Reviews in this issue:
- Root - Wooden Hill
- Oceansize - Frames (Duo Review)
- Earthling Society - Tears Of Andromeda
'Black Sails Against The Sky'
- Dungen - Tio Bitar
- Heart Of The Sun - Heart Of The Sun
Root - Wooden Hill
Tracklist: Wake Up (7:45), Time Breathes (10:40), So Sorry (5:45), Wooden Hill (5:40), Lifeline (9:20), Hollow [Part i ~ Hollow, Part ii ~ Four Corners Of The World] (8:50), Find Your Freedom (6:16), Grown (5:10)
Wooden Hill is the sixth album by über-talented David Kendall under his musical sobriquet of Root. It has been two years since his last album Illumination and I for one have been looking forward to this album. This new album effortlessly blends the more laid back and melodic approach of Illumination with the more overt progressive sensibilities of the double Resolution album of 2003. On this new album, Kendall has gone back to exploring the sounds that he can get out of his guitar, which he considers his primary instrument, and using the keyboards in a more supporting role. Which is not to say Kendall has gone all plank-spanking six string maniac: the characteristic Root melodies, harmonies and layering of textures are present - indeed it is possible the Wooden Hill is the most sonically gorgeous album to appear by this one-man music machine.
The album is replete with great hook lines, little flourishes (such as the pizzicato string effect on Time Breathes) and, of course, some great guitar playing. The albums seems to be an exploration in what the guitar is capable of, in terms of the range of sounds and textures that can be elicited from the instrument. With careful listening once can hear all sorts of almost subliminal additions to the songs that subtly merge to form the complete song. One can only wonder how may overdubs have been laid down on some of the tracks. But don't get the impression that this is an album with extraneous elements fighting against each other to be heard. Take the aforementioned Time Breathes, there are periods of uncluttered simplicity, for example during the incisive guitar solo which leads into a brief, almost pastoral piano and acoustic guitar section followed by a more restrained solo. Again, the range of guitar sounds gives the piece a variety that maintains the interest and makes the track fly past. It also happens to contain my favourite lyric line of the past few months - "Penny for your second thoughts"!
I have been unable to get the chorus line from So Sorry out of my head ever since first hearing it. A big production number that wraps the rather melancholy lyric in a warm and soothing cloak. The title track, Wooden Hill, is, I believe, the first instrumental Root number. More aggressive than what has gone before and a more upfront use of keyboards. The guitar solo is exceptionally well recorded with the faintest trace of reverb; one can literally hear Kendall's fingers lifting from the strings. The upbeat tempo is maintained on Lifeline and onto the two-part Hollow. Okay, so perhaps there is rather an excess of the layered vocals providing a very characteristic sound throughout, but it is executed very well and doesn't distract from any of the individual tracks, and does add a lot to most. Four Corners Of The World, the second part to Hollow features some great instrumental passages (is that a sitar at the beginning?!) but ends rather abruptly, it would have been nice if it had been extended a few bars longer and flowed into Find Your Freedom. A funky bass line permeates this song, which I do think suffers from a bit of over-production. I think the song could have benefited from being pared back a bit, less of the vocals and more prominence on the acoustic aspects of the song.
The album ends on the joyously up-beat Grown an unashamed pop song with a great twin guitar solo. I can imagine a band like Take That (no doubt the first mention of that band in a prog review, but they are a seriously good pop group!) taking on such a song and making it a stage favourite - well it would be one way of increasing the female prog audience!
Wooden Hill is another fine album by Root. The artwork is quite literally a work of art and as much care and attention to detail has gone into packaging the album as has been administered to the music. Available for a very reasonable price from the Root website, the album is a good investment of anyone's time and money.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Oceansize - Frames
Tracklist: Commemorative T-shirt (8:37), Unfamiliar (6:32), Trail Of Fire (8:07), Savant (8:07), Only Twin (7:22), An Old Friend Of The Christies (10:20), Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions (6:42), The Frame (10:09)
Tom De Val's Review
Oceansize are a young band from Manchester who, in my humble opinion, aren’t nearly as big as they should be. Amongst the progressive rock fraternity particularly, they’ve been ignored almost completely, despite already having released two excellent albums, 2003’s Effloresce and Everyone Into Position (2005). Partly this may be due to these albums being released on the Beggars Banquet record label, who certainly target the alternative or ‘indie’ audience more than the prog rock set, but I would also argue that its due to the fact that the band make music which is extremely hard to put into one category. Think of the ‘build and release’ post-rock exploits of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the emotion-drenched yet hard-edged sound of Anathema and Porcupine Tree, the grandiose, symphonic epics of Muse and the anthemic rock of Manic Street Preachers; Oceansize incorporate elements of all of these band’s sounds, yet maintain their own distinct identity. Perhaps the biggest pointer towards the band’s sound is their name – this is certainly expansive, ‘big’ sounding music.
In the promotional material, the band’s singer and guitarist Mike Vennart attempts to explain the differences between Everyone Into Position and Frames thus:
While I see what Vennart is getting at here, this is a bit misleading – yes, several of the tracks on Everyone Into Position are more immediate and perhaps easier on the ear than anything on Frames, but that’s not to say that the new songs lack melodic hooks or memorable passages; you just have to dig a little deeper for them. I would agree however that there are several passages where Oceansize have clearly thrown caution to the wind, and this sense of adventure, in the main, adds to the records appeal. A simplistic, one-fingered piano melody introduces us to opener Commemorative T-Shirt, and sets the scene for a hypnotic 8+ minute journey, with the band gradually embellishing the song around the same simple melody, with drums and bass bringing their own rhythmic structure to proceedings, and new band member Steven Hodson introducing some psychedelic keyboard swirls. Vennart’s cool but emotional vocals here have a distinctive ‘indie’ twang to them, sounding almost like Oasis’ Liam Gallagher in places. The intensity builds and builds, until a feedback-drenched guitar solo is finally unleashed, cutting through the tension.
As if in defiance to Vennart’s comments quoted above, next track Unfamiliar is both melodic and anthemic, if unpolished; a little in the vein of the EIP track You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down. The early part of the song is more upbeat, replete with pulsing bass, choppy riffing and shuffling drums driving us into a frantic chorus where Vennart’s voice fights against a wall of sound. Shimmering melodies, entwined guitar melodies and some fine close harmonies rise to the surface in the more mellow latter part of the song.
A simplistic but sweeping guitar figure gradually draws us into Trail Of Fire, an almost symphonic piece which certainly strays into Muse territory; Vennart even seems to echo Matt Bellamy’s style of dwelling at length on certain words. Plenty of build-and-release dynamics at work here, and there’s yet another hypnotic melody which gets under the skin. Some unusual, shifting rhythms, unexpected changes of pace and plenty of wah-wah pedal action keep the listener on their toes, and once again the song reaches a thundering crescendo before skilfully subsiding.
Savant keeps the symphonic elements to the fore; again it builds slowly, with languorous keyboard notes setting a rather mournful, melancholy tone, only accentuated by lyrics such as ‘while others fly, you and I crashland’. A robotic yet dextrous drum pattern drives the song, and Vennart’s vocals (not for the first time) sound like there coming through a vocoder, which adds to the similarity to the Anathema track Closer. The moody, tender multi-tracked vocals which break through on the eventual chorus lead the song into ever more intense territories, with the orchestration suitably swelling and overpowering the other instruments, although I do feel this song promises more than it eventually delivers.
Only Twin opens with a twinkling, almost nursery rhyme-like keyboard melody, with Vennart’s semi-spoken vocals delivered in an odd meter. In fact, all the instruments seem to be playing in a slightly off-kilter rhythm, which actually works here and adds to the song’s effectiveness. Once again the orchestration makes its presence felt, and the song builds towards the big release at the end, which has echoes of The Bends-era Radiohead.
An Old Friend Of The Christies not only has a great title, but is also one of the highlights of the album. A totally instrumental piece, the first half of the song may, however, drive those not enamoured with the post-rock stylings of the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor! to distraction, with its long portentous organ notes, repeated guitar motifs and persistent bass drum. It may appear to some to be going nowhere fast, but I happen to feel it’s a highly atmospheric build up to the time when the band inevitably let rip with some satisfyingly powerful, feedback-drenched riffs. Some shimmering melodic touches incorporated into the latter part of the song are the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.
Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions is something of a wake-up call, and a bit of an anomaly on an album dominated by slow to mid-paced material; the stuttering riffs and heavily treated, often shouted vocals almost made me think I’d put on a Meshuggah track by accident! A chaotic, off the wall track which probably won’t appeal to all, despite a more typically melodic refrain, it’s also noticeable for some distinctly un-PC language!
The album ends with The Frame, which is far more in keeping with the overall mood of the album, and once again weaves a hypnotic spell through the sparse, intertwining guitar strumming of the opening couple of minutes through the bubbling, evocative melodies and almost sing-along chorus of the main body of the song to the soaring guitar solo’s that weave around the closing section. An appropriate and highly satisfactory ending to the album.
My main criticisms of this album would have to be that it is a bit ragged around the edges, could probably have done with some pruning and does lack some of the stick-in-your-head-for-days melodies and polished edges of its predecessor. But this probably misses the point, which comes back to the initial quote – that the band is out to make music that they want to hear, more than what an intended ‘target’ audience might want them to produce. Thankfully, I think they’ve managed to please both parties, and Frames is an album that comes highly recommended, particularly to fans of the likes of Muse, late nineties-era Porcupine Tree and the better bands in the post-rock genre.
Martien Koolen's Review
Manchester’s kings of post-metal have released their third album and it is probably their best effort so far. I have only heard these guys once, when they were on tour with The Porcies and back then I actually did not like them at all. Lots of people know Oceansize from songs like Music For A Nurse (featuring in the Orange fish adverts) and of course the soundtrack from the US drama series The OC, called Meredith.
The new CD opens with a staggering song called Commemorative T-shirt (great title, by the way), which has a beautiful piano and guitar intro, followed by some heavier guitar riffs and a couple of really cool, heavenly guitar solos. This song actually reminds me of Porcupine Tree and Anathema and I really did not expect this sort of music from these guys... Unfamiliar kicks off with heavy, doomy guitar melodies, followed by up tempo hooks and even heavy metal riffs, again referring to the music of the Porcies.
Trail Of Fire is another highlight, presenting those typical melancholic English melodies and moods. Here the heavy guitar riffs and the rather melodic guitar solos really dominate this dark but extremely great song. This is probably the best Oceansize has ever come up with, although the instrumental song on this CD, called An Old Friend Of The Christies is also a sheer beauty. Here the rather long organ intro with pounding dream beat dominates the song, which is further filled with lots of guitar hooks, riffs, grooves and solos. In fact it is a rather weird instrumental song, but nevertheless great to listen to.
The song Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions is the only let-down on this extremely surprising good album. It is a true chaotic song, with dark vocals, screaming guitars, funky parts and some very bizarre vocal passages, making it almost impossible to listen to for the entire six minutes...
The CD ends with another epic song The Frame, featuring an acoustic guitar intro, followed by lots of orchestral parts and some rather spacey, psychedelic guitar solos and strings. I am truly surprised by this album as I have been listening to Frames almost everyday now and I still discover more interesting musical things every time I listen to it. Frames is Oceansize’s most cataclysmic work and it is also their loudest and without any doubt their best. Give it a try and I think that you will like it. Listening tip: Commemorative T-shirt!
Earthling Society - Tears Of Andromeda
'Black Sails Against The Sky'
Tracklist: Wromg! (7:16), Black Country Sorcerer (6:00), Miss Liberty's Morning Dew (5:03), Lucifer Starlight (11:10), A Song For John Donne (14:31), Tears Of Andromeda - Black Sails Against The Sky [a. Tears Of Andromeda, b. Stars In Nova, c. Easter] (20:11), (Almost) Transparent Blue (3:07)
Lancashire based Psychedelic spacerockers release their third album Tears Of Andromeda 'Black Sails Against The Sky' sees the group follow on from their Krautrock influenced Plastic Jesus And The Third Eye Blind. Based around multi-instrumentalist Fred Laird the rest of the band comprises drummer Jon Blacow, bassist David Fyall and Kevy Canavan. However, the latter two musicians only play on one track! The group have developed consistently since DPRP reviewed their 2004 album Albion. This is evident from opening instrumental Wromg! with a slow spacey opening developing into a bass heavy melodic piece with guitar soaring in the upper register. Very atmospheric and uplifting I can envisage this track being used on the soundtrack as a triumphal conclusion to an appropriately genre of film.
Black Country Sorcerer takes the mood down to a gentler level, with waves of synths underpinning dreamy vocals and a gently tinkling piano. Quality dips a bit with Miss Liberty's Morning Dew mainly due to the high-pitched vocals which sound rather strained and in competition with the guitar at the beginning of the song, although the instrumental coda raises the level somewhat. From here on in things get interesting with three long tracks that allow the band to develop their own brand of psychedelia. Lucifer Starlight has a relatively slow and gentile start of acoustic guitar and storm drum prior to an extended guitar work out that maintains the restraint demonstrated throughout the acoustic section. A Song For John Donne (the 17th century metaphysical poet and preacher) is also relatively sedate with a rather freakier beginning leading into a mellow vocal section which has a rare beauty that at times reflects some aspects of first album Hawkwind before an extended "epileptic flute" (played by Laird) section carries the song to its conclusion.
The epic title track is the obvious focal point of the album. Upping the tempo, the lead guitar flays around laying down the rhythms and textures that are so important in a piece of this length. However, it is not simply an incoherent space jam but has an underlying form and structure that develops and evolves throughout the piece. Vocal sections are brief and rather understated, coalescing with the instruments that they support. As with a lot of music of this type, the listening environment plays a huge part in getting the most out of this track: a darkened room, headphones and the right frame of mind allows one to drift away on the vibe and natural flow of the piece. Although ostensibly it may seem that there is an element of randomness to the performance, there is an inherent musical narrative that draws the listener along and into the music. The peaceful, almost tranquil, ending fades gradually before final track (Almost) Transparent Blue delivers a soothing ending to the album.
Earthling Society are living up to their early promise and are forging their own successful identity within the psychedelic/spacerock community. On the basis of this album it is not hard to understand why.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dungen - Tio Bitar
Tracklist: Intro (3:43), Familj (5:41), Gör Det Nu (3:04), C Visar Vägen (4:29), Du Ska Inte Tro Att Det Ordnar Sig (3:26), Mon Amour (8:43), Så Blev Det Bestämt (3:57), Ett Skäl Att Trivas (2:59), Svart Är Himlen (2:13), En Gång I År Kom Det En Tår (3:45)
Reaction to Dungen's forth album, Tio Bitar, Swedish for Ten Pieces, has been decidedly mixed. The Guardian newspaper likened it to dim-witted 1970s rock while Stylus Magazine gave it a perfect rating as a great work of escapist art (and seemingly the best thing to emerge in the entertainment world since the trio of Back to the Future films). What there is no doubt about is the proficiency of Dungen's main composer, producer, engineer and player of the most of the instruments Gustav Ejstes who has put together a rather diverse album that stretches from the peak period of 1960s psychedelia right up to the contemporary sounds of today. Ejstes is assisted by the impressive talents of guitarist Reine Fiske, who also plays bass.
With no pretence at subtlety, Intro blasts off with a major guitar assault only to be contrasted by the acoustic guitar that accompanies the more folkish Familj. Tio Bitar is full of such contrasts: the organ, flute and strings on the lovely and tranquil instrumental C Visar Vägen being the polar opposite of Mon Amour which starts off simply enough but soon evolves into a hard rock riffing reminiscent of Deep Purple and Blue Cheer. Så Blev Det Bestämt is another tune that changes its identity as it progresses. The piano, violin and acoustic guitar set things off in a more sedate folk manner which is gradually pushed aside by an increasingly dominant drum beat and organ, with a sitar-guitar solo giving the song an Eastern influence.
The briefer tracks, such as Ett Skäl Att Trivas and Svart Är Himlen, display the more mellower and melodic side of psychedelia with both laying on the harmony vocals and the latter song containing a particularly nice piano motif. All of the songs are sung in Swedish, which is not a great distraction as Ejstes has a pleasing voice and his phrasing is easy on the ear. Etsjes is a relatively unsubtle drummer and the rather basic nature of his drum fills primarily act as a driving force behind the songs and therefore works best on the faster numbers. However, he does a very good job on album closer En Gång I År Kom Det En Tår where everything gels together: flute, piano, fuzz-laden guitar, and dreamy atmospherics in the background.
Despite having no idea what the songs are about, this doesn't seem to matter and after a few listens I found myself humming along to the vocal melodies, particularly on Du Ska Inte Tro Att Det Ordnar Sig. So, all in all, a heady mixture of an album with elements of psych, pop, folk and even dashes of prog making it ten distinct pieces that work well together and also in isolation. By no means a classic album of any genre but still holding enough of interest to warrant investigation and withstand repeated playing.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Heart Of The Sun - Heart Of The Sun
Tracklist: Res Amissa (3:04), The Last Experiment (6:49), Not Through Our Eyes (7:28), Evil Tree (8:35), 1026ad.net (3:57), Into The Black Hole (6:00), Proxima Centauri (8:04), The Invention of God (4:50), Solar Wind (8:29), Sea Of Tranquillity (2:39)
This is a new Italian band, which features a few familiar faces and should hold enough pleasures to interest lovers of both progressive rock and ProgMetal. Interest will be heightened by the involvement of former Time Machine and Arkhe singer Pino Tozzi, along with the former Power Symphony pairing of guitarist Gianluca Ferro and keyboardist and programmer Mark Vikar.
This album really is a game of two halves, of which the first will hold greater appeal to those who enjoy a more metallic prog. The opening four tracks feature a definite crunch to Ferro's guitar work, which at different times reminds me of Dominici, Spheric Universe Experience and Riverside. The Last Experiment has a solid melody, Not Through Our Eyes has a lighter keyboard driven groove, whilst Evil Tree is the darkest and heaviest number.
Things definitely change direction with 2016ad.net, which is a pure jazz fusion-y keyboard instrumental. From that point, the guitar very much plays second fiddle to the keyboards. The power and energy is replaced by a more progressive approach that mixes some modern Neo-Prog with a more laid back prog which reminds me of Polish band Satellite. We change again with the final song, Solar Wind, which is a pretty straight rock ballad.
There appears to be some sort of concept, based around the idea of a nuclear holocaust running through the album, although with no reference to it in the promo sheet and no lyric sheet included, I am unable to unfold the story any further.
The heavier opening songs work far better for me, although that may be due to my preference for a bit of power, although I really do feel that the latter songs have much weaker hooks and instrumental melodies. However it's clear that Heart Of Sun is not afraid to mix up the genres, and to that end, this debut album has plenty of plus points. There is that typical Italian Prog feel to many of the songs on offer, although the noticeable accent to Tozzi's voice may be too much of a distraction for some - couldn't someone have told him by now that English words ending in 'ing' should not be pronounced as ending in 'eeen'?
The album is available in Europe from Swiss-based Galileo Records, and in the USA from the Nightmare label.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10