Reviews in this issue:
- Radio Massacre International - Rain Falls In Grey
- Subspace Radio – Random Ticket
- Kayak - Coming Up For Air
- Sérgio Benchimol – Ciclos Imaginários
- Sean Mallone - Cortlandt
- tr-Ond & The Suburban Savages - tr-Ond & The Suburban Savages
- Hidria Spacefolk – Symetria
- Upsilon Acrux – Galapagos Momentum
- Tim Burness - Vision On
Radio Massacre International – Rain Falls In Grey
Tracklist: Rain Falls In Grey… (17:11), Bettr’r Day-s (11:45), Shut Up (4:56), Syd (2:46), Emissary (8:44), Legacy (3:34), …Far Away (10:56)
Radio Massacre International’s Rain Falls In Grey opens with the title track and after a trippy and atmospheric intro the sound moves towards one reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘60’s output, directly bringing Astronomy Domine to mind with the way the drums kick in and howling, wordless vocal towards the end. After the initial Floyd comparison, the feel becomes more akin to Van der Graaf Generator once the organ kicks in and sax is added. Give it some patent Hawkwind spaciness and you get an otherworldly feeling. The ending again smacks of the stark guitar sound familiar from some Pink Floyd pieces. Excellent opening track – good start!
The heavy Pink Floyd influence should not be too surprising as the face of Syd Barrett stares out from the CD cover and the album is meant as a worthy and sincere tribute to the late lamented genius. What is surprising is that Radio Massacre International are mainly known for their electronic keyboard based space music, but here have chosen to use conventional rock instruments to create a moving memorial and capture some of the feel of psychedlia in 1967-8. The cover art itself is remarkably Gong-like – which it should be as it is by Daevid Allen, his own personal hommage to Syd. The liner notes from R.M.I. read:
"This album is our way of saying goodbye and thanks to a genuine one-off. His passing had an unexpectedly profound effect, despite the fact that he hadn't been near a guitar in more than 30 years. It forced us to consider what an enormous influence he was, despite his space-age ascendancy and equally rapid burnout. He picked up a Zippo lighter, invented glissando guitar and incorporated non-musical sounds into the context of the new psychedelic movement that had hardly had time to leave the conformity of Rhythm & Blues behind. His creation was a particularly English take on what we now call 'rock'...and for those of us engaged in experimental or space rock, the debt is enormous."
R.M.I. comprise British trio Steve Dinsdale (keyboards, electronics, drums), Duncan Goddard (keyboards, electronics, bass) and Gary Houghton (guitar, synthesizers) who have worked together in various configurations since the 70's and formed the current band in 1993. Apparently they have now released an incredible 28 albums (this being their second on Cuneiform) so I kind of wonder how I’ve never heard of them. That said this one is a move away from their usual fare. When DPRP's Dave Sissons reviewed their Emissaries album in 2005 he really liked it but left it unrated due the overt electronicness on show. This one may be the one to get prog fans interested. Overall, this is a very good album. Electronics and space music sounds are ever present but don’t take over in the mix leaving traditional instrumentation to thrive. At times driving bass, pounding drums and swooping, gliding guitar appear to appeal to those fond of the psychedlic prog favoured by early Floyd, Gong and their ilk. 4 long tracks, 3 short, played with energy and abandon where required and thoughtful melancholy elsewhere, this material should hold up really well live. I personally like some electronic prog but wouldn’t call myself a major fan, this album, however, adds additional elements to achieve a distinctive and enjoyable whole.
Opener Rain Falls In Grey… is twinned with closer …Far Away (another long track giving a joint playing time of nearly half an hour) and Barrett fans will recognise the two titles coming together to form a line from Syd’s Baby Lemonade. Far Away starts with mournful solo guitar and continues with a very melancholic feel throughout. The sense of loss is almost tangible. Think the quieter bits of Shine On You Crazy Diamond only more miserable.
Between these two bookends there is some lovely stuff. Bettr’r Day-s comes in on a tasty echo drum sound with strident bass and ethereal guitar floating above. Some laid back soloing adds to a sun baked desert vibe. Bass and drums keep a relentless rhythm, the bass being particularly adept at driving things along. This is so reminiscent of other bands but I can’t quite grasp whom at the moment! This, again, is a very impressive lengthy track.
Shut Up puts us back into more obvious territory for the band with synths and effects bubbling away in a hallucinogenic fog. Quite atmospheric and doesn’t outstay its welcome before merging into the next piece, Syd, a brief and energetic guitar track with more driving rhythm and splashing cymbals with the obligatory spacey weirdness thrown in. Another merge and we’re into Emissary, much longer and laid back with atmospherics galore. Synth chords fade to allow a plaintive guitar and after a couple of minutes a stately organ led theme emerges before a sax and twangy guitar solo add funkiness. Great track. Guest performers provide the sax, wind and electric violin that appear here and there throughout the album, all adding something special to the mix. Next up is Legacy, which comes across like a cool out session after the previous track, sounding vaguely like something off Pink Floyd’s Meddle album with some sax thrown in before …Far Away brings the album to a close.
Lovely and rewarding, this is an album I’ll be coming back to soon and will be sure to check out some more of their mammoth catalogue as this album may the key to the door on them. The balance here between electronica and trippy prog is very good and if you like the bands referenced above I think there’ll be something for you to enjoy here.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Subspace Radio – Random Ticket
Tracklist: Part I: Condition: Look Around (10:26), Level 2 (6:06); Part II: Gears: The Gardener (5:12), Leap Of Lost Faith (5:41), Nothing (4:39), Self-Titled Kingdom (5:38), Random Ticket (8:21), The Center (6:47)
I like when I can to begin by finding for myself, and giving my readers, a frame of reference for a review, some sense at the outset of whether this is the kind of music I and you will be immediately inclined to like or the kind that will take a stretch of taste to appreciate. So it’s both frustrating and exhilarating when I can’t find such a frame of reference, when I can’t immediately say, for example, “This band sound like a cross between The Beatles and Cannibal Corpse” (okay, that’s a stretch, but it could happen!). It’s in a state of mild frustration and exhilaration both, then, that I say that Subspace Radio is, and all to their credit, not easily categorized. But can I at least paint with very broad strokes and say that if you can imagine a band that will occasionally remind you of Porcupine Tree in its less progressive, and Opeth in its less aggressive, moments, you’ll be somewhere in the ballpark?
Random Ticket is the second album (their debut was released in 2004) from this talented Finnish band. I haven’t heard the debut album, but the band’s site tells us that, like Random Ticket, it was a “theme album” – what (I assume) we’d usually call a concept album. I want to begin, actually, by talking about the ways in which this new CD is a concept album and by praising the lyrics – something that I (unfortunately) seldom have cause to do. Sure, a lot of progressive albums have kind of cool lyrics, but far too often, bands (especially younger ones) aim too high, try too hard for a profundity they simply haven’t lived enough to achieve, and so the lyrics turn out rather sophomoric than deep. But this album, I have to say – and despite the fact that, as I assume, English is not the band members’ first language – has some simply excellent lyrics. A few of the songs’ words, in fact, could stand without the music as very good free-verse poetry – better than nine-tenths of what one reads lately in the “literary” magazines. I think my favourite lyrics are those from The Gardener, in which the first-person speaker is mowing the lawn (yes, a homely enough subject) and the progress of his job becomes a seemingly effortless but stunning metaphor in the chorus: “I can smell the grass I cut / with both of my eyes shut / each round is getting shorter / as I’m getting closer / to the center” – the centre of the lawn, of course, but also to the kind of understanding that repetitive physical work can sometimes engender. Well, I won’t belabour the point, but (some awkwardnesses aside), this album has lyrics that are worth paying attention to, lyrics that suggest these guys are not only musicians but thinkers.
As far as any “concept” goes, well, most of the lyrics are written squarely in the first person, and they deal with (I assume imaginary) experiences that the speaker has had. But they’re all quite introspective, creating links between experiences and the speaker’s attempt to understand the effect of those experiences on his own life – so, again, not overreaching but simply thoughtful. (You can get a sense of the rather loose concept of the album, actually, just by reading the song titles.)
And the music itself is more than equal to the lyrics. Most songs rely heavily on Juha Mattila’s guitars, which variously chug away and soar, but check out Teppo Nurminen’s keyboards, too – notably on Level 2 and the über-cool intro to Random Ticket. Max Malin’s drumming and Jarkko Sarén’s bass work, both very fine insofar as they can be heard, unfortunately aren’t served well by the production (more about that in a minute), but what’s most important is that the band is very tight, locking into a complex Opeth-like groove in, for example, The Center and bashing it into submission. I can’t even say which of their two main moods – heavy or light – I prefer, since the band does both well. However, I’ll say they were correct to end the album with one of the songs that best demonstrates their command of the heavy mood – each time the album ends, I just want to start it again. (There’s a trick involved there, too, though: the riff in album ender The Center is the same as the one that kicks in at the beginning of opening track Look Around, encouraging the listener to start all over again.)
I’ve saved my two, mild, criticisms for last. I personally like bassist Jarkko Sarén’s vocals, but I can’t say that they’re particularly strong or compelling. He more than gets the job done, and despite what seems to me a rather limited range, he’s sufficiently expressive; but, especially since he gets no help from the mix, the vocals don’t stand out as they might. And that’s my second and more significant criticism. The production of the album simply doesn’t do justice to the band’s musicianship. Only the keyboards get the place in the mix they deserve; the guitars are a bit sharp, the drums a bit weak, the bass very difficult to hear. The production doesn’t ruin the album, no, far from it; but pretty much everything else about it (the music, the lyrics, the playing) is so good that I just wish we could hear everything better! Well, maybe next time.
This is a fine, enjoyable album; I hope it’ll find a wide enough audience to encourage the band to continue playing and recording – and make them enough money to ensure that their next album gets the production job it deserves!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Kayak - Coming Up For Air
Tracklist: Alienation (3:55), Man In The Cocoon (2:53), Time Stand Still (3:21), Freezing (3:50), Medea (3:47), Daughter Of The Moon (3:41), Undecided (4:09), Sad State Of Affairs (4:23), About You, Without You (3:16), The Mask And The Mirror (4:45), Selfmade Castle (3:33), What I'm About To Say (4:24), Wonderful Day (3:44), Broken White (4:25), Coming Up For Air (6:12)
In 2000 Kayak, super-group during the 70's and 80's, reformed after performing for a television program. Coming Up For Air is their fifth album since their revival and it is clear that Kayak has taken a different approach for this album than on their two previous albums. The mythological (Merlin) and historical (Nostradamus) concepts have been put aside and this album is more along the path of Night Vision. Mainly song-based material and of the fifteen songs only one exceeds the limit of five minutes. Another big change is the fact that Cindy Oudshoorn provides the main part of the vocals, as vocalist Bert Heerink suddenly left during the Nostradamus Tour and on which Cindy was already portraying a character. Besides Cindy Oudshoorn legendary Kayak singer Edward Reekers has returned and bass player Robert Vunderink also provides some vocals.
Predecessor Nostradamus - The Fate Of Man was a large scale project featuring several vocalists. The narrating and the strict story-line made this album a not so easily digestible piece of music. This album however is much more straightforward and fast food for a die hard Kayak fan. Anxiously I started the CD and was completely blown away by the opening song Alienation. The keyboard melodies of Ton Scherpenzeel overwhelmed me. A great opening track that still grabs me every time I play this disc. Immediately pulling for attention is the fantastic voice of Cindy Oudshoorn - her singing was the best on previous Kayak albums, but on this one she even turns it up a notch.
Man In The Cocoon is a short song but it doesn't feel like that at all and when the song is over I was amazed that so many things can be put within a time frame of barely three minutes. The opening of the song for instance takes only eight seconds, any other band would have stretched it. It's an aggressive song and heavy for a band like Kayak, a second highlight already on this album. Cindy Oudshoorn takes care of all the vocals in again a more than superb way. They should have sacked Bert Heerink the moment she walked in the door.
After an astonishing opening the two previous songs have provided Time Stand Still is a clear miss. The lyrics about a cellphone are very childish and although the music is typical Kayak, it cannot disguise the fact that this is a very mediocre song.
Just like on Night Vision this album has a bit too many ballads. Freezing opens the section containing three ballads in a row. Starting very mellow with piano, halfway through this song changes into a somewhat heavy power ballad. The best ballad of these three with vocals only by Cindy Oudshoorn.
Medea reminds me a bit of Cassandra from Night Vision. It's a bit what you expect from a song with a womans name as a title, a sad song about love and pain.
Daughter Of The Moon is also a very nice ballad but suffers from the fact that it's the last in this row of three and has the same design as Medea. Strange that two almost similar songs are put directly after one another. When I skip to this song immediately when starting this CD it comes out way better.
Undecided opens with acoustic guitars and the first time I heard it I was afraid that this might turn out to be another ballad. To my surprise this song reminds me a lot of Skunk Anansie. The multiple vocal lines makes Cindy Oudshoorn's voice sound a bit like Skin's typical vocals. A rock song that I never would have connected to Kayak.
Sad State Of Affairs is of the same ilk as Time Stand Still, but this time the attempt to sound funny is a lot better. The music is the funny part, the lyrics are about immigration and illegal aliens forced to return to their country. Not perhaps a funny subject, but put to an uplifting happy tune.
About You, Without You is a typical up tempo Kayak song and The Mask And The Mirror is another ballad - a real Kayak fan can sing-a-long at first listen.
The energy level increases on Selfmade Castle. A heavy rock song sung by Cindy Oudshoorn which off course contains plenty of melodies. By now it's clear to me that the songs sung by Cindy Oudshoorn are by far the best on this album. The song What I'm About to Say is also a Cindy song. Another ballad but because of Cindy's vocals, better than the ballads without her singing. Wonderful Day and Broken White can be compared to About You, Without You and The Mask And The Mirror. An up tempo and a ballad played in the same order.
To my surprise the title track is the only song that surpasses the time limit of six minutes. On the Night Vision album the longer songs like Icarus and Tradition were the highlights on the album, especially for the prog-loving audience. The song Coming Up For Air doesn't live up to these expectations. Stretched because of a Bodin like circus melody, this is just another typical Kayak song.
After two concept albums Kayak returns to a song based album in the manner of Night Vision. The opening of this album is brilliant, with Cindy Oudshoorn the true revelation on this album, with the songs that are sung by her being clearly the better ones. Just like Similarly Night Vision suffers from the amount of ballads - a bit too much. Longer songs like Icarus and Tradition raised the level of that album but Coming Up For Air does not have an exciting long track to please their progressive audience. As a Kayak fan I will find enough enjoyment on this album, but will need to skip a handful of songs. A nice album for traditional Kayak fans, but not the kind I was hoping for.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sérgio Benchimol – Ciclos Imaginários
Tracklist: Terral II (5:00), Oregon Mountains (7:12), Daqui Prali (5:47), Deposis Da Praia (5:09), Shadow Valley (3:34), Ciclos (9:12)
After reading the favourable review of Sérgio Benchimol’s last album A Drop In The Ocean, An Ocean In A Drop I couldn’t resist the opportunity of covering his second release. From what little information (in English) I can discover on Benchimol, he is a founder member of Brazilian 70’s influenced prog-rock band Semente and also part of the instrumental ensemble True Illusion. Judging by the detailed track by track synopsis of the 2004 solo debut by my colleague Dave, Ciclos Imaginários appears to pick up from where that album left off. The main difference being that in contrast to the plethora of keyboard and stringed instruments he played on that occasion here Benchimol restricts himself to acoustic guitar, and for the last track, piano. Joining him is a remarkable line-up of musicians providing an array of traditional instrumentation that includes flutes, saxophones, trumpet, violins, oboe, trombone, drums and percussion. The CD booklet lists too many names to repeat here but special mention should go to David Ganc (flutes and saxophones), Eduardo Morelenbaum (clarinet) and Jesse Sadoc (trumpet) for their contributions.
The music here is virtually impossible to pigeonhole and remains refreshingly original and inventive throughout. Benchimol has arranged the pieces to allow each instrumentalist the space to express themselves without overstaying their welcome. The result is a vibrant and unpredictable brew that ranges from freewheeling jazzy inventiveness to tightly arranged almost classical interludes. Benchimol rarely takes a solo and never dominates. Instead he unselfishly provides a rhythmic underscoring upon which the other instruments engage in impressive flights of virtuosity. Terral II takes its title from the opening track on the last album and has an easygoing but jaunty atmosphere with acoustic guitar and flute interweaving to provide the main theme joined by solo violin, pizzicato strings and a bolero style drum pattern. A lazy sax solo follows underpinned by a repeated bass riff and concludes with a grand cinematic orchestral flourish.
Oregon Mountains is a standout track with classical guitar, violin and flute playfully interacting like three birds in flight. They’re joined by a beautiful and poignant oboe melody before the deep resonant sound of the cello takes over. Flute and oboe are never too far away however to ensure a light and summery feel is maintained throughout. Daqui Prali (From Here To There) has a lounge music ambiance complete with a lazy half spoken vocal and violins. A delicate classical guitar solo is a rare indulgence from Benchimol joined by a deep and sultry sounding flute. The atmosphere is maintained by the cool jazz of Deposis Da Praia (After The Beach) with the guitar and voice this time joined by the seductive sounds of clarinet and sax. At the midway point it breaks into a Bossa Nova rhythm enhanced by strident violins and an inspired alto sax break.
Shadow Valley is the albums most dramatic (and shortest) piece and my personnel favourite. Vibrant pizzicato strings and crashing brass chords conjure up Leonard Bernstein’s music for the street gang clashes in West Side Story. Commanding trumpet and violin solos follow with the latter bringing the spirited playing of Joshua Bell to mind. The concluding (and far lengthier) Ciclos (Cycles) is made up of two contrasting sides. It begins with high register rippling piano accompanied by flute and violin and is reminiscent in part of Keith Emerson’s orchestrated Piano Concerto from Works. The moody trombone evokes Nick Evans’ playing on King Crimson’s vintage Lizard album. As the piano becomes more animated it morphs into a lengthy jazz inflected workout whilst still retaining the Emerson flair driven by busy drumming and strident brass. A change of key and tempo introduces trumpet, trombone and sax soling respectively over a gutsy piano riff. It reminded me of the atmospheric soundtracks provided by composers like Lalo Schifrin for American police dramas popular during the 60’s and 70’s.
Other than the concluding track, which does over extend itself, and the slight melodies there is very little to fault on this album. Praiseworthy in particular is the excellent production which ensures all instruments remain sharply in focus no matter how busy the arrangements become. The individual performances are faultless and collectively they provide a master class of acoustic musicianship. My final rating however is tempered by an awareness that this will have a specialist appeal and is unlikely to attract the average (if there is such a thing) prog listener. With another prog metal special due soon I’m mindful that this is about as far removed from that genre as the DPRP ventures whilst still remaining in the prog field. It will find most favour with those that have a mellow jazz-fusion disposition and also a penchant for traditional instrumentation, especially brass and woodwind. But you don’t have to take my word for it. The complete album, along with Sérgio’s other work, is available to download for free from his website.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sean Mallone - Cortlandt
Tracklist: Controversy (4:16), Splinter (3:21), Fisher's Gambit (5:17), Hand Full Of Earth (6:20), Giant Steps (2:55), At Taliesin (4:09), Big Sky Wanting (6:00), The Big Idea (6:15) Bonus Track (3.40)
First solo album from highly-regarded bassist and stick player Sean Malone, who is best known for his work with prog-death-metal trailblazers Cynic, and his later projects with Gordian Knot.
Cortlandt first came out after the break-up of Cynic, and was released on the small AudioImage label in 1996. Long out of print, it has since become a cult classic. On this basis, the good chaps at Free Electric Sound (a subsidiary of the more metallic Sensory label in the USA) have decided to give it a fresh lease of life.
Just a peep at the list of other musicians who contributed to Cortlandt will show you the quality of the playing. Malone enlisted Cynic bandmate Sean Reinert to handle the drums. Guitar parts are handled by Florida musician Bob Bunin, plus special guests Trey Gunn (King Crimson, David Sylvian) and Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie).
The album itself is entirely instrumental and features a rich tapestry of musical styles, from fusion (Splinter, Handful Of Earth), to world music (At Taliesin), and baroque and classical (a Bach Sinfonia), with frequent progrock (Big Sky Wanting) and occasional metal influences.
Cortlandt is clearly an eclectic offering. It contains, as Sean puts it, "a lot of the bits and pieces that never made it to the setlists of the groups I've played in". That may make it sound a bit of a mish-mash of ideas. Not the case. As much as it is a showcase for performance, Cortlandt is bound together by Sean's composition and arranging skills. The fusion is definitely to the fore but Malone clearly thrives on utilizing a wide array of textures and instrumental combinations. Unlike many instrumental albums, the guitar, bass and stick are not used in an over-indulgent manner. Unlike many re-issues, malone has also resisted the temptation to re-mix or remodel any of the songs. It stands as a clear marker as to his musical development at that time.
There isn’t too much in common with the music to be found on the seminal Cynic album. Any description will have more value as placing Cortlandt as a 'prequel' to Gordian Knot. An even greater interest will be gained from hearing Sean stretch out as a bassist and develop as a composer. The use of the stick as a lead and harmonic instrument.
This edition is newly remastered with a new digipak design and a bonus track in the shape of Unquity Design; the Pat Metheny track, previously available on the Japanese version of the debut from Gordian Knot.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
tr-Ond & The Suburban Savages - tr-Ond & The Suburban Savages
Tracklist: The Madonna Death Cult Camp (6:11), Don King Kong! Kaba (4:06), For E (3:23), Mother Of Time (3:18), Andre Malist (6:03), Swedish Lesson #2 (0:54), Swedish Lesson #3: Smorgas (3:31), Chinese Theocracy (5:14), Recipes For The Suburban Savage (6:05), Not Necessarily A Miracle (6:13)
I guess most of you out there are already familiar with instrumentalists Panzerpappa hailing from Norway. DPRP has positively reviewed their two albums, that can be characterised as avant-gardish prog with a lot of groove. This band here is a band Trond Gjellum from Panzerpappa has put together, obviously to express some different creative side of himself. I got interested in this release looking at the yellow font in their myspace, the title of the tracks and at the names of the bands the rest of the members normally belong to. An example: The Samuel Jackson 5. Well, for some reason all of the above gave me a kind of funny spring feeling; and indeed, this is a very light, enjoyable and fun release. The music is almost always managing to be pleasant, while still keeping the experimental dimension. Extensive use of glockenspiel, metalophone, melodica and a whole lot of keyboards, Rhodes etc. contribute to produce a surprisingly fresh sound, more pop than symphonic. However, I cannot disregard a very solid rhythmic section that carries you away with constant flow and motion.
The album kicks off with the dynamic The Madonna Death Cult Camp which is keyboard-driven bringing to mind a bit of Spock's Beard, and things only get more interesting as the oriental flavour of Don King Kong! Kaba pours in. Drums are omitted in the indie pop tune For E - and that sounds cute. What follows next is rather unexpected and for me a pleasant surprise: Mother Of Time is definitely influenced by Brian Eno's solo works (think of the song Backwater from Before and After Science for example...), featuring Eno or Byrne-like vocals and funny sounds and keys. And like that, we arrive to the peak of the album: the excellent Andre Malist which is haunted by the lyrical glockenspiel. This is a lesson how to make a beautiful and emotional track without much: minimal, self-contained - superb.
The second part of the album is closer to classic progressive rock, but filtered through the band's attitude and sound. I cannot leave Swedish Lesson #2 uncommented: it features some spoken text from, supposedly, mmmh, a swedish lesson, that tells us the story of a... misplaced sandwich. OK, I prefer the band's subtle approach to make fun music, things are a bit too "explicit" here. But I cannot leave Swedish Lesson #3: Smorgas uncommented either: it brings to mind IQ's instrumentals from their 80's period, and coupled with Chinese Theocracy's Genesis-like atmosphere they give a more traditional dimension to the album. Recipes For The Suburban Savage is unfortunately a rather weak track, dominated by a cumbersome and slow keyboard tune; in a remote way it's as avant-garde as Panzerpappa is, trying to recreate the same type of atmosphere but without fitting much here. Fortunately, with Not Necessarily A Miracle we return to the bands own unique and distinctive sound. What's so special about this track? The amazing switch from a trip-hop-like part to a frenzy keyboard solo. Impressive and so, so, so creative.
I guess usually people turn their backs to avant-garde bands, and I guess most of that stuff is usually too tough to digest. This is not the case with tr-Ond And The Suburban Savages. These guys manage to sound witty, pop and experimental at the same time, but the cocktail's ingredients definitely include lots of healthy classic prog. People that appreciate experimental and innovative music should give this a chance, even if it's not flawless. Fresh and neatly produced, this is very different from Panzerpappa but equally creative. I'm going to close this review with one question: how many times do we see progressive bands playing fun or pleasant music, without sounding like a bad copy of Spock's Beard? This is a good example, and only for that reason it's deserves a recommend tag. The future of progressive music lies with bands like this.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hidria Spacefolk – Symetria
Tracklist: Symetria (6:27), Futur Ixiom (7:28), 322 (6:30), Flora/Fauna (6:50), Radien (8:32), Sine (11:28)
It will come as little surprise after hearing their name that Hidria Spacefolk play a style of space rock akin to Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind, most closely resembling the former. From Finland, the band formed in 1999 from the hippie community and comprises Mikko Happo (guitar), Teemu Kilponen (drums), Kimmo Dammert (bass), Janne Lounatvuori (synths/electric piano) and Sami Wirkkala (guitar/synths). After recording a mini album their first album proper, Symbiosis, was released in 2002 followed by Balansia and a remix album, Violently Hippie, in 2004. That year they also played NEARfest in the US and DPRP’s Mark Hughes positively reviewed the resulting live album, Live Eleven am.
So we come to Symetria, the bands third full-length studio album, and the accompanying press release regards it as being much harder and rockier than its predecessors. Gone are the flutes and marimbas than helped form their trippy, folky sound and the result is in a more classical heavy synth space rock vein. That said Flora/Fauna starts out in a delightfully folk influenced way with an accordion added for good measure before a nice stomping guitar. Comparisons to the Ozrics are obvious but the press release continues by likening the band to Porcupine Tree and Rush. This is going a bit far but to be fair the line “Maybe less innovative, but nonetheless very inspired, powerful and convincing!” is used. I think that about sums it up.
The title track kicks things off with a stomping rhythm, bubbling synths and guitars before sweeping off into space. Great start to the album with the twin guitars working well together. A thrashy central section adds additional energy and there is plenty of variety to be had here with themes returning within a very compact 6 minutes. Futur Ixiom is bouncy and fun with the guitars exploring over a solid rhythm. The tempo drops away before gradually building again into a heavier middle section and full on conclusion. 322 is next with quite a Tool influenced intro from the rhythm section before synths and chiming guitar add the spaciness while the unexpected introduction of brass towards the end gives a pleasant dose of funkiness. The previously mentioned Flora/Fauna is next offering a nice change of pace before Radien takes us to a dark region of the cosmos. Sine closes things nicely with an extended piece that ranges from a bit of Black Sabbath in the intro through nice heavy organ and galloping guitar sections to an industrial feel towards the end.
Guest contributions of trumpet, trombone, harmonium and cello occur along the way but the basic sound is typically and irrevocably spacey with synth sweeps and washes, hypnotic pulses, driving rhythm with flight-of-fancy twin guitar over the top; an often heady and very enjoyable brew. The band performs very well on every track with great interplay between the members and consistency throughout the album which doesn’t stray into endless noodling and keeps its focus resulting in a great deal of tightness.
Quality compositions and recording has resulted in an album that would not be out of place with anything the mighty Ozrics have released and it would be great for the bands to play some gigs together. I really enjoyed this CD and that is ultimately more important than hearing something groundbreaking and new. They know what they like and play what they know with enthusiasm and energy. Recommended to hippies everywhere. Far out, man!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Upsilon Acrux – Galapagos Momentum
Tracklist: Who’s Running Shit [Son Of Destiny’s Child] (5:22), Petrovich (3:00), Expiration Date [Alaska, My Darkness] (5:18), Boa Vs. Crab (2:55), So Thereby… And Furthermore… Thus Henceforth… MONO (3:52), Touched By God [Inapproprately] (3:46), Cherry π (1:57), Hiking Up Feel Good Mountain [Further Than Ever Before] (7:47), My Brother The Doctor (2:49), Intimate Barbarian (4:00)
Californian outfit Upsilon Acrux have been around in one form or another since 1997, and have already released four full-length albums on a variety of labels prior to Galapagos Momentum, their Cuneiform debut. Accurately described in the promo blurb as ‘aggressive, intricate, athletic, complex and composed post-punk, instrumental rock’, they are the sort of band that take a variety of influences – a handful would include (fellow post-rock instrumentalists) Don Caballero, Neu, Magma, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson in their early eighties guise – yet manage to integrate them into a sound which is easily identifiable as their own.
The opening track, the catchily-titled Who’s Running Shit (Son Of Destiny’s Child), sets the tone for the album; initially very frenetic, with lots of shifts in tempo (predominantly fast!) and time signatures, complex rhythms and chord structures the order of the day – the band may revisit certain melodies and rhythms throughout a song but are never content to stand still. Somehow they manage to give the impression of both being able to lock into an almost impossibly tight groove whilst simultaneously being on the verge of chaos – in this, you can see both the influences of modern jazz and punk/ hardcore quite easily. Drummer Jesse Appelhans’ playing is particularly worth singling out, as his role is often to be the glue which keeps everything together, yet he also manages some impressively dextrous percussive work.
The problem with the album is that, as it progresses, it all gets a bit samey, and rather exhausting at times – I ended up wishing that there were more of the more mellow moments where the band have some room to stretch out, as the moments when guitarist Paul Lai is given room to express himself at a more leisurely pace, such as with his adventurous yet languorous playing on the likes of Expiration Date and Hiking Up Feel Good Mountain bringing to mind fellow US avant-garde post-rockers Tortoise circa their late 90’s incarnation.
Overall this is at the very least a refreshingly original listen, if best taken in small doses, and those into the avant-garde, edgy side of post-rock could do worse than to investigate further.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Tim Burness - Vision On
Tracklist: Can You Hack It? (5:10), This Is Life (5:51), Space And Time (4:46), Undercurrents (0:54), All Through Your Life (5:42), Here Comes The Great Collapse (7:15), Broaden Your Horizons (5:17), Undercurrents II (4:25), Everyone Hears Voices (4:48), Triumph Of The Soul (4:35)
Tim Burness' fame originated in the eighties, with his band at that time, Burnessence, noted for their support slots with such acts as IQ and Pendragon. And his musical tastes seem to have stopped after that certain period of time as every song from Vision On can be connected to British progressive rock and pop from that time frame. His music is strongly connected to Pendragon and Genesis and his guitar playing is very similar to that of Steve Hackett. His previous album Finding New Ways To Love was more leaning towards the British pop and was somewhat incoherent. Another downside of the album were the vocals. Almost every reviewer agreed that his singing, let's put it nicely, was not the best part of the album. For Vision On almost all musicians from his previous album Finding New Ways To Love are present, including formerly Pendragon drummer Fudge Smith.
The fact that his guitar playing style is reminiscent of Steve Hackett is emphasized in song title on the instrumental opener Can You Hack It?. Whilst This Is Life bears a close resemblance to Mama from Genesis with a similar slow pounding drums and dark atmospheric keyboards. All Through Your Life starts in the style of Pendragon and ends in the style of British pop band The Police, a bit like Message In A Bottle. Just like Pendragon, especialy in the eighties, the downside on this album are again the vocals. Tim Burness has a very nasally timbre just like Andy Tillison from The Tangent, also a band tributing the eighties (and seventies) progressive rock era. Strangely the song Broaden Your Horizons has been chosen as a downloadable sample for this album. On this song Tim's vocals are clearly out of place and the worst on the album. Fortunately Tim Burness always includes several instrumental tracks on his albums - the Hackett like instrumental piece that opens and another one that closes the album and two ambient songs with loops and noises.
Vision On is a step forward from his previous album and holds a lot more progressive rock influences. Just like Andy Tillison's The Tangent, Tim Burness' music is heavily influenced by British progressive rock from the seventies and eighties. While Andy Tillison has evolved his own style, Tim Burness seems to be rooted in that era - and certainly this album could have easily been released in the eighties. As mentioned earlier, another similarity between the two is the nasally sounding vocals, and although his vocals have improved they are still the weakest link on this album. However if you can get past this then this album is pleasant ride through an interesting decade of progressive rock. Let's hope that on the next album he hires a singer, he could make a killer album.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10