Reviews in this issue:
- Beardfish - Sleeping In Traffic: Part Two
- Holding Pattern - Breaking The Silence (Duo Review)
- Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix – The New Worlds Fair
- Asia Featuring John Payne – Scandinavia
- Soundborne – Hallucinations
- Tony Harn - Loops
- Quietland - Output 1
- Soma Planet - Bholenath
Beardfish - Sleeping In Traffic: Part Two
Tracklist: As The Sun Sets (1:12), Into The Night (8:51), The Hunter (5:56), South Of The Border (7:43), Cashflow (6:07), The Downward Spiral/Chimay (7:10), Sleeping In Traffic (35:44), Sunrise Again (1:37)
As you could imagine, Sleeping In Traffic: Part Two is a follow-on from Beardfish's previous release - Sleeping In Traffic: Part One. It's also the second release on InsideOut and their fourth CD to date. For those that don't know Sweden's Beardfish already or haven't read Dave Sisson's review of Sleeping In Traffic: Part One then a first listing can be a surprising experience. If you didn't know better you could easily imagine that SiT 2 is a remastered, reissue of some obscure 70's prog, only the modern production values give any indication to the uneducated listener that this is a recent recording and I must admit to being quite shocked on the first listening. I had taken on the review because I'm due to see the band live (along with The Tangent and Ritual) at next week's InsideOut Tour date in Verviers - even worse I may (but not yet confirmed) interview the band so obviously I had some work to do.
First few listens I found myself a little bit all at sea, I have little or no simillar music in my collection nor have listened to much like it in the past, and I found myself grasping for references. Of course this can indicate two things - the lack of knowledge on my behalf or a truly original style from Beardfish, in fact I think it's somewhere between the two. To put it in context, my tastes come from the Yes, Gentle Giant, ELP, Rush school of prog, more recently supplemented by the neo progressive - Porcupine Tree, Flower Kings, IQ etc. - and a large dose of metal - Dream Theater, Opeth, Redemption and the like. Beardfish on the other hand are something completely different, they are retro with a capital R, E, T, R and O! Last year The Flower Kings deliberately recorded their excellent The Sum Of No Evil album in a retro manner but to be honest in terms of getting that 70's feel, Beardfish take the gold-medal. Strangely though there are many TFK moments to be heard throughout and Beadfish clearly have a strong sense of humour evident in some instrumental passages similar to the Swedish giants themselves. I read elsewhere that they display Supertramp and Camel influences but I don't really know these bands so can't comment.
SiT 2 continues the story started on SiT 1, that is of 24 hours (sunrise to "sunrise again") in someone's day (the band say it's actually a dream) and the opening tracks follow similar direction to those on SiT 1, Into The Night is a breezy and up-tempo piece driven by Hammond organ and bass. In this mode the band remind me of some less proggy bands from the mid 70's, perhaps Bad Company, this impression is reinforced by Rikard Sjöblom's expressive and ballsy voice. Don't think this is standard 4/4 rock though, there's loads going on, plenty of twists and turns, structure changes and multiple textures. At the same time the band manages to stay relaxed, you're drawn into an almost laconic, lazy mood - it's all very chilled-out despite being actually quite complex. The Hunter again doesn't break new ground compared with SiT 1 - again heavy bass driven and more of those vintage keyboards this time with more moog.
Things take a dramatic turn with South Of The Border - a refreshing combination of Frank Zappa with heavy King Crimson (Starless era) guitar work in the middle section and a great lyric, funny as hell - I won't spoilt it, just listen and laugh your socks off. Very intricate and eclectic playing too, wonderful stuff. Cashflow is a quirky instrumental - again not unlike something you may hear from early Flower Kings. To be honest I find it a little annoying and intrusive, quite out of character with the rest of the CD, ho-hum, that's subjective opinion for you. More weirdness ensues with The Downward Spiral/Chimay - for those that don't know, Chimay is a robust Belgian trappist beer - displays strong Gentle Giant influences and again some Flower Kings moments. Here the threads of the story become evident in the lyrics as clearly our character has found himself in a bar and a tale ensues which serves as a nice entry point to the monster track Sleeping In Traffic itself...
Now we really start to follow the story as the character wanders through a city from one situation to another. Some themes from SiT 1 recur giving a familiar feel and there's a return to the more symphonic style that was more prevalent on the earlier CD but so far missing here. The influences on display are too numerous to count and to try and describe such a sprawling track would be futile - you've got everything going on here, even a little Bee-Gees snippet! To be fair it's more a collection of multiple smaller pieces stitched together but done in such an inventive and charming manner that it in no way sounds contrived. It's a real roller-coaster ride of different styles and images, one can hear Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Ritual, Yes (there's a pure Topographic moment), Gentle Giant, Radiohead - as I said before, a futile exercise, let's just agree, between us, that it sounds like Beardfish, OK? Too many wonderful passages to mention but the final four minutes would catch the attention of any progger with its beautiful solo acoustic guitar and voice theme exploding into a heavy symphonic end that wouldn't be out of place on a Landberk album. So we come to the final track, Sunrise Again, really just an outro piece to finish off but after the glorious ending of the epic SiT if find this a bit of a distraction and I, for one, could live without it.
After three weeks with the two CD's there's little doubt in my mind that Beardfish are a serious player in our genre and if the photos I've seen of the band are indicative they look like they've only just left school (or is it me getting older?). If you're looking for aggressive speed-metal prog then this won't be your bag but if you're open to a real 70's experience with some stellar musicianship, tons of influence, great mind-sticking melodies all presented in a relaxed and laid-back style with a strong dose of humour thrown-in then you're onto a winner. If you're new to the band I would recommend starting with SiT 1, it's more accessible. Those that already are in the know will find SiT 2 follows quite some different directions and surprising turns and there's plenty to keep you busy after multiple listens. Be aware that you may need a few spins to get into it, if only because it's quite different from everything else out there, but like all the best prog, the time spent getting into it leads to a greater pleasure when the penny drops.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Holding Pattern - Breaking The Silence
Tracklist: Flying Colors (4:04), Breaking The Silence (7:06), Fishbulb (4:05), Once As One (5:34), Out The Other (5:12), Back To The Tunnels (6:37), Blaster (4:57), Like Waves (7:22), Honor Before Glory [live bonus track] (5:57)
Bob Mulvey's Review
Presumably the name Tony Spada and that of his band Holding Pattern will be one of perhaps, heard the name, but that's about as far as it goes. Well it certainly was the case with me until the Breaking The Silence CD landed on the DPRP table a couple of month's back, where, like many instrumental albums they tend to languish a little longer than their vocal counterparts. A pity really as there are many treasures to be found in these non singing releases - and this album proves to be yet another. So if you have a soft spot for progressive rock instrumental albums of the highest calibre then you do your self a favour and check out this latest release from guitarist Tony Spada. And on that "guitar" note and before moving on, I would like to qualify one thing - this is a prog album and not just another guitar instrumental masquerading as prog and sneakily trying to find friends amongst the prog fraternity.
And maybe we should have heard of Holding Pattern as they can trace their origins back to the late 1970s, releasing their self titled, four track, debut album in 1981, followed some ten years later by Majestic. However like many prog acts to emerge in the 80s - times were hard and prog was certainly not the flavour of those times. So barring two solo offerings from Mr Spada we have to wait till 2007 for the next Holding Pattern release. And if I had been waiting, then the wait would certainly have been well worth it, as the nine instrumental tracks on offer here are definitely up my street. And if like me you are a fan of solo Steve Morse and also his work with Dixie Dregs then you will find much to your liking here. Now I'm sure Tony Spada will be somewhat tired of the Morse references, however the similarities in both the materiel and guitar style on Breaking The Silence are striking.
At this point I should also introduce the band, so as not to give the impression that this is purely a solo work. So guitarist Tony Spada is joined by Tony Castellano (bass, keyboards and mellotron), Mark Tannenbaum (keyboards) and Robert Gottfried (drums). Now whilst all the tracks a replete with lush multi-layered guitars, strong themes and blistering "in context" solos, the contributions made by the other three musicians are what makes this album a pleasure to listen to. The rhythm section is tight and fluid and with the inclusion of Mark Tannenbaum on keys the musical palette is somewhat broadened. The title track for instance has a great 7/8 feel bringing perhaps Rush to mind, whilst Tannenbaum's fluid solo has a Pete Barden's air about it. Lifeson & Co also spring to mind during the tricky Fishbulb - here though the keys take on an Emerson-like role. Once As One is certainly solo Morse in all it's glory and the interplay between Spada and Tannenbaum on the jaunty and aptly titled Blaster is certainly worth the admission.
The album concludes with a live cut recorded at the Poseidon Festival (Tokyo) back in 2005. Honor Before Glory opens with a sort of Focus era Jan Akkerman style violining guitar, (but with strings rather than organ providing the chordal background), before moving into a sweet Latimer-esque grandiose solo, (think a more animated version of Ice). I'm not sure if the album really needed this track, especially as the sound is a little grainier here and there are a few intonation problems in the melody line. But I'm sure this is a fan favourite and nice to hear Robert Hutchinson on the kit - great live sound.
Now there is no way, for me, I could get away from the Dregs/Morse influences on Breaking The Silence (not that this is bad thing, far from it), but there is certainly more to Holding Pattern's sound. The music is well written and executed with precision - you certainly get the impression the music has been honed well in advance of the recording. Mentioned in this review are some of the "influences" I detected and certainly if the likes of Happy The Man, Colosseum II, Kansas, Steve Hackett amongst others languish proudly in your collection then perhaps HP should to.
Hopefully my words will have whetted your appetite sufficiently to persuade you to check out Breaking The Silence, however if you still need convincing then perhaps you might want to click the following link and read Menno's recent interview with Tony Spada.
In conclusion it would be nigh on impossible to select any highlights from this CD, such is the quality of the music. So with the album cover by the celebrated artist Paul Whitehead, noted for his work, amongst others, on the early Genesis albums this nicely rounds off what is a neat, enjoyable and recommended package.
Menno von Brucken Fock's Review
Well over 16 years has passed since the release of Majestic (which in fact is a combination of the first mini-album from 1981 and later works) and here is finally the successor to this highly acclaimed album. That is, if one doesn’t take into account Spada’s solo-albums (Balance Of Power from 1993 and Human Element from 2004).
Founding member Tony Spada is the nucleus of Holding Pattern but old band-mate Mark Tannenbaum plays some dazzling keyboard solo’s and Tony Castellano (bass & keyboards) participated on both Majestic and Spada’s Balance Of Power and is therefore a long time member of the band too. Castellano as well as drummer Robert Gottfried both played on Spada’s Human Element album as well. The original HP drummer Robert Hutchinson plays the drums on the live bonus-track Honor Before Glory (from the Majestic album).
Catchy melodies, delightful soloing by Spada and bass & drums are far from simple accompaniment! Lots of twists and turns, virtuoso playing and although very enjoyable for the ears, Gottfried handles the drums on a different level. Sometimes I even think I hear Bill Bruford! Spada’s guitar ‘sings’ most of the melodies, but does also some of the accompaniment alongside the bass as well as of course the keyboards and the richly filling drums. The keyboard-solo’s are rare but really nice so this makes the album guitar-dominated. We can find both gentle melodic tracks, like the title-track, as well as up tempo and powerful pieces, slightly more in the vein of jazz-rock played by the stars of the renowned GPR label (Back To The Tunnels or Blaster).
The 8 tracks are all well composed and arranged. Spada was the producer of the album too and as far as I’m concerned the final mix might have been a bit more sparkling and daring, while the balance between the various instruments is not always as I would have chosen to mix them. It might be I’m not too fond of the “Marshall sound” but personally I would have preferred a producer like Sascha Paeth. Still this is really just a minor detail because as said, this kind of music is quite unique because except for the music by Steve Morse & Dixie Dregs, (Steve and Tony share the same background and influences as we can hear in a track like Like Waves) and perhaps a sole piece by Happy The Man, I wouldn’t know with whom HP’s music could be compared to. If this music was to be categorized, then one should be addressing it as “instrumental progressive symphonic rock with jazz and fusion influences”.
In comparison to the extremely long Majestic, this album, the live track not included, is running a mere 45 minutes, but nevertheless, it’s pure delight and top entertainment all the way! Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 16 years for the next HP resurrection. The booklet is not an extensive one but the link from the cover of Breaking The Silence to the one of the very first album is highly original. The artwork was done by Paul Whitehead, famous for his artwork on the early Genesis albums. The official website has a number of interesting (progressive) links, DPRP not (yet) being one of them!
Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix – The New Worlds Fair
Tracklist: Candy Floss Cowboy (1:27), Fair Dealer (5:08), Octopus (2:43), Sixteen Year Old Doom (4:37), You’re A Hero (3:23), Song For Marlene (5:31), Come To The Fair (1:22), In The Name Of Rock N Roll (4:31), Ferris Wheel (6:30), The Last Merry Go Round (2:33), Dude’s Dream [Rolling In The Ruins] (5:08) Bonus Tracks: Dodgem Dude (2:47), The Brothel In Rossenstrasse (3:44), Starcruiser (3:16), Candy Floss Cowboy [demo] (4:27), Kings Of Speed (2:52), You’re A Hero – [demo] (4:08) Dodgem Dude [demo] (2:58)
Michael Moorcock is famous as a hugely successful and prolific author of Science Fantasy, and to a lesser degree as a sometime contributor of poetry and vocals to such rock luminaries as Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult.
The New Worlds Fair, originally released in 1975, was his only album as leader of the trio Deep Fix (sharing a name with the fictional group featured in several of Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius books), alongside Steve Gilmore and Graham Chamock. Plenty of his chums turned out to lend a hand, including Hawkwind’s Simon House, Simon King, Alan Powell and Dave Brock. Snowy White contributes some nice lead guitar work.
I’ve had the original album on vinyl for a long time, but I must admit that I haven’t played it for ages and remember it as a tad disappointing. Listening to this CD reissue now, I am enjoying it a whole lot more. I put my earlier reaction down to the fact that it doesn’t really sound like Hawkwind, eschewing space rock for an idiosyncratic mixture of rock'n'roll and country and folk inflected ditties. My tastes have broadened considerably since my teenage years. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I perhaps only listened to side two of the vinyl once or twice back then as I don’t really remember any of the tracks in the latter half of the record, and as it turns out, they are stronger than most of the songs from the first half.
With spoken interludes between the tracks provided in suitable creepy tones by Moorcock, this phantasmagorical concept album about the fairground at the end of time has much in common with the solo albums released by fellow Hawk poet Robert Calvert, and features a similarly eclectic range of styles employed in the service of the story. All three members contribute vocals which aids the storytelling aspects of the album. Moorcock’s own rich, operatic tones sound like little else in the rock field, but the other two have a more conventional delivery.
Standout cuts include Sixteen Year Old Doom with its hilarious lyrics and shooby-dooby backing vocals, You’re A Hero with its incongruous pairing of lyrics about Valhalla with a country/pub rock backing, and the closing trio of Ferris Wheel, The Last Merry Go Round and Dude’s Dream [Rolling In The Ruins] which end the album with a more proggy feel, including some excellent violin and mellotron from Simon House.
This great sounding reissue is padded out with two versions of Dodgem Dude, which was demo’ed for, but left off, the original album (somewhat mystifyingly as it’s a good rocking track, perhaps the closest in feel to Hawkwind), a version of Hawkwind’s Kings Of Speed, a few single-only tracks and some demo versions of album cuts. The demo for You’re A Hero dispenses with the country sound and has a fragile, homemade charm to it.
All in all, this is a good value reissue of a quirky curio which should be of interest to Moorcock fans (as might be expected, the quality of the lyrics is very high), Hawkwind collectors and sci-fi concept fans. It’s no lost classic, but is worth a listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Asia Featuring John Payne – Scandinavia
I have always been a huge Asia fan, especially their debut album and their last one Silent Nation belong to my favourite symphonic rock albums ever! This album was recorded live in Scandinavia whilst Asia were guests on the Ronnie James Dio tour; what a strange combination by the way… The performance on this CD is one of the last to feature the line up of John Payne, Geoff Downes, Guthrie Govan and Jay Schellen.
The album contains seven classic Asia tracks being: Time Again, Only Time Will Tell, Wildest Dreams, Here Comes The Feeling, Cutting It Fine, Sole Survivor and Heat Of The Moment. Of course these songs need no further introduction or explanation; however I truly find that John Payne’s vocals are not really my cup of tea as they sound rather forced and raw. Alongside these classic songs are three tracks from Asia’s last album Silent Nation. These are: What About Love?, Long Way From Home and the title track. These three songs vocally sound a lot better and Guthrie’s guitar solos are brilliant, but I still have the feeling that the production and mix of this album was rather low budget as the sound is not as I am used to with Asia recordings; it sounds too much like a bootleg.
Fairly soon the new Asia album will be released and it is better to wait for that one, unless you are a real Asia addict and want to have all their recordings…
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Soundborne – Hallucinations
This is an album that came about virtually by accident. When Norwegian rockers Premacy ventured into the studio last summer to record their debut album the vocalist’s back problems brought a halt to the sessions. Guitarist Stian Dahl made good use of the studio time available to record a collection of instrumentals he had been working on. Along with the bands drummer Torkil Riiser he brought in bassist Morten Granheim (Diabla), keyboardist Lasse Finbråten (Circus Maximus) and acoustic guitarist Jørn-Arild Grefsrud (Tidalwoe) to assist. The resulting band Soundborne are already at work on their second album, this time with the services of vocalist Rick Holmen. In the meantime what we have here is a neat collection of tightly arranged and played rock instrumentals each clocking-in at around the three and half minute mark. Although Dahl’s guitar work is very much to the fore this is no metallic shred fest. True, it has its heavy moments but strong melodies and thoughtful arrangements are never far away.
The appropriately titled The Race opens proceedings in a smart and gutsy fashion with a forceful riff driving things along at an energetic pace. Dahl proves to be an adept soloist ably underpinned by Finbråten’s synth lines and a pastoral classical guitar interlude from the fingers of Grefsrud. At least I think its Grefsrud although it’s difficult to say as both he and Dahl are credited with acoustic guitar. They also share writing credits for several of the tracks. Detective continues in the same vein with pumping drums and bass from Riiser and Granheim respectively whilst Space is a more, well what can I say, spacey affair. Unreal includes some very fast and at the same time melodic, double tracked guitar playing that brought Wishbone Ash to mind. The sometimes haunting Creatures Of A Fairy Tale conjures up several moods and wouldn’t sound out of place as the soundtrack to a supernatural thriller.
At an indulgent four minutes plus, Weather is the albums longest, and for my money most successful piece. It’s a laidback affair with sublime slide guitar playing against a chugging acoustic guitar rhythm and a lyrical strings backdrop. Echoes is not a truncated version of the Floyd classic but instead a compellingly instrumental with a catchy guitar line and ELO style string punctuations. It also reminded me of Gordon Giltrap and as instrumentals go would work very well as the main theme to a regular TV series. During Lullaby you can almost visualise the two guitarists sitting down for this one as folk style acoustic guitar plays understudy to a stylish classical guitar refrain. Sugar coated solo violin from guest Nils Thore Røsth completes the picture. Le Roi Solei continues the mood with an elegant Spanish guitar solo in the acoustic classical style of Steve Hackett.
In contrast, the urgency of Chase returns to the albums opening style with another powerful and compelling guitar motif. Lava is the albums token nod in the direction of power metal with a staccato riff overlaid by all manner of strident guitar phrases from Dahl. Don’t let the title of Funky put you off because it’s not the bands take on dance music. Instead it’s an engaging and tuneful piece with some lyrical and proggy playing over a breezy rhythm. Again the combined string work of Røsth and celloist Ludvig Claeson add a symphonic undercurrent. The title of Locomotive is also a tad deceiving. Soaring guitar work backed by a mellow rhythm is the tracks mainstay with ethereal wordless vocalising from Karen Marie Omholt and a touch of piano from Finbråten bringing things to a peaceful conclusion.
It will be interesting to hear if the addition of a vocalist has a significant impact on the bands future output. I for one hope it doesn’t dilute their sound and turn them into just another run of the mill hard rock band. Certainly none of the tracks hear suffer from the absence of a singer, where Dahl and his compatriots are allowed a free reign of musical expression. The breadth of styles and moods here are suitably diverse and enough to maintain the listener’s interest with a variety of tonal colours, especially in Dahl’s guitar work. If tight, guitar led rock/prog-rock instrumentals are your thing, this comes recommended.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Tony Harn – Loops
Tracklist: January Loop (5:22), February Loop (3:58), March Loop (4:14), April Loop (4:17), May Loop (5:00), June Loop (4:23), July Loop (4:10), August Loop (3:22), September Loop (3:32), October Loop (3:00), November Loop (3:28), December Loop (5:26), Untitled Bonus Track (2:58)
Infinity. Time. B.C. A.D. No beginning, no end. This concept has been cross-sectioned by experimental instrumentalist Tony Harn on his latest release, Loops. The year-long project ran throughout 2007, during which time Harn recorded one piece of music each month for the purpose of putting them on his MySpace page. Each “loop” is entitled after the month it was recorded in. Loops sees all the tracks being given a proper release, and includes a bonus thirteenth track. It’s his fifth solo offering since his debut release a decade ago, among other projects including his own trio Lifebox, and a collaboration with Tim Bowness of No~Man.
The concept of loops had me expecting something like Robert Fripp or Steve Roach, but I heard something totally different when I listened to the CD. A variety of instrumentation and effects is used, and brings to mind King Crimson side projects Tuner, BPM+M and ProjeKct X. Other comparisons include Italian band Kongrosjan and French electronica project Molecule.
I do not normally do the following in a review, but Harn’s titling of each track after the month it was recorded in and the overall concept suggest a track-by-track description as being appropriate. The CD booklet says “all noises by Tony Harn”. As a disclaimer I could not tell if some of the “instruments” I will mention below are real or sampled. Here goes.
January Loop - Starts with some oriental style sounds. “Saxophone” and “organ” in the background create a sort of Asian jazz.
February Loop - Quirky percussion. Fluid “bass”. Some Theremin-style stuff. Reminiscent of what Tony Banks has done in Genesis.
March Loop - Melodic guitar similar to USA instrumental combo Apeyga. Real-sounding “drums”. Some eighties-like whammy guitar, which I can tell is real and not sampled. Some more Banks references and a “piano” sound which could have come from Mark Kelly of Marillion.
April Loop - More organ stuff and a web of real acoustic guitar. Overall rough, dark and edgy.
May Loop - More melodic guitar and organ, over a bass synth program. Guitar soloing. Similar to early Tangerine Dream and some of the solo stuff from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera.
June Loop - A waltzy shuffle with some acoustic guitar. Think Steve Howe.
July Loop - Bleak organ sounds evoking Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright. Combined with a militant snare drum line, creates a funeral march sound.
August Loop - Quirky. Could have been an improv from a Crimson recording session.
September Loop - Some Fender Rhodes electric piano style sounds, along with vocal and sax treatments, make for an acid jazz tinge.
October Loop - Acoustic guitar, percussion, and sax effects evoke Steve Howe’s Remedy as an influence.
November Loop - More acoustic guitar along with some “string” effects.
December Loop - Backwards tape effects. An up tempo drum and bass groove and some reggae style guitar create a dub or trip-hop sound.
Untitled Bonus Track - An electric guitar riff reminiscent of early Marillion, along with some acoustic soloing.
The colourful and well-designed CD booklet lists the dates and times each track was recorded. As an example, August Loop was recorded Saturday, August 4th 2007 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Many were recorded on a Sunday. And I wish I could get up as early on a Sunday as Harn, who was up recording September Loop at 9:00 a.m.! The bonus track is not listed in the CD booklet, but out of all the others only May Loop took more than one day to record. All the others were completed over the space of several continuous hours. July Loop was recorded on Independence Day.
Loops will appeal mostly to fans of experimental music, and will most likely not appeal to more conservative fans of conventional music.
If they are available, and the uncut recording sessions for Loops do not have a “demo track” sound quality, for his next release I suggest Harn release some of the improvs from the Loops recording sessions. He could title it “Unlooped”.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Quietland - Output 1
Tracklist: Noblesse Oblige (3:05), Mityas Last Word (4:34), Cotton Wool (3:45), Shade Of Black (3:44), I’m Tired (4:29), Mityas Next Word (5:37), Nai Stusay Bai Bai (3:58), Ambivalence (4:33), Pale And Wired (3:20), Leviathan Grace (3:50), Shooting Into The Sun (4:26), Varnish (4:19)
Quietland are a band from Manchester, UK, who met in 1997 while all studying for different music degrees at Salford University. They started to make music together and now ten years later they release their first, self financed album Output 1. The band consists of Matt Linley (vocals, guitars, percussion, world instruments), Gareth Metcalf (guitars, backing vocals), Nick Cooper (keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals), Louise Chapman (bass, double bass, backing vocals) and Eddie Rayner (drums). All tracks barring one, (Shooting Into The Sun written by Cooper), were written by Linley and Metcalf. The band have undertaken everything on Output 1 themselves - recording, engineering, mixing, production and it must be said; the album sounds very good.
I should say that for a long time I wasn’t certain if we should review this album, because if you are expecting pure progressive rock then you would be disappointed. Quietland are much more indie-rock than progressive rock - although the band themselves cite the influences of Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and Blackfield amongst others on their MySpace site. However it is the sheer quality of the songs and musicianship convinced me that this is an album that progressive rock listeners who also like alternative rock music need to hear. There are no extended instrumental passages or musical tour de forces. ‘Just’ twelve songs. These songs are a mix of slow songs and some heavier tracks. There are some very clear Jeff Buckley influences vocally and musically. Especially Mityas Last Word and Mityas Next Word with the hard/soft passages and Matt Linley’s impressive and very Buckley like vocals. On other songs such as the excellent Cotton Wool (with its Placebo intro) he sounds a bit like Chris Cornell. This song ends in a wave of distorted guitars. Shade Of Black is a beautiful ballad with some very subtle electric guitar parts and very beautiful harmony vocals.
A great deal of attention has been paid to the arrangements and musically the guitars dominate the sound of the album employing numerous different guitar sounds that keep things interesting. The keyboards on the other hand are used in a more supporting role to create atmosphere, however Nick Cooper plays some beautiful piano and Hammond on Nai Stusay Bai Bai (nice to say bye bye???) - another impressive slow song. It also includes strong backing vocal arrangement, a strength of Quietland, which they use often on the album - notable examples are Leviathan Grace and Shooting Into The Sun (that song is also blessed with a beautiful chorus). To be honest there is not a weak song to be found on the album, really.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this debut album of Quietland. It’s packed full of good quality emotional rock songs, impressive arrangements, performed by good musicians. I’m convinced that this band has everything to appeal to a larger audience and although it’s not progressive rock (which is what DPRP is all about); Output 1 is definitely worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Soma Planet - Bholenath
Tracklist: Psicorickshaw (8:07), Bholenath (5:02), Meetings At Dawn (1:36), Kali, Destrucció (5:11), Kali, Lament (3:08), Abstract Passage (1:25), Tangle (6:04), My Being Forgets (3:46), Infinite Intuition [Recapturat] (8:16), Electrorain (1:46), Segments (10:32), Diving Deep (3:18)
Soma Planet hail from Barcelona and are one of those bands who maintain a progressive edge without the use of keyboards, except for on the title track of Bholenath their second studio album. Instead the band get by with electric guitar (Andreu Méndez), bass (Marc Prat), drums (Fede Marsà) and saxophone (Furmi Gómez). Most of the pieces on the album are instrumental, which is just as well as well as vocalist Méndez is not all that mellifluous. The group freely cite King Crimson as an influence, something that is very apparent on Kali, Destrucció which resonates with the energy and musical structures of the mid-seventies version of Fripp's band of merry musos, and Tangle which harks back to an earlier version of that particular band. Unfortunately, the vocals on this latter piece put me off somewhat, but the music itself is certainly engaging.
But it is not all angular guitars and contrapuntal rhythms, the start of Infinite Intuition [Recapturat] features a variety of guitar sounds and effects, although it does tend to meander off into the dissonant towards the end. Segments, as the title suggests, is a conglomeration of pieces that are melded together in a rather naive manner. The piece begins with some nice interplay between the guitar and sax and then heads off into more of a space rock direction before lapsing into a very Gongish vibe. Bizarre! The other main vocal track, My Being Forgets, is best forgotten, being another Gong-inspired piece, albeit the version of that band with Gilli Smyth warbling at her worst. Pity as the flute dominated music is rather interesting.
The album opening duo of Psicorickshaw and Bholenath offer up the best of the bunch, particularly on the title track, where, after the vocals, the added piano and keyboards, played by guest musician Xavi Lloses, add a different dimension particularly with the acoustic guitar making a change from the electric instruments. The shorter pieces are mainly interludes and do manage to provide a bit of a break in proceedings.
Overall, quite a challenging album built on solid improvisations with added jazz elements and the Crimson-inspired guitar workouts. Not really up my street as after a while it started to sound the same to me. I know, I know, call me a philistine but I'm a sucker for a good melody and even Crimson at some of their most extreme had someone like John Wetton or Greg Lake to push forward a decent tune. Check out the samples page if you are intrigued although the band's website doesn't seem to have been updated in a while, or visit Soma's MySpace (link above).
Conclusion: 5 out of 10