Reviews in this issue:
- The Pineapple Thief - Little Man
- Hawkwind – Take Me To Your Future (Duo Review)
- Touchstone - Mad Hatters [EP]
- Planet 13 – Third From The Right
- Villebråd - Alla är här utom jag
- Laurent Calomne - Monstres Et Chimères
The Pineapple Thief - Little Man
Bruce Soord's fifth (or sixth depending on how you count the 12 and 10 Stories Down releases) Pineapple Thief album is an altogether more downbeat affair than previous releases. Rather understandable when you realise that midway through writing the album, Bruce and his wife suffered the tragic death of their prematurely born son. This, naturally, had a great effect on the direction that subsequently written songs took. Although the album does not rant and rave about the unfairness of life, it is rather reflective and was presumably quite cathartic in being able to sort through emotions, thoughts and feelings. This is no better exemplified than in the lyrics to the plaintive, acoustic and achingly beautiful title track, Little Man: "In my dreams you have your mother's smile, even though we touched for just a while, All my life you'll have your mother's smile".
Although the majority of the album has a more acoustic tone, the band do stretch out occasionally, particularly on Run A Mile which is a classic Pineapple Thief song, with dual guitars battling their way through to the end. Elsewhere God Bless The Children finds the band getting contemporary with, vocoded vocals, up-front rhythms and a variety of synth effects. In many ways a parallel with what Radiohead have been experimenting with over recent years. A similar approach is taken on the closing track We Love You which starts out as a gentle ballad with the vocals accompanied primarily by synths but expands outwards incorporating a broader palette of instruments at around the two-minute mark. Things carry on in a similar and steady vein with an extended instrumental middle eight before the final three minutes gradually builds bringing things to a fine conclusion.
But it is on the gentler numbers that things hit home. Dead In The Water is an interesting opener that goes through various peaks and troughs and features some of the best singing to date on a Pineapple Thief album. Wilting Violet opens with a single synth chord overlaid with piano. The vibrato guitar is an interesting effect accompanied, as elsewhere on the album, with various treatments that haven't often been heard since the height of psychedelia. Wait is a dichotomised piece, the melody of the minimally orchestrated first part echoed by a more heavily arranged ending. November, as Wait, features the violin playing of Richard Hunt. Mainly instrumental, the piece can be a bit sparse at times, particularly as it is the second longest track on the album. Boxing Day is somewhat unique, lacking a prominent synth present and is a rather endearing love song. The music to Snowdrops also derives initially from acoustic guitar and is another very fine song, at least until the superfluous and distracting clapping starts. Finally there is God Bless The Child, which I have purposely left until the end as I don't really know what to make of it. More (awful) clapping, a Radiohead vibe and repetitive lyrics, maybe I just don't get it but the truth is I am not fond of it at all.
Little Man is undeniably a Pineapple Thief album, but the general feel of it is quite different from the rest of their catalogue. It took me a while to get into the album and I suspect that it is one of those 'awkward' albums whose true value will only become apparent in time. Like Beck's Sea Change album, personally tragedy has bought forth a musical response that draws beauty out of wretchedness. Little Man is a fine album but will not be everyone's cup of tea. For that reason it narrowly misses out of a recommended tag, although come back in a few years and I'll no doubt tell you it is one of the albums from 2006 that you should definitely own.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hawkwind – Take Me To Your Future
CD : Uncle Sam’s On Mars (8:18), Small Boy (3:16), The Beauty Of Poverty (9:08), Ode To A Time Flower (4:05), Silver Machine 21st Century Remix (6:57)
DVD : Images (5:58), Utopia (9:38), Assassins Of Allah(8:39), The Golden Void (7:28), Stepenwolf (7:39), Paradox (3:12), Don’t Be Donkish (5:59)
Martien Koolen's Review
Ever since I heard Space Ritual, one of the best double live albums, I was hooked on Hawkwind. But then again I have to say that I only truly like that fantastic live album. The rest of their repertoire, which is huge by the way, is too freaky, spacey and psychedelic for me. The English space rock band made their debut in 1970 and now 36 years later they come up with a `new` release, five songs on CD and seven songs on DVD.
The opening song called Uncle Sam´s on Mars is a genuine space rock up tempo track, filled with lots of psychedelic sounds and a real spacey guitar solo. Small Boy is a bit of a lame track with narrative vocals, strings and a weird guitar solo-melody in the background. The longest track is called The Reality Of Poverty, a typical Hawkwind song featuring spooky voices, metal riffs and lots of out of this world noises and sounds. A true acid rock killer! However this great song is followed by the sheer mediocre Ode To A Time Flower, which is weird but most of all very boring. Last but not least you can enjoy the Hawkwind classic Silver Machine, sung by Lemmy of Motorhead, featuring a pumping bass and two great distorted guitar solos.
Unfortunately I cannot tell you anything about the DVD as it does not work in my DVD player, sad but true, maybe Dave, my colleague can help you with this.
Dave Sissons' Review
This Dual Format disc is quite a mixed bag. The Audio side of the disc, though short at thirty one minutes, has plenty of treasures, including two tracks from the forthcoming Brock/Calvert Project on which Hawks leader Brock adds musical backing to tapes of long gone (and much missed) poet/vocalist Robert Calvert.
As it was Calvert’s Era of Hawkwind which first caught my attention (they were one of the first bands I ever saw live) I am very much looking forward to this release. On the strength of the two tracks here (Small Boy and Ode To A Time Flower) it will be a must have for all Calvert fans. I have always loved his sardonic/satirical lyrics and his laconic style. Brock adds tasteful but unobtrusive backing tracks which enhance the poems nicely.
Also here is a new version of Calvert’s Uncle Sam’s On Mars (a great song , originally from the PXR5 album) and a 21st Century remix of the perennial Silver Machine which revisits the original (with vocals by Lemmy) and features some extended musical passages.
The only new and exclusive track is The Beauty Of Poverty, but it’s a doozy! Veteran singer Arthur Brown adds terrific vocals in an ecological protest vein, to a stonking Space Rock / Psychedelic wig-out which exemplifies all the best that Hawkwind has to offer.
The DVD side of the disc is a similar mix of oddments and previews. Images (featuring ace violinist Simon House) and Utopia are taken from a brace of DVD’s which will be released shortly. Assassins Of Allah and The Golden Void (both great tracks, by the way) are from two DVD’s which will only be available to Hawkwind Passport holders. This is a scheme aimed at die-hard fans and collectors, and is free to join - click here for details.
These first four tracks are full of mind blowing psychedelic effects and help convey the always important visual aspects of Hawkwind’s work. The picture and sound quality throughout the DVD is variable, as can be expected from disparate source material. The Golden Void is perhaps the poorest quality, coming from the 1989 Treworgey Tree Fayre, but even this is watchable.
The last three titles are more for the obsessive fan, with Stepenwolf capturing the dancers practising in a farmyard whilst Hawkwind play off screen in a barn, and the last two being audio accompaniments to photo albums of snaps taken at various festivals.
With the cheap selling price of this package, and knowing that there is a healthy market for Hawkwind collectables, this CD/DVD set is a worthwhile purchase for Hawkfans and makes for a nice sampler of various facets of the band’s output and may help you decide on which eras of the band you are interested in and what to purchase next.
Touchstone - Mad Hatters
Tracklist: Misguided Fool (4:33), One Shot (3:35), Hear Me (3:55), The Mad Hatters’ Song (8:19)
The British Progressive rock ‘scene’ (if you can call it such) has been somewhat moribund for a few years, but thankfully 2006 is seeing something of a renaissance. Strong albums from established names (Pendragon, Magenta) have been joined by a crop of fine releases from new acts (Pure Reason Revolution, Frost*, Darwin’s Radio, The Gift). To this latter list can be added Touchstone, a relatively new band from the south of England. Despite having a currently pretty low profile, the band obviously have friends in high places, given that this debut EP has been mixed by Kino/Arena man John Mitchell and mastered by Rob Aubrey, best known for his work with IQ and Jadis. Consequently it’s of little surprise that the CD certainly sounds good, sonically packing quite a punch and each instrument sounding crystal clear in the mix.
Of course this wouldn’t be much use if the songs weren’t up to much, but thankfully that’s not the case here. Misguided Fool kicks things off and its immediately clear from the opening moog-like solo from keyboardist Rob Cottingham what sort of genre with dealing with here. What is more surprising to note, when the rest of the band kick in, is how heavy the sound is, with the lead guitar carving out a meaty riff – certainly a far cry from many of the rather weedy sounding efforts you get within this genre! The lead vocals (also handled by Cottingham) are confidently delivered, if occupying a relatively limited range, and are ably supported by the female vocals of the band’s newest member Liz Clayden, who takes a backing role on much of the album. The song builds for most of its length around the main riff before finally erupting into a strong chorus.
One Shot follows in a similar vein, although it’s a slightly more straightforward track which is probably better classified as an AOR or pomp-rock number than as a progressive one. Hear Me takes the pace down a little, with particularly strong vocals from Cottingham (who adapted this from a song from his solo album) set against a shimmering keyboard backdrop. There’s a slight Celtic tinge to the music which brings to mind Mostly Autumn in their more balladic moments.
No doubt about the EP’s centre piece, the grand finale The Mad Hatter’s Song. Kicking off with a familiar frenetic instrumental overture, both the guitar and keyboard work here have a distinct IQ feel to them. The pace drops for the initial vocal sections, with dual voices layered over a piano backdrop. There is a well-handled build up as the song gradually gains momentum prior to the full band crashing in. The final section of the track gives Clayden a chance to take the starring role, indulging in some Claire Torry-like wailings. This latter part does perhaps drag a little, and the song as a whole has something of a ‘patchwork’ feel to it, but the strong melodies and assured delivery carry it over the finishing line.
Overall, this is hardly earth shattering stuff, but it’s a pleasingly strong opening gambit from a band who could (and should) go on to greater things.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Planet 13 – Third From The Right
Tracklist: Darker Side Of You (16:46), Eyes Of Deception (14:36), Superstar (4:04), The Quest (7:36), Rain (9:02), Zero (14:53)
This record is the first time I get acquainted with Planet 13 and I have to say it leaves a bit of a diverse impression. I don’t know whether to like this record or find it mediocre. Planet 13 offers enough instrumental qualities and metal power play but spreads them out in long songs that tend to get boring after a while. There are only six songs on this disc with three of them clocking over ten minutes. Furthermore I find singer Ray Zarate not a bad singer but his thin voice in the high regions starts to get annoying after a while.
Planet 13 consists of two persons namely the above mentioned singer Ray Zarate (who also handles the piano and keyboards) and Lance Benedict on all guitars and drums. Their third record comes together with excellent artwork with enough room for the printing of the somewhat dark tinted lyrics.
To give an idea of the kind of music I could hand a reference to Queensrÿche and Rush. Next to that the music is drowsed with an ominous atmosphere here and there because of some slow and dark sounding guitar riffs. Mind you Planet 13 doesn’t reach the same heights as both mentioned bands! Just for comparison it should give a hint of what to expect. Going through all of the six songs I can summarize the following:
Darker Side Of You: Starting out with a lonely and sinister guitar riff a nice atmosphere is built up soon afterwards when a tapestry of keys joins in. There is some admirable guitar playing in this song as a basis for an addictive melody line. Good stuff but with a length of 16 minutes a bit to much to keep the attention. At around the sixth minute there is a creepy break spicing up the more threatening side of this song.
Eyes Of Deception: Just like the first song this one has a great break at around six minutes into the track. With a very juicy guitar solo that shows Lance Benedict has his stuff sorted out great! These parts confirm Planet 13 has enough musical strength to make an impression. But again I would have preferred Planet 13 to come straight to the point instead of lengthening out the songs.
Superstar: This is a cover originally by Leon Russell but also performed by The Carpenters if I’m correct. I don’t know what to say about this track. I think it is a bit of an odd choice in between the other tracks because of the cheesy lyrics. Perhaps it’s not a bad song but it doesn’t work for me on this album. I'd rather skip this one.
The Quest: This song is definitely the best of the record perhaps due to similarities in sound to Queensrÿche. It has a nice gloomy intro with clear guitar parts building up the tension towards a cool metal foundation. The chorus is great and the song has a pleasant middle part where a spicy guitar solo is surrounded by captivating metal riffs. Ray Zarata is no Geoff Tate but holds up well in this song.
Rain: This is a ballad with a good atmosphere where the singer sounds convincing. I like the acoustic guitar parts of this song ruling the changes in melody. The lyrics are nothing to be lyrical about. But the solo guitar parts are very appetizing again when they come quietly gliding up to create more accents to the melody. A neat acoustic guitar solo does the trick as well!
Zero: Some great progressive metal opens up this song slightly resembling Dream Theater. But the song doesn’t outgrow the average and so fails to end this record in a spectacular way. The singer’s yelling starts to irritate me at the end of the song.
I think Planet 13 would benefit from focussing on the strength of the compositions and completing the songs in a more compacted manner.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Villebråd - Alla är här utom jag
Tracklist: Död barrikad (4:01), Periferi (5:01), Försvunnen i antipoderna (5:10), Ingenting (3:49), Alla är här utom jag (4:00), Nu laddas vapnen (3:57), Gjutjärnsspis (4:42), Pappershus (3:46), Kranium med minnen (5:04)
Alla är här utom jag is the debut album from the Swedish group Villebråd. Their history goes back a few years as some of the members played in other groups, whose music was as diverse as prog rock and... grindcore! The members are three and they play all instruments and as one could expect from a band sending a CD for review to DPRP. That is, guitars, drums, percussion, synthesizer, bass and electric piano. The vocals are in Swedish in their entirety.
The band claims influences from 80's new wave pop, like Japan or Ultravox, but I managed to spot only traces of that in a couple of moments. Quite a lot of pointers to 80's era King Crimson, some to more conventional prog music, even going in a mellow symphonic prog direction from time to time. At times, they did remind me of their compatriots Anekdoten, but a tiny bit more "gentle". Also, a space rock element that very subtly emerges here and there adds to the diversity.
There are two or three tracks that surely stand out, with my personal favourite being Ingenting, which reminds me slightly of Fates Warning, A Pleasant Shade Of Grey's closing opus. The track gives you a positive surprise going faster in the middle, but what I also love in it is the humble whistle of a psychedelic synthesizer, and this is also present in Försvunnen i antipoderna. Periferi and Gjutjärnsspis have a more "ethereal" feel and bring to mind from Anathema to Sigur Ros (OK, for the latter it might be the language!). The album opener is an absolute child of Crimson. After these tracks we have two that don't make much of an impression (Alla är här utom jag & Nu laddas vapnen), not being bad but without being special. The last two songs share the fact that they open nicely but then close leaving you unsatisfied. Actually, there are ideas presented that are rather left undeveloped, especially concerning the closing track.
The difficulty in judging this album is that I started to like it after quite some effort to dig and try to find interesting elements. In the beginning it sounded rather flat and my initial impression was that few things were going on. The voice is a factor that will surely discourage lots of listeners, being rather flat and uniform all over the album. Still, I can't say that it doesn't fit: in a strange way it enhances the feeling that the album radiates, a feeling of modesty. No solos, no glitter, no performance that blows your mind, and a mellow, plain and simple production. Overall good material but very few moments to make you say "WOW!", or to provoke you.
Looks like this band is quite reserved. The production and the material is quite "modest", and at times it would help if they put some more grandeur or emphasis on what they are doing. Maybe it's a consequence of their influences and the fact that probably they don't want to sound like a cheap neo-prog band or a Dream Theater clone. However, things as they are now can easily cause the vast majority of prog fans to overlook this release. But don't get me wrong, a patient listener will discover quite a big amount of beauty.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Laurent Calomne - Monstres Et Chimères
Tracklist: Lamie (I. Banc De Poissons II. Attaque De Lamie III. Fuite Des Survivants) (4:16), La Licorne (4:28), Bigfoot (4:28), Monolithe (1:45), Les Néréides (9:00), Petite Suite Chimérique (I. Le Dragon II. Le Lion III. La Chèvre) (12:15), Le Minotaure (4:25), Le Phoenix (3:41), Elise Et La Licorne (4:33)
Belgian, Laurent Calomne, is a classical musical instrument and theory teacher who likes to write and record in his spare time. He has extensively studied the clarinet and percussion, and has played in several bands and orchestras. Monstres Et Chimères is his fourth solo CD - originally released in 2001 it has been reissued, perhaps to coincide with the release of the cunningly entitled Monstres Et Chimères 2. Laurent plays all the instruments on the CD, listed as: keyboards, flute, acoustic guitar and programming - the latter being drums and sequences I would imagine.
Electronic music can be very evocative, conjuring images of alien landscapes and creating mood changes in the listener; unfortunately the only mood that comes over me when listening to this album is that of boredom with a hint of depression and sleepiness. It would appear that Laurent has deliberately set out to emulate the sounds of mid-to-late 70's electronica and in terms of the overall sound of the album he has succeeded with banks of warm analogue synths and washes of sequences often reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Rick Wakeman and Dave Greenslade. Where he is less successful is in the compositions themselves, which lack melody and are often too repetitive, his playing style which sounds very flat, almost mechanical, the choice of sounds that are used - often rather cheesy and the production, which is muggy and uninspiring. The composition and style can be forgiven but there's no excuse this day and age for bad synth patches and poor production, unless of course this was deliberate in trying to recreate those halcyon days but in that case the music needs to be better to carry it through.
There are some bright moments on the CD but not many. The opening track, Lamie is pretty decent with it's pulsating sequences and atmospheric middle section sounding very Tangerine Dream-ish although the drums are a little off-putting and intrusive at times and the ending doesn't really fit. La Licorne has a touch of Jarre about it without the pop influence and Bigfoot sounds like Wakeman around the Time Machine era, that is to say not very good at all. Les Néréides is very much in the style of Vangelis crossed with Greenslade and one of the better tracks although perhaps a little over-long and repetitive without enough evolution - once again the drums are a little too much at times but the sequences are pleasant. Petite Suite Chimérique is the longest piece on offer and is split into three parts The Dragon, The Lion and The Goat, clearly distinguishable from one another as the music changes. The Dragon is OK with pizzicato strings, xylophone and flute intertwining. The Lion is less appealing with a rather ugly sounding brass synth trying to sound heraldic and failing completely. The Goat is a lumbering, unpalatable piece of music lasting about six minutes whilst never really going anywhere and sounding like Wakeman at his worst - maybe my mythology isn't up to scratch but I'm trying to work out how a goat comes under either the monster or chimera heading, perhaps it's referring to a giant mutant star-goat...
Less listenable is Le Minotaure with more of those unpleasant drums, some type of harpsichord and synthbass. I fail to link the piece with a creature half-man/half-bull and I suspect that Laurent has just used the names against existing tracks as opposed to writing for the concept. Things perk up with Le Phoenix - meandering flute over some harpsichord arpeggios and some deep chorus chords, also one of the better tracks but the glissando effect on the harpsichord is a bit weird. The album closes with the utterly un-listenable Elise Et La Licorne - basically this is a jaunty, swing version of Beethoven's Für Elise played over a Latin drum pattern. In the florid hands of Wakeman or the subtle wit of Isao Tomita this could work but in this case it just sounds like one of those preset tunes from an old Casio portable keyboard, really horrible, corny, cheesy and not representative at all from the rest of the album.
If you're a big fan of the artists mentioned above and already have all their recordings then you may get something from this disk, if on the other hand you're interested in the genre but are unfamiliar with it then you would be more advised to get hold of a "Best Of" from any of the aforementioned artists. I get the feeling that Laurent has talent, there's the occasional glimpse of something nice but it's too fleeting to make Monstres Et Chimères a CD I will want to listen to again. With a little more application and more attention to production and melody then perhaps things could be different, who knows, maybe the follow-up is already a better effort, after all, five years have passed between the two.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10 - More beastly than bestial