Reviews in this issue:
- Abigail's Ghost - Selling Insincerity
- Anekdoten - A Time Of Day
- Karda Estra - The Last Of The Libertine
- Oust Louba - Decoction
- Invisigoth - Alcoholocaust
- Julie Vik – Twist
Abigail's Ghost - Selling Insincerity
Tracklist: Mazurka (1:04), Close (5:48), Waiting Room (4:38), Love Sounds (6:48), Sellout (4:18), Dead People's Review (4:45), Monochrome (5:03), Windows (4:42), Cerulean Blue (7:44), Seeping (5:54), Mother May I? (5:42)
To start I'd like to quote from the only interview I've read with Abigail's Ghost which was posted on the Sea Of Tranquility (sic) website:
"I can completely understand the comparisons to Porcupine Tree, because we do share a lot of the same influences... The music itself is almost entirely inspired by other bands and only one song on the album can be truly considered to be inspired by Porcupine Tree. The production on the other hand is very much inspired by the work of Steven Wilson and not limited to just his work with PT".
Thus spoke Kenneth Wilson bass player, backing vocalist, lyricist and co-writer with Louisiana band Abigail's Ghost who then goes on to state that
"In Absentia is the best album I've ever owned, so yes, I'm very much inspired by Porcupine Tree".
Although that may sound like a bit of a contradiction, the second quote is actually refering to the production values and techniques of Stephen Wilson and the sound they achieve in the studio, not to the music of Porcupine Tree per se . (This sentence has been amended after it had been pointed out that the quote was somewhat out of context and implied that the music of PT was a big influence on Abigail's Ghost. This was an inadvertant error. Apologies to Kenneth and Josh and Abigail's Ghost).
Anyone with any familiarity with Wilson's main band would be hard pressed to deny that their is a tangible similarity in the sound of the two groups, particularly on Waiting Room with it's mixture of electric and acoustic guitars, layered backing vocals and the lead vocals of Joshua Theriot and Sellout with its melodic chorus and heavy guitar interludes. Theriot, who on the album plays all the guitars, is the main singer and writes the bulk of the music, can sound very like Wilson [S] (although Wilson [K] argues that Theriot sounds more like Chris Corner of the Sneaker Pimps) but that is not a criticism, the similarity is more in the production technique than any intention to imitate. The band is rounded out by synth player Brett Guillory (the only other current member of the band to play on the album), drummer John Patrick Rodrigue and second guitarist Randy Paul.
So let's push aside the Tree for a moment and concentrate on the music of Abigail's Ghost. For a debut album that was produced on a very limited budget and largely written by the composers over the internet at a distance of 1000 miles, the sonic quality of the album is superb. Despite this Wilson is not happy with the result and has already expressed a desire to re-record the album at some point in the distant future! Theriot is a very good guitar player and displays a variety of styles throughout Selling Insincerity. With some frantic Steve Vai-like progressions on Cerulean Blue, the tasty acoustic work on Windows and the proto-grunge of Sellout, Theirot certainly knows his instrument. Synthesisers are mainly used to create atmosphere rather than as a lead instrument but the effect can be devastatingly good. Love Sounds opens with a rather plaintive keyboard wash and piano line backed by some slow, industrial beats with the guitar only coming to the fore at about the four-minute mark, and tracks like Monochrome and Windows would be severely lacking if it were not for the unobtrusive sonic sculpting of the synths.
The final three tracks on the album are possibly the finest. Cerulean Blue is a veritable smorgasbord of styles held together by a great bass line. The growling, menacing vocal interludes only adds to the mystery of the song. Seeping starts with a great keyboard line and what sounds like a sampled glockenspiel but develops into a lovely plaintive ode to a lost loved one; the excellent lyrics being superbly sung by Theriot. Not sure I understand the middle section with the taped voices though! Mother May I? has some rather understated verses but with a rousing chorus and a great instrumental section that not only wraps up the song but brings the album to a fine conclusion.
Perhaps it is not surprising that these three tracks are featured heavily on the two six-track EPs by the band that constitute the rest of the group's discography. The Seeping EP includes Waiting Room and Dead People's Review from the album, an early instrumental demo version of Monochrome (entitled In Thin Air), the Waiting Room demo and a lovely piano instrumental demo of Seeping while the Cerulean Blue EP also has two other tracks from the album (Close and Mother May I?) a non-album atmospheric instrumental called Opening, the instrumental demo of Cerulean Blue and an early instrumental version of Mother May I?, ironically called a 'reprise' despite predating the final track!. The demos date as far back as 2004 and give a good idea how the songs have developed over time, particularly the two instrumental demos on the latter EP. Although hardly essential given the large overlap with the album, the EPs at around 30 minutes each are certainly interesting and are strictly limited to 100 copies each.
So what to make of it all? Whatever way you look at it there will be no getting away from the Porcupine Tree comparisons but that's all it is, a comparison. Yes the two bands do have a certain sound that falls into similar area of the musical spectrum but I really enjoyed the album and think Abigail's Ghost have made a very promising debut and certainly one that is worth hearing. I suspect PT fans will be divided into those that love hearing a band that produce music aligned with their favourite group to those that think it is bandwagoning or even plagiarism (which it is not). All I can go on is the fact that I like the album and associated EPs for their own merits, which is good enough for me.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Anekdoten - A Time Of Day
Tracklist: The Great Unknown (6:22), 30 Pieces (7:14), King Oblivion (5:02), A Sky About To Rain (6:29), Every Step I Take (3:06), Stardust And Sand (4:30), In For A Ride (6:47), Prince Of The Ocean (5:30)
Anekdoten is a Swedish band that arose in the early 90s in conjunction with other Scandinavian artists such as Anglagard, Landberk and later The Flower Kings. They started the so called prog revival of the 1990s that continues in full force today with no sign of letting up. Anekdoten consists of Peter Nordins (drums, cymbols, percussion, vibes), Anna Sofi Dahlberg (mellotron, organ, moog, rhodes, cello, piano, voice), Nicklas Barker (voice, guitar, mellotron, moog, vibes) and Jan Erik Lilestrom (bass, voice).
Having never heard Anekdoten's music, I decided to purchase A Time Of Day upon recommendation of a friend. Initially, I was less than impressed. The music seemed to lack direction and just mainly consisted of loud, dark and heavy parts with some acoustic bits thrown in. I kept returning to it though and after each successive listen began to see the direction that they were trying to achieve with their music. It can be best described by the opening lyrics to The Great Unknown.
"Finally we're on our way
Where no man's gone
Launching deep into the great unknown
Space and time passing by,
but the world outside
is swallowed whole by the starless sky"
This CD is not about flashy guitar solos (although there are a few!) and incomprehensible meter shifts, it is about creating an atmosphere through dark lyrics and instrumentation. There are many layers to this music ranging from soft flute and organ passages that are only noticed on closer listenings to instantly recognizable bass and guitar. These layers melt together to form some of the most unique and interesting music I have ever heard.
A Time Of Day begins with The Great Unknown. It is a song about space travel and the cold, empty feelings a group of people experience while traversing space. A very dark piece with superb lyrics and an excellent mood setter for the rest of the album.
30 Pieces starts with a catchy guitar riff and vocals that almost remind me of The Mars Volta in some aspects. It picks up slightly in intensity only to lead into an amazing flute solo by guest musician Gunnar Bergsten which continues through the rest of the song accompanied by organ and bass.
King Oblivion is the first song that caught my attention and it is still one of my favourite tracks on the CD. The vocal delivery is not too much unlike Adrian Belew era King Crimson with some George Harrison guitar work. A very unique and catchy song.
A Sky About To Rain begins with mellow acoustic guitar and lyrics. It is very relaxing after the tumultuous first three songs. Just as you think this is going to be the first ballad on the CD, it picks up in intensity with some more excellent organ work and heavy, power chord driven guitar. While instrumentally this song is good, I find that some of the lyrics could have been lifted from the latest EMO genre release.
"Each and every lie
Burns a hole into my soul..."
I may be getting too picky, but up until this point it is the only complaint I could muster.
Up next is Every Step I Take, the new poster child for Post Rock. Well not exactly, but I do detect a very strong Godspeed You! Black Emperor influence. Over the course of three minutes this instrumental song slowly builds up by adding dynamics to organ, guitar and bass until it reaches its climax at around three minutes and then fades into silence. When it ends I am left quite cold. There really doesn't seem to be a purpose to this song other than to lead into the next track. It is not a highlight by any means, but it does keep with the over all feeling of the album.
Stardust And Sand begins with acoustic guitar not too unlike A Sky About To Rain. Soon organ very similar to that of Pink Floyd's Welcome To The Machine cuts through the guitar. The vocals even hint at a strong David Gilmore influence. This is one of the few songs on the album that never picks up in intensity, it remains calm and melancholic throughout the entire duration of the track. It took many close, repeated listens to appreciate this song. I did not like it at first, but its beauty is revealed when it is given time to grow on you.
The next song, apply titled In For A Ride, begins franticly with organ and guitar. They lead into one of the best vocal deliveries by Nicklas Barker on the album. In For A Ride has a great instrumental section in the middle that contains a few slightly unorthodox melodies. It is this aspect that keeps me coming back to this great song. This is a sure candidate for one of the best songs on the album.
Prince Of The Ocean closes the album just as ominously as it began. This very laid back song cycles through only a few guitar and bass lines with organ passages occurring throughout it. Fans of earlier Porcupine Tree will most likely appreciate this song.
This CD is a must own for all fans of Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Anglagard and Opeth. The music is pretty dark, but I would bet any fan of progressive rock would enjoy this release if given time to grow with repeated listens.
Starting with their chaotic King Crimsonesque debut Vemod, Anekdoten have honed in and fine tuned their sound with each successive release. Each album shows progression in the truest sense of the word and A Time Of Day is no exception. Anekdoten, by taking all of their early influences and using them minimally, have placed themselves in a league all by themselves. While I do not think I am really qualified to make this judgement, I feel this is their best release yet in terms of overall coherence and song-writing. This CD is a great place to start for anyone interested in listening to this band for the first time. Fans of the older back catalogue will most certainly appreciate it as it still contains many elements of the older releases. This is one of my favourite albums released this year. It is up there with the Planet X and Magic Pie releases. I can't recommend it enough!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Karda Estra - The Last Of The Libertine
Tracklist: Paper Cuts (2:39), Life Drawing (4.44), Atom Of Warmth (5:26), Morning Wraiths (5:58), Halcyon Years (5.28), The Last Of The Libertine (5:44), Black Sun (6:23), Terra Nova (5:20)
There can’t be many UK acts more prolific than Karda Estra with at least one album released for every year of their nine-year recording career. In fact this is the eleventh release from composer and arranger Richard Wileman, joined as before by an all female cast of classical instrumentalists. With one addition, the line-up remains intact from last year’s superb The Age Of Science And Enlightenment album. The concept this time (yes you knew there had to be one) tells of a man who has exchanged his soul for a life of indulgence and the inevitable sadness when it comes to an end. The protagonist’s mood is perfectly reflected by the music, which has all the hallmarks of previous Karda Estra releases. In my review of the last album I described the music as “dark and brooding for the most part, with an ethereal quality conveyed by classical instrumentation and choral voices”. I racked my brain to come up with an alternative description for this release before coming to the conclusion that those words are equally appropriate this time round.
Even though Wileman provides all guitars, keyboards and percussion he far from dominates the proceedings. Rather he is the catalyst, providing a foundation for the musical landscape over which the other instruments hover and circle like birds on a light breeze. Trumpet, violin, oboe, cor anglais, flute and saxophone take it in turn to play solo lead, rarely overlapping. Even when electric guitar turns aggressive with shades of Robert Fripp as in Life Drawing and The Last Of The Libertine the other instruments remain calm and serene. Wileman often uses delicate piano shadings and chords to provide the rhythm as in Atom Of Warmth and Halcyon Years, although as in Paper Cuts it can sometimes sound disconcertingly dissonant. His playing is at its best for me however when he adopts a lyrical Steve Hackett guitar style most obvious in Morning Wraiths, Black Sun and especially Halcyon Years. He also adds a welcome touch of elegant classical guitar in places.
Although the tracks can be best described as instrumentals, Ileesha Bailey embellishes Morning Wraiths and The Last Of The Libertine with her enchanting wordless vocals. Ileesha has worked with Wileman since the first album and although her presence is less obvious than on previous occasions the effect achieved on the title track in particular is truly hypnotic. All the solo instrumentalists shine with the violin of Helen Dearnley and flute of Zoë Josey adding a classical gloss to tracks like Atom Of Warmth and Black Sun. Caron Hansford’s exquisite oboe and cor anglais, which for me is the most romantic of all instruments is mesmerising during Halcyon Years and Terra Nova. It’s the melodious trumpet of Louise Hirst that’s given prominence however especially evident during Paper Cuts and the title track. Her stirring playing often lends the music a haunting ambiance that recalls the music of veteran film soundtrack maestro John Barry.
In the previous Karda Estra review, I made references to certain other composer /arrangers. Whilst those comparisons still hold true, Wileman’s music remains unique and could be described as orchestral music for the 21st century. A jazz vibe occasionally creeps in, especially during Life Drawing and Terra Nova. He adds some interesting percussive effects throughout and even the occasional sampled drums are tastefully integrated. Apart from the title track, which stands out (as does the elegiac Halcyon Years) to my ears the music seems to contain fewer dynamics than previous releases. This is especially true of the two closing tracks that sound like incidental movie music. The low-key style will not appeal to everyone and first impressions can deem it to be dark and sombre with very slight melodies. Even the beautiful Halcyon Years with its optimistic title is tinged with sadness. The gothic album artwork is certainly appropriate for the mood of the music. As I’ve remarked before however patience and repeated listens will be rewarded. On a lighter note, I’ve come to the conclusion that Wileman records his albums with one eye on the studio clock. How else can you explain the majority clocking in at a little under the 45-minute mark?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Oust Louba – Decoction
Tracklist: Les Hulules (5:39) Qui Respire? (2:19) 15h56 (3:40) Maurice 2000 (3:47) La Femme Elastique (2:24) Wheres? (7:49) Daar (7:59) Fleurs (3:17) En Decoction (8:37)
Looking back over my reviews so far this year, I’ve tackled quite a mixture: Proto Prog reissues; Rio experimentalism; Italian Prog; Swedish Prog; Jazz Fusion and quite a few other prog styles as well. Decoction is somewhat of a departure, as it fits, if anywhere, in the Post Rock category. Progressive in the sense of moving on from standard song forms, creating new hybrids of sounds and styles, Oust Louba share a similar ethos to bands like Sigur Ros, Jagga Jazzist and Mogwai.
Decoction, the album, plays like a sonic movie, its mixture of short and long pieces flowing together to create a soundtrack to a surreal daydream; taking cues from modern Electronica and Down Tempo styles (I was reminded often of the intoxicating work of Broadway Project - admittedly one of the few artists working in this field that I am familiar with) in its use of scratching and sampling techniques, but also utilising more traditional forms (a string trio on a couple of tracks and a saxophone quartet on another).
The opening track is still grounded in the song format, but things quickly become more structurally fluid. For the most part, the atmosphere is melodic, dreamy and relaxed, though occasionally building to powerful climaxes and punctuated with sudden jarring breaks. The scratching is sparsely employed and adds a modern feel without being too intrusive. The use of brass, piano and acoustic bass lend a lilting, jazzy feel to much of the proceedings, though the band know how to skilfully build musical tension, with several pieces having a very dynamic drive.
Comparisons for this kind of stuff are not easy to come by, but I think I could justify mention of Talk Talk, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Bark Psychosis in the same breath as Oust Louba. They don’t necessarily sound all that similar, but if you like any of those bands (or the post rock bands mentioned in my introduction), you may well enjoy this intriguing little disc.
Visit their MySpace page through the link above to get a flavour of the album – I suggest Maurice 2000 and Les Hulules for starters. Too leftfield and quirky to earn an outright recommendation, it’s nevertheless a pretty impressive and enjoyable debut, one for those intent on following progressive rock out beyond the normal genre boundaries (if that’s not a contradiction in terms where prog is concerned)
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Invisigoth - Alcoholocaust
Tracklist: Stripsearch (4:32), Ancient (5:12), Talitha Cumi (5:24), Serpentine (4:12), Poison Drip (4:57), The Everlasting (6:19), My Absinthe Lover (5:12), Soft Asylum (8:24), No Quarter (7:52)
Invisigoth really don’t make it easy for themselves. Armed with pretty bland cover art and a frankly naff album name (sounding like something a jokey thrash metal band would come up with!), they then sign to a label called ProgRock Records; a name which automatically leads to preconceptions about what they might sound like – preconceptions which will almost certainly be wrong. Other terms bandied about in the press release (‘art rock’ and ‘progressive metal’) also seem some way off the mark as far as I’m concerned – and the (hopefully) tongue in cheek nonsense written in the band’s ‘biography’ (the band members “bonded over clinical trials involving the psychotropics ayahuasca and salvia conducted in their own studio/ laboratory” apparently…) hardly helps shed any light on their sound.
What can be said is that this duo from New York, consisting of Viggo Domino (vocals) and the enigmatically named Cage (everything else), have come up with a highly bombastic and symphonic outing here which may well have some appeal to those who appreciate musical statements on a grand scale… although less so perhaps to those who value subtlety and a lightness of touch to their music ...
Unfortunately the album gets off to a bad start with the pretty wretched Stripsearch. Vaguely taking inspiration from Nine Inch Nails, this stop-start, rather sloth like industrial track is not the ideal calling card. Domino mostly mutters angrily or shrieks here, yet once we reach the chorus and he actually sings, its something of a revelation; possessing a deep, rich and commanding voice, Threshold man Damien Wilson would be the obvious comparison. Its an unfortunate fact that the majority of the tracks likewise fail to use the band’s main asset to its best advantage - less of the effects and stylings next time lads, please!
Ancient is a better song, and more representative of the band’s sound. Cage and Domino are clearly big fans of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, as this is one of several tracks which give a nod in the direction of that classic epic. With a tabla-driven rhythm and the odd flourish of sitar, this is obviously going for the Eastern feel, and pretty much manages it, although the atypical, fists-in-the-air chorus sounds like it was lifted from Bon Jovi’s 80’s anthem Lay Your Hands On Me – a bit bizarre.
Talitha Cumi starts as a gospel-flavoured power ballad, before a tribal drum pattern evoking Peter Gabriel’s Rhythm Of The Heat takes the song in a darker, more intense direction. Domino gives a good Robert Plant impression on the driving hard-rock verses of Serpentine, which give way to a more leisurely chorus, where the music transports you to the middle east – or at least a western rock band’s interpretation of it.
Poison Drip has a cheesy main riff which sounds like a companion to Europe’s The Final Countdown; Domino’s vocals also sound stuck in the eighties, mired as they are in various dated effects – just let the guy sing! Lots of over the top cod-symphonic flourishes make this the very epitome of a pomp rock song. Changing tack once again, the music on The Everlasting sounds like I imagine Kraftwerk would if they were given guitars and transported to a goth metal idiom, whilst Domino even scales the vaguely operatic heights you’d expect a female vocalist in the genre to reach at times. He adopts the polar opposite approach on My Absinthe Lover; his deep, highly stylised baritone retains the interest even though the song itself is disjointed and pretty weak.
The album ends with two lengthy tracks. Soft Asylum is possibly the most bombastic and pompous cut yet – but thankfully also one of the strongest, with Domino’s ever-changing vocal stylings for once suiting a song which moves well between its numerous sections. The chorus is particularly strong here. The album ends with a cover of Zeppelin’s No Quarter, which is OK (and again highlights the strength of Domino’s voice), although I could certainly do without the naff, overbearing and hideously dated 80’s-style synthesiser and drum machine sounds.
Well, as I indicated earlier, its difficult to pinpoint exactly who this album would most appeal to, and as can probably be discerned from the above review, quite hard to actually describe in words the sound that Invisigoth have come up with here. Certainly a pretty unique effort, Alcoholocaust should perhaps be approached with some caution, and does its best at times to waste the undeniable talents of Viggo Domino, but it has its moments, and at times its difficult to stop yourself getting carried away with the unashamed pomposity and grandiosity of it all.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Julie Vik - Twist
Track list: Cotton Sky (5:21), Your Turn Now (5:28), Transparent Rain (3:55), Chance To Change (3:59), Venus (6:27), Snakes & Sticks (4:40), Taken (6:47), All New (6:26), First you Learn To Jump (4:15), Out To Shine (4:50), Forgery (7:52)
Julie Vik hails from British Columbia on the Pacific seaboard of Canada. She lives on the small Bowen Island which boasts a population of under 3,000 inhabitants. Classically trained in guitar, flute and voice, she has been performing since the age of nine and has previously released two albums with her now defunct group Resin. Twist is her first solo album which is only just seeing the light of day despite having been recorded in 2003/2004 (apparently the delay was caused by waiting for a re-print of art work!)
Firstly, let me point out that it would be a bit of a long shot to call this a progressive rock album as we know and love them, no matter how wide the genre stretches these days. However, that is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. What the album does display is a variety of styles from the jazz-tinged piano on Snake & Sticks to the laid back, late night Hammond drenched Venus which has a languidness that John Martyn would be proud of. Each track has a distinct persona, whether it be the somewhat psychedelic influences on Taken (with some very original cello and acoustic bass playing) or the more groove orientated approach taken on All New.
What holds it all together are Vik's vocals which, despite the variety of the backing, display a consistency in their delivery which binds the album together. Supported by a cast of 10 musicians, the performance throughout sounds effortless, despite the fact that there are some quite involved arrangements. On final track Forgery for instance, the acoustic guitar, sitar, organ bass and drums make their individual way to the rousing ending.
Twist will probably find a very limited audience within the prog rock community, hence I have deemed it only fair not to add a rating to this album. The originality and adventure, albeit in a rather subdued way, is likely to find favour with those whose musical tastes expand outside the 'rock' field.