Issue 2007-071: Quidam - Alone Together - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Quidam - Alone Together
Tracklist: Different (3:16), Kinds Of Solitude At Night (6:00), Depicting Colours Of Emotions (10:18), They Are There To Remind Us (7:49), Of Illusions (8:04), We Lost (8:26), One Day We Find (6:46), We Are Alone Together (8:20), P.S. But Strong Together (4:25)
Ed Sander's Review
Two years ago Quidam proved that they had survived and revived with their wonderful album SurRevival. This was also the debut of Bartek, the new singer who had replaced the lovely voice of Emila. Quite a task, but Bartek's wonderfully warm delivery and his superior skills with the English language resulted in the more than positive outcome. The rhythm section of the band had also changed, but the presence of the band's melodic core of guitar, keyboards and flutes guaranteed that the characteristic Quidam sound remained, although it started to lean towards a more moody approach; something that had already been present on the Time Beneath The Sky album. With Alone Together our Polish friends have another winner; an album that will definitely end up in my personal Top 3 of 2007.
There's good news for those who liked SuRevival: this new album continues in the same direction. There is however even more emphasis on the things that made that album such a treat. Again we get an album that is at times highly emotional while at other times it oozes frustration and anger. These feelings are captured with a diversity of musical styles, with influences of jazz (check out some of the bass lines and drum patterns!) and blues rock and also the early Porcupine Tree style that sneaked into the music two albums ago. This is music that grabs you and brings up emotions hidden deep inside. This is what music is supposed to be about.
The album sounds even more consistent than SuRevival, which seems to indicate that the band is gluing better than ever. Gone are the songs that sometimes appeared on the earlier albums and seemed strangely out of place. Every minute on this album is pure quality. Take for instance the short album opener Different: over the course of just three minutes we are treated to a lovely piano-vocal ballad, an enormously beautiful xaphoon (sort of a bamboo flute) solo by Piotr Rogoz (the husband of former lead singer Emila) and a heart wrenching guitar solo. You're blown away, and we're just three minutes into the album !
Talking about Emila, she makes a wonderful appearance as backing vocalist in Kinds Of Solitude At Night. First time I heard this duet section between her and Bartek I looked out of the window and a rainbow had appeared in the sky after a short shower (honest!), as if to provide the video that should come with the music. Other great ingredients are wah-wah guitar and a zither played by Emila's husband.
As on the previous album, songs rarely linger in the same style, rhythm or intensity for long. Take for instance the album's longest song, Depicting Colours Of Emotions, which starts very tranquil but builds towards a middle section with great 'power chords' (as some would call them) and no less than two different guitar solos before quieting down again. Amazing !
They Are There To Remind Us has the secondary title 'Queen Of Moulin Rouge', laying a lyrical bridge to SurRevival. The track itself is one of the more 'rocky' and up-tempo songs on the album, including a jazzy piano interlude. Of Illusions continues the rock mode of the album. It also contains a jam-like breakdown with nice percussion and shuffles by drummer Maciek. After the more powerful two tracks the emotional intro to We Lost is a welcome change. Before long the song changes to a typical Quidam song with a prominent melody role for the flute, while the song ends in a battle between guitar and a nice dissonant sax solo.
Time to let out some frustration and anger in the relatively heavy One Day We Find, which deals with the theme of discrimination and racism. The instrumental middle sections brings back memories of the Time Beneath the Sky album. The same goes for the long end section of We Are Together Alone, which has the same early Porcupine Tree-style as the instrumentals on that album, including tasteful percussion and psychedelic guitar and synths. But let's not forget the wonderful piano work by Zbyszek in the first half of the song and how Bartek recites part of the lyrics as a poem. This song is an instant classic.
Even though the last song deals with the harshness of music critics, the song itself is a wonderfully up-tempo and light-hearted tune. Quite a welcome diversion after the emotional tracks that precede it. This one is almost radio-friendly and leaves you with a positive and fulfilled feeling after listening to the full album.
The songs leave a lot of space for the wonderful flute solos by Jacek Zasada. Guitar and keys gladly take a step back to offer him the well deserved attention. As a matter of fact the extensive use of flutes is a trademark for Quidam and gives it it's characteristic diversity and warmth. Unlike others I don't have any problems with Bartek's voice. As a matter of fact, I think it suits the warmth and mysterious style of the music very well. Take for instance his vocal delivery in We Lost. It lives and breathes the theme of loneliness and his lyrics grab you by the throat.
Guitar player Maciek Meller deserves a special mention as well. On this album he displays a wide range of styles, proving that he can play on par with some of the greatest of this earth. At times he sounds like Clapton or Jeff Beck (as on Water's Amused To Death), while other moments remind you of Oldfield or Gilmour. Mariusz bass lines are arm and pleasant, leaving spaces and playing runs at the right times. Listen to the warm opening of Depicting Colours Of Emotions for a fine example.
The album has a comfortable length of sixty three minutes. Fortunately the band stay around the one hour mark and don't fall for the temptation of filling the CD to the rim. As a matter of fact, the album might even have been a bit more listenable with one track less. I would have a hard time picking the song to drop though ...
Last but not least, let me mention the wonderful artwork for the album by artist Florczak. His design returns in the booklet in the form of fragments and silhouettes, together with the clearly printed lyrics - which in themselves are a work of art.
After all this praise, I have only one complaint about the album. The titles of the individual songs form one sentence that captures the concept of the album. "Different Kinds Of Solitude At Night Depicting Colours Of Emotions, They Are There To Remind Us Of Illusions We Lost... One Day We Find We Are Alone Together..." . The album's theme is loneliness and estrangement; the band's website explains it's 'about being "alone together" in various sorts of relationships - with a friend, a partner and the family'. As such this seems like quite a smart idea since the song titles belong together but stand alone as the names of the different songs.
So far the arty-farty approach, now a more practical one. As with any name for a person, object or piece of art the title helps to refer to it, gives it part of it's identity. In their current form only the title track (We Are Alone Together) works well, since the lyrics actually include the words 'together alone'. For all of the other songs the titles have nothing to do with the lyrics of the songs. This makes it very hard to tell the different songs apart; you never really know which track you are listening to and you wouldn't be able to describe the songs just by their titles. This is already annoying for the casual listener, let alone somebody who tries to write a review of the album. I have found myself making up my own names for the tracks instead (Is Anybody Still Alive?, Come With The Darkest Night, Don't Look Back, What Goes Up Must Go Down, Words Upon the Wall, Alone and Confused, Slave, Alone Together and Dig A Grave for Me). You'll probably find that you'll come up with your own alternatives when listening to this otherwise excellent album ...
Edwin Roosjen's Review
Alone Together is the logical next step after SurREvival. On their previous album half the staff was replaced which resulted in a newborn Quidam, however this new album features no personal changes at all, therefore a drastic change in sound is not to be expected. Quidam still creates symphonic rock the way it was invented. The guitar solo's have a very Pink Floyd-like sound, combined with the mellow vocal passages this album will appeal to Magenta fans.
Most amazing on this new album is the flute playing by Jacek Zasada, the melodies together with the guitar are astonishing. On SurREvival, Bartek Kossowicz's debut for Quidam, the vocals were not the best part and the new album shows no improvement on that point. A bigger problem I have is with the drumming which lacks excitement and variation. He is repeating himself a lot and his rattling percussion during mellow parts is sometimes annoying. When looking at the song titles it becomes clear they form a sentence together, a nice trick but the content of the songs are not adapted to it's title, therefore on some songs the link between music and song title is very strange.
The opener for their previous album received the 'skip award 2005', but Different opens differently with mellow piano and vocals and ending with a Pink Floyd like guitar solo.
Kinds Of Solitude At Night is a beautiful song, progressive rock the way it should be. A dreamy song with beautiful solo's. The drums keep this song going in a steady pace but should be put more to the background during the mellow parts. Magenta fans will love this song.
Depicting Colours Of Emotions starts fragile with a bass intro and flute melodies. The first half of the song remains very fragile with the main focus on the beautiful flute melodies. Exactly halfway the song changes and it's time for a heavy section in a Riverside style, whilst the ending sounds more like Marillion than Marillion themselves these days. A cacophony of all the instruments working their way to a gentle ending. One of the highlights of the album.
They Are There To Remind Us begins like a poppy Peter Gabriel song. The chorus is very heavy and shows that Bartek's voice is not that powerful. A jazzy piano opens the much more interesting second part of the song, with symphonic melodies and time changes in the style of The Tangent, that will certainly stick in your head.
For the start of, Of Illusions, the drummer has been put in rock-mode. This song has a catchy chorus with brilliant lyrics. Too bad these cannot be related to the song title, this song is a victim of the confusing fact that all song titles should form a sentence. Again lot's of changes, beautiful solo's and the jungle percussion in combination with the flute is a nice find. The song ends like a rock song with finally some decent drumming. For me the best track on the album.
We Lost is a very beautiful song but also contains some missed opportunities, with the drumming and vocals sounding very uninspired. But the worst must be the sax solo, it is unexplainably dull. This song contains the best guitar and flute interaction and the guitar solo and the fast jazzy ending is absolutely superb. Too bad for the missed opportunities in what could have been such a beautiful song.
One Day We Find is the opposite of We Lost. A slow pounding rock song with powerful drumming and the vocals are much more energetic. The instrumental part is very mellow and the rattling percussion has been exchanged for some fitting drum roles. Are these the same guys?
We Are Alone Together ... is largely an atmospheric piece a bit in the style of Riverside. One would suggest that it is the end of the album, especially because the drum part at the end is faded very very very slowly. But from out of nowhere P.S. ... But Strong Together starts in a musical encore kind of way. In a short song all the elements of Quidam are shown. Nice flute solo, heavy guitars and jazzy drums. Unfortunately Bartek's voice is again not really exciting. The first line he sings on this song is 'I'm so excited', it sure doesn't sound like he is.
This is a beautiful album in the way symphonic rock was invented. The flute playing on this album is of immense beauty, with the interaction between the guitar being the best part of this entire album, amazing. When listening to all that beauty you have to take the sometimes uninspired drumming and vocals for granted. It definitely succeeds in that but sometimes I still have the feeling that it could have been better.
Leo Koperdraat's Review
Sometimes a reviewer gets off on the wrong foot with a band because of some pre-conceived ideas he or she has of a band. That’s exactly what happened to me with Quidam. Having never heard one single note of this Polish band I immediately volunteered to participate in this RTR. I had read a lot about Quidam and what I knew was that they made relatively relaxed (neo) progressive rock in the vein of Camel with lots of flute work and a female singer. You can expect my confusion after listening to Alone Together for about two minutes. Did I get the right CD? The above mentioned description of Quidam’s music used to be (sort of) true but with 2005’s SurREvival they re-invented themselves and made some drastic changes. Three new band members and a more modern sound led to a totally different Quidam. After SurREvival, which I haven’t heard, they now release Alone Together.
The beautiful album cover reminded me a lot of the Collage album Moonshine. It’s a design by Michal Florczak and you should check out his website for some more beautiful designs. The cover represents the central theme of the album very well. Lyrically the album deals with different kinds of loneliness and estrangement. Being alone while being together. All lyrics on the album where written by vocalist Bartek Kossowicz, who has a nice (but not great) voice, with the ability to bring a lot of emotion into his performance. The lyrics he writes will be recognisable for many. He is also clever with lyrics because if you read all the song titles after one another you get a sentence that explains the albums theme. The album sounds amazing. It has a very clear and open production that makes it possible to be able to listen to all the different instruments on the album. And then the music ...
Quidam's new style has a very modern progressive rock sound that can be compared to bands like Sylvan (their Presets album), The Third Ending, Moongarden (on Round Midnight), Porcupine Tree and even some Pure Reason Revolution. The songs, that all are band compositions, are firmly based within the verse-chorus tradition, however, this forms often just the basis of the song. Most songs are expanded with interesting instrumental breaks. There are also a lot of guitar solos from Maciek Meller, who has a very diverse style that sometimes reminds me of Pink Floyd (solo at the end of Depicting Colours Of Emotions and the short introduction to We Lost). Keyboard player Zbyszek Florek plays a very important role on the album, but more in the ‘atmosphere’ department or supporting role for the rest of the band, rather than with solos. Jacek Zasada’s flute work is amazing.
What immediately becomes apparent after one single listen to the album is the almost ‘commercial’ sound of some of the songs. And I mean this in a positive way. The songs nestle themselves into your head straight away as long lost friends. The band really paid a lot of attention to the melodies and that shows. It’s difficult to mention particular highlights on the album as all the songs are of a very high level. However; the second part of Depicting Colours Of Emotions is very exciting as well as the instrumental break in They Are Here To Remind Us. The incredible opening melody and instrumental break (great bass playing!) in Of Illusions. The alto sax solo by album guest Piotr Rogoz in We Lost. And finally the last song of the album ...But Strong Together shows in four minutes all the things that makes Quidam such a wonderful band.
Are there no points of criticism? Yes there are some small points. First of all I would have liked to have heard more diversity during the solo spots. Most of the big solos are by guitar player Meller and although he is a gifted player I would have liked to hear more in solo department by Florek and Zasada. My second point of criticism has to do with We Are Alone Together. It is a beautiful ballad but it outstays its welcome by at least three minutes. Especially the extended fade out of the drums in this song seems pointless as it is not even the end of the album.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was expecting something entirely different but Alone Together really made a big impression. The album contains some excellent modern sounding progressive rock songs that will appeal to a lot of prog fans. Recommended!
Bob Mulvey's Review
I debated for some time as to whether or not to participate in this Round Table Review. Not a reflection on the band, who I admire immensely, but more due to time constraints at this time of year. Whilst assembling this RTR however and listening to the album, I felt compelled to add a few words.
For those who have not checked out this band, then I really think you are missing out on something rather good here. Especially for those who enjoy their prog with liberal doses of melodic guitar, superb flute, crafted lyrics finely executed, ambient atmospheres and a strong rhythm section. Musically the band uphold the traditions of prog, but are not afraid to add a commercial edge to their sound. Commercial, that is, in a more Peter Gabriel fashion (which often Bartek Kossowicz has more than a passing resemblance to), or Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree or perhaps even at times Spock's Beard, rather than any chart commerciality. For those more familiar with the band, the music on Alone Together is a natural progression from 2005's SurRevival. Those moodier elements being expanded upon along with a grittier rock edge. The incorporation of jazzy elements (They Are There To Remind Us) also adds greatly to the appeal of the album.
Debate followed the departure of vocalist Emila Nazaruk from the Quidam ranks, a debate that is not confined merely to Quidam, but one that surrounds the departure of a strong frontline person from a band. How would they fair without her strong presence? Well to be honest, rather well, with a sensible, but not too drastic change in direction. And in Bartek Kossowicz the band have a frontman with a distinctive voice, perhaps not to all tastes, however I found it befitting the music. He adds an emotional texture to the lyrics and I particularly like the breathy (with a little rasp) quality he employs during the quieter sections. As alluded to above the references to Peter Gabriel can be found as early on as in Kinds Of Solitude At Night. Interestingly this track sees Emila adding some fine "backing vocals".
The rhythm section of Maciek Wróblewski (drums) and Mariusz Ziółkowski (bass) form a very strong backbone to the music with Wróblewski adding a more modern slant to the music with his busy but precise style. Florek's keyboards are ever present, seldom intrusive and always complimentary. Don't let this suggest however that his role is not essential to the overall sound, Florek just employs those sounds you might expect to hear in a more subtle fashion. His piano work is also worthy of note, adding greatly to the music, as do the careful choices of sounds employed for the chordal structures. Not quite what you might expect, but again adding a more modern slant to the music. The instrumental top line is taken by guitarist Maciek Meller, who adds not only the grit to the songs, but also displays a fine grasp of how to employ the guitar within the music. From the delicate to the powerful... The final ingredient is Jacek Zasada who plays the dreamy flute lines that prevaricate the music. Not in an Ian Anderson fashion (although some of flourishes might have come from the man himself) but by adding subtle textures - We Lost - being a prime example. Wonderful.
What I like about these guys is that whilst they are definitely a prog band, they start from a song base and expand upon it. So the instrumental sections always seem an extension of the song rather than some overblown display of musical gymnastics. This can be found in the splendid They Are There To Remind Us – with a fine display of interplay between Florek, Meller, and Zasada, that does not outstay its welcome. Another plus is the lack of any “padding” – no long atmospheric keyboard washes in order to flesh out the material, with perhaps only the long fadeout in We Are Alone Together seeming a tad superfluous. Perhaps more fitting if it had been used to run out the album. Standout tracks... they are all very strong in their own way.
Quidam are a band that have matured with every new album and as with their previous release the production values are very high with all the parts being transparent and well mixed, especially in the heavier sections. Even the delicate flute parts are never lost within music. So with fine artwork courtesy of Michal Florczak this is certainly an album worthy of investigating and even purchasing. I see this release appealing across the prog community, certainly fans of early Seventies prog should find much of interest here. Along with this fans of Eighties Neo-prog wouldn’t find this album out of place, nor should any discerning prog fan from any era.