Reviews in this issue:
- Fluttreffect - Marking Time
- Day Shift - Of Whispers
- Caamora - Closer [EP]
- Rick Wakeman - Tribute (Duo Review)
- Patrik Skantze And The Free Souls Society - Fiction At First View
Fluttreffect - Marking Time
Tracklist: Like This (4:03), Talk To Me (3:51), Awake (3:33), Hollywood Is Porn 1 (5:48), Hollywood Is Porn 2 (6:03), February First 1896 (3:39), Lucky Glove (4:33), Don't Know What You're Living For (7:22), Venus Loves Hades (4:02), Nowhere (6:05), Marking Time (4:59), Transmission [J's Dreamy Remix - bonus track] (4:59)
There is a fair amount of people that claim that progressive music does not evolve. According to them the music is contradicting its defining term: it does not progress. On the contrary, it stays attached to the music produced in the 70's and the 80's. No emancipation, no imagination, just repetition and glances in the past. Nobody can deny that there is plethora of examples that fall into this category, producing nothing new and just assembling bits and pieces of things already played and presenting them in a 2000 and on package However, we, lovers of progressive music, know that the story is not limited there. We regularly discover bands that make a difference and redefine progressive music with their own little contribution. Bands which no doubt belong in the genre, yet sound like nothing else out there, bands that are original, that can still sound fresh and show signs of progress. Bands that move forwards and not backwards. One of these bands is Fluttreffect.
The band started out in 2002 as a four-piece called Fluttr with Troy Kidwell on guitar and vocals, Jason Marchionna on drums, Vessela Stoyanova on marimba, vibes etc., and Valerie Thompson on electric cello. A few months later, Kara Trott joined as a new lead singer. In the fall of 2004 the band released their first full-length CD, Trithemis Festiva, and became Fluttreffect. In February 2006, the girls released Swallows And Sparrows as the Fluttreffect Trio. Marking Time is Fluttreffect's second full-length CD.
One of the most charming characteristics of this album is the inherent difficulty to describe the music, since it is really hard to draw lines and connect songs or song elements to existing entries in the big book of prog. In fact, had I to give one pointer, that would be Faith No More. Marking Time is as diverse an album as the ones produced in the previous decade by the pioneers of the cross-over genre. Here too, one can observe an original mixture of different styles and influences of very diverse musical genres. Still, the music is 100% progressive. Witty and intelligent song writing that manages to keep your interest high throughout the whole length of the album. Very good technical skills mainly demonstrated in the many many changes and switches in the music, that sometimes can be even called "surprising". The keyboards will convince even the most reluctant listener that this release is totally prog. The guitars are not oriented towards soloing but are just one of the building blocks and collaborate perfectly with a quite solid rhythm section and the keyboards. Kara's vocals are also non-standard. They are not sweet, operatic or ethereal and the fact that she does not aim at singing at high pitches but rather at her normal frequencies adds to the originality of the band. Extremely creative and at times she manages to take you by surprise. One should also not omit the inspired and clever lyrics. Finally, something that also makes a difference is the use of cello, vibes and marimba.
There are so many highlights in this album that it's hard to distinguish and select. The paranoid changes in Hollywood Is Porn - from keyboard driven neo-prog to Sabbathy-riffs and then to cello-piano slow. The super catchy Awake that to me could be a great single. The avant-garde February 1896 with the duel between cello and psych guitar. Lucky Glove can be vaguely reminiscent to The Gathering till half-way, because after that the band gets again possessed and diverges from conventional song-writing. Kara dominates the track Don't Know What You're Living For, with both her way of singing and the vocal lines - she does sound like Anneke a bit! The poppier and more relaxed approach in Venus Loves Hades gives way to Nowhere - futuristic keyboards and unexpected changes up to the extent of going into very complex territories. The title track is subtle, elegant and at times sensitive and sharp - like, unfortunately, its ending. The bonus track is quite different from the rest but still charming. Overall, if the band could "round some edges" and take a bit more care of some small details, they could do miracles.
It's hard to choose which of all the above highlights can be isolated. This experience brings to mind the first time I heard the Austrian prog quartet Mayfair: you are struggling to catch up with the rush of creativity and ideas. This could be how Faith No More would sound had they followed a more progressive direction. By far the most inspired and innovative effort I have heard this year, Fluttreffect's Marking Time deserves a place in the pantheon. Unique, modern, excellent.
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
Day Shift - Of Whispers
Tracklist: The Queen Of Whisperers (5:18), Evil People In Cars (5:53), Sand Head (5:03), The Burning Bush (4:30), Little Steps (4:59), Shift (5:51), Drift (5:45), Out Of My Skin (5:26), Undercover (4:54), Never (6:57)
Day Shift are a quartet of musicians from the south of England that describe themselves as a psychedelic space rock band. However, each one of those adjectives could be gainfully employed in isolation and you could even throw in progressive at a pinch given the overlapping of genres that occurs these days. The four members are Bob Leek (vocals, synth, rhythm guitar), Nick Beere (guitars), Jason Tilbrook (bass) and Archie (drums). Henry Crud, a self-described "musical prostitute with the morals of a tapeworm" provided some of the lyrics, the artwork and also added sax and synth on one track.
Firstly, for a band on only their second album, the first being last year's Imaginary Menagerie, the quality of the song writing and musicianship is very high. Add to that an excellent production (by guitarist Beere) and you have all the elements provided by much bigger bands with much bigger budgets. Secondly, as suggested above, the album does in many ways defy genres. Much as in the way Porcupine Tree started off dipping their toes into different musical pools, Day Shift also indulge in trans-genre hopping, often within songs, a trait that makes the album all the more enjoyable to listen to.
Although there are some strong space rock influences, Little Steps and the languid and guitar-free Drift being good examples, there is a lot of guitar on the album with Beere churning out power chords and melodic riffs with abandon. The opening track The Queen Of Whispers and others like Sand Head and The Burning Bush being the most energetic and heaviest tracks on the album. These songs also demonstrate the great production, against the barrage of guitars synth, bass and drums the vocals are absolutely crystal clear. The band are also not afraid to get a groove on, Out Of My Skin has a downright funky rhythm line, or set aside the heavier elements for a more acoustic vibe, closing track Never is simply a great song that doesn't need to be classified as psychedelic, rock or anything except well worth a listen. Favourite track, and song title, has to be Evil People In Cars with a thoroughly menacing bass line and definite pointers to Porcupine Tree.
Altogether, Day Shift have come up with a very good album that satisfies on numerous levels. Don't be put off thinking that all space rock bands sound like a poor man's Hawkwind, Day Shift are something different and well worth investigating.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Caamora - Closer
Tracklist: Half Moon Street (5:51), A World Somewhere (4:13), The Bonding (5:21), Sacrifice (5:22), Closer (3:05)
You might have already heard, for instance from our News page, about the new project Clive Nolan embarked on recently. The keyboard wizard, well known from the several groups and projects he's also involved in, like Arena, Pendragon, Shadowland to mention just a few, now teamed up with the yet unknown Polish singer Agneiszka Swita and named this new project Caamora. This name comes from a reference to a ritual that certain characters perform in a series of novels called "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" in which it stands for "to cleanse with fire".
This new project is an ambitious one called "The She Project" that consists of a two hour musical journey based on the Victorian novel by H. Rider Haggard called "She". Planned for release in November 2007 you have plenty of time to prepare for an epic production that will feature guest vocalists, instrumentalists, orchestra and choir! Read more about this project on the Caamora website.
This EP is a sort of taster for that forthcoming release and the first acquaintance with the vocal capacities of Agneiszka. But only two songs on this EP are intended for that upcoming project; A World Somewhere and The Bonding. Half Moon Street is a remake of the Shadowland song that already appeared on their 1994 album Through The Looking Glass and Sacrifice was already released in 1990 by Strangers On A Train on their debut album The Key Part 1: The Prophecy. Closer was especially recorded for this EP.
So this EP won't give you a great insight yet in what you can expect late 2007, but at least you can value the musical qualities of the both main artists and their combined chemistry. Since these songs feature only Clive and Agneiszka and there's no sign yet of any guest musicians, an orchestra, choir or any epic production the final product might be a whole different musical experience, or 'event' as they describe it themselves. Clive and Agneiszka are currently looking for guest vocalists and musicians for their project. Bob Catley of Magnum has already been muted for one of the two male roles.
It's mostly the discovery of this new Polish singer Agneiszka that gives this release one of its main interesting features. Looking at pictures of this frail, skinny (and beautiful) woman one would expect a thin, high-pitched nightingale voice just like for instance Annie Haslam or Magenta's Christina Booth. But Agneiszka's voice appears to have some more roughness; aggression and power with a slight nasal tone and blessed with a wide range of variety; she seems to be able to handle the whole range from soft to rough with her voice, which makes her an ideal candidate for a musical project like "She". At moments her singing is very introvert and fragile and later she sings very expressively as if she wants to blast out the words into your living room. I can only conclude she's a real pleasure to listen to.
So basically this EP pretty much stands on its own and also the few taster concerts Nolan and Swita will be doing around this period (some performances as support act of Galahad; a review soon on this site) must probably be judged in the same way. The two covers on this EP stay pretty close to the originals, part of the lengthy intro and outro of Sacrifice was stripped and the plain piano was replaced by some keys giving the song a more powerful sound, but for the rest it's not very different. Half Moon Street of course differs a bit more since the male vocals are now replaced by female ones and again the keys sound a bit fuller, but then again the intro is basically still the same including howling wolf just as the rest of the song, apart from the edited outro.
More discoveries are to be found on the new tracks that do give a good insight in what musical direction the "She" project is progressing to. A World Somewhere is just a keys/vocals song, halfway joined by some drums; a nice slow ballad song in which the voice of Agneiszka blossoms fully. The Bonding is a more fuller song with some more power (also with a guitar in the background), adding some bombast in the form of orchestration or choir I can imagine this becoming a very eclectic song. It's not clear (to me) if these two songs are already in their definitive shape or that still some elements will be added; they already sound good to me, but I can imagine that with the addition of some elements they might grow into something more impressive. On the other hand these songs might well be already the finished product representing two more tranquil moments during the musical journey. Closer, the song especially written for this EP, is a mellow ballad with just piano and vocals, once again proving the singing qualities of Agneiszka.
Although this 'taster' doesn't really warm you up for any epic, flamboyant musical event, it still stands well on its own, provides some fine music and clearly displays the musical qualities of Agneiszka and Clive and their mutual chemistry and it's a pleasure to listen to.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - Tribute
Tracklist: Norwegian Wood (5:48), You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (7;19), The Fool On The Hill (5:13), Eleanor Rigby (7:58), Come Together (4:12), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (6:01), We Can Work It Out (3:52), The Help Trilogy: Quartet, Help, Quartet - Reprise (4:43), Things We Said Today (3:51), Blackbird (2:15), She’s Leaving Home (5:12)
Martien Koolen's Review
Rick Wakeman has always been my favourite Yes keyboard player and in my humble opinion he played at his best on classic albums like Fragile, Close To the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans. Of his massive solo repertoire his best efforts are albums like The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” and Out There.
This CD is a tribute to the legendary Beatles and I can honestly say that it is rather strange to hear wonderful songs like The Fool On The Hill, Eleanor Rigby or Help as instrumental tracks dominated by keyboards. I can understand that Wakeman likes and appreciates the Beatles – who does not?? – but this album is truly redundant. Wakeman fans will probably not like it and Beatles fans neither, so…..
I know that this is a very short review but what can you tell more about songs that every pop/rock fan can sing by heart under the shower…..
Bob Mulvey's Review
As we received two copies of this release courtesy of Voiceprint, I thought I might just add my comments to this offering from Rick Wakeman. First of all Wakeman fans will be well aware that this is not a new release, originally seeing the light of day back in 1997. Voiceprint are noted for their tireless efforts to keep available those albums that might well disappear from the shelves due to a lack of "commercial incentive". Hence the re-release of Tribute.
And for those not familiar with this particular album from Rick certainly must have twigged from the album title and the track listing what this is all about. The idea of recording a collection of Beatles tracks came about according to Rick: "because of Eleanor Rigby which a private company asked me to record along with other Beatle's classics". Rick's adaptation of the Lennon & McCartney song, based around the stylings of Sergei Prokofiev, has been part of his live shows since the late Eighties. A live version of this can be found on another Voiceprint release, The Mixture.
Tribute is a mixed bag for me - I can't fault the melodies or the keyboard playing, although sadly the arrangements vary dramatically. The opening salvo of tracks, Norwegian Wood, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, The Fool On The Hill and Eleanor Rigby are undertake in a Wakeman-like fashion and certainly appeal. Great flowing synth lines with those distinctive Rick sounds. However the "disco" versions of Come Together, We Can Work It Out, Things We Said Today just made me cringe. And the programmed drums are particularly nauseating here. I cannot comment further.
George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps fairs well, although despite the numerous versions I've heard of this song, none seem to capture the beauty of the original - this is no exception. Help undergoes a classical makeover segued between two Wakeman arrangements, namely Quartet and Quartet - Reprise. Blackbird - is pleasant enough although the arrangement of She's Leaving Home does sail perilously close to becoming muzak.
Highlights would be Norwegian Wood, the Vangelis-like version of The Fool On The Hill, the previously mentioned Eleanor Rigby and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away which has some excellent interplay between Rick and guitarist Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith.
On a personal note it might have be beneficial if Voiceprint were able to change the dreadful album cover, as certainly within the prog community sales may have increased with this major improvement - I just can't bear to look at it. I am reminds of those countless drivelly albums you flick through in "cheapo" section of HMV/Virgin hoping for a bargain. I'm still searching!
All in all then not an essential purchase - I can imagine playing this at Christmas as some alternative background music, but further than that I can't se me wanting to hear this all that often. Well perhaps barring those exceptions noted above.
Patrik Skantze And The Free Souls Society -
Fiction At First View
Tracklist: Fiction At First View [radio edit] (2:56), Life Provider (4:12), A New Morning In-sight (5:46), Strange Days (1:51), Gleam of Hope (11:08), My Dreams of Late (6:00), The Plunge (11:19), Craving for Knowledge (4:30), Appease (3:19), Fiction At First View (5:29)
You know, if the first song of an alleged prog-rock release recalls ABBA, it might not bode well for the remainder of the disc. Which is not to say that ABBA’s contribution to the canon of popular music is any worse than many other contributors’ contributions, BUT… I don’t generally regard ABBA as the vanguard of progressive rock, and I am leery of any attempt to bring ABBA’s slick, cloying sound into progressive rock. So, when the opening strains of Fiction At First View reminded me so strongly of those Scandinavian masters (and mistresses, of course) of sugary-sweet, sometimes danceable, 70s ear-candy radio fluff, I cringed and was ready to discount the entire album. But I’m glad now that I gave Patrik Skantze And The Free Souls Society the benefit of the doubt and a full listen, because they have made a decent little album.
Like ABBA (and perhaps this explains something, you tell me), Patrik Skantze And The Free Souls Society hail from Sweden. Fiction At First View is the band’s sophomore effort, following at the heels of the totally instrumental Music For My Ego’s Sake (which album I have not heard). The band includes Patrik Skantze (vocals, guitars, bass guitar, piano, and keyboards), Christopher Korling (drums, congas), Eva Bjorkner (vocals, flute), and Patrik Ohlin (cello, bass). The best description I can give the music is “prog lite”: it’s leans heavily into the pop sphere at times but always utilizes tricks out of the prog rock bag. At times Fiction At First View reminds me of something by Roy Harper or Phil Keaggy; sometimes the band echoes Crosby, Stills and Nash and Camel; and then at times I hear homage to Neil Young and Led Zep. And the ABBA influence, especially in Ms. Bjorkner’s vocals, is often present. Yeah, it’s a weird mixture: If it was soup, I mightn’t eat it!
There are definitely some drawbacks on Fiction At First View. First, Mr. Skantze’s singing is passable but never especially enticing. (That said, I liked his unintentional Kerry Minnear impression on Gleam Of Hope.) Second, the lyrics, while not quite trite, are still mostly negligible. Finally, the compositions are slightly “muzaky” (almost in a Windham Hill vein) and there are lengthy doses of sheer blandness throughout the disc.
However, there are numerous highpoints on Fiction At First View and these tend to outweigh the faux pas. The guitar work is consistently excellent, ranging from George Harrison style slides to Jimmy Page pseudo-Americana picking. I preferred the acoustic tracks far and above the electric. There are some nice atmospheres laid out, a la Roger Waters, and there is a good variety of mood and tenor on the CD. Ms. Bjorkner’s singing is very nice indeed, especially on My Dreams Of Late, on which she sounds like a less strident Annie Haslam. There is a large selection of instrumental music on Fiction At First View and it was generally well wrought, with complex changes and a clever sense of chord progression and arrangement.
I’ll give this a 7. It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s earnest, smart, and more interesting than not. I don’t think anyone needs to rush right out and buy Fiction At First View but if you stumble upon a copy, give it a few listens. There’s certainly some needed development in store for Patrik Skantze And The Free Souls Society, but (even if they retain the ABBA influences) I expect they’ll have plenty to present us next time out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10