Reviews in this issue:
- Resistor - Resistor
- Orne – The Conjuration By The Fire
- Stéphane Lemaire – L’Etang De Kukufah
- Days Between Stations – Days Between Stations
- Marco Sfogli - There's Hope
- The Web – Theraphosa Blondi
- Voluntary Mother Earth - Unacceptable Vegetable
Resistor - Resistor
Tracklist: Reincarnation (5:50), Jethro Fran (3:47), Restless Angel (11:46), Fair To Say (6:21), As Of Yesterday (3:43), 222 (5:52), Moondog (7:00), Waiting To Believe (7:47)
Resistor is Steve Unruh's progressive / rock / jam band that has been in gestation for the last couple of years. Originally a lunchtime excursion away from work for Unruh (vocals, guitar, flute, violin) and Rob Winslow (bass), the duo hooked up with drummer Barry Farrands and started rehearsing in earnest. By sheer fluke, a new employee at the toy company where Unruh and Winslow worked named Fran Turner, turned out to be guitarist with mutually compatible musical interests and so Resistor was born.
Anyone who peruses the DPRP review pages will have noticed that all five of Steve's solo albums that we have reviewed have gained a recommended tag. What is more, the two solo albums we missed are also worthy of such commendation. A somewhat unique and sickingly talented individual, Unruh's solo efforts have displayed a breadth of variety and complexity that have made him difficult to pigeonhole (which is definitely a very positive point in my book!). When one adds to that the variety of his previous group contributions (from jazz to folk via a Phish/Grateful Dead/Willy Nelson hybrid) it is not hard to see just how immersed in music Unruh is. That he is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist in all of these genres, as well as being a great songwriter, engineer and producer, he is the epitome of a solo musician. However, there remains one major drawback, the interaction with other musicians, particularly when the desire to take to the stage gets a grip. Sure, it's easy enough to find musicians to help play the music live, but that's not a band.
And Resistor are a band. The musicians play off each other creating music that has the feeling of being live. The energy and attack of the music hits you face on from the opening bars of Reincarnation. Guitars flailing, it is easy to miss the subtleties like the violin underpinning the chorus or the humourous backing vocals 'oohing' at the stars! Jethro Fran is a nod to Ian Anderson's Tull, although the instrumental only really treads on Tull territory by the simple fact that it is laden with some fine flute playing. Rather than perform an acoustic number, Resistor have gone for the high energy approach with electric guitars giving a heavier backing to the trill of the flute, but still preserving a darn fine tune. The album's epic, Restless Angel, starts with a fairly gentle approach of a strummed electric guitar and vocal but as the bass, drums and second guitar join in things start to take a different angle. A brief riff gives a tantalising glimpse of what's to come before another verse and chorus and then all hell lets loose! With the electric guitars of Unruh and Turner booming from the left and right channel respectively, some of the grittiest and heaviest riffing since the first Black Sabbath album ensues. After the riff fest some rather desolate lyrics - Everything seems so much harsher now, granular filter / metallic grey, sharp focus, bleak landscape cold without warmth you gave, save us from this desolate cliché - leads into a reprise of the opening refrain and despite being played in a heavier manner the violin, again superbly blended in with the guitar, lifts the tone culminating in a rousing ending.
In an about face, Fair To say, is a ballad, albeit one of regret. A gentle, bluesy number with a breeze of a guitar solo, the beauty of the song is in its simplicity. As of Yesterday raises the tempo with a lively chugging guitar and some more fine flute work by Mr. Unruh. A short, sharp number that is vaguely (very vaguely!) punkish, the inherent anger being suppressed by a more soothing chorus that juxtaposes positivity and negativity - the sun shines bright, but it's been raining - and then reverses it in the next line - there's no return, no use complaining. 222 and Moondog are both instrumental pieces but differ tremendously. 222 is, once again, a slower number with both the two guitarists showcasing their abilities. Unruh displays an almost Pat Metheny like clarity with each note being hit perfectly while Turner has a bluesier, Claptonesque feel. As the track progresses it is easy to get lost in the mix of the two as each guitarist takes on different solos. Moondog heralds the return of the gritty guitar riff and utilises a variety of effects pedals; I can imagine this number being stretched out when played live as it is the type of track that has the space and opportunity for extended jamming. In both of these tracks Farrands provides some beautifully judged fills and Winslow is ever-present, maybe not always consciously registered behind the guitarists but boy you'd miss him if he wasn't there. Final track Waiting to Believe is rather melancholic but, as with a lot of the pieces on this album there are a lot of layers and discovery is rampant on each listening. The song ramps itself up for a big ending but just as you think things are going into hyperdrive, there is a subtle switch and the song ends in a quieter more relaxing vein.
I freely confess to being a huge fan of Steve Unruh's music and all of his solo albums are worthy of buying and taking the time to fully absorb. However, as previously stated, Resistor are a band of four musicians who have all had an input into the writing and arranging of the pieces and a say in the final mix. As such it is not possible, or indeed fair, to compare Resistor with previous solo albums by Unruh. As a separate entity, the Resistor album is by far one of my favourite albums of the year so far and, depending on how one views these things, is up there in the list of outstanding debut albums. There is quite an eclectic mix on the album but I think that should help to draw in listeners from different parts of the progressive rock spectrum, indeed, they would be ideal for inclusion on any rock festival line-up. I would certainly be very excited and eager to see these songs played live!
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Orne – The Conjuration By The Fire
Tracklist: In The Vault (3:38), A Beginning (5:53), Anton (5:41), Island Of Joy (5:50), Frontline Dreams (6:47), Opening By Watchtower (8:42), Lighthouse (11:41)
The first thing that strikes you about this CD is the cover, an image by early 20th Century Irish artist Harry Clark originally painted to illustrate Goethe's Faust. Open the booklet and you find Sator Squares, gloomy forests, scowling musicians, a still from Mario Bava's 1963 horror classic La Frusta e il Corpo and H.P. Lovecraft quotations; the band being named after one of his characters. For me this does not bode well as I usually find themes of the occult to be a complete turn off. Luckily this is a classic example of a book that should not be judged by its cover. This is a beautiful and charismatic piece of work from a band I'm looking forward to hearing more from in the future. Incantation and dark imagery find their way into the lyrics but the music itself is marvellous and certainly worthy of investigation.
Orne were formed in Finland about a decade ago but this is their first album. Recorded in 2003/4 it finally got a release on Italian label Black Widow in 2006, which is appropriate as they claim a heavy influence from '70s UK band Black Widow (Clive Jones was approached to play on the album but could not contribute at the time). During the period between recording and release the band have changed their name to The Orne after complaints from a family in Finland that bears the name.
Overall the album offers a pretty authentic sound of vintage late ‘60s/early '70s British prog and leader Kimi Kärki (also known as Peter Vicar, guitarist with Doom metal band Reverend Bizarre) has spoken of the influence of bands such as early King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator and Gabriel era Genesis. Pink Floyd also spring to mind and these influences describe the sound nicely having the pastoral melody of Genesis, the melancholy of Crimson's first few albums and the brooding intensity of VdGG. The recording is excellent and the tracks major in fragile delicacy at a stately pace but there is also more than a hint of Black Sabbath about them when they decide to pick up the tempo and increase the heaviness. There are no evil Iommi-style riffs, more a very dark atmosphere of foreboding that hangs over the proceedings. They certainly use a broad palette to paint their beautiful sound worlds and the melodies are intricate and thoughtful, the album just getting better and better with every listen. This is rich and dark progressive rock with the pastoral touch of folk music. The instrumentation is interesting with organs, Rhodes piano and wind instruments, particularly the flute, adding nicely to the atmospherics. Every note seems chosen with care and there is not a spare ounce that shouldn’t be there other than the over extended outro narrative but this can easily be skipped without affecting the album. Most of the material comes from Kärki, his songs telling tales of history, the occult, war, religion and childhood.
The rest of the band includes the other members of Reverend Bizarre - Albert Witchfinder (vocals) and Jay Lovely aka Void (percussion) – plus Antti Fredriksson (bass), Pirkka Leino (keys), Jussi Lisko (sax and flute) and Pekka Pitkälä (lead guitar). The chilling tones of Patrick Walker are also used to provide the sinister narratives that bookend the album, the opening setting out their stall nicely before the truly lovely guitar instrumental In The Vault which is so atmospheric that you can almost see the mist rolling in around the grave stones. There are distinct Floyd references here, particularly towards the end of the track where the Hammond ramps up the tension.
A Beginning is next and increases the tempo, barnstorming and driving but allowing space to step back and let organ and sax add atmosphere and hints of VdGG before a Floyd-like guitar solo. Albert makes his first contribution here, his majestic voice striking in its warm melancholy with mannered diction and stately delivery. He sometimes phrases his words in a style that brings Peter Hammill to mind but the two have distinctly different vocal approaches. There is a dreaminess here that makes for an otherworldly listen. The music is warm and satisfying and generally stays at a mid pace, speed injections used as sparingly as outright heaviness. You get the feeling that the band are teasing the listener by being able to change the dynamic and wrong foot their audience at the flick of a switch.
The ghostly murmuring of a child opens the next track, Anton, before a throbbing beat and the guitar melody swirls in. The music is well arranged and belies its complexity. This slow and languid piece packs a lot in and has a grandeur and sweep about it that hints of Genesis around Nursery Cryme. Island Of Joy opens with a beating drum and flute almost giving a Native American feel but this quickly recedes as the flute and guitar pick up a gentle melody with organ backing. The tempo increases before returning to the original theme, the dynamics of the music being well thought through and taking priority. The use of flute is definitely more Mostly Autumn than Jethro Tull and the organ is used well to add atmosphere with excellent choices of guitar tone employed. There is a distinct Scandinavian feel to much of the work here with hints of traditional folk influence as occurs with The Flower Kings and Sinkadus.
Frontline Dreams opens with aching guitar to underline the melancholy vision of soldiers trudging through rain towards the front, the threat of death heavy in their minds. This is a beautiful and moving piece before an increase in pace and heaviness towards the end with a definite Sabbath vibe and an abrupt conclusion. None of these tracks outstay their welcome and they take as long as they need to get to where they need to be.
Opening By Watchtower has another '70s chordal introduction before the organ, flute and acoustic guitar give a ghostly feel. 7 minutes in there is a galloping segment with flute ending in a Sabbath-like conclusion that leads into the tranquil intro of Lighthouse. There is much grandeur to be had during this piece before Albert changes tack and adds some Black Metal vocals to conjure up a creature of fire. There are more strident and magisterial vocals with a definite bestial edge before the return of Patrick Walker to deliver the albums coda, invoking whatever the band require him to invoke in an echoey Christopher Lee way.
So there it is. An album that comes highly recommended to anyone with a liking for classic early '70s prog who likes their music with a good helping of atmosphere and dynamics. I urge anyone who is interested not to be put off by the cover art as this is an exceptional piece of work by a bunch who know what they're doing and how to achieve what they set out to. Hopefully they will be able to get some more music completed soon. Excellent.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Stéphane Lemaire – L’Etang De Kukufah
Tracklist: Pièce D’Eau (3:26), Brouillard (7:26), Le Temps De La Geneste (5:28), Nous Mélangeons (6:25), Le Chemin De La Minière (4:40), Nytadam (3:23), Intermède (2:57), Nytadam Reprise (0:54), Gongs (6:22), J’M’En Fiche (6:43), L’Etang De Kukufah (5:50), Sanctum Sudarium (6:06), En Route (5:01), Automne A Trousalé (3:53), Sphères (6:56)
Often enough, I like, sometimes really like, the Musea discs I get for review. But as everybody on the DPRP reviewing team knows, half the fun of reviewing a Musea CD is reading the promotional material that accompanies each disc. It’s partly the good but unidiomatic English employed by the promo writers (so, for example, when the writer says that Lemaire is inspired by “repetitive American music,” he or she probably didn’t realize that “repetitive” is usually used adversely rather than approvingly); but the most fun comes from reading the list of influences that the promo writers assemble for every new release. This one’s no exception: we’re told that Stéphane Lemaire’s influences range from Philip Glass to Steve Reich to Fripp & Eno to – wait for it – “Scandinavian jazz.” Well, okay – I’ll have to brush up on my Scandinavian jazz. And to be fair, the Glass reference is valid, as I’ll suggest again later; and I guess at a stretch one can claim any “influence” for an artist one wishes. But trust me – there ain’t nothing like Steve Reich on this album!
Enough said about the blurb. What about the music? In fact, it’s more coherent and enjoyable than that list might suggest; at the same time, Lemaire’s inventive enough that mentioning his name in the same sentence as Fripp’s or Eno’s isn’t ludicrous overpraise. This is no simple ambient CD, no trite new-age or easy-listening confection. Every track has its own virtues, and distinct virtues, at that; and while that fact makes my job harder, it makes the listener’s pleasure greater. Lemaire uses clavier, tap guitar, and bass (and employs guest musicians on a few tracks to supply percussion and electric violin) to create, to use a word I don’t care for but which fits here, “soundscapes.” Each composition seems to aim at creating a mood rather than (or more than) developing a structure or melody. I’ll take my favourite track as an example – J’M’En Fiche, or, roughly, “I’m Confused” or “I’m Not Sure”. The track starts out with clicky percussion and ethereal keyboards but breaks after a couple minutes and returns with a wild, fast, wandering bass line that enacts the sentiments of the title perfectly as the other instruments swirl around in their own carefully constructed state of confusion. Or take album opener Pièce D’Eau, with its vaguely Oriental percussion effects and guitar and “liquid”-sounding keyboards. And if it’s the Glass influence you’re looking for, check out Nous Mélangeons, which features what any music fan would call typical Glass scales first on bass and then on piano and synthesizer. The cool thing, though, is that nobody would mistake this for a Glass composition or performance, and I mean that as a compliment to Lemaire, who, aware of the weight of his influences, can nonetheless transmute them into something wholly new.
In fact, while I accepted the clichéd term “soundscapes” earlier as a reasonable description of the pieces on this CD, it occurs to me that it might be more useful to imagine the album as a whole as a soundtrack to a movie – not just any movie, of course. Did you know that the famous surrealist painter Salvador Dali was also an accomplished filmmaker? I’d never known that fact; but, on a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I saw an exhibition of Dali’s films alongside his paintings, and I have to say that I can imagine this CD as perfectly suited to accompany some of those bizarre but compelling films. Lemaire’s disc is one of most interesting and intelligent instrumental albums I’ve heard in some time, and even after acquainting myself with it for the purposes of this review, I have the feeling that it’s going to take more time before I really come to grips with it. I’d like to suggest that other fans of melodic but challenging instrumental music might also enjoy coming to grips with it and that the process would be both enjoyable and rewarding.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Days Between Stations – Days Between Stations
Tracklist: Requiem For The Living (13:26), Either/Or (7:33), Intermission 1 (2:13), How To Seduce A Ghost (4:55), Radio Song (4:23), Intermission 2 (1:36), Laudanum (22:13)
Days Between Stations are a Los Angeles outfit primarily made up of keyboard player Oscar Fuentes and guitarist Sepand Samzadeh, who first came together back in 2003. The duo admits in their promo material that the period leading up to the creation of their debut album has not been an easy one on a personal level, which no doubt has led to parts of the album having an undeniably dark hue. They do credit The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord with giving them a much needed boost; Soord utilised some improvised material the duo sent to him on his band’s Twelve Days Down set.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sound of The Pineapple Thief (especially that of their instrumental side – think 8 Days, the bonus disc on Variations Of A Dream) is not a million miles away of that of Days Between Stations, who describe their sound variously as ‘art rock’ and ‘post-prog’. They do however have a slightly wider remit than Soord’s outfit, taking in influences from prog, post rock, ambient and jazz. It wouldn’t be stretching things to say, however, that the prime influence is definitely Pink Floyd in their early to mid seventies heyday.
Predominantly instrumental and relying more on atmosphere and ambience than chops and turn-on-a-dime time signatures, the music of Days Between Stations possibly won’t appeal to those who like their prog rock lively and in your face, although that’s not to say the album lacks dynamics. A good illustration is the fine album opener Requiem For The Living, where a slow-burning intro, all orchestral ambience led by cello-like keyboards, gradually builds, courtesy of a bridge dominated by a simple but effective piano melody and guest vocalist Jeffrey Samzaden’s mournful chanting, to a The Orb-esque ambient piece, the dub-influenced bass groove coloured by some soaring, Steve Hackett-like guitar work from Sepand Samzadeh.
Much of the remainder retains this slightly dark yet vaguely spacey and psychedelic feel; the atmospheric How To Seduce A Ghost sees Samzadeh really excel with some exemplary guitar work, the two Intermission pieces have a sparse yet experimental feel whilst the epic closer Laudanum has several distinct sections, ranging from ambient chill-out to a more Floyd-y sounding section dominated by Jason Hemmens’ saxophone. The influence of Waters, Gilmour and Co. is at its most overt on Either/ Or, which switches from female wailing a’la The Great Gig In The Sky to some keyboard noodling straight out of the final part of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and is probably the least satisfying piece here. The most atypical track here is the rather quirky Radio Song; based on an insidious keyboard melody with vocodered vocals and parping trumpets, this bright and breezy song might seem an odd fit in a generally sombre, atmosphere led album, but I think it works in providing a breather in between the more weighty material.
Overall, whilst no classic, this is still a quietly impressive debut from Days Between Stations, and fans of atmospheric, ambient prog would be well advised to check out the samples on their MySpace site.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Marco Sfogli - There's Hope
Tracklist: Still Hurts (5:02), Andromeda (6:30), Seven (5:00), There's Hope (4:00), Spread The Disease (4:07), Farewell (3:49), Sunset Lights (5:37), Genius (4:47), Never Forgive Me (4:10), Memories (3:37), Texas BBQ (2:12)
Marco Sfogli was the guitar player of choice when Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie went looking for musicians for his solo project - Marco played on the album Elements Of Persuasion and on the following Persuasion world tour. There's Hope is Sfogli's debut album and it's completely instrumental and in this particular field of play there are many players, making very hard to distinguish yourself from all the others. According Sfogli the goal for this album was to create a melodic instrumental album that does not fall into the category of shred records. I agree with him on the fact that of that kind there are way too many around.
From front to back this album is filled with guitar melodies and therefore one can say that he stays true to his intentions. Still Hurts is influenced by eighties rock while Andromeda is more modern and progressive. Seven is the first time that a brief solo spot is offered to keyboard player Alex Argento, who provides the few moments where the guitar takes a step back. Marco's personal favourite guitar player is Joe Satriani and you can certainly tell that when listening to There's Hope, it reminds me of Satriani's Extremist album. Spread The Disease is bluesy and strongly in contrast with the power pumping guitar hero rock of Farewell - a strange title for such a heavy song, one might expect a ballad. However the next one, Sunset Lights, is one of the ballads on this album, and a very typical ballad coming from a guitar hero.
The beginning of Genius is a copy of style from Dream Theater, surely keyboard player Alex Argento has put a mark on this song. Never Forgive Me and Memories are both ballads which give the second part of the album a very mellow taste in contract to the first half of the album. The strange grouping is emphasized by the strange conclusion of this album. Texas BBQ is a funny rodeo tune which would have suited better on a loony tunes movie.
There's Hope is certainly a good album but more than with other instrumental guitar albums I got the feeling that this one is truly only for guitar lovers. Some occasional keyboard solo performance, but mainly lot's of guitar. Technically a very skilful album that certainly is a nice break from all the shred material currently flooding the market. At times Sfogli can play very fast, but he is not just playing notes for the sake of it.
The album production is superb. The ballads could have been spread out a bit more equal and the closing song missed the spot for me. Guitar hero fans will find some interesting stuff on this album, for the common music fan it's probably just too much guitar.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Web – Theraphosa Blondi
Tracklist: Like The Man Said (7:06), Sunshine Of Your Love (6:48), ‘Til I Come Home Again (3:02), Bewala (2:31), One Thousand Miles Away (4:30), Blues For Two T’s (2:50), Kilimanjaro (3:49), Tobacco Road / America (5:39) Bonus Tracks: Afrodisiac (3:20) Newspecs (3:48)
This reissue is the second of three albums The Web recorded before evolving into Samurai for one eponymous album. The Web’s last album I Spider and the Samurai album (reviewed here) both feature a pre-Greenslade Dave Lawson on keyboards and are well worth investigating for Greenslade, VDGG and early English progressive rock fans.
Unfortunately, Theraphosa Blondi was recorded before Lawson joined the band (though he did re-master the album for this reissue) and it finds the group desperately flailing around in search of a viable direction.
Admirably wanting to move away from their soul band roots, they start off OK with the strident Like The Man Said and keep up the momentum with a fair cover of Sunshine Of Your Love, shoehorning some jazzy variations into the middle of the song. Unfortunately, the wheels come off the wagon here and you will have to make it past a version of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s overwrought and melodramatic 'Til I Come Home Again; a couple of novelty pieces – the percussive Bewala and the execrable Kilimanjaro, not to mention the hideous crooning of One Thousand Miles Away, before you reach the climactic pairing of Tobacco Road / America which, thankfully is not bad at all, if hardly an original choice of song to cover.
The two bonus tracks are a bit more like it, in an Afro/Jazz rock vein and quite enjoyable too. They are not enough to rescue this disc from the realms of “for completists and fanatics only” though.
When the band are on form, as on the first two tracks and the last three, they manage to present a competent if unspectacular jazz rock blend, strong on saxes and flutes and with powerful vocals, and with the merest hint of the progressive direction they went on to pursue, but there’s too many tracks here which make me want to hit the skip button for it to be recommendable.
Save your money for the I Spider and Samurai reissues.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Voluntary Mother Earth - Unacceptable Vegetable
Tracklist: Give Us A Tomato (5:33), Free Head For A Free Ride (6:46), I Said "Just Water, Please" And She Gave Me Sprite (5:49), Valley Girl Meets Angela And A Long Thin Person (5:25), Jemery Thorn 2007 (5:57), A Story Of The Typical Week Of A Starving Musician (4:15), Makes Me Wonder (5:15), Forgive My Penis (4:39), ...And you Got My Penis Hurt (7:29)
Something inside me tempts me to write the most boring and serious looking review I ever wrote. And this as a reaction to having to write about an album whose raison d'être seems to be the fact that it's supposed to be humorous and not the musical genius of the artist trying to find ways to express itself. Having said that, I wonder: was Zappa just trying to be funny or did he also have other things in the back of his head (apart from an extraordinary talent and an excellent band at the back of the stage)? Anyhow, lets stop with these philosophical and after all rhetorical questions and let's get down to business: Is this any good?
The music is REALLY influenced by Frank Zappa. In what sense? If you are familiar with Zappa In New York for example, you may remember the structure of the songs: there is a little story, a little conversation, funny interludes coming in between reminiscent of cartoon music, music of films and so on. This is the recipe that these guys try to follow as well, but without really doing anything innovative or new... Lots of "cute" tunes here and there and direct references to known songs: Sweet Home Alabama, Beat It, Highway To Hell and Oops, I Did It Again, and so on. Does singing Britney's epic make these guys cool per se? Not sure...
And the rest of the music? Well, what we usually get is cliché riffs, a very indifferent if not annoying singing and lyrics that range from banal jokes with the f-word to more elaborate and subtle humour: "It makes me wonder like Stevie Wonder"... Ok, to be fair, there are some interesting parts in the music that I cannot overlook. In between child-like riffs, the musicians sometimes engage into a Zappa-like experimentation or an early King Crimson-like frenzy (yes-Free Head For A Free Ride sounds a lot like 21
I guess every country has its parodic cover band, with a predominately white male teenager audience (line stolen from Spinal Tap). Maybe this is Japan's version. I am not a teenager anymore to laugh whenever the f-word or the word "penis" comes around. And the music is anything but exceptional. And just copying Zappa won't do the job for me. And I don't need a laugh THAT desperately to resort to listening to this CD.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10