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2006 : VOLUME 43

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Chimpan A – Chimpan A
Chimpan A – Chimpan A
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:F2 Music
Catalogue #:200608
Year of Release:2006
Time:59:24
Info:Chimpan A
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Theme From Chimpan A [Part 1] (1:12), It's Only Sin (6:10), You Move In Me (4:42), Future 1 (0:50), The Secret Wish (3:34), Sam's Song (6:64), Future Love Games (6:50), The Last Night On Earth (6:44), The Thief (7:36), Are You With Me? (9:14), I Came To Say… (4:16), Theme From Chimpan A [Part 2] (1:13)

Geoff Feakes' Review

One Sunday in August I was checking out the music samples on various web sites and the name Rob Reed attracted me to this release. When I heard the song I Came To Say… it was love at first hearing, this was an album that I just had to review. Reed is of course the main man behind Magenta, and if you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks then you’ll know that the bands excellent Home album and Night And Day single both received DPRP recommendations. As one third of side project Chimpan A, he is joined by Rob Thompson and Steve Balsamo from melodic rock band The Storys. Although Reed’s work with Magenta display pop sensibilities and an ear for a good melody, his previous outings are unlikely to prepare you for this album. This is a high quality blend of pop, prog, classical, gospel, soul, rock, jazz, even hip hop. The skilful combination of seemingly disparate elements like classical strings and dance rhythms for example put me in mind of the polished and sometimes overblown style of producers like Trevor Horn and Martin Rushnet during the 80’s. Reed and co have produced a far more cohesive mix however, keeping the excesses under control.

The album is book ended by Theme From Chimpan A, two short but lush and romantic pieces for orchestra and on the opener, spoken voice. The voice in question is London poet Tony Dallas who delivers his own lyrical prose at key points throughout the album. He has a warm, expressive voice reminiscent of legendary UK DJ Bob Harris, but without the whispering! Interestingly, if you play the disc on repeat as I did, Part 2 merges perfectly with Part 1 and the album has restarted before you know it. Containing several potential single releases, the upbeat It's Only Sin is the most obvious. The memorable chorus with a superb breathy vocal from Balsamo is as good as they come. The orchestral and keys backdrop is supported by a solid combination of synthetic percussion and natural sounds from guest drummer Ryan Aston. The delicate You Move In Me includes another sparkling chorus this time with Balsamo dueting with Magenta’s very own Christina Booth. Rob Thompson’s mellow guitar break sounds like a slowed down version of the talk box solo on Steely Dan’s Haitian Divorce.

The laidback mood continues with the reflective The Secret Wish and the familiar intro to Tubular Bells. My love of sampling began and ended with the Mellotron, but I must confess Oldfield’s hypnotic strains work beautifully in this setting. The stark string and trumpet instrumentation that opens and closes Sam's Song is a throwback to the 60’s film scores of John Barry. In between, Sam Brown’s strident and soulful vocal is perfect, aided by as stirring gospel chorus. Reed’s sleek synth solo is a welcome injection of prog dynamics. In Future Love Games Balsamo gives possibly his best performance with a soulful vocal in the song’s middle eight. Welsh soprano Sian Cothi takes up the challenge with an amazing operatic performance supported by symphonic strings and slide effect guitar. The tranquil piano interlude in The Last Night On Earth bears more than a passing resemblance to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The momentum builds behind Dallas’ spoken words before exploding with earth shaking percussion, a dramatic female chant and rhythm guitar. It’s strongly evocative of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western music and would make a fitting soundtrack if the genre were ever revived.

The sumptuous opening vocal (Margo Buchanan?) in The Thief put me in mind of Barbara Streisand with shades of Kate Bush. The song continues in an ambient chilled out vein with light strings, stark percussion, NASA space mission voices, and a sampled celestial choir courtesy of John Tavener. This track would sit very comfortably on Mike Oldfield’s The Songs Of Distant Earth album. In Are You With Me? Tony Dallas’ rap style delivery is better than you would expect, ably supported by a speaker shredding rhythm, busy acoustic guitar and a soulful gospel choir. Guest Andrew Griffiths comes into his own with jazz flavoured trumpet and saxophone improvisations underpinning the repeated choral refrain. And finally the majestic I Came To Say…, a track I never tire of hearing no matter how many times I play it. It builds modestly with simple guitar, muted female vocals and an understated but somehow haunting synth melody. Unexpectedly, the melody bursts from the speakers driven by a soaring female chant that produces more goose bumps than a cold night in January. I haven’t heard anything so emotionally charged in a long, long time.

I really cannot recommend this album highly enough. Rob Reed and his collaborators have produced a stunning debut worthy of inclusion in any music collection. I should also give a special mention to co-writer, string arranger and programmer Nigel Hopkins who’s contribution here is mammoth. The only reason I have not given it a higher rating is I’m conscious that prog purists may not be comfortable with the eclectic style, which would be a shame. It would seem that Reed has the Midas touch at the moment. He can certainly do no wrong in my opinion. Long may the situation continue.

Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review

From the mastermind behind Magenta, Robert Reed, comes a new project Chimpan A. The band consists of Reed, together with Steve Balsamo and Rob Thomson of The Storys. The core trio is aided by a host of guest musicians and vocalists. On vocals we have Sam Brown (of Pink Floyd fame), Christina Booth (Magenta), Margo Buchanan (Joni Mitchel), narrator Tony Dallas and Welsh opera singer Sian Cothi. On the musical end the trio is aided by Nigel Hopkins (Elvis Costello), whose string sections are such an integral part of the music that he receives writing credits for most of the songs, drummer Ryan Aston, Andrew Griffiths on saxophone and trumpet and most conspicuously DJ Bluey Richard Cornock, whose drum rhythms and record scratching could cause many a die-hard prog fan to turn and run away instantly.

With these unlikely accomplices Reed created an album which is almost the opposite of the sleek, polished, Seventies influenced prog that is Magenta. Chimpan A incorporates modern dance influences with classical, jazz, gospel and even opera. It all blends down to a very accessible, easily digestible and instantly likeable album.

Opening track It's Only Sin opens as a standard prog ballad with a simple piano intro, but soon enough a drum computer and scratching courtesy of DJ Richard 'Bluey' Cornock comes in, together with a sampled guitar which reminds of the work of Moby. Steve Balsamo's pleasant voice is somewhat reminiscent of Richard Marx or Bryan Adams (only in timbre, don't worry) and suits the atmosphere really well. This type of music could easily be a radio smash hit, were it not for the fact that it is over six minutes long and the band is somewhat lacking the promotional funds from a large record company.

You Move In Me is a very mellow ballad. Balsamo's are accompanied by a slow strumming guitar, and backed with piano, drum computer and again some scratching. The song ends with a beautiful Mike Oldfield style guitar solo.

A short instrumental Future 1 leads to The Secret Wish, which is to be the first single of the album. It starts with a sample from Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, before becoming a song on its own (the sample is used for the choruses again). Where Oldfield frantically tried to rehash and moreso remix his 1973 classic over and over again, Chimpan A shows with The Secret Wish how it really should be done. The result is much more than an ordinary remix, but rather a genuine original song, which is catchy and poppy yet sophisticated and the Tubular Bells sample adds immediate recognition.

As the title suggests Sam's Song is the song where Sam Brown makes her appearance. A slightly jazzy feel with a muted trumpet and delightful upright bass, and Brown's gorgeous vocals, this song is an immediate favourite. The piano work in the song once again reminds of Moby, but Reed's love for classic prog shines through with a virtuoso keyboard solo.

Future Love Games, once again a beautiful yet easily accessible track, with a very catchy chorus. Welsh opera singer Sian Cothi makes her first appearance on the album near the end of the song, heralding the final chorus, just when you think the song is already over.  The next track, The Last Night On Earth, is truly her show. Even if the music somewhat copies the music of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, this is probably the highlight of the album. Picture classical piano and synthesised soundscapes mixed with wordless soprano vocals and powerful drums. Absolutely stunning.
The only thing I'm not entirely convinced of is Tony Dallas' poetry which appears in most songs. It reminds me of some dreadful rock opera albums where a narrator had to explain the story to the listener. His spoken intro to The Thief suits the song ok, but his rant that precedes the finale is somewhat misplaced.  The one song where his vocals do fit, is Are You With Me? Here the delivery of his poetry is almost rap, and reminds of some of the works of Faithless (though a lot less danceable).

The Thief is where Rob Reed's love for Mike Oldfield surfaces once again, as this song is very close to Oldfield's work on Songs From Distant Earth and Tubular Bells 3.  Album closer I Came To Say... starts a bit as a Lennon-esque guitar ballad, but builds to a majestic climax with

The debut album of Chimpan A is one hell of an album. So is this progressive rock then? Well, it certainly isn't rock, but it sure as hell is very progressive. And if you agree that the pioneers of electronic music like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk or instrumentalists like Mike Oldfield are to be considered prog, then Chimpan A firmly belongs in the same genre. What Chimpan A simply did was updating the spirit of those pioneers to present day, resulting in a very modern sounding, truly progressive album.  Closest point of reference would be modern day Oldfield, mixed with Massive Attack and Moby and the likes. In short, this album pisses all over anything Mike Oldfield has done these past 10 years. This is what The Millennium Bell or Light+Shade should have sounded like.

Highly recommended to anyone with an open mind!

Conclusion:

GEOFF FEAKES - 8.5 out of 10
BART JAN VAN DER VORST - 8.5 out of 10



Narrow Pass – A Room Of Fairy Queen’s
Narrow Pass – A Room Of Fairy Queens
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4658.AR
Year of Release:2006
Time:51:31
Info:Narrow Pass
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Earth – Je Cherche La Vie (5:22), A Room Of Fairy Queen’s (5:36), Lord Of The Headline (7:40), The Lake (6:53), Coming Off My Shadow (1:45), Desert (7:49), Wake Up (10:17), Into The Light (6:05)

I Love It!! Yet another entry in the “Great Italian Prog” album list, this new CD is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Mauro Montobbio, but captures a real group feeling with proper bass and drums and plenty of solid guest contributions, including (from the great Eris Pluvia) Edmondo Romano (flute) and Valeria Caucino (vocals), and (from current hot shot 70’s revivalists La Maschera Di Cera) Alessandro Corvaglia (vocals).

Instead of recreating the glory days of Italian Prog a la PFM, Banco etc (as La Maschera Di Cera do, so effectively) Narrow Pass takes the gentle 90’s Neo of Eris Pluvia as a starting point, but goes much further into a pastoral, folk rock vein, which should find favour with the many fans of the current folk revival, as well as Neo Prog fans.

Earth – Je Cherche La Vie is a strong opener, swapping the spacey Floyd cum Hillage atmosphere of the intro for sprightly Flamenco influenced acoustic guitars and lively synths, before a moody backdrop supports a recited poem in French to finish.

The title track fits right in with the recent upsurge of interest in Folk Rock, being a beautiful, delicate song exquisitely voiced by Valeria Caucino, her ethereal tones floating over layered acoustic guitars, keyboards and flutes, quite bewitching!

Thinks get even better with Lord Of The Headline, where a fantastic vocal performance from Alessandro Corvaglia strongly recalls Bernardo Lanzetti (of Acqua Fragile, PFM & Mangala Vallis) and, like Lanzetti, also recalls Peter Gabriel. This Genesis influenced slice of Neo Prog is a lushly symphonic treat, and is my favourite piece on the disc.

The middle section of the disc is given over to a trio of instrumentals where tranquil folk themes echoing Alan Stivel and Mike Oldfield mutate into Camel-style soaring guitar anthems; fretless bass runs give battle to Hackett-ish leads, and percussion and synths create mysterious atmospheres, amongst other things, with never a dull moment to be found.

Wake Up is the disc’s longest number, and is outstanding, featuring again the terrific vocals of Corvaglia. I prefer my Italian vocalists to stick to their native tongue, but there are no problems with pronunciation or inflection here, and English vocals mean a wider appeal in the global prog community. The track itself is a moody, modern take on Genesis, with rippling piano and tasty guitar, but E-bow and soprano saxophone add a unique twist to the tried and tested formula, wonderful! It should go down well with Marillion fans too.

The CD concludes, too soon I might add, with the melancholic Into The Light, a gentle duet of yearning and redemption, exquisitely and tenderly performed by Corvaglia and Caucino, and featuring a fantastic guitar solo with a Celtic tinge.

If you can get past the twee title (and the incorrect use of the apostrophe), you are in for a real feast of melodic Neo/Folk/Symphonic Prog. Though the Genesis influence is not quite so strong here, fans of Mangala Vallis will love it. The album continues to grow in stature with each listen, and should have a wide appeal. An easy recommendation!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



Karfagen - Continium
Karfagen - Continium
Country of Origin:Ukraine
Format:CD
Record Label:Unicorn Digital
Catalogue #:UNCR-5030
Year of Release:2006
Time:41:29
Info:N/A
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: A Winter Tale - Part 1 [i Out Of The Deep, ii Into The Light] (4:27), A Winter Tale - Part 2 [i On The Air, ii Summer Song] (5:34), Silent Anger (4:49), Old Legends (4:22), All The Time I Think About You (3:04), Amused Fair [i Arrival, ii Festive Mood, iii Wild Flower] (8:13), Stone Talk (2:03), Marvelous Dance (3:31), Muse (2:38), Close To Heaven (2:43)

Reputedly, The Ukraine has only one progressive rock band, Karfagen. Initially formed 11 years ago, when de facto band leader and keyboard player Antony Kalugin was a mere 14-year-old, the group recorded their first album in 1998 and took to the stage in 2000. Disagreements between the band members resulted in plans for a follow-up album to be abandoned and the effectively left the line-up with two members, Kalugin and his close friend accordionist Sergei Kovalev. In 2002, Kalugin, who by this time was working in a recording studio, recorded a solo album entitled The Water, and then concentrated on raising funds for another band album why writing and performing on more than 40 new age and relaxation albums. In 2005, the band was completed by the addition of second keyboardist Oleg Polyanskig, drummer Koslya Shepelenko, bassist Roman Druid and guitarist Roman Filonenko and work on the recording of Continium was started.

Predominantly instrumental and entirely composed by Kalugin, the album occupies the lighter end of progressive music, focusing on melodic and atmospheric music primarily played on keyboards. However, that is not to suggest that the album takes too much from the new age music that Kalugin has been responsible for producing, Continium is comprised of high quality progressive music nicely blended with folk elements. Opening number, A Winter's Tale will be a delight to fans of Camel with a great mixture of keyboards and guitar and even flute (played by guest musician Georgly Kalunin who appears on several tracks). Part two is more band focused with excellent playing throughout, never losing sight of the importance of melody. The song ends with a more folk-orientated piece performed on flute and duduk, an Armenian instrument somewhat akin to a recorder (in appearance anyway!)

Silent Anger is an interesting piece that employs a variety of instruments playing a central theme. Again, there are folk elements, blending a mediaeval introduction with accordion and faux Mellotron and, towards the end, some ethnic female vocalisations. Old Legends is more straight forward progressive rock with some entertaining piano playing mixed in an overall marvellous arrangement. In contrast, All That I Think About You is solo piano and contains some interesting themes but perhaps is a bit over laden with fancy flourishes that may give some people the impression of being a bit twee. Amused Fair allows the band to stretch out a bit. The drumming is a bit bland but the guitarist adds some nice jazzy touches which go well with the piano and flute resulting in a very enjoyable piece of music. Stone Talk is a brief and atmospheric instrumental that could easily have come from one of Ant Phillips' albums of library music. A very jaunty piano riff introduces Marvelous Dance (no, not a typo!), one of the tracks on a demo tape that initially aroused interest in the band by the Unicorn Digital label. Camel references are again appropriate; an altogether excellent piece of music.

The instrumental album ends with Muse, which, as the title suggests, is very laid back and mellow. The keyboards and sound effects ass atmosphere while the jazzy approach of the guitar adds foreground interest. The mellow mood is maintained by the bonus track Close To Heaven, presumably labelled as a bonus as it is the only track with a lyric. An excellent male and female duet it brings the album to a very pleasant end (although the printed lyrics could have done with being put through a spell checker and proof-read before printing!)

Altogether Continium is a very enjoyable album and bodes well for the future of this Ukrainian group. The album is excellently packaged with some great artwork and although the typeface used makes reading the credits rather difficult (apologies for any spelling mistakes in the names of the band members!), it is a very stylish package, both visually and musically.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Wreckage Of The Modern City - Singularity
Wreckage Of The Modern City - Singularity
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Neotone Records
Catalogue #:NEOT003
Year of Release:2006
Time:44:47
Info:Wreckage Of
The Modern City
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Bold Era (3:53), Greek Thing (4:35), Hurt (4:53), Inside (4:00), Mindtrap (4:23), Piece (2:45), Restless (3:28), Systematic Malfunction (5:11), Thankless (3:53), Tigerbone (7:44)

Whether you buy this CD or not, I definitely want you to check out Wreckage Of The Modern City’s website. Without exaggeration, it’s one of the most impressive band websites I’ve ever seen – and I’m not just talking about sites for small, local, or indie bands. The site has to be seen (and heard) to be believed. A great deal of attention and care have been put into the site – as also into the music on the band’s debut CD, Singularity. My job is to tell you the result of all that care and attention.

The band’s promo letter claims that they’ve often been described as playing music somewhere between that of Pink Floyd and Tool. On first listening, I thought that a rather wacky comparison. However, emphasizing that Wreckage Of The Modern City really sounds very little like either of those bands, I’ll admit that the comparison at least provides a basis for description. The differences (surely more obvious and numerous than the similarities!) between Floyd and Tool also point to one problem with this band: it wants to be too many things at once.

Now, I’m not one who believes that a band has to fit clearly and willingly into one or another category. Some of my favourite bands (The Mars Volta, to take an obvious example) are completely uncategorizable, and I take that slipperiness to be a good thing. But a band does need to have a recognizable sound or style – something it (and listeners) can point to and say “Okay, that has to be a Mars Volta [for example] song – nobody else sounds like that.” And in its stylistic diversity, Wreckage Of The Modern City strikes me as spreading itself a bit thin, perhaps only its vocals making each song on this album instantly identifiable as having been performed by the same band.

I’ll begin with those vocals, then, in an attempt to describe this album. The band’s singer and also its lyricist – a man named Lemon (perhaps not his full original name?) – has a neat, flexible voice, capable of lovely melodic singing (most notably here at the beginning of Inside) and also of post-grunge shouting, sounding like a more polite version of Godsmack’s Sully Erna – check out the middle sections of Hurt and Tigerbone and the beginning of Restless, for instance. He’s a good singer, no question; however, even when he’s singing over only drums, not to mention when the band’s in full swing behind him, his vocals are too far back in the mix – so that even the shouting doesn’t really cut through as it should.

What of the other musicians? The instrument that does cut through everything is the drums, played by Dustin Oliverson, and he’s an inventive percussionist, all right. The clarity of the drum sound, though, is in contrast to the mid-range mix of the guitars (Mark Scultz) and bass (Thom Ancell), which are, in most songs, pretty thin sounding, so that even power chords are anticlimactic. And then there are the synthesizers, also played by Ancell. They’re used little, but I could wish they hadn’t been used at all. The intro to Bold Era features what could be a 70s Casio bleep-bloop keyboard, and Tigerbone begins with those overemphatic drums and the moaning of Moog-sounding synthesizer before the song gives way to rather more interesting Eastern-sounding guitar arpeggios and tasteful percussion – the keyboards in both songs adding, to my ears, nothing.

So this is a versatile band – venturing even into something like Red Hot Chili Peppers funkiness in the unfortunately titled Greek Thing, slowing down for the mournful Inside – though it mostly chooses mid-tempo-or-faster modern rock as its default sound, as in Restless And Thankless. Throughout the album, though, the flat, unemphatic production dampens the sound; and, while the songs are each, on their own terms, kind of neat, the whole album, relatively brief though it is, doesn’t really sustain attention or repay repeated listenings – or at least so I’ve found.

I’m feeling bad that I can’t work up more enthusiasm for this clearly talented, ambitious band, but there are too many things working against them on this debut album. I think an interesting and unique core sound is there, somewhere, if the musicians can find it; and on the evidence of this album, all four of them have more than enough talent to fulfil their ambitions once they discover that sound. I simply don’t find that this album stands out sufficiently for me to recommend it to progressive-rock fans, when there’s so much else out there clamouring for our attention and much of it more deserving of it.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Elias Kahila - Break Point
Alias Kahila - Break Point
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:EKCD 003
Year of Release:2006
Time:35:52
Info:Elias Kahila
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Break Point (3:36), Calling (4:18), Rosie (4:09), Wildcatz (3:25), Amanda (4:23), Andromedean Rhapsody [Remake 06] (3:32), Caddo Lake Anthem (3:57), After Sundown (4:48), Attitude (3:42)

"Cellorock" - yet another genre for us to conjure with - or so a young Finnish cellist by the name of Elias Kahila would have us believe. I suppose the growth of this new genre will be dependent on a plethora of talented cellists like Elias forsaking the classical field in favour of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. With the possible exception of the Metallica influenced four cello Apocalyptica, methinks Elias may have this market pretty much sewn up.

Elias Kahila is a completely new name to me and his website doesn't (at this moment in time) offer a great deal of info on the man behind the bow. I gather Elias is in his early twenties and the album under the spotlight here is his second release, following up Rocking The Strings from 2003. His first album was completely solo effort with Elias undertaking all the writing, production, artwork and instrumentation himself. And much remains the same in 2006, although this time around Alias has assembled a number of musicians to perform his music. On this outing he is joined by brothers Jyri Sariola (drums, percussion, keyboards, piano) and Petteri Sariola (guitars, bass). With additional contributions from Perttu Pannula and Harri Pehharinen.

So what does Cellorock sound like? Well on Break Point we have nine relatively short instrumentals that combine fairly straightforward pop/rock ideals with catchy melodies supplied by the cello. Hence the title I suppose. The drumming is busy, not too cluttered and performed in distinctly modern style. The bass is supportive and merely adds depth to the sound whilst the guitar is chunky and fairly infectious - often used to support the cello in the melody department and occasionally taking the odd brief solo. The cello played in a somewhat classical fashion supplies the tune, so as to speak, which after just a couple of listenings had pretty much lodged in the memory.

Now it all sounds like great fun to play and looking at some of the photos on Elias' MySpace website, fun to perform live. Although personally I have mixed feelings towards the music and certainly it borders on the edges of what I find palatable. Over exposure to this "type" of music could well sway me away for ever. A little bit like similar to ELO, where constant airplay of their turgid singles totally killed of any possible appreciation of their albums. I was mindful also that the rhythm section or backing had a sort of post-punk feel - at this moment in time the only artists that spring to mind are Toyah and Hazel O'Conner, although I wouldn't draw any strong comparisons to the music of these artists.

Stand out tracks for me are Calling - the arrangement is busy and all the instruments are strongly featured. In complete contrast we have the delicate Rosie with the majority of the piece featuring just piano and cello. Simple and so effective. The last minute or so of the track features the whole band. Finally another slower "ballad" like track - Amanda reminded of what a great instrument the cello is to listen to and what initially attracted me to this disc.

Well this was a different, and in the main enjoyable excursion for me. Infectious, melodic, gritty at times, delicate at others. I certainly found the music on Break Point to be aimed at a commercial market and with the right exposure it could well have a greater mass appeal. As for our DPRP readers, this may well fit into an accessible easy listening slot, although I can't see that it is going to start any new trends within the prog community. However as it stands Break Point finds favour with me at this moment in time.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Stellarscope - Living Under The Radar
Stellarscope - Living Under The Radar
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2006
Time:55:20
Info:Stellarscope
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Penitence (3:44), Union's End (3:54), Alone (3:08), Inside Out (4:10), Summer Handbook (3:19), Understand (4:58), Our Last Dance (6:19), I Am Dead (5:29), New Start (4:11), Such Is Life (4:53), Nearly Stars (2:26), Deception In The Word (8:49)

One of the most uncomfortable situations that can appear when writing a review for DPRP is when the album to be reviewed has absolutely nothing to do with prog. This is the case with Stellarscope, an American trio formed by vocalist/guitarist Tommy Lugo. Stellarscope is around for 11 years now and they have released lots of full length albums and EP's. Living under the radar is their latest try and the first I come across with.

On their website and their biography, one can find an endless list of influences, spanning half the rock genre, but nothing but Pink Floyd that is part of the prog community. Then again, is there anybody out there not influenced by Floyd? To me the most basic element of their song-writing is noise. Noise the way Sonic Youth have defined it, the way Smashing Pumpkins popularised it, the way Radiohead have experimented with it, the way Sigur Ros keep on preserving it. The other axis is the post-punk rather than post-rock philosophy behind the songs: very raw tracks, sometimes you get the impression that they entered the studio and recorded the songs in a couple of days, without almost any post-processing. The overcast legacy of Joy Division survives here too, together with a hidden, lurking, more lush, elegant, even romantic one (My Bloody Valentine, even Cocteau Twins with a bit of imagination) - I say lurking and hidden because the noise covers it all at the first listen. One can also find elements of Space-Rock in the way they sometimes experiment with some tunes and concepts. In fact, when they go psychedelic, and less noisy (mainly the guitars, like in New Start), the result is more interesting, at least to an ear trained with prog. The percussion is more than welcome when it appears, and I have the impression that more synths and keyboards would make the final result more appealing. Indeed, the best tracks of the albums do not lack synths. Finally, some songs are reminiscent of Sabbath or Bauhaus, like, as you might have guessed from the title, I Am Dead.

Something that really made it hard for me to get into the album and obliged me to dig deep in order to discover some beauty in this release is the really horrible production. I understand that the band is self-sustained but this result is repulsive for a huge audience - especially the prog audience, being used to crystal clear productions. I have to admit though, that after a lot of tries and attempts, I did discover parts I like, ideas that talk to me and tracks with a character. Particularly, tracks Union's End, Summer Handbook, Our Last Dance and the mysterious nine minute Deception In The Word are very powerful tracks that gave me the courage and the will to come back to the album after the first disappointing listens. The last track in particular features a very different way of singing on behalf of Tommy Lugo compared to the rest of the album (more lyrical), even a more witty song writing that vaguely reminded me of And Also The Trees. More mellow, more melodic and more subtle. Still, I repeat: this has absolutely nothing to do with prog. If some of you out there are interested, please do visit the Myspace page of the band to hear some clips (unfortunately not many from this album). For the rest, this is another genre and I have to leave it unrated. But to be honest, it grows in a very weird way...

Conclusion: Unrated

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS




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