Reviews in this issue:
- Overhead - And We're Not Here After All
- Jelly Fiche - Tout Ce Que J'Ai Reve
- Haze - Stoat & Bottle
- Haze - 20th Anniversary
- Slav De Hren - Pictures At An Exhibition
- Bigelf - Cheat The Gallows
- Project Moonbeam - Project Moonbeam
- Tribal Logic - Freaky Karma
- Fear Of Flying - Fear Of Flying
Overhead - And We're Not Here After All
Tracklist: A Method... (4:13), ...To The Madness (7:43), Time Can Stay (8:08), The Sun (1:09), Lost Inside (11:46), Entropy (6:41), A Captain On The Shore (9:47)
Finnish band Overhead return with their third album And We're Not Here After All, the follow-up to 2005's Metaepitome. The line-up remains the same as on that album with the classic combination of guitar (Jaakko Kettunen), bass (Janne Pylkkönen), keyboards (Tarmo Simonen), drums (Ville Sjöblom) and vocals (Alex Keskitalo, who also plays flute). In our review of Metaepitome it was stated that the album was "a bit of a rag bag of various influences" and that "some tracks could do with some judicious editing". Well, Overhead have done just that. Whereas the first two albums each started with a 20 minute track and ended with one that was over 15 minutes, this latest release is a lot more succinct. In addition, the band seem to have gained their own sound, which although not completely unique (well what is these days?) allows them to at least stand apart from the more overt influences previously present.
And We're Not Here After All is a concept album of sorts. There is not so much a story being told but a theme of questioning the meaning and purpose of life. The lyrics are, for the most part, quite downbeat but are extremely good, many, if not most, of native English-speaking lyricists would be hard pushed to pen words with such erudition. The music is a match for the lyrics, from the opening, music-box qualities of A Method... with its sublime melody and gloriously mellifluous singing of Keskitalo, to the heavier adjoining track ...To The Madness with its pulsating bass line, rousing chorus and layered middle eight, is a great way to start the album. Even the spoken word section fits perfectly, setting the scene with manic flute trills and guitar-generated sonic assaults providing an apt backing. Time Can Stay goes through a variety of emotions from optimism, to confessional, onto anger and finally resignation. At each stage the music fits the lyrical mood entirely ending on a crunching guitar chord before lapsing into the languid The Sun, a brief respite from the madness with a synthesised accordion playing over an acoustic guitar.
Lost Inside, the only track to breach the ten-minute barrier, has a mellow beginning with piano and flute setting the scene. There is a certain resemblance to early Pink Floyd in the way the sound gradually builds with a rolling bass line but it is certainly not at all obvious. As mentioned, the band have succeeded in establishing a recognisable sound of their own and the juxtaposition of piano and heavy guitar chords works very nicely. After some heavier sections the ending reverts back to acoustic guitar, flute and piano delivering a peach of a song. Turning up the volume, the band get heavier for Entropy with screaming electric guitar and Hammond organ although maintaining a recognisable tune and, despite the title, structure. The song is insidious and once heard is hard to get out of the brain, which says a lot considering the album is replete with strong melodies. Even if it is not representative of the rest of the album, it adds variety and I suspect the whole band, and in particular Kettunen, must have a gas performing it live. The dénouement comes with A Captain On The Shore which takes things to another level, blending all that has gone before and adding something extra: the great backing vocals of Petra Oksa. Not a second of the almost 10 minute running time is superfluous and the conclusion to the album is, considering the lyrical nature, very upbeat.
Prior to this album I had never heard of Overhead, but I am certainly glad that this CD came my way as I am very impressed by the whole of the album. Although I don't think that, as stated in the press release from Musea, the album has been "awaited like the Messiah" (for a start, it's arrival was far more inevitable!) it should certainly satisfy those fans that have waited three years for its release as well as generating new fans for the band, myself included. A great album and well worth a listen as you could easily get hooked.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Jelly Fiche - Tout Ce Que J'Ai Reve
Tracklist: [Tout ce que j’ai rêvé (8:45), Les Arbres (10:15), Caché au Fond plus Haut (7:10), Source Infinie (4:55), In Vitro (2:55), Dans la Peau d’un Autre I (7:39), Dans la Peau d’un Autre II (4:31), La Fontaine (0:43), La Cage des Vautours / Liberté (15:24)
My wife and I are currently in the process of buying a property in France. Our aim in a few years time is to swap the delights of the semi-rural Cotswolds in England, for the delights of the very rural Vienne region en France. The key to a successful transition lies in me developing my command of the French vocabulary. What better way to expand my linguistic attributes than through music? This album from French-Canadian Progrockers Jelly Fiche has provided a great place to begin.
Montreal is the base for this young trio with firm foundations in the progressive rock of Pink Floyd, Yes and King Crimson, but with an interesting sideline in jazz, poetry and the avant-garde. This is their debut album, something you’d never guess from the accomplished, dramatic compositions to be found across the nine tracks.
Unicorn Digital is promoting this as an album that echoes 70s-era Quebec bands such as Maneige and Harmonium. I’m not familiar with either but what Jelly Fiche deliver is retro, progressive rock with a very modern and original edge. The production and arrangements give the whole disc a very warm sound. Other than a few sections which tend towards either mellow acoustics or heavier guitar, most of the album glides along at a steady, mild rocky pace.
There is a heavy jazz and fusion element to the band's sound. The more frantic jazz sections don’t always sit too comfortably with the Prog stylings for my tastes, but their occasional use doesn’t overly spoil my enjoyment. Syd delivers some very dramatic and note perfect vocals which are based on lyrics penned by French-Canadian poet Guy Marchamps. An exotic saxophone and a flute are also added, making this seem like the work of significantly more than three musicians.
Of the songs, Source Infinie has more of a poppy vibe with an electronic beat, while its fusion groove and catchy vocal melodies make Cache au Fond Plus Haut a firm favourite. There’s some nice bluesy guitar, especially on the opening of Les Arbres which brings the Floyd comparisons. My favourite track is the first part of Dans La Peau D’un Autre. It is a very 60s song but with a very modern vibe. Its mellow chorus is delicious.
I should think these songs lend themselves perfectly to a live performance and judging from these clips the band is more than capable of delivering a high-energy visual show.
If you don’t mind the French lyrics and the strong jazz leanings then I can see this appealing to a wide progressive audience. Jelly Fiche is certainly an exciting newcomer with all the ingredients to make a name for themselves. The MySpace samples are fairly representative of what you get for your money. My copy will be joining me en route to buy a French home next month.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Haze - Stoat & Bottle
Tracklist: Stoat & Bottle (1:54), See Her Face (3:44), In The End (4:37), In The Universe (3:45), Humbug (0:31), The Vice (7:32), Autumn (6:04), Resealing (0:33), Tunnel Vision (4:18), Ophelia (7:13), Shadows (5:45), Fading Away (4;20), Last Orders (4:28), Bonus Tracks: Into The Fire (3:20), Another Country (4:45), Safe Harbour (4:12), Wooden House (4:28), Stone House (5:57)
With one or two notable exceptions (Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood being a prime example) the 1980’s was for me not the most inspiring period for prog rock. Stoat & Bottle by Haze is not untypical of the kind of prog-rock album being produced at the time. If the artwork with its cosy image of the band enjoying a drink outside a rural pub suggests a progressive-folk outing then think again, this is more electro-pop than Fairport Convention. It’s certainly in stark contrast to the bands outward appearance of archetypal hippies who toured regularly up until late ‘86 in an old ambulance. Originally released on vinyl in April 1987 this was the second and final album from the trio of Paul McMahon (guitars, vocals), Chris McMahon (keyboards, bass) and Paul Chisnell (drums). Despite relentless gigging they failed to expand their cult following and disbanded the following summer ending their ten year run. The McMahon brothers would go on to become one half of World Turtle, a band that also included Pendragon drummer Fudge Smith.
This CD reissue was remastered by Chris McMahon and includes five bonus tracks. The original opening and closing titles suggest a concept of sorts but apart from the occasional barroom chatter that links some tracks there’s no obvious thread to connect the other songs. Musically it’s a curious half breed of shorter 80’s pop influenced songs and longer more adventurous proggy pieces. The latter is represented by tracks like The Vice and Ophelia which both feature some excellent guitar and keys interplay. Shades of Steve Rothery and Andy Latimer can be detected in Paul’s playing and in fact much of the instrumental work would not sound out of place on a mid period Camel album like Nude. Chris produces a superb brassy synth sound in Ophelia with Paul vocalising in a moody Greg Lake kind of way joined by harmonies in a smooth Moody Blues kind of way. The original appropriately titled closing track Last Orders opens with a welcome touch of acoustic guitar before choir like voices introduce a melodic synth and guitar theme that strays a little to close to Genesis’ Hairless Heart for comfort.
The band's more poppy aspirations are evident from the outset with the title song and continue through See Her Face, In The Universe, Tunnel Vision and Fading Away. The latter redeems itself a little with a Trevor Rabin era Yes guitar and keys sound but otherwise the songs are dominated by clattering drums (minus cymbals of course), fat bass and splashy synths. Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode, Haircut 100 and Talk Talk are all brought to mind only without the same commercial flair. In contrast the song Autumn is a real curiosity that closed side one of the original vinyl release. It’s a slow blues affair with gritty Clapton inflected soloing and suitably mournful words from Paul.
The bonus tracks recorded a few months after the albums original release fall somewhere in between the above although with the obvious intent to gain wider commercial acceptance. Into The Fire is pure Flock Of Seagulls with its spacious guitar sound, urgent tempo and anthemic chorus. The up-tempo Another Country rests its laurels on a meaty ZZ Top flavoured riff whilst the jangly guitar led Safe Harbour contains a pleasant if overly sweet chorus and a verse that echoes The Carpenters’ Goodbye To Love. The driving Wooden House features prominent bass and a variety of guitar effects that make up for the lacklustre melody leaving Stone House to supply a relaxed but effective conclusion. It builds to a stately chorus that brings Mark Hollis to mind plus a touch of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice courtesy of the backing vocals.
Although this release has been skilfully remastered the end results are hampered by the limitations of the source tapes. Subtleties are often surrendered for a harsh, piercing sound that I found taxing on the ears after awhile. It’s not without its attractions however but ultimately remains more of a curio than it does a recommended addition to your CD collection. That’s unless of course you recall the original vinyl release with some affection and are looking for an upgrade. Even then tread with caution, in the cold light of the 21st Century it may not sound as essential as you remember it. The tone of the album is very much rooted in the mid 80’s and sounds a tad dated now. On the plus side is the enhanced booklet which includes archive pics, full lyrics and excellent (un-credited) liner notes from Chris McMahon.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Haze - 30th Anniversary Shows
Disc 1: Intro (1:04), Turn Around (4:0), Mirage (7:02), Over The River (5:45), Another Country (4:56), Autumn (5:25), 4 Real (2:49), See Her Face (4:50), Portrait (3:46), The Edge Of Heaven (6:28), Let Go (6:14), The Vice (7:30)
Disc 2: Hitchhiking (1:53), Ophelia (7:19), In The End (4:38), Dragonfly (5:16), Train (4:35), The Hum (inc Danny’s jig) (4:52), A Firkin Of Mead (1:53), The Barrister & The Bargast (5:21), Unto The Dawn (6:56), In The Light (3:49), The Night (6:56), Seven Stones (7:47), Last Orders (4:57), Comfortably Numb (7:19)
When Sheffield based Haze originally decided to call it a day they celebrated their ten years together with a farewell show at Sheffield University on 29th May 1988. This eventually appeared on CD as did their 20th Anniversary concert also recorded in their home town on 31st May 1998. New from Cyclops is the 30th Anniversary Shows recorded earlier this summer over a single weekend at The Peel, Kingston on 31st May and The Boardwalk, Sheffield on 1st June.
This two disc set features the original line-up of Paul McMahon (vocals, guitar and guitar synth), Chris McMahon (keyboards, bass and vocals) and Paul Chisnell (drums, vocals). They were joined on both evenings by young flautist Ceri Ashton. The band produced just two studio albums in their time together; C'est La Vie in 1984 and 1987’s Stoat & Bottle. Both are obviously well represented here as are the trio’s other musical endeavours which includes World Turtle and Treebeard, two bands that followed in the wake of Haze.
Despite the bands modest studio output they still manage to cram a variety of different songs and styles into the set so for anyone unacquainted with their music this would be a useful starting point. The songs are sequenced in the same running order as The Boardwalk performance with disc one appropriately containing several of their older songs including Turn Around, Mirage and Portrait. All three are heavyweight rockers with bluesy overtones in the spirit of Rory Gallagher and in the case of Mirage borders on power metal. The only evidence of proggy influences here is the sparkling synth sound that has Rick Wakeman written all over it. In contrast Over The River is more refined featuring rippling piano developing into a stately ballad with Camel like guitar and flute. In addition to his guitar skills which encompass a myriad of styles (he boasts a total of 10 guitars on stage) Paul McMahon is in excellent voice throughout occasionally reminiscent of John Wetton and Greg Lake. The only glitch is the slightly strangulated performance during 4 Real which sounds like it comes courtesy of one of the other band members (possibly brother Chris).
Three tracks from the Stoat & Bottle album are included on disc one in the shape of Autumn, See Her Face and The Vice. The first of these is a sprawling slow blues affair with a suitably soulful vocal and inspired guitar soloing whilst the latter includes some superbly dexterous synth and guitar exchanges. Both songs in my opinion are significant improvements over the studio versions. World Turtle, the band the McMahon brothers formed after Haze is represented by The Edge Of Heaven and Let Go. The paring begins in tranquil mood with a key strings backdrop and an engaging melody before moving onto a stomping rocker with up front bass and a gritty guitar riff. It’s rounded off with some bombastic synth noodlings and soaring guitar work which for me becomes a little self indulgent towards the end although the drumming remains faultless.
The second disc is more inclined towards the bands proggier leanings and as such for me the more satisfying of the two. Following an atmospheric keys intro the Stoat & Bottle album takes the lead providing the opening songs Ophelia and In The End. Ophelia features a strident but melodic guitar led melody with stirring synth work whilst In The End is taken at a statelier pace although again with some inspired guitar and synth lines. Thankfully it’s free from the splashy snare sound that blighted the studio confined original. Dragonfly is a new song written during rehearsals and a bit of a departure with middle-eastern flavoured guitar and prominent flute. Next up is a quartet of tunes (Train, The Hum, A Firkin Of Mead and The Barrister & The Bargast) that bring to the table a welcome injection of progressive folk as favoured in their Treebeard phase. The Hum is a rousing guitar led reel whilst The Barrister & The Bargast has a traditional folk feel helped by a suitably nasal vocal delivery. My favourite however is A Firkin Of Mead, a lyrical acoustic guitar and flute duet that demonstrates Paul McMahon’s not inconsiderable nylon string agility.
The main set at Sheffield closes with a trio of songs that again hark back to the bands early days. The appropriately titled Unto The Dawn features a compelling Andy Latimer flavoured guitar theme which outshines the vocal section, a dash of organ and some truly monumental drumming from Chisnell. This leads into the melodic Barclay James Harvest tinged In The Light and finally The Night which combines a symphonic melody with metallic power chords and a bluesy if slightly incongruous guitar break. The Kingston set concludes with Seven Stones, the only song not to be played at Sheffield. It’s not to be confused with the Genesis song of same name although it shares that bands sense of melodic and instrumental invention along with shades of Floyd and Camel especially.
The mood continues into the encore with the Genesis sound-alike Last Orders with its compelling guitar and drum coda enhanced on this occasion by flute. They end with a more than acceptable version of the Floyd chestnut Comfortably Numb joined on stage by bassist Greg Smith and guitarist Rog Patterson. Waters’ song verses are handled more convincingly than Gilmour’s chorus but the main guitar melody and the legendary solo are translated with equal aplomb. The drumming is beautifully controlled and the keys work sounds suitably cinematic.
Listening as I have to this two disc set back-to-back with the reissued Stoat & Bottle album I’ve come to one or two conclusions. Firstly, in my opinion they sound at their best live, free from the constraints of the studio. Secondly, for me the instrumental passages work so much better than the vocal sections which occasionally bog the song down. I’m not quite sure why that is because Paul McMahon has a very good and adaptable voice but then again I always had the same feeling about Wishbone Ash along with a number of other instrumentally adventurous bands. And thirdly, as I suggested earlier if you’ve yet to enter the world of Haze this would make an excellent starting point.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Slav De Hren – Pictures At An Exhibition
Tracklist: Promenade (2:11), Gnomus (3:15), Promenade With A Bass (1:28), The Old Castle (3:43), Promenade With A Song (1:18), Tuileries (3:53), Bydlo (4:07), Promenade In Jazz (4:32), Ballet Of The Unhatched Chicks (3:49), Samuel Goldenberg Und Schmuyle (4:10), Promenade In Jazz Again (3:00), The Market At Limoges (5:14), The Catacombs (3:20), With The Dead In A Dead Language (2:21), The Hut On Chicken’s Legs [Baba Yaga](4:24), The Great Gate Of Kiev (4:50), The Last Promenade (4:05)
I am sure I am not alone in being introduced to Modest Mussorgsky’s "Pictures At An Exhibition" by hearing Emerson Lake & Palmer’s bombastic live interpretation. For many years, that was a favourite of mine, and over the years, I have also sought out and enjoyed Isao Tomita’s radical synthesiser reworking, as well as recordings of the original piano suite and Ravel’s orchestrated version.
It has been a long time since I played any of these versions though, so I was intrigued to learn of not one, but two new works based on the piece to be released this year. As it turns out, Italian prog rock band Murple (breaking a long silence since 1974’s Io Sono Murple) have in fact not re-interpreted Mussorgsky’s work with their Quadri Di Un Esposizione. They have written entirely new music inspired by the pictures of Victor Hartmann, the artist whose work Mussorgsky based his piano suite on.
However, Bulgarian avant-gardists Slav De Hren, for this, the group’s second album, presents what they label as “A punk-jazz version” of Mussorgsky’s suite.
Given that description, it was with some trepidation that I approached this CD. In fact, there is nothing here that I would really call punk, and not even too much in a jazz vein either. Granted, much of the CD has an aggressive, visceral feel to it (particularly in the vocal department) and the bass and drums do exhibit jazz techniques, but if I had to label this CD, I feel it would be more accurately described as avant-rock. Indeed, its primary audience is probably fans of Rio oriented bands like Henry Cow / Art Bears. I don’t want to put people off, though, as, really, many musical bases are touched upon here. ELP fans may be more comfortable with tracks like Gnomus and The Hut On Chicken’s Legs, which (despite the lack of keyboards) retain a similar feel to ELP’s versions. What sounds like keyboards are, I believe, midi sounds triggered by guitar and drums
With an instrumental line up consisting solely of guitars (George Marinov), bass (Syilen Ivanov) and drums (Svetoslav Bitrakov), the sound is remarkably full and rich, with the commanding presence of Marinov’s guitars often ruling the roost. A remarkably confident and assured player, he manages to incorporate a richly varied stylistic palette; At times, he even edges close to prog metal shredding (something I don’t think Henry Cow ever tried).
Unlike ELP, Slav De Hren try their hand at all of Mussorgsky’s masterwork, and for the most part, the melodies are recognisable even if the instrumentation is radically different and the approach experimental and varied. It is a delightfully fresh take on an old classic; respectful of the original but also inventive and exuberant in its arrangements.
Vocalist Petya Dankova, has a powerful voice with a wide range, from startling Dagmar Krause-like shrieks to more melodious singing. Some of the lyrics are in English, some in Bulgarian. Gergana Dobreva provides guest vocals on The Market At Limoges, a surprising number in a mournful, bluesy style, quite at odds with the rest of the album.
Another curve ball is thrown on album closer The Last Promenade which is a jaunty pop number, complete with “na na na” backing vocals – entirely unexpected after the spiky avant rock which precedes it.
At the end of the day, Mussorgsky’s work is robust enough to withstand Slav De Hren’s wilder excesses and the group, for their part manage to breathe new life into an old favourite.
It may prove to be a “love it or hate it” CD, but if you are either an avant rock fan or a Mussorgsky fan, I recommend you check out the samples on the group’s MySpace page. I really enjoyed listening to this and will definitely return to it in the future, and it already has me listening to the other versions of Pictures as well, which is no bad thing.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Bigelf - Cheat The Gallows
Tracklist: Gravest Show On Earth (5:00), Blackball (7:02), Money, It’s Pure Evil (3:18), The Evils Of Rock & Roll (6:37), No Parachute (3:43), The Game (5:11), Superstar (3:46), Race With Time (4:28), Hydra (6:23), Counting Sheep (11:20)
In an earlier review this year of Matthew Parmenter’s Horror Express album I said that Matthew really deserved more attention. This also applies in my opinion to Bigelf, an American band centred around keys man, vocalist and chief songwriter Damon Fox, who have been releasing albums since 1994. The first two albums Closer To Doom and Money Machine were released by Record Heaven and album number three Hex was released by Warner Brothers. However it seemed that Bigelf would have to contend with a small but loyal fan base. That was until they recorded the John Lennon song Mother with Christina Aguilera for the Instant Karma/Darfur album. And maybe even more surprisingly Damon Fox contributed to Alicia Keys 2007 album As I am. Also contributing on that album was Linda Perry (who used to be a member of ‘Four Non Blondes’ who had a huge hit in 1992 with the song What’s Up). Perry now has her own record label, Custard, on which Bigelf release their fourth album Cheating The Gallows.
Throughout their career the band mixes the hard rock of bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath with very Beatle-esque melodies and vocal harmonies. They are not afraid to use hard rock and pop in one song. With every album they have got better and better and now with album number four, one can say that they found their own sound. And a damn good album it is. On Cheat The Gallows the massive guitar playing of Ace Mark Butler-Jones and the rich and adventurous Hammond, Mellotron, Moog and piano playing by Damon Hill are joined by an orchestra, a string quartet and a horn section. It seems that for this album a bigger budget was available. Money, It’s Pure Evil was released as a single, a song which sounds like Lenny Kravitz and has a luxurious video clip. The guitar solo in this song also deserves a special mention.
With the addition of the orchestra and the horns the songs sound even more ambitious and over the top than songs on their previous albums. And it works. Album opener Gravest Show On Earth immediately let’s the listener know what he or she can expect on this album. After an orchestral opening Butler-Jones big guitar chords and the staccato drumming of Steve Frothingham prepare the way for Hills ringmaster like vocals. But then in the chorus it’s Beatles harmonies galore. The orchestra and the horns really add a lot to the songs. Another great song is The Evils Of Rock And Roll, with Mellotron choirs and the orchestra delivering a lush and beautiful intro to the song, but after the first verse it’s Black Sabbath/Deep Purple again with heavy guitar and Hammond organ. The song also has very strong solo sections on Hammond and guitar, while in the verses the Mellotron choirs return again. The end of the song we are treated to an exiting Hammond/guitar melody.
Another highlight of the album is the laidback (relatively speaking) No Parachute, where even an acoustic guitar to be heard and what a beautiful chorus! This song is also the first song where I can hear the bass playing of Duffy Snowhill, it’s a bit disappointing that his contributions are overshadowed by everything else that’s going on in the songs.
Although the quality of the songs is very high not every song is a winner. The first four minutes of Blackball are excellent but I could certainly have done without the remaining three minutes. Also Superstar is a nice glam rock song but not very special. However the song preceding Superstar is in my opinion the best song of the album. The Game has one of the most beautiful string arrangements I have heard this year and one that reminds me of ELO - an influence that can be heard on more of the songs on the album. The last three songs on the album are all winners. Race With Time switches from Beatles to hard rock and back again. Then there is the heavy Hydra, the first time the chorus kicks in with its wall of Mellotron choirs and heavy guitars is very impressive! In the middle of the song there is a sound that reminded me of Totally Spice, (anyone with children will know what I’m talking about. It’s also popular as a ringtone), but maybe that’s just me. The track concludes with a Moog solo - it's totally over the top, but they easily get away with it. I’m not even going to try to describe what the eleven minute album closer Counting Sheep is like, other than to say that I thought this Elf couldn't get any bigger. However it’s big, it’s loud, it’s music hall, it’s Bigelf. You have to hear it to believe it.
With Cheat The Gallows Bigelf have released their best and most ambitious album so far. I really do hope that their new label gives them the time and the budget to make more albums, although I’m not quite sure how they are going to top this one. I highly recommend this album to everyone who likes that big, fat sound of the seventies mixed with Beatles/ELO melodies and arrangements. But beware; if you want to avoid speeding tickets do not play this album in your car.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Project Moonbeam - Project Moonbeam
Tracklist: One More Trip (3:55), The Dream’s Illusion (2:51), Speculation (6:36), Reality Is (4:23), Depths Unknown (3:16), Dionoga (2:28), Hydroid (3:58), Air (3:14), Theme One (4:48) Glide (3:01), Theme Two (3:36), Man I Was (4:04), Quarkz (5:06), Unrestriction (3:57)
Patience is a virtue. That is the motto Chris Fournier took to heart when, under the moniker Project Moonbeam, he spent 2005, 2006, and 2007 creating, producing, and mastering the tracks that make up the eponymously titled Project Moonbeam CD.
The music on this CD is largely electronica-based and the idea for the CD came together as Fournier, who has previously put out several solo recordings in the 90’s under the moniker Fonya, composed the tracks while working to get his professional recording studio operational. Helping Fournier out on various tracks on Project Moonbeam is violinist Cyndee Lee Rule (also credited in the CD booklet with “additional melodies”), drummers Tobe London and Jim Kelsey, guest vocalists and lyric/vocal melody contributors Nick Kerzner and Anthony Fournier (one track each) and guitarist Steve Bosse (one track). Chris credits these talented helpers with much gratitude in the CD booklet acknowledgements. He especially thanks Rule, to quote from the booklet:
“Many thanks go out to Cyndee Lee Rule for helping me realize this material was ready to be put together and released. Without her efforts in this area, Project Moonbeam likely would have remained in the studio archives.”
Rule offers her violin styling to six of the CD’s fourteen tracks. It is quite prominent on One More Trip, which like many of the tracks, evokes analog era Tangerine Dream, and Reality Is, which features a programmed bass synth line that could have come from Arjen Lucassen of concept-opera project Ayreon.
Chris is a talented instrumentalist and his Hammond and mellotron sounding keyboards recall the prog of old like ELP and King Crimson. He is also a groovy bass player, laying down some sonic viscosity on The Dream’s Illusion and on the acid jazz of Glide and Theme Two. The electronica-flavoured contemporary pieces give Project Moonbeam some mainstream appeal, albeit, perhaps, unintended. Only five of the fourteen tracks feature live drummers.
Kerzner contributes an acceptable vocal to the Billy Sherwood-tinged Speculation. An even better vocal is provided by Anthony Fournier on the acoustic-laden Man I Was. Some atmospheric Floydian synths get in on the action on Theme One, which harkens back to Flowermouth-era No~Man.
The CD booklet was designed by David Frain and shows an alien-looking desert landscape.
A great effort from Chris Fournier and his capable cohorts. I would love to see Project Moonbeam become a full-fledged band with a studio release!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tribal Logic - Freaky Karma
Tracklist: Detective (10:49), Wooden Rain (25:53), Freaky Karma (10:22), Theoretical Vampirism (26:28)
Tribal Logic are a young Russian band hailing from Chelyabinsk, a town in the Urals whose only previous claim to fame, as far as the Western world is concerned, is that it was the place where the famous T34 tanks were manufactured. The group, a quartet comprised of Anton Sheludko (keyboards), Alexei Savitsky (guitar), Konstantin Poptsov (bass) and Alexander Strashinsky (drums and percussion), got together in early 2006 and recorded the four instrumental tracks that comprise Freaky Karma in 2007. Nearly a year later the album is finally released.
With all four musicians having a background of playing in jazz orchestras and ensembles, it is no surprise that there is a strong jazz element to the music, particularly in terms of Strashinsky's drumming. Detective is a strong opening number beginning with a keyboard drone that might be suggestive of a departure into psychedelic space rock, before heading into more of a Krautrock ambience and ending in a quirky percussion and string (courtesy of Lyudmila Frippova on violin and Evgenya Kadochnikova on cello). Interestingly, although guest musician Ilya Potapov contributes soprano saxophone (on the title track), Sheludko spends a lot of time, particularly during the 26 minutes of Wooden Rain, adding keyboard generated horn pieces. Whilst others are laying down a mellow groove the drums can sometimes over dominate with the abundance of fills and percussive breaks that are thrown in make the sound over busy and somewhat fussy. To be fair, Strashinsky is a fine drummer (and the competence of the other musicians cannot be drawn into question) and Wooden Rain is the most improvised sounding number on the album. Freaky Karma is a lot more structured with a lot of the limelight falling on Potapov in the early phase of the piece. The more overt jazz influences give way to a more progressive vein, somewhat akin to King Crimson in their most exploratory periods.
However, it is final number Theoretical Vampirism that really grabbed my attention, probably because it is the most progressive number of the album. With the strings adding bite, a splendid array of keyboards, including piano, and a host of different sections, there is plenty in the number to keep even the most inattentive of listeners occupied for far longer than the twenty-six and a half minutes of the piece. Frippova has several sublime moments and at times it is difficult to tell if it is the cello of Kadochnikova or the keyboards of Sheludko that are contributing. Again, the drums can get a bit busy at times and Savitsky's guitar is hardly heard at all, but Poptsov lays down a reassuring bass line that manages to keep things in check. The ending hands things over to an organ and with a final pseudo-psychedelic synthesised flourish 75 minutes have come to an end.
Not an album for the jazz purist and possibly a challenge for the average prog fan, Freaky Karma falls into that in-between world were often not many people are confident enough to tread. The first and last numbers held the key to me, and with a combined running time of over 38 minutes this is about the running length of an old vinyl album and so represents a not bad return for one's investment, even if the other 36 minutes are never listened to! (Which is not to say they are not worth listening to, just that my preference lies in the other pieces!). If one is in to the more improvisational aspects of KC, is a fan of jazz drumming or just fancies something a bit different to play late on a Saturday evening, then Tribal Logic might be the answer to your dreams. Oh, and the cover artwork is excellent!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Fear Of Flying - Fear Of Flying
Tracklist: Someday (3:47), Hard Times (4:20), Premonition (5:08), It's Not To Late (4:18), Fear of Flying (7:08), Beside The Ocean (5:43), Free Form (5:57), Beyond The Looking Glass (5:37), The Battle (10:18)
Hailing from upstate New York this is the third album from Saratoga’s Fear Of Flying. Following on from More Attempts At Perfection this multi-influenced quartet deliver a pretty formulaic mix of progressive AOR and progressive tinged fusion. There’s a heavy leaning towards instrumental work with three instrumentals, but their songs have melodies that on the whole remain direct and memorable.
All the songs are enjoyable and well executed. Opener Someday is the rockiest, while Hard Times, It’s Not Too Late and Beside The Ocean deliver some decent, progressive AOR which brings to mind Asia, Starship and GPS. Only the one-dimensional The Battle created a bit of a fight to make it to the end!
However my enthusiasm fails to really get onto the runway because I just don’t hear anything that makes this band stand out from the crowd. There’s very, very little on the nine tracks that made me stop and think ‘Oh that was interesting’ or ‘Gee I love that’. The band quite rightly quotes Jeff Cannata as an influence. But listening to this and Jeff’s last album back-to-back really shows up a yawning chasm in the depth of songwriting.
If Fear Of Flying could mix the fusion, AOR and Prog influences into a more complete whole then I’m sure there is somewhere for their generally excellent nose for a good melody to sniff. On this album there are largely the fusion songs - and the ProgAOR songs – ne’er the twain shall meet.
If they could manage to pull that off, then the packaging will also need a total rethink. A cardboard gatefold sleeve with low resolution imagery but without a sniff of a lyric sheet, really is poor. The production is similarly low grade. This style of music needs a real crisp clarity (i.e Jeff Cannata). Instead most of the instruments are distant and fuzzy. The drums in particular are all over the place – their sound makes the title track almost unlistenable. A far greater warmth to the arrangements, with richer bass and keys, would draw the listener in far better too. And please don’t begin a song with someone tuning a radio!!
There’s a good energy to their sound which I’d think would make them a good live proposition. Those who enjoy fusion or progressive AOR may want to explore further and as ever CD baby has full samples of each track to help you decide. I'll file this as an enjoyable album - not all brilliant but with good moments. Hence my mark will be....
Conclusion: 6 out of 10