Reviews in this issue:
- Big Big Train - The Difference Machine (Duo Review)
- Three - The End Is Begun
- Various Artists – Rock In Asia
- Little Tragedies - Chinese Songs Part 1
- Apeyga - Forward
- Life On Earth - Look!! There Is Life On Earth
Big Big Train - The Difference Machine
Tracklist: Hope This Finds You (3:12), Perfect Cosmic Storm (14:40), Breathing Space (1:47), Pick Up If You’re There (13:39), From The Wide Open Sea (1:20), Saltwater Falling On Even Ground (12:38), Summer’s Lease (7:34)
Mark Hughes' Review
Big Big Train seem to have been floating around prog circles without making that dramatic an impact for eons; I remember picking up their From The River To The Sea cassette way back in the early 1980s when the so-called new wave of progressive rock was at its peak. Over the years they have released four proper albums to various degrees of critical acclaim/disdain, a couple of which were on the Giant Electric Pea label where they were stable mates of IQ. This began a long association with IQ sound engineer supremo Rob Aubrey, a connection which continues to this day. Based around core members Gregory Spawton (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Andy Poole (bass), Steve Hughes (drums) and Sean Filkins (vocals) the group is supplemented by the appearance of some high ranking guests (and fans), namely Dave Meros and the ubiquitous Nick D'Virgilio from Spock's Beard, Pete Trewavas from Marillion, Tony Wright who was last heard of on a couple of IQ albums and Becca King who plays viola throughout the album and, as far I know, hasn't played with any other bands (sure it won't stay that way for long though!).
Previous BBT albums have all had their moments but have never quite managed to elevate the band to the next level or provide a thoroughly consistent reaction to draw widespread attention to their music. As someone who owns all their albums, along with several collections of demos, I have to admit that the albums are all an accomplishment in their own right but none have struck me as essential listening, that one is eager to return to again and again. However, the band have followed an upwards curve with each album being an advancement on the previous. With The Difference Machine, BBT may finally have made the album they have been promising all these years.
The album is basically four songs with three instrumental pieces linking or introducing the longer songs, the first of which, Hope This Finds You, perfectly combines Wright's alto sax, King's viola and Spawton's keyboards and occasional guitar in a mood setting and delicate beginning. The extended sustained ending is shaken away by some cutting guitar chords that hails the arrival of Perfect Cosmic Storm. Featuring the Beard's rhythm section only two of BBT actually appear on this track, yet it still maintains a lot of the characteristics of the BBT sound - dynamism, variety and a signature keyboard sound. However, this is BBT in an angrier and more adventurous mode. Wright's initial sax bursts bring forth memories of King Crimson at their most curious and even Van Der Graaf Generator in full flight. However, this approach could not be interestingly maintained over fifteen minutes and thankfully the band don't try to. With immense variety, the track proceeds, Spawton employing a whole range of classic keyboard sounds, D'Virgilio proving once again that he is a great drummer (and adding some fine backing vocals to boot) and the sax and viola providing more delicate moments that bridge the more intense moments. The Perfect Cosmic Storm certainly sets a high standard for the rest of the album to maintain as it is unquestionably one of the best, if not the best, pieces of music to be released under the BBT name to date.
The aptly named Breathing Space, a soundscape to clear the audio palette, leads into Pick Up If You're There featuring the same musicians as Storm with the exception of Pete T replacing Dave M on bass. Initially a simpler structure and more reminiscent of earlier BBT material, one wonders if the initial quality can be maintained. Fortunately it can. With some intricate weaving about, changes in mood and tempo, the song slips between time signatures driven by more great work from the rhythm section, Trewavas laying down his most intricate bass line in years towards the end of the song. Again Wright shines with his sax and flute adding textural emphasis and the brief appearance of King's viola being entirely complementary. I am sure there is also an un-credited female backing vocalist adding high harmonies, unless one of the male singers was wearing particularly tight pants that day!
Again, Spawton adds atmospheric linkage on From The Wide Open Sea into Salt Water Falling On Uneven Ground, a title that David Sylvian would be proud of! For the first time the whole of BBT appear together with Hughes and Poole proving to be every bit the match of their more illustrious guests. A more difficult piece to get to grips with, it is only on repeated listening that the nuances of the song reveal themselves. The only criticism is that perhaps, like with some of their earlier material, a degree of editing would have been of benefited in order to make the song rather more succinct. Being of a much calmer nature the piece is fairly slow with periods of minimal instrumentation allowing the vocals more room. Consequently the song does seem longer than the more energetic numbers. A minor criticism, and maybe not justified as overall the song is eminently enjoyable.
Summer's Lease starts as if it is a refined reprise of Salt Water with a gently picked guitar, prominent vocals and nice sax line. However, when the piano/vocal section starts one realises there is a different underlying melody with a higher degree of melancholic and regret at the ending of summer. With a reprise of the musical theme from Hope This Finds You, the album closes as it opened, having come full circle.
With the band already back in the studio recording material for the next album, English Electric, a collection of new and re-recorded older songs, and Nick D'Virgilio once again lending a hand, it looks like BBT's time might have come. If you have not heard any of BBT's previous albums or have been disappointed by what you have heard, then perhaps now is the time to discover this resilient band of English Boy Wonders.
Leo Koperdraat's Review
The prog community has always had difficulty liking Big Big Train, especially on their first three albums Goodbye To The Golden Age Of Steam, English Boy Wonders and Bard where they mixed progressive rock with pure pop. These albums showed that BBT’s main man Gregory Spawton was a very talented composer still trying to find the right direction. But prog lovers seemed to find it a bit dull. With their fourth album Gathering Speed the Bournemouth based band made a step forward. The album told the story of a British fighter pilot during the battle of Britain. On the album they mixed their love for Genesis (circa Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering) with more modern influences like Oceansize and Mew. And now, three years after Gathering Speed they release The Difference Machine.
In the months before its release The Difference Machine was hyped somewhat on the internet. First there were the comments on the web log of Jem Godfrey (of Frost fame), who predicted that BBT could well be the 2007 dark horse of prog on the basis of what he heard of the new album on BBT’s MySpace site (see link aboove). And secondly there were rumours of Spock’s Beard and Marillion members guesting on the album. And now the album is released, is it any good? Yes it is! It is a very good album.
First; the album cover looks great with the beautiful paintings of Jim Trainer (Check out his myspace site), whilst lyrically the album is about, and I quote Gregory Spawton:
“The overall concept is influenced by the butterfly effect, which is used to illustrate chaos theory. All the songs take place within a moment of time where seemingly small events can have monumental effects”.
I did not get the concept - I thought that the lyrics dealt with more personal matters - but then; English is not my native language.
The album’s opener Hope This Finds You introduces the albums first two guests; Becca King on violin and Tony Wright (guest on various IQ albums) on alto saxophone and these two play an important role on this album. Hope This Finds You is a beautiful little instrumental with next to the two guests only Gregory Spawton on keyboards and guitars. The song reminded me a bit of Bowie’s Berlin period and Japan’s Quiet Life album. It’s a deceiving opening because after that the foot is on the gas and we enter full on prog territory with the brilliant Perfect Cosmic Storm.
An edgy guitar motif with distorted vocals opens the song and then we’re off with Perfect Cosmic Storm which has an incredible drive and, as the rest of the album, sounds confident. Dave Meros and Nick D’Virgillo of Spock’s Beard guest on bass and drums, with Tony Wright who plays an important role on the song, delivering a mad Van der Graaf Generator sax solo at one point in the song while playing a beautiful melody next. Vocalist Sean Filkins has a good voice while Gregory Spawton sings back up vocals, which results in some beautiful harmony parts. The song is a rollercoaster ride of moods. For instance; after nearly twelve minutes a Hammond driven section is followed by a jaw dropping edgy guitar section followed by beautiful harmony vocals. Wow. It’s BBT’s first perfect mix of old progressive rock and modern alternative rock music. It’s an instant classic!
After that we need some breathing space and the short instrumental with the same title provides just that. Then it’s time for the second longer song of the album to take centre stage; Pick Up If You’re There. This time, next to the other already mentioned guests, Pete Trewavas of Marillion replaces Dave Meros on bass. Pick Up If You’re There follows the same route as Perfect Cosmic Storm, less spectacular, but still there is plenty to enjoy, especially the extended instrumental break near the end.
Following the very short instrumental From The Wide Open Sea we come to Saltwater Falling On Uneven Ground, (Jem Godfrey raved about this song on his web log), and it’s the first song that features the other band members Andy Poole (bass) and Steve Hughes (drums). Keyboard player Ian Cooper doesn’t appear to be part of the band any more, leaving Gregory Spawton as the sole keys man. ‘Saltwater’ is a very modern sounding song and with its guitar effects, use of reverb and heavy and quiet passages, sounds very much like the earlier mentioned Mew and Oceansize. The album finishes very nicely with Summer’s Lease in which the first half shows BBT’s poppier side. A track that could have been a song off English Boy Wonders. After three minutes the song speeds up, finally returning to the melody of opening track Hope This Finds You.
The album has a great modern sound (producer Andy Poole did a great job with Rob Aubrey mixing), but what really draws the attention is the fact that BBT sound confident on this album as if they finally found their sound and direction. And that is giant step forward. And you know what; Jem Godfrey was right, with The Difference Machine, BBT have made a damn good album. One of the best progressive rock albums this year, at least for me.
Three - The End Is Begun
Tracklist: The Word Is Born Of Flame (3:24), The End Is Begun (3:42), Battle Cry (4:03), All That Remains (3:54), My Divided Falling (3:51), Serpents In Disguise (3:24), Been To The Future (4:21), Bleeding Me Home (3:47), Live Entertainment (3:27), Diamond In The Crush (3:41), Shadow Play (4:07), These Iron Bones (4:09), The Last Day (7:51), Bonus track: Dregs (Acoustic Version) (3:28)
Despite the name US rock band Three from Woodstock, New York are the archetypal five piece. They comprise Joey Eppard vocals/guitar, Billy Riker guitar, Daniel Grimsland bass, Chris Gartmann drums, and Joe Stote percussion/keyboards and (it says here) attitude. Their touring career took off nationally in 2003 supporting the likes of Coheed and Cambria, and more recently Porcupine Tree. The End Is Begun is their fifth album in five years. Introductions over, what do they sound like? Quite different from their label mates it has to be said. This is mainstream rock with a liberal dose of metal, prog and pop sensibilities with rich vocals and hook laden melodies. They even manage to work generous measures of acoustic guitar into the songs. For me the end result brought back memories of Extreme and their 1992 epic III Sides To Every Story.
They kick start the album (and I mean kick start) with the double header The Word Is Born Of Flame and The End Is Begun. The opening track lulls the listener into a false sense of security with rippling acoustic guitar and a graceful melody reminiscent of The Beatles’ ballad And I Love Her. An explosion of power guitars create an atmosphere of mounting tension and even with the not-so-original statacco marching riff from Deep Purple’s Child In Time, Genesis’ The Knife and a zillion other rock tracks it works a treat. It segues seamlessly into the title song, which combines an infectious vocal melody with a monumental Led Zeppelin edged riff. Eppard’s vocal gymnastics are outstanding, ranging from the ridiculously high to the impossibly high. A stunning intro by anyone’s standards but this is no fluke; the quality level rarely dips throughout the following fifty minutes.
The band display their song writing skills with a flare for strong melodies and memorable choruses with All That Remains, Serpents In Disguise, Bleeding Me Home and Shadow Play all being fine examples. They evoke a number of vocal influences including The Beatles, Crosby Stills & Nash, Geddy Lee and even a young Ozzy Osbourne. Throughout the harmonies are excellent. In fact given the album’s concept of an impending apocalypse the mood for the most part is refreshingly sunny and upbeat. The aforementioned All That Remains together with Battle Cry, These Iron Bones and My Divided Falling show off their prog abilities with some soaring guitar breaks and sublime keyboard moments. The instrumental barrage in the latter is within a hairs breadth of the intro to the Yes-West epic Endless Dream from the Talk album. Echoes of Rush can also be heard throughout the album.
The bands heavier side is not to be overshadowed as exemplified by Live Entertainment, Diamond In The Crush and These Iron Bones, serving up metallic riffs and crunching guitar dynamics. With the proceeding tracks all averaging four minutes the penultimate The Last Day stretches to almost double that length. Resonant Ant Phillips flavoured acoustic guitar and reflective vocals set a pastoral scene. With the arrival of electric guitar at the half way mark it takes on a psychedelic ambience joined by guest drummer Jerry Marotta who adds a world music feel. The bonus track is a live unplugged version of Dregs a song from the last album Wake Pig. It features some gutsy acoustic guitar and forceful vocals but given that the album contains thirteen original tracks it does seem an unnecessary addition.
Being unfamiliar with the band’s previous work it would be impossible to make comparisons, suffice to say that the craftsmanship here would take some beating. I try to avoid singling band members out for individual praise but Eppard’s input is undeniable. In addition to the expressive vocals and guitar work he also provides the wry and perceptive lyrics. All music and production is credited to the band with topflight soundmen Roman Klun and Toby Wright contributing to the excellent sound. The only downside as I see would be faithfully recreating songs like The End Is Begun live. Nonetheless given its across-the-board appeal and several potential singles this is an album that deserves to find a huge market. Unreservedly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Various Artists – Rock In Asia
Tracklist: Zettaimu – Oiran (3:33), Seven Collar T-Shirt - The Boohoorah Theory (2:12), The Ocean Band – Change (4:50), Microwave - Chien Tranh (4:19), Typecast - Will You Ever Learn (4:39), Pete Teo - Jesselton Tonight (5:01), Adenosine Tri-Phosphate - Itsuka Kit (4:43), Pentagram – Fear (4:15), Ugly In The Morning - Stupid ‘A’ Song (3:26), ST12 - Rasa Yang Tertinggal (4:03), The Old Kings - Trying To Be Calm (5:27), Rita Lestariani - Keraguan (3:07), Swackhammer – White Horses (4:05), Suzuki Band - All Night Long (4:02), Names Are For Tombstones - Dreams Of Grandeur (4:03), Hang Tian – Cold Water On My Head (4:20), The Curtis King Band - Take My Hand (6:42)
It must be a sign of old age when you have to ask for someone’s help to open a CD case. This release comes in a glossy digipack that was sealed along two edges instead of the customary one, which had me beaten. If my teenage daughter hadn’t come to my rescue then this review would never have seen the light of day. Fortunately the music is a lot easier to get into than the packaging. Rock In Asia is exactly what it says on the tin (or digipack) with 17 acts featured from Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and China. 10% of the sales of each CD will be donated to the charity CRY (Child Rights and You) so fingers crossed that the content would justify a respectable DPRP rating.
So what do you get for your modest outlay of $10? Well quite a bit actually, and for those that find such things helpful, I thought I’d go with a track-by-track analysis. Although I’ve included the country of origin in each case this won’t be particularly insightful in terms of the music. The songs are mostly highly westernised, so if traditional ethnic sounds are more to your liking then you should look elsewhere. Over two thirds of the songs are sung in English with scarcely a hint of an accent. Some of the bands also include members who originate from Europe and the US with The Old Kings and The Curtis King Band each being prime examples.
Zettaimu (Japan) Oiran. The only band here that’s not new to the DPRP having recently featured in a Japanese Feature. It’s a steamroller of a song with a pounding riff from the guitar and bass of Hisashi Furue who also provides the keys support. The drummer lays down a solid pattern and the piercing vocals of Kanako put me in mind of Siouxsie Sue. An OK if not earth-shattering opener.
Seven Collar T-Shirt (Malaysia) The Boohoorah Theory. In contrast this is a deceptively mellow and atmospheric guitar driven song that’s far too short for its own good. With a compelling guitar hook, infectious vocal from Saiful Ridzuan and a chorus that I can’t get out of my head this is a throw back to Del Amitri at their tuneful best.
The Ocean Band (Singapore) Change. A memorable mid-tempo song with excellent bass work from Dave D’aranjo and superb piano from Uwe Vogel, providing some of the albums strongest performances. The first class chorus benefits from a good vocal performance from Neve Chen even if he does sound uncomfortably close to Ronan Keating!
Microwave (Vietnam) Chien Tranh. A solid piece of guitar metal with heavy weight power chords that certainly has the necessary crunch factor. The vocals are lively enough but lack the required oomph to give it conviction and it’s a tad repetitive for my tastes.
Typecast (Philippines) Will You Ever Learn. Brit-pop Pilipino style with English lyrics and a clear nod in the direction of Oasis. Another catchy song with an attractive vocal from Steve Badiola and a no-nonsense, potent guitar sound that the Manic Street Preachers would be proud of.
Pete Teo (Malaysia) Jesselton Tonight. A mellow slice of country rock with a slick sound and top-notch performances all round. Teo’s smooth vocal is a cross between Barry Gibb and Kenny Rodgers joined by a sweet sounding ringing guitar hook. The erthu (a Chinese fiddle) adds an authentic oriental flavour missing elsewhere on the album. The press release describes Teo as Malaysia’s most popular singer/songwriter, which is not hard to believe, as this piece of Americana would go down a storm on Radio 2 in the UK.
Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (Japan) Itsuka Kit. This is pure Cocteau Twins with an engaging vocal from Taata who also provides the atmospheric piano. The juxtaposition of Japanese lyrics for the verses and English for the chorus works well, as does the combination of power and charm, which incorporates symphonic keys effects.
Pentagram (India) Fear. From the sublime to the ridiculous you might say with this assault on the senses from a very youthful sounding band. They certainly expel plenty of energy but sadly it has a harsh demo quality with the drums sounding especially distorted. Thrash-rap strictly for hardcore fans only.
Ugly In The Morning (Singapore) Stupid ‘A’ Song. An engaging mid-tempo pop song that neatly combines jangly African style guitar with more familiar power chords. A good melody, clever lyrics from singer Eric Lee and sweet sounding harmonies bring The Beautiful South very much to mind. The articulate bass work from Clement Yang deserves a special mention.
ST12 (Indonesia) Rasa Yang Tertinggal. A warm and mature vocal from Charly with lyrics sang in his native language. Add a simple but effective guitar backing and first-rate drums and bass work and you have an ear friendly number in a contemporary American singer/songwriter vein.
The Old Kings (Singapore) Trying To Be Calm. When I first heard this acoustic ballad I thought I’d discovered a real gem but the more I play it the blander it sounds. A pity as it contrasts nicely with the other songs here with delicate instrumentation and a breathy vocal from Patrick Linton that has shades of Colin Blunstone. The melody is strikingly similar to Freebird and Dave D’aranjo from The Ocean Band crops up again on bass.
Rita Lestariani (Indonesia) Keraguan. Lestariani’s voice has a tuneful jazz quality that’s somewhere close to that of Judy Tzuke. A fairly mellow offering with a nice line in rich acoustic and Mark Knopfler phrased electric guitar picking from Amith Narayan. Incidentally, in addition to co-writing and producing the song Narayan is also responsible for putting together this compilation.
Swackhammer (Vietnam) White Horses. A laid back and atmospheric song from vocalist Erick Swackhammer aided by lyrical ringing guitar from Tran Minh Duc. Some very pleasant violin and flute backing lends a light orchestral feel.
Suzuki Band (Japan/Singapore) All Night Long. A throwback to 1980’s bubbly pop ala Altered Images partly due to the striking voice of Kathryn Dwyer. An infectious song it also benefits from a sharp guitar sound and a pulsating bass line from bandleader Hal Suzuki.
Names Are For Tombstones (Philippines) Dreams Of Grandeur. AKA multi-instrumentalist Nono, taking as his pseudonym a quote from the Bond film Live And Let Die. The track certainly lives up to its title with strident synths, dramatic percussion and stirring choral voices with just a hint of bombast. A rare excursion towards prog territory and the work of Vangelis and Bjorn Lynne.
Hang Tian (China) Cold Water On My Head. This has a country and western feel with honky tonk piano and slide guitar. Tian’s vocals have a hint of Bob Dylan further endorsed by his harmonica playing. It’s pleasant enough but not really my cup of tea.
The Curtis King Band (Vietnam) Take My Hand. A song recorded in support of the Vietnam Agent Orange Victims Fund provides a fitting close. King’s warm rasping vocal suits this slow burning anthem that has echoes of U2. The man himself provides some very tasty Eric Clapton flavoured guitar joined by the glorious sound of a 21 string zither from Zhang Nan. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s that man Dave D’aranjo once again on bass.
So there you have it, a fairly diverse selection of tracks albeit mainly falling into the mainstream pop/rock category. Not much in the way of progressive rock it has to be said but no less enjoyable for that. What counts here are memorable melodies, strong hooks and a catchy chorus. The standard of musicianship is high but won’t have most prog practitioners losing sleep. On those terms it works well with Seven Collar T-Shirt, The Ocean Band, Typecast, Ugly In The Morning and Suzuki Band in particular doing it for me. The sound quality is understandably variable from track to track but mostly very good. The packaging is impressive (once you get it open) including an extensive booklet crammed with band pics and info. I’m not convinced by the artwork however, which reminds me of the tacky album covers popular during the 1970’s. So yes the songs are prog light but it’s given me a great deal of listening pleasure over the past few weeks and I really couldn’t ask for much more from a CD.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Little Tragedies - Chinese Songs Part 1
Tracklist: I'm Sitting In Front Of A Full Cup Not Drinking (4:34), Absorbed In My Thoughts (7:22), Sitting Carefree In The Shadow Of The Pavilion (7:37), At The WIndow (4:32), There Came An Unexpected Guest (10:25), Wanderer (13:07), Do You Remember How We Said Goodbye? (4:02)
Chinese Songs Part One is the seventh album by Russian symphonic rock band Little Tragedies and as the album title suggests, the music has an Oriental theme to it. They even take it as far as using ancient Chinese poems, translated into Russian of course, for the lyrics. I should also mention that some of these poems are over a thousand years old! Musically, there are many nods towards older prog bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes and even Genesis. One thing I have always liked about discovering bands from other countries is that, along with the usual influences, there are many references to the music of the culture in which the band originated and this is no exception, as there seems to be strong hints of traditional Russian classical music here. While it sounds as if all the ingredients for a great album are present here, there are some major flaws. One of the biggest issues I have is the almost complete lack of substance and dynamics in some of the songs. This wouldn't be a big deal if they were just segues that lead into other songs but, they comprise over half of the album. However, there are also some pretty strong pieces on here.
Chinese Songs Part One begins with I'm Sitting In Front Of A Full Cup Not Drinking. This is the first of many songs on the album that begin slow with just piano, saxophone and vocals and continue in this fashion throughout almost the entire length and while not the best track to open with, it does exemplify what some of the other songs are like on here; very soft, meandering and even a little boring. Sitting Carefree In The Shadow Of The Pavilion and Wanderer suffer the exact same problem. The latter song is over thirteen minutes in length and not even once does it build up from a whisper of synth, vocals and oddly placed Chinese themed scales. There is nothing that pulls the listener in. Ambience is a great tool for tension and resolution but, unfortunately there is no resolution in these songs.
Absorbed In My Thoughts is my favourite song on the album. They really let their Emerson, Lake and Palmer influences shine on this one, begging with some very frenzied keyboard lines, excellent drumming and a very odd but interesting saxophone theme that reccurs throughout. This song is what progressive rock is about - different time signatures, many melodies and virtuosity from all the musicians. Absorbed In My Thoughts proved to me that Little Tragedies are a very capable and talented band. Why they didn't choose to show this on some of the other songs is beyond me.
Unlike the first three songs I mentioned, There Came An Unexpected Guest and Do You Remember How We Said Goodbye? make effective use of dynamics. There Came An Unexpected Guest starts very soft in much of the same way as the songs that came before it but, after about two minutes it begins to get interesting, with some excellent piano, synth and distorted guitar take over and form what sounds like a nod towards Dream Theater. Do You Remember How We Said Goodbye? uses the exact same technique but only on a smaller scale. The song is mostly piano and vocals with the guitar, synth and drums only making a brief appearance before disappearing as quickly as they came.
At The Window is different from most of the other songs on the album as it is almost solely influenced by Russian music. This makes for an interesting change of pace and is what I like to hear when I listen bands from different demographics.
I have waited until now to comment on the vocals because I feel the music should speak for itself. While at first the Russian lyrics were out of place, it really only took a few listens to get completely past that. I know many non Swedish speaking prog rock fans who enjoy Anglagard - Hybris. I'm not Swedish but I can fluently sing every word to it. If you approach lyrics like I do then you shouldn't have any problem getting past this.
As a whole this album is not bad at all but, it seems as if many of the tracks lack inspiration and direction and I have trouble listening to it on one sitting because of this. Fans of the softer side of prog will most likely enjoy this as will fans of the bands already mentioned, although this really isn't something I can see myself coming back to very often though.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Apeyga - Forward
Tracklist: Pinstripe (2:26), Liberatus (3:33), Rise & Shine (3:43), Galaxies (3:10), The End of Reason (3:22), Traveler (3:59), 151 (3:04)
Back when I attended junior college, the guys on campus were fans of fusion. I never thought I’d be writing about the genre some twenty some-odd years later, the sophomore release from California instrumental band Apeyga having recently arrived in my mailbox.
Apeyga was formed by brothers Justin and John Peloian in 2003. They started as a bass and guitar duo at various open mic events and eventually added a drummer, Colin Popadiuk, to creat a full band. In August of 2005 Popadiuk departed and was succeeded by Kyrt Hensch, and the band released Forward in 2006.
Forward is a vibrant incorporation of light, lush melodic numbers like Liberatus and harder tracks like Rise And Shine. Effects pedals are kicked into fifth gear across the disc, flavouring five of the seven tracks. And these jams are tight, with each song under four minutes. Apeyga seem to be shooting here for quality, not quantity. There are a few evident comparisons to other bands here, most obviously King Crimson. Pinstripe and Liberatus evoke Discipline-era Crimson and would not be out of place during the 1983 Champaign-Urbana record sessions for that band’s Three Of A Perfect Pair release. The End Of Reason, with its monstrous wall of noise, would sit well aside The Construkction Of Light. Other influences abounding here and there, whether deliberate or otherwise, include Rush, Television, Providence, R.I. experimental noise-core duo Lightning Bolt, The Cocteau Twins, and indie instrumental band Tortoise.
The self produced disc shines with excellent sound quality and deft musicianship. And judging by the amount of fan testimonials on the band’s website, they are apparently a phenomenal band to see live. According to the date and cities listed on their site they have not toured outside of California. It would be great to see them do that someday.
This is a band with a great future ahead of them, no doubt. In future releases they could even grow and improve as a band more by experimenting with longer tracks. The other area of opportunity, perhaps most obvious, would be for them to add vocals and lyrics.
Forward will appeal to anyone who likes eighties-era Crimson and instrumental jams in general. The disc will probably not appeal to many women, as most of the women I know favor the lyrical aspect of music as opposed to the instrumentation. If you’re not into Crimson or instrumental music in general, this disc may not be for you.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Life On Earth - Look!! There Is Life On Earth
Tracklist: Life On Earth (6:08), Sell Your Soul To Me (3:41), City By The Sea (5:13), Life Turns Fast (4:56), Endless Variety (2:33), Barefoot On Tiptoe (4:19), Bubble Of Magic (3:08), You Are There (9:22), After A Few Years We Settled Down, Got Kids And Bought Our First Car (4:20), Last Chapter Of Dreaming (1:08), Right In Between (4:26), Bonus track (28:25)
It’s incredible how much musicality there seems to be in Sweden. Musicality with an international appeal. It all started with the popularity of ABBA at the start of the seventies, but did not stop there with the Cardigans and Ace of Base as other prime examples. The Swedish also proved to be very good in making progressive rock. Landberk, Anglagard, Kaipa, The Flower Kings, Anekdoten, Ritual and Carptree are all part of the great progressive history and present of Sweden’s prog, and the last four have all released excellent albums this year!
Another success story was Sweden’s Dungen. This band centred around Gustav Ejstes released their, I believe, third album Ta Det Lungt in 2004. A strange but vibrant mix of psychedelic rock and Swedish folk. All songs were sung in Swedish, but suddenly the album was picked up by college radio stations in The States and the album became a world wide success. There Is Life On Earth main man Mattias Gustavsson played percussion on one song on Ta Det Lungt and bass on Dungen's 2007 release Tio Batar. On Look!! There Is Life On Earth Gustavsson gathered around a lot of his musical friends and they started recording in 2003, and most of the names are completely unknown to me, I have to say. The contributors I do know are the earlier mentioned Gustav Ejstes on violin and Mia Doi Tod on vocals.
The sleeve reminded me a bit of paintings by Jeroen Bosch - dark and mysterious. The music however is not dark at all and uplifting is a more appropriate word. The title track, which opens the album, starts with a two minute flute solo by Erik Lundin and after this very enthusiastic opening the title track develops into a nice pop song. This song sets the tone for the entire album - fresh sounding pop folk songs with some psychedelic influences. Nice enough vocals which reminded me sometimes of English pop band Turin Brakes. Barefoot On Tiptoe for example is very representative for a lot of the twelve songs on the album - a very beautiful light psychedelic pop song and with Gustav Ejstes on violin and Erik Lundin on flute performing a nice duet to end this song.
Some songs are a bit different as on Life Turns Fast where we hear a Beatles guitar riff followed by another guitar part which could be taken directly from Absolutely Free by Frank Zappa. At the end of this song we are treated to a Brazilian (Bossa Nova) sounding outro with lots of percussion. And all of that within five minutes. But above all its a very nice song. Unfortunately this song is followed by the very dull Endless Variety. You Are There starts as a ballad but then after nearly three minutes changes in an atmospheric piece with piano, voices and lots of other sounds (a cross between Zappa´s Lumpy Gravy and The Beatles Revolution Number 9). Very well done. The bonus track however is very disappointing, a 28 minute sound collage-drone which is simply too boring.
All in all this album made me feel good and will definitely finds its way into my CD player again. You can hear that Life On Earth had a lot of fun making the album. However it’s not really prog at all - some of the psychedelic parts are a bit Pink Floyd (circa Ummagumma) and some of the acoustic songs have a King Crimson I Talk To The Wind Feel, but that’s really it. If you like pop music firmly rooted in the 60s with some folk and psychedelic influences then you should check this album out. If you're looking for prog (and that´s what DPRP is all about) then this album is not for you.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10