, it has to be a prog-masterpiece, right? Well, think again. As this was recorded before all these legends had yet to reach the annals of the history of prog, and as they were hired to back a singer who toured the country with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, all contributions are confined to the folky singer/songwriter style, with only Rick Wakeman's piano occasionally popping up as conspicuous and recognisable. Nonetheless the line-up alone warrants a review on DPRP, although it may have been better to put it in the Forgotten Sons section, as this is in fact a true lost gem. One might say Colin Scot was a bit of a Seventies version of Steve Thorne: A singer/songwriter with lots of friends in the prog community.
At the time most of these friends appeared on the album as (very obvious) pseudonyms, like P. Angel Gabriel (Peter Gabriel), Van Der Hammill (Peter Hammill), P.C. Genesis (Phil Collins), Prof Jaxon (David Jackson) or Dr Yes (Jon Anderson). It is a pity that (apart from Fripp and aforementioned Wakeman) none of the contributions are particularly recognisable, and the biggest names are in the backing vocal department, where it is often impossible to make out who does what. Only in the psychedelic Nite People can the recognisable vocals of Jon Anderson be made out.
Most of the album the songs are firmly into acoustic singer/songwriter vein. Backed by an acoustic guitar, violin, piano and the occasional drums Colin Scott's songs hold their own somewhere in the region between Al Stewart, Don McLean or even John Denver.
So, definitely not prog then, but a very enjoyable album, it's pleasant to listen to, and with the line-up involved certainly interesting to many a prog-fan. The recordings have been completely remastered and four bonus tracks have been added (one previously unreleased track, and three different takes of songs on the album). The liner notes include the original artwork and photos, as well as a biography with interview snippets from many of Scot's friends and collaborators of the album including Davey Johnstone and Rick Wakeman.
Kudos to Eclectic Discs for unearthing this forgotten gem and finally releasing it on CD after being out of print for 35 years.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Wave – Preventor
Tracklist: World News Today [Preventor I] (0:59), Tribal Dance (6:04), At the Disco (0:39), Untie the Speech (2:40), In (2:52), Breathless (6:51), Looks Like Blood (4:10), No Words [Don’t Intro] (0:39), Don’t (4:24), Preventor II (5:09), Going Home [Stand Still Intro] (1:17), Stand Still (5:26), Cry a Lie (5:59), Fairy Tale (2:26), Out of Here (4:01), Living Torch (4:16), The Day (4:01), Preventor III (6:37), Preventor IV (8:01), World News Today II (0:59)
I’ve said it before and will say it again: I’m a sucker for concept albums. If I were to be more accurate, I guess I’d say I’m a sucker for unity and coherence in an album, and what better way to provide unity and coherence than with an overriding concept? That said, I also believe that each song on an album, even a concept album, has to stand strongly alone. All this prologue is meant to set up what I’ll have to say about this extraordinarily ambitious (and long!) concept album by a young Czech band. Does it work? Not really, at least not as a whole – but I’ll have a lot to say about why not and about what parts of it do work.
What’s the concept of Preventor? I’m tempted to invoke Queensrÿche's Operation Mindcrime and Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage by way of giving you an idea of the story here. (Okay, toss in Styx’s Kilroy Was Here and Rush’s 2112.) But, really, Wave’s concept is a bit more interesting than any of those four. In the not-too-distant future, the story goes, a supercomputer called Preventor relies on “SPS” technology – “Statistical Prevention System,” that is – to identify potential terrorists before they commit their crimes. After the system malfunctions, causing the death of an innocent man, a teenaged boy becomes a sort of rebel and attempts to infiltrate or defeat the system. The moral comes at the end, as Preventor wastes its time finding and capturing this innocent boy and meanwhile fails to prevent the actions of a real terrorist.
So, yes, the story’s kind of cool – but the business of this site is to review albums, not science-fiction stories, so our concern has to be how well the music on the album supports the story. (And, frankly, that story – which I’ve synopsized from the promotional materials – is hardly clear from the lyrics themselves.) I guess I’d say that the difficult, challenging music doesn’t really support the story. Wave plays progressive rock in the same way that The Mars Volta plays progressive rock, and by so saying I do NOT mean to suggest that Wave sounds anything like The Mars Volta – only that both bands are far from, say, Yes or Genesis or King Crimson but that both bands’ music is complex and challenging. The question about Wave, like the one raised by each new Mars Volta album, is to what degree the music’s complexity rewards the attention it demands?
Well, frankly, in the case of Wave, I’m not sure that the rewards are commensurate with the effort. Part of the problem is that the songs are not so much songs as compositions – they’re not bereft of melody, but the band eschews perhaps too resolutely the verse and the chorus in favour of seemingly infinite changes in dynamics and tempo. What that means is that there is a lot of very interesting music on this hour-and-a-quarter-long album, but there isn’t really one whole song that stands up and stands out on its own. The songs are linked by spoken, acted bits that are meant to unite them, but, as I’ve said, the story is hard to glean from the lyrics themselves, and the acted bits range from intrusive to embarrassing.
How to describe the music? I’ll start from the bottom up: for an independent CD, this album has superb, bass-heavy production, and the bass is perhaps, through the whole album, the most noticeable instrument. Bassist Peter Sláde ek is simply excellent, his sound reminiscent of Geddy Lee’s old Rickenbacker tone on much of the album, and his playing is a delight throughout. But – and this might sound paradoxical – his virtuosity is also part of the band’s problem, as is the similar virtuosity of the other band members. The band seems to be as interested in displaying its instrumental chops as in constructing coherent songs – hence the constant shifts in each song from fast to slow, loud to quiet, this time signature to that. I can’t really compare this band to any other to give you an idea of their sound, and that fact itself points to another problem: Wave’s very originality makes the music less accessible than it might be. If I had to guess, I’d say that the band members are consciously trying here not to sound like any other band; succeeding in that attempt, they’ve flirted with obscurity.
Is it ridiculous of me to fault a band for originality? Maybe, and I wouldn’t blame the band members themselves if they thought so. To my ears, though, this lengthy, extraordinarily ambitious, difficult album is simply not, as a whole, pleasing to listen to, and no amount of originality or virtuosity can compensate for that fact. I give them full credit for their achievement here, but I also hope that, if the band continues to make music, it’ll capitulate a little more to its listeners and condescend to write a few tunes and maybe even a chorus now and again.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Brother Ape - Shangri-La
Tracklist: New Shangri-La (6:03), Lunatic Kingdom (6:01), Umbrellas (2:13), Inside You (5:11), Beams (6:38), Monasteries Of Meteora (4:32), I'll be Going (5:48), Tweakhead (2:05), A Reason To Wake (3:11), Meatball Tour (5:43), Timeless For The Timebeing (7:45), Shangri-La (2:35)
Hailing from Stockholm, Brother Ape had been around for a decade before their debut album containing a 'best of demos' collection called On The Other Side was released last year. Since then the main vocalist Peter Dahlgren has departed, meaning that the Apes' main composer Stefan Damicolas, who previously sang on around a third of the songs, takes on the role full-time along with his guitar duties. The line-up is completed by Gunnar Maxen on bass, keyboards and vocals and drummer Max Bergman.
The result is the release of Shangri-La, twelve tracks that deliver upbeat rock, with a not overtly progressive obsession, a modern feel and a few jazz-fusion elements thrown in for good measure. There's a very 70s/80s American vibe to all the songs, that brings to mind the likes of Saga, Kansas, America and Styx. Typical of this would be the opening title track - a good catchy rock song with a few progressive elements in the instrumental sections.
Inside You is a well-played, up-tempo, guitar-led rocker while Lunatic Kingdom offers a heavier dose of progressive influences. Beams is slower-paced, making good use of some close harmonies and an extended guitar solo. Tweakhead and Meatball Tour are where the jazz/fusion stuff is let loose - the later employing a real funky groove. Monasteries Of Meteora is a dreamy instrumental with hummed melodies - a bit too much like department store elevator music for me, as is the dull ballad with a good title, Timeless For The Timebeing. The rest of the tracks are the sort of safe, progressive rock that you could play in the background when the mother-in-law visits.
It's all very well played, the vocals fit the music perfectly and the whole thing benefits from a clear production that offers a very open sound, meaning nothing is too cluttered. However I find it all just a little bit stale and safe. From the opening track, you know the band can obviously write and play a good melody, but the rest I find is just too predictable. With so much music out there in this genre, I feel a band really has to stamp its own identity on its music if it wants to get noticed.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Lu7 - Efflorescence
Tracklist: 12th Tree (3:51), Blue Planet (5:19), Crimson Carpet (4:45), Nusa Dua (6:11), Kesaran Patharan (5:25), Sonatine I [Modere] (5:02), Sonatine II [Mouvement De Menuet] (4:14), Sonatine III [Anime] (4:35), Flying Seed [Landscape 37] (6:34), Soft Nothings (5:58), UT06 [*Bonus Track] (6:24)
Slick is the best word I can conjure to describe this latest releases from Lu7. And if well written, perfectly executed and superbly produced jazz rock is your thing then do yourself a favour and buy this album. However if you like your fusion with a little edge, then beware - all the rough bits have been removed and finely polished.
Last year I reviewed Lu7's previous release, L'esprit de l'exil, however this latest offering from the band actually pre-dates that particular album. Efflorescence (2002) was initially only an internet available release, but due to the many favourable reviews L'esprit... received it is now given a greater distribution courtesy of Poseidon/Musea Records. And the fact that Efflorescence pre-dates L'esprit... goes a little way to explaining why the band's sound hasn't progressed or developed.
Lu7 are principally Tsutomu Kurihara (guitar) and Luna Umegaki (keyboards & programming), with one off guest appearances from Toshimi Nagai (fretless bass) and Vagabond Suzuki (upright bass).
Let's kick off with Tsutomu Kurihara first. A great guitar player who adds his fluid stylings to the music, in a Lee Ritenour or syrupy Allan Holdsworth vein. Luna Umegaki is obviously an extremely accomplished keyboard player and her chops are evident throughout. She is also mindful of the keyboard sounds which are impeccable if not a little dated. Picture those "classy" sounds that you may have come across on say an Enya album, or some of the the more notable jazz rock outfits of the late Eighties period. Huge pizzicato strings, ethereal strings etc - ring any bells! But still I've missed one of the crucial factors in Lu7's music - programming. And despite Luna Umegaki's abilities to create a complex rhythm section, it does provide a lack lustre foundation for the rest of the music. Don't get me wrong these are well constructed and arranged parts, and again nothing you can fault, but no dynamics, no spark, no drive...
It's probably quite evident by now that Efflorescence hasn't grasped me and to be truthful I am struggling for the positive elements of this album. It is not a bad album, and I've reviewed poorer albums more positively. So why so negative? As with L'esprit de l'exil I think my disappointment stems more from the fact that these two musicians are capable of greater things. So, sadly, for me, and despite the obvious talents of Tsutomu Kurihara and Luna Umegaki, Efflorescence swims far too close to muzak than music. There is nothing unpleasant about this album and to be truthful I cannot fault the playing, or the compositions or even the production, but as with the previous album I reviewed from Lu7 the music just washed over me time and time again. I suppose I just found the whole experience somewhat sterile and lacking any true feeling - and I'm sure that is not the case. The bottom line is that Efflorescence serves as a pleasant backwash, but in my book goes little further.
Now I'm conscious here that I am repeating comments I made about L'esprit de l'exil, so I'll draw quickly to a close and refer you back to my opening paragraph.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10