Issue 2007-006: Gazpacho - Night - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Dream of Stone (17:00), Chequered Light Buildings (6:34), Upside Down (9:41), Valerie's Friend (6:29), Massive Illusion (13:37)
Mark Hughes' Review
I admit to being totally ignorant of the music of Gazpacho, their previous albums having not even entered into my consciousness. It is somewhat ironic then that I get to review Night, a concept album that is "a musical description of a dream or a stream of consciousness". I don't know about you, but I have always associated dreams and streams of consciousness as being characterised by their random nature, by disparate images or phrases fleetingly coming to the fore lacking connection with what has come before and after. Gazpacho have eschewed the opportunity to represent such randomness musically and have opted for a relatively uniform approach to the album, an approach that is overall very downbeat. Don't expect masses of solos or complex interplay between instruments, Night is placed firmly in the atmospherics camp.
Dream Of Stone opens proceedings with a relentlessly repeating, hypnotic and almost soporific single note marking out time. Vocals are very laid back while all around sound effects, some provided by other instruments, some recorded sound files, fill in the background spaces. An almost instant comparator is Sigur Ros, but some of the more laid back moments of An Amber Light are also appropriate. Throughout the 17 minutes of the song, the listener is left to drift along, aroused by moments of increased band activity, then drawn deeper into the flow. Only having a pre-release copy of the album, I had no lyrics to help elucidate the tale being told which, apparently, "is about life and the various ways of interpreting existence". When I first heard this track, I thought that it went on for rather too long and there was not enough variety to warrant the extended playing time. However, it is all about context. We often don't get a great deal of time to really listen, I mean intently listen, to albums before review deadlines have to be met. And this album needs that space and time to insinuate itself into the musical appreciation cells of the brain. It was only after listening to the album late one night, when there were no distractions, that I began to appreciate what an intense experience Dream Of Stone, indeed the whole album, can be. Initial listens had completely missed the brief but melodic piano and violin interlude or the fact that the crescendo towards the end bites into the tension, threatening to break lose but ultimately falling away to leave stark piano chords and vocals, guiding the listener seamlessly into the second track Chequered Light Buildings.
The plaintive vocals at the beginning of Chequered Light Buildings are reminiscent of Steve Hogarth. The slow melancholy is maintained throughout the first half of the song which then intensifies with the addition of guitar, violin and a chant-like vocal line. An abrupt halt signals the closing of the song and once again a brief linking section of piano and vocals lead straight into Upside Down. In a break from what has gone before, this song features both a brief melodic refrain and a guitar solo. The ever-present insistent beat pounds along and for the first time gets a bit weary. The ending takes us into a wood with owls hooting and a folkish interlude with whistles and violin. An acoustic guitar heralds the introduction of Valerie's Friend. The initially gentle, almost pastoral, introduction shows the first sign that the melancholy that has preceded is being lifted, confirmed when the electric guitar is introduced. As if let off the leash, the band pour forth in bursts of energy made all the more greater by the contrast with what has come before. The excitement is relatively short lived, fading back to the atmospherics of keyboards and muted violin.
We finally arrive at last track Massive Illusion, possibly the most interesting on the album. There is a lot going on in this song, but it is never over-powering or oppressive. The sound effects and various instruments are blended together very well to provide a track that gradually, very gradually, builds. Rather more upbeat, the vocals are more upfront, entwining around the guitar lines that eventually come to the fore providing a restrained solo that is still thick with atmospherics, albeit of a rather more harsh variety. The ever-present consistent beat gradually fades into another piano and violin section, with its overtones of a Persian folk tune. The piece is achingly beautiful, a first-rate piece of classical music.
So, what are the conclusions of my first exposure to Gazpacho? Very impressed it has to be said. Night is a very interesting album that contains a lot of worth and value. Although not as sparse as the last two Talk Talk albums or the single Mark Hollis solo album, Night occupies a similar territory, or mood space if you will. There is no doubt that the album will not appeal to a lot of progressive fans, being far too low key. Even those who do delight in this album will probably not play it with any degree of frequency - it is one of those albums that one has to be in the right mood to listen to and get the most out of. With those points in mind, I find it hard to recommend this album to all, which is not to say that Gazpacho have not come up with a fine album and anyone who is the slightest bit intrigued or whose interest has been sparked by this review would do well to check it out.
Dave Baird's Review
I have the habit of volunteering to review bands I've never heard of, so it was no surprise that when we received an email in early January from Bart asking if anyone was interested in reviewing a new CD that sounded like a cross between Talk Talk and Radiohead (circa Kid A), that I put my name forward. This was three weeks ago, already short notice of course and despite having received the files immediately for some reason I didn't actually get to listen to them for the first time until two days ago (perhaps you can blame the PoS and Neal Morse for that). Often this approach to unknown bands leads to disappointment - all the blurb the record companies give you is generally inconsistent with the music that's actually on the disc but occasionally you'll discover an absolute gem and I'm delighted to say that this is the latter and I'm kicking myself for not listening to it earlier.
With such a short listening time I'm still dealing with initial impressions so bear with me... Yes, there's some Radiohead vibe going on but less experimental and more melodic, with the opening track Dream Of Stone I'm rather more reminded of Marillion's This Is The 21st Century with its relentless drum rhythm overlaid with atmospheric keyboards and melodic subtle guitar. Then the vocals kick- in, sounds a lot like someone but I can't place it at first, Thom Yorke, hmmmm, Steve Hogarth, yes a bit, even Morrissey perhaps, then I have it - Morten Harket from Aha, this guy sings a LOT like Morten at least tonally rather than stylistically (think Hunting High & Low rather than Take On Me as a reference). The music has strong melody and builds up bit by bit becoming more and more symphonic before there's a sudden and unexpected quiet violin passage before launching into a heavy guitar section. The track calms down with some more atmospheric keyboards, slow guitar picking and a great sounding piano fading into the next track Chequered Light Buildings. After the opening epic this is quite a departure being a ballad style song with nice piano, violin and organ but its the vocals that absolutely shine, so much feeling in the singing. Again the track changes direction into a heavy chuggy guitar driven section before emerging with more atmospheric keyboards, organ and vocals.
Upside Down starts even more gently with acoustic guitar, light piano and gentle lead guitar. Again the driving drums are present and this seems to be a trademark of the band. The singing is more like Hogarth and I guess this could pass-off as a Marillion piece from recent years and we are treated to what sounds a lot like mellotron also. Thematically it feels like an extension of the previous track, whether this is intentional though I'm not sure but there's a lot of cohesion to the album so far. More meandering, mellow lead, overlaid vocals and ambient samples/keyboards before another violin break with pipe organ wind up this slightly less interesting but no less pleasant piece. Valerie's Friend starts without a break with some nice acoustic guitar and now I'm thinking more Radiohead from the OK Computer days although the sound is altogether more polished and less over-produced. For the first two minutes this is a nice simple song before it explodes in a wash of symphonic keys, distorted bass and lashings of Rothery-style melodic lead - wouldn't be out of place on a Muse album either. After three minutes the track mellows out into a lovely string synth-led ending, very atmospheric and melancholic, almost like film-score music and sounding quite a lot like the synth at the beginning of Rhythm Of Love from Big Generator by Yes (only the first 8 seconds though!!) and then we cross-fade into the closing track Massive Illusion with some tasteful reed organ...
This closing track is perhaps the most conventional progressive track on the album. Again there's a lot of soulful vocals, strong melodies, gentle guitar work and those almost ever-present ambient noises. Around the three minute mark there's a short and unusual acoustic/vocal section that I'm really at a loss to describe - sort of a vocal sing-along thing. To be honest this is quite out of character with the rest of the album as a whole but it doesn't last too long before the piece continues more as you would expect. Five minutes before the end its all change into a piano and violin interplay - this also seems to be a bit a trademark of their sound and it's very nice and refreshing on the whole having a melodramatic theatrical feeling - this then concludes into some more of that ambient noise (sounds like a recording of cars passing on a road to me) to close the album.
So this has all been a bit rushed and my apologies for that, but even after only four listens I'm absolutely hooked, this is one of the best new bands I've heard in a long time. Sure, Gazpacho display their influences with pride (there's also some Porcupine Tree and Spock's Beard moments I didn't have the opportunity to mention) but they add so much more to the mix and are a revelation. Added to this, the quality of musicianship is top-notch (focused more on melody and feel than technique), and the production is a good as it gets, very modern and fresh. This is a great album that will surely be enjoyed by a broad cross-section of the prog community, easy to get into but even more rewarding on subsequent plays.
Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review
Unlike my colleagues above I have followed Gazpacho since the very beginning. Also, unlike my colleagues I have actually had a rough demo of Night for months and I have had a long time to get to know the music. Frequent readers will know that I have favourably reviewed all their albums, so it should be known that I hardly give an objective opinion about this band, so for a more objective review, please see the reviews of my two colleagues above.
For their fourth album the 'most unsignable band in the world' have taken a somewhat different approach than before. Gazpacho pride themselves to make 'different music', where one song will sound completely different from another. However I guess no one had ever expected they'd ever come up with a 53-minute concept album consisting of just one song.
Jan Henrik Ohme (vocals), Jon Vilbo (guitars), Thomas Andersen (keyboards) and Mikael Krømer (violin) locked themselves away in a little chalet in the woods of Norway for inspiration, and they came out with one very dark, very atmospheric piece.
Back in the studio they re-recorded the piece and added the drums of Robert Johansen and bass of Kristian Torp, resulting in what in my opinion is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Worth mentioning is the beefed up role of violinist Mikael Krømer on this album. He was credited as a guest musician on the previous three albums, but has been promoted to full-bandmember on Night, not only taking care of the many violinparts on the album, but also receiving a writing credit and co-producing it with Andersen.
However, the real star of the album is the band's favourite multi-instrumentalist for hire, Kristian "The Duke" Skedsmo, who added a huge array of instruments to the album: flutes, whistles, accordion, didgeridoo, banjo, mandolin, you name it.
It is the addition of these two musicians to the band that make Gazpacho's music so unique. While the music itself is very electronic in nature, with samples and lots of keyboards, the inclusion of so many acoustic instruments adds a very organic feel to the whole composition.
This being a concept album you can expect more instrumental passages than in their previous music, but you shouldn't expect Dream Theater style virtuoso wankery on the album though. It is atmosphere that this is all about.
Night perfectly balances between atmospheric background music and the type of music that you should play at full volume and give your full attention while listening to - it serves both.
Opening track Dream Of Stone sets the tone for the entire album. It opens with a slow, monotonous rhythm and guitar strumming that keeps returning throughout the album. Closest point of reference would be Talk Talk's The Rainbow, which, besides roughly the same length, has a similar monotonous down-tempo rhythm and similar atmosphere. But where Talk Talk used a very minimalistic approach, Gazpacho has a habit of adding an immense number of textures and layers to their music. More than 200 different tracks were used in this one song. Each time you listen to the song you will hear new instruments or samples in the music. Whether this be a didgeridoo, a distorted violin, an unexpected acoustic guitar or samples of air-traffic control. Much of these are not conspicuous at all, but once you've noticed them you realise just how important they are to the music as a whole and how much they add to the atmosphere.
Dream Of Stone is the main theme of Night in every possible way. The monotonous rhythm and guitar pops up in Upside Down and Massive Illusion as well, as do some of the lyrical themes.
There are no lyrics available in the CD booklet, so it is somewhat difficult to follow the concept of the album. What I did notice were the references to famous people of the past, or rather their murders, in Valerie's Friend (Andy Warhol) and Massive Illusion (John Lennon). According to the press-blurb the concept:
explores the question of where dreams end and reality begins and the mind as the tool that has to decide what to believe. The character goes through various memories real and imagined and sees the world from the angles of different people. He travels through time and visits places across the world including old New Orleans and Ancient woods with Pagan rituals being performed. Night is about life and the various ways of interpreting existence. Pretentious? Oh yes but delicious as well... very delicious.
And delicious it is indeed. The first track lulls you into a deeper state of (un)consciousness, which matches the 'dream' theme perfectly. It then seques into the mellow piano opening of Chequered Light Buildings. This song quickly builds up tension into a massive mid-section which somewhat reminds me of some of the work of the Australian band Aragon. Massive with a capital 'M', with several layers of guitars, keyboards and distorted voilin building up to a climax, yet never fully reaching it. It quickly returns to the mellow beat of Dream Of Stone in the next song, Upside Down, albeit slightly more uptempo this time. A piano in the style of Substitute for Murder (of their second album When Earth Lets Go) breaks gives the song a somewhat more poppy feel. A guitarsolo spices up the mid-section and the ending of Upside Down is absolutely stunning. A celtic flute leads into a traditional Norwegian wedding waltz, played by the fragile violin of Krømer.
It leads into my favourite song on the album, Valerie's Friend, which is also the most concise 'song' on the album (as in, there's an identifyable verse and then a chorus, finished with yet another guitarsolo). This is the one song where the full band gets to shred their energy, and the big Johansen monster is unleashed on the drumkit.
Quite quickly it mellows down again, towards another violin interlude followed by low whistle, and we're already in the last track of the album, Massive Illusion. The song slowly builds to a big climax, which serves as a worthy album closer, though the band has one last trick up their sleeves. The album ends with a stunningly beautiful five minute violin/piano piece, based on a traditional Persian waltz. It marks a perfect ending for the album, where you have some time to come back to your senses. The experience of this violin piece at the end does feel somewhat like waking up, really, but this piece is so beautiful that you want to press the repeat button and listen to the whole album again immediately.
Krømer's violin is an integral part of the Night composition. Not only are most of the different sections connected with classical violin solos, Krømer also uses his (often distorted) violin as an addition to the keyboard section. While highly unusual in approach his violin works so well in the music gives it a very unique feel.
Also noteworthy is the number of guitar solos on the album. Whereas the previous Gazpacho albums were characterised by their lack of guitarsolos (the only solo to appear on their previous three albums was a guest spot by Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery), Night contains quite a few of them.
In conclusion, this is one hell of an album. Yeah, I know, not very objective but sod it. It is this good. If this was any other band I'd still rave about it, and judging from the reviews of two first-time listeners above I am not alone on this.
Latter day Talk Talk, comtemporary Marillion, Kid A era Radiohead and a little sprinkling of classical music - it all comes together on Night.
All musicians really excell on this album, surpassing all their previous work. And Jan Henrik Ohme's distinctive voice (sounding like Thom Yorke, Morten Harket, Mark Hollis and David Sylvian all mixed into one) gives the music of Gazpacho its unique identity.
Also special mention must go to the stunning artwork of Antonio Seijas Cruz, whose great, dark and gloomy drawings match the mood of the album perfectly.
And don't let the fact that the album has been split up into five tracks fool you. This is intended as one long song, and is therefore best listened to in one go. The liner notes of a Marillion album once stated "listen to it loud, with the lights off". This is such an album. To be enjoyed as a full album, with your full attention.