Reviews in this issue:
- Little Atlas - Hollow (Duo Review)
- Spaced Out - Live At The Crescendo Festival
- Geoff Tyson – Slow Mad Descent
- John Edmonds - Burn Down The Sun
- I Am Above On The Left - An A-Bomb To Wake Up
Little Atlas - Hollow
Tracklist: Hollow (5:02), Silence (10:47), Paranoiac (5:47), Contumacious (4:28), Preying (4:45), Orderly (5:05), Hiding (5:50), Stage (4:32), Symbiosis (7:14), Special (4:05)
Geoff Feakes' Review
The ambiguous face within a face artwork on the cover of the fourth album from Little Atlas speaks volumes about the music. Hailing from Miami, Florida this is a band with hidden depths. On the surface the songs display a contemporary song based prog style that would appeal to fans of Echolyn, Marillion, Cryptic Vision and Spock’s Beard especially. Further investigation however reveals rich instrumental work that owes much to the classic bands of old. Hollow follows the very well received (by the DPRP at least) 2005 Wanderlust album. With their roots dating back to 1994, the band comprises Steve Katsikas (vocals, keyboards and saxophone), Rik Bigai (bass, synths and cuatro), Rod Strattman (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals) and Diego Pocovi (drums and percussion). Providing additional vocals is Joanna Katsikas.
Lead by a punchy chorus the purposeful title track combines fat power chords with crisply melodic electric and acoustic guitar fills. The full on bass sound has been previously likened by a DPRP colleague to Dave Meros, which I would largely agree with. The excellent drum work has a precision and weight that brings Mike Portnoy to mind whilst Nick D’Virgilio is a close comparison for Katsikas’ assured and expressive vocals. His backdrop of synths hang relatively low in the mix on this occasion but the keys become more prevalent on later tracks as does his saxophone playing. Speaking of which the hazy ambiance of the intro to Silence nods its head in the direction of Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond accompanied by a sultry sax break. Excellent drum work drives the tempo upwards before lyrical piano and guitar brings things to a stately conclusion.
Paranoiac is resplendent with a beefy guitar and Hammond sound joined by syncopated verses and mellotron to add a touch of bombast to the chorus. The majestic synth solo is pure Keith Emerson lending a supercharged ELP sound circa the Trilogy album. In contrast, Contumacious is an understated song with a relaxed vocal delivery and smooth harmonies. Although written by Strattman this is not a guitar feast but instead he provides a spacey guitar break in the songs latter part. Preying continues in the same vein before a snatch of sampled dialogue at the mid way point is followed by an unexpected burst of psychedelic pop. It recalls The Beatles in I’m Am The Walrus mode complete with cute “la la laa” harmonies. Following a reflective piano led intro, Orderly comes as close as any of the songs here to SB. It develops into an energetic guitar and organ workout that has the Alan Morse and Ryo Okumoto stamp of quality before a typically proggy ending.
Tranquil piano and acoustic guitar lend an elegant ballad like atmosphere to Hiding. The drum punctuations are superb as is the soaring David Gilmour like guitar solo towards the end. A change of pace once more for Stage, which has a fast and slick King Crimson style sound alternating with a breezy vocal part. It features solid bass work throughout joined by a cutting guitar break. Symbiosis has some real heavy weight moments with monumental drumming and lighting fast metal guitar soloing. In the more strident moments Katsikas’ voice seems to go out of its way to sound like Metallica’s James Hetfield. Penned by bassist Bigai, Special is a gentle strummed acoustic guitar and piano lament providing a surprisingly lightweight conclusion. The rich harmonies once more hark back to The Beatles joined by waltz like percussion. More Emerson style synth work to close this time echoing the famous solo from Lucky Man.
Given the positive reviews picked up by the last album it was a no-brainer that I would be onto a winner with Hollow. I was unprepared for the sheer quality on display however suggesting that the band has raised the bar by several notches. To my jaded ears the juxtaposition of confident song writing and proggy instrumental passages works a treat. The bands sense of melody and technical prowess demonstrates a rare potential to straddle the void between mainstream appeal and prog credibility. The excellent production with mastering by Joe Palmaccio plays a not inconsiderable part in achieving a highly deserved recommendation from this reviewer at least.
Tom De Val's Review
Miami’s contribution to progressive rock is pretty limited, but if you’re only going to produce just the one prog band, then you might as well make it a good one! Little Atlas impressed me with their 2005 release Wanderlust, and I’m happy to report that the quality has been maintained on their latest (fourth) release. Hollow is, to all extents and purposes, a concept album, but those not keen on the often unwieldy format of these things needn’t worry here – the ten songs take the form of character studies, told from a first-person perspective, and are in themselves distinct individual songs – I’m reminded of label-mates Man On Fire, who used a vaguely similar technique on their Habitat album. The songs are, in fact (and as a general rule) more concise than those on Wanderlust, and shows that the band continue to develop as songwriters.
Having just re-read my review of Wanderlust, I’ve realised that to describe the band’s sound in any detail would be to repeat myself, so I’ll point you to the second paragraph of that review! In a nutshell, this is modern, generally up-beat US prog rock, occupying the same general ballpark as Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, Izz and the like. The influences of the seventies greats such as Genesis and ELP shine through more in the instrumentation than the songs themselves, particularly main-man Steve Katsikas’ keyboard playing – he seems to have acquired even more of an armoury of vintage keyboards here than on Wanderlust, and the warm tones of the Hammond and mini-moog add a good deal of colour to songs which, if taken on their (often dark) lyrical basis alone, could have come across as less approachable. Indeed, whilst I singled out guitarist Roy Strattman last time out, this time around its Katsikas who takes the limelight, not only through his fine keyboard playing and songwriting but also with his vocals – seemingly more assured than on previous albums, his voice perfectly gets across the various emotions and thoughts expressed by the different characters, and he manages the trick of conveying high drama without being overly theatrical (if that’s not a contradiction in terms!)
Song-wise, the first three tracks in particular stand out for me and have to rate as the best I’ve heard from the band to date. The title track has a slightly dark feel to the driving, jangly verses, before dovetailing into a catchy, symphonic chorus. The rich, densely layered but crisp sound is worthy of note, no doubt helped by the fact that the band have employed Grammy Award-winning engineer Joe Palmaccio to do the final master. There’s a great flow to the whole song, and the mellower coda works well in conjunction with the darker nature of the song as a whole.
The epic Silence is a real treat. The moody opening is sketched out by Katsikas’ saxophone playing, bringing to mind David Bowie’s late 70’s instrumental work on albums such as Low and Heroes. The song moves fluently through its varied sections, showcasing both the more pastoral side of their band (although its pastoral with a haunting edge) and at their most bombastic and strident – the build up of the main instrumental section, founded upon a relatively simple clockwork rhythm, is a joy to behold, and both Katsikas (in his keyboardist guise) and Strattman get to have real fun on this one. The only possible criticism I have of this one is that it should perhaps be placed towards the middle of the album, as for me it’s the centrepiece.
Paranoiac completes this golden trinity; a quirky rhythm is established by bassist Rick Bigai and drummer Diego Pocovi around which Katsikas trades notes on his Hammond with Strattman’s bluesy riffing. The vocals in the verses are half whispered and carry a distinct air of menace about them – reading the lyrics, they seemed to be similar to one of the storylines from The Lord of The Rings, where Gollum jealously guards the ring from Frodo (at least, that’s my interpretation). The powerful chorus features a heavier vocal style from Katsikas, whilst the instrumental interpretation of a person overtaken by madness is cleverly done. Strattman’s short but sweet guitar solo towards the end of the song, fluent and emotive in a Gary Chandler vein, is just the icing on the cake.
If the rest of the album carried on to this (extremely high) standard we’d be talking album of the year contender; to my mind, it doesn’t quite reach these heights but that’s not to say the rest of the material is lacking – far from it. Contumacious is based around a simple (and rather sad-sounding) strummed acoustic chord pattern and tabla drums, with Katsikas’ vocals striking the right balance between laid back and emotive. Preying features an odd juxtaposition of dark lyrics and heavy power chords with some almost reggae-ish sections (well, The Police/ Rush style ‘reggae’ anyway), whilst Orderly comes on like As The World-era Echolyn; polished and catchy prog/pop which finds room in its structure for Strattman to really let rip with a great multi-note solo.
Hiding is a ballad which gradually intensifies as it goes along, although I prefer the earlier section, where the instrumentation is sparser and Katsikas’ vocals take the central role in proceedings. The rather biting Stage takes lyrical pot-shots at all the insincere poseurs out there, and there’s some great guitar work by Strattman to accompany the bile-filled lyrics – I could detect an Alex Lifeson influence in his playing on this one. Symbiosis is a complex multi-part track which probably bears the most resemblance to the material on Wanderlust, whilst the closing Special for me is a bit of an anti-climax – not that special at all really, although it flies by breezily enough.
Overall, Little Atlas can certainly be proud of what they’ve accomplished on Hollow – a fine modern-day prog rock album that certainly contains enough to appeal across the prog rock spectrum. Quite why the band are still almost completely unknown, even in the prog rock world, is a bit of a mystery to me, but hopefully the quality of this album – along with a strong promotional push from their promising new label – will widen their fan-base considerably.
Spaced Out - Live At The Crescendo Festival
Tracklist: Seven The Seven (8:20), A Freak Az (5:05), Toxix (5:48), Infinite Ammo (5:06), New Breed (6:06), The Fifth Dimension (5:45), The Lost Train (6:47), Unstable Matter (6:55), Antimatter (5:32), Blood Fall (5:50), Furax (6:18)
In late 2003, I acquired a copy of Planet X - Live From Oz during a CD purchasing binge and immediately became fascinated by this unique mixture of fusion and technical metal. Since then, I have been on the hunt for other fusion bands of this nature. One of the bands I came across was Canadian ensemble Spaced Out. Their level of virtuosity really stood out to me and, most importantly, they could write complex music that flowed and didn't sound forced. While a lot of fusion relies heavily on improvisation, the music here is structured really well with some occasional solos by guitarist Mark Trembley and bassist/main composer Antoine Fafard. Although many comparisons can be drawn between them and other bands like Tribal Tech and Planet X, they have a sound that is all of their own.
The first thing that really stood out on Live At The Crescendo Festival was the excellent sound quality. All of the players are perfectly balanced in the mix and there is no muddiness and audio loss that seem to be present in some other live recordings. In fact, if it was not for the audience in the background this could easily pass as a studio recording. There is a lot of piano in the mix but, there is no credit as to who is playing. This may have been added later in the studio. A great move because it adds a lot of structure to the overall sound, especially during solos.
The highlight of this show is, without a doubt, Antoine Fafard. He is an excellent bass player with chops that could match many of his contemporaries, not to mention that he writes most of this complex material. Mark Trembley has an excellent legato technique not too much unlike what Allan Holdsworth and John Petrucci employ. Drummer Martin Maheux doesn't miss a beat and has no trouble keeping up with the plethora of odd time shifts. In terms of quality and musicianship, this one of the better live recording I have listened to. All of the musicians are at the top of their game.
Live At The Crescendo Festival is an excellent place for people new to the band to start. It gives many great selections from their previous studio albums Unstable Matter, Eponymus II and Spaced Out. If you are into fusion and want to take deeper dive into the genre than look no further than Spaced Out.
As a bonus, this CD contains a music video for track Antimatter and a DVD excerpt of the song Art Attack Part 2.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Geoff Tyson – Slow Mad Descent
Tracklist: Supernova (3:17), Polyrhythms (4:22), Reminders (2:19), You Again (6:03), Mean Street (4:08), Riverblue (3:41), Goodbye (4:09), The Urge (4:11), Antidote (2:43), Paved In Gold (4:02), Believe (4:25)
Geoff Tyson is most known for his contribution in the rock band T-ride. He is a Joe Satriani student and he describes his music as Prince meets Pink Floyd. So what will that bring? The fact that Geoff plays all the instruments himself is the only link to Prince I could find, thankfully. Another effort by Geoff Tyson is the software called TysonApp. This application enables music fans to listen to the album on their mobile phones. This also includes extras like an animated album booklet, lyrics, music videos, guitar lessons, screensavers, ringtones, and a direct connection to Geoff Tyson himself. He invented this to work around the monopoly of the music industry machine, extracting the slow moving middlemen, and it's more earth-friendly. I couldn't test it myself because I am one of the very few people not owning a mobile phone.
The first two songs have a bit of a grungie vibe, after which the rest of the album is more easy melodic pop music that sometimes reminds of RPWL, well known for their Floydian approach. The melodies and the laid back singing creates a sound a bit similar to Blackfield, but not as dark. Supernova starts like a tragic hip song and the chorus could be from another Canadian Bryan Adams. On Polyrhythm Geoff is really trying to create a hit-single, not the best song on the album but it has that instant niceness that could get him a larger audience. Also the erotic music video could make that possible. As Geoff himself states: "It’s guitar-driven rock you can listen to while you’re shagging". Watch the uncensored music video and judge for yourself.
After two grungie songs the short instrumental Reminders is the door to the more gentle sounding songs. You Again starts very nice with a RPWL like guitar playing. This is the longest song and contains some pleasant keyboard solos. This song sounds a lot like Blackfield and is the most progressive one on this album.
Mean Street is a Van Halen cover but this is not what you expect from a Satriani student. He has turned it into a swinging pop song that sounds a lot more pleasant than the original. Riverblue just like before has that RPWL sound, whilst Goodbye has more eastern influences reminiscent of a Led Zeppelin song. The Urge starts off horribly with a cheap pre-programmed organ beat, but when more instruments are added in it becomes a pleasant song that you find yourself singing out loud in the streets. Antidote is mainly instrumental and guitar lovers will recognise some elements from his teacher Satriani. Paved In Gold and Believe are both slow guitar orientated pop songs.
Geoff Tyson has created a very good album. Although it contains progressive elements the majority will find this album too poppy. There is no flaw on this album nor is it outstanding. Slow Mad Descent will make a very good choice for people interested in some easier laid back music and people who like to ... Ah well, let's watch that music video again ;-). The distribution of the album on CD seems to be delayed, but it's available as a digital download and you could try the TysonApp on your mobile phone.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
John Edmonds - Burn Down The Sun
Tracklist: Sky Slumber (5:37), Exodus (7:10), History Of The World (6:25), Crater Love (6:45), The Prisoner (6:40), Going Home (7:02), Hideaway (8:00)
The man of mystery returns once more... and I wish I could offer you some background info regarding John Edmonds, but other than the fact that he lives New Mexico, plays a Chapman Stick and Burn Down The Sun is his third studio album - I know little else. Even a visit to John's website will only give you links to his music. And perhaps he may well have it right there, as ultimately it is the music that is our primary concern.
Back in 2003 myself and fellow DPRP reviewer Chris Meeker favourably reviewed his first release Subzerosonic, a collection of "ambient music, space-rock, and instrumental fusion" instrumentals. Thoroughly engrossing if you listened intently enough, or just great relaxing music if you just wanted to pop the headphones on and chill-out. All the music, playing and production on Subzerosonic was courtesy of John himself and the same applies here with his latest release.
Imagine if you will a gentle but driving percussion base with some soothing ambient keyboard washes, deftly played piano chords and with the subtle bass and lead lines performed via the Chapman Stick. No... well in my previous review I suggested a comparison to King Crimson's The Sheltering Sky and I still think that comparator remains relevant here. As with all DPRP reviews you can follow the links above and listen to audio samples from this album.
I have to admit that Burn Down The Sun took me a while to get into and this purely boiled down to the vocals. Now as a preference I tend to lean towards instrumental and heavily instrumental music anyway, so that should be taken into account. However John Edmonds possess a very, (very), deep and gravely voice and one that didn't immediately appeal. Having now sat with this album for a couple of months John's voice has grown on me and I would say perfectly suites the music. Also befitting the music are the lyrics and John has chosen as a backdrop his countries past for inspiration - with tales from the deep American Wild West.
Burn Down The Sun isn't going to appeal to all, but if you are need of some great chill-out music then this album (or Subzerosonic or When Schemes Come True) may well fit the bill. The recording and production values are top notch and if anything better than John's two previous releases, mainly as they sit more comfortably and are more subtly incorporated. Wisely John has kept Burn Down The Sun to around the three quarter of an hour mark. I say wisely as the tempo and much of the music from the album remains fairly medium paced and uniform - drawn out over the full CD capacity this could well have become somewhat tedious. As it stands the album feels to be just the right length. Enjoyable stuff!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
I Am Above On The Left - An A-Bomb To Wake Up
Tracklist: The Elephants Will Never Come Back (5:54), To Swallow A Wasp (3:10), The Korova Milk Bar [vomitorium] (2:45), Mr. Father (6:08), Ptichee Moloko Versus Virus (4:06), Z N E D O [220.127.116.11] (5:35), My Kidney Is In Bloom (5:49), Deaf In The Morning (6:52), Lucifer's Hammer [How Many Distortions Sleep Within An A-Bomb?]
I Am Above On The Left (or IAAOTL for short) is an experimental rock quartet comprising Alexei Taroutz and Artemiy Galkin on guitars, Pavel Eremeev on bass and Sergei Ledovski on drums. As may be guessed from the names of the musicians the group hail from Russia, Moscow to be precise, and An A-bomb To Wake Up is their second release. Purely instrumental, the group are influenced by "art-jazz-nova-hardcore, pop-noise, math-rock and avant-garde". If that confuses you then don't worry as the music label in the press release has stated that the album is "too overwhelming and complicated for an average listener to listen to, and much less to understand". Don't know if that is reverse psychology but to me that doesn't seem to be the best marketing campaign ever!
Right, cards on the table, you either get this type of 'music' (heavy on the inverted commas there folks!) or you don't and, to be honest, I don't. Discordant, chaotic, angular and the most insane time signatures mixed together doesn't make this an easy, or come to that, pleasant experience. What is remarkable (or put another way, worrying) is that none of this album is improvised as all the pieces are apparently all carefully constructed (albeit in a rather deconstructed manner).
The titles are irrelevant and I wouldn't even dream of trying to describe differences between the tracks; listening to this album must account for some of the most deranged 44-minute periods of my life. If you are into seriously avant-garde music with crashing guitars, feedback and all sorts of sonic escapades then IAAOTL may be your idea of heaven. Otherwise this is the type of album that keeps members of the Noise Abatement Society awake at night gnashing their collective teeth.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10