Reviews in this issue:
- Zip Tang - Pank
- Votum - Time Must Have A Stop
- D.F.A. - 4th
- Christopher - Torched Laughter
- The Gourishankar - Close Grip
Zip Tang - Pank
Tracklist: Footprints (4:22), It's In My Head (8:25), Katy (8:19), Leaving Nothing (4:45), Cicada Jam (3:27), One Last Beautiful Motion (7:14), Pank (3:48), Deitrich Crashed My Enzo (7:23), The Years (4:50), You Call This Art? (4:41). Goodbye (6:28)
Chicago's Zip Tang return with their follow-up to last year's debut Luminiferous Ether. The line-up remains constant with Marcus Padgett singing most of the lead vocals in addition to playing keyboards and sax, Rick Wolfe playing the bass and singing the high backing vocals, Perry Merritt taking the lead vocalist role on two songs but primarily concentrating on guitar and Fred Faller filling in the back beat and holding things together behind the drum stool. Considering Luminiferous Ether was widely received as an impressive effort for a first album, helped in no small part by the ambitious and amusing cover of ELP's Tarkus, the band have really gone out to make Pank just that little bit extra bit special. And, largely, they have succeeded. The sound quality and production is first rate, the cover artwork is excellent and, most importantly, the music maintains the high quality eclectic mix of modern prog explored on the debut.
Variety is the key element that makes the album so interesting, one is never quite sure what is coming next; even after repeated listenings the album has the ability to surprise. Opener Footprints is the most 'conventional' of songs with a verse, chorus, verse chorus, middle eight, chorus approach, but is an immediately loveable number, with a strong melody, great use of backing vocals and a classy arrangement. It's In My Head initially sounds like a proged-up and psychedelicised head-on collision of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More the comparison blunted when the band construct their own unique sounding instrumental passage where sax and guitar combine brilliantly backed by an ominous bass line. Katy continues in a similar manner with some wild sax sounds introducing the track. The prominent bass line is a constant fixture throughout the song, even when the rest of the band break out into a jazzy interlude or Merritt takes a solo. The vocals are rather angry in tone and, somewhat surprisingly, the song ends with a handful of bars of blues. Industrial sounds begin Leaving Nothing which makes greater use of keyboards in a slower number that is pumped with atmosphere. Merritt again contributes a nice solo. The live in the studio Cicada Jam, so-called because of the recording of cicadas added to provide a link with the previous track, is a strange number, somewhat akin to the idea behind The Waiting Room on the Genesis Lamb album. But, within the context of a Zip Tang album, it adds to the variety and its inclusion does not seem out of place.
Hot contender for favourite song must be One Last Beautiful Motion, which, like Footprints, features extensive use of backing and counterpoint vocals. A gritty Hammond organ sound, excellent drumming, haunting sax melody and sharp guitar playing give the song an identity all of its own. Pank is a free-for-all riot which must be a show-stopper live. There is something very Van der Graaf Generator sounding about the final minute or so, which is never a bad thing in my book. Deitrich Crashed My Enzo is split into two separate parts. The tale of Deitrich crashing the Enzo and running off leaving his gun behind leaving the Enzo's owner to face the music, takes up the first couple of minutes which is followed by a long instrumental section that again makes good use of the keyboards to provide both rhythm and lead. The Years and You Call This Art? are the two numbers featuring Merritt on lead vocals and it has to be said that he does a jolly decent job of it, particularly on the first of these tracks. Starting with an initial vocal that has a dreamy/melancholy feel the song then breaks out into some dissonant sax and guitar sections. Things come back together for a rousing ending which is more resolute and determined than the beginning, or is it? You Call This Art? is taken at a faster pace and is more in your face. Again, Wolfe's bass plays an important and dominant role but the band pull together superbly for the heavy instrumental section. Final track Goodbye is at first a little disappointing as the vocal section is, to my mind, a bit weak. However, as soon as they reach the final line of lyric, the band, and the song, takes off rising to a grand ending replete with synthesised string accompaniment.
Zip Tang have lived up to their early promise by releasing a sophomore album that is every bit as good as the debut. If you liked Luminiferous Ether, and it seems quite a few of you did, then there is nothing on Pank that will disappoint. If you have not yet heard the band then check out their website to hear tracks from both albums.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Votum - Time Must Have A Stop
Tracklist: Me In The Dark (6:05), The Pun (5:09), Passing Sears (4:28), Train Back Home (6:02), The Hunt Is On (6:52), Away (5:55), Look At Me Now (5:49), Time Must Have A Stop (10:50)
My vote for best newcomer of 2008 could well go to Poland this year. I picked up on this little gem following a series of strong recommendations from reliable sources and it has not disappointed at all. Indeed in many ways it has exceeded the expectations generated by the many positive comments I read before I took the plunge.
Comparisons to fellow countrymen Riverside were the common theme for the initial recommendations but having spent some time with these eight tracks, I’d go much more in the direction of Sweden and the esteemed Wolverine. The melancholic, reflective, somewhat dreamy tone to the melodies and instrumentation, alongside the often delicate delivery of vocalist Maciej Kosinski, brings clear echoes to me of Stefan Zell and his cohorts. The contrast provided by sudden bursts of riffage and the use of growls (albeit on only one track here) are other similarities.
The use of the bass and the occasional looping riff and flowing guitar are closer to Riverside. Fans of Anathema, Opeth and Porcupine Tree will also find much to savour. Pink Floyd may have been played in the band’s youth.
The production isn’t the sharpest, some of the lyrics have an unfathomable relationship to the English language and the band needs to introduce a few changes of pace and power to save their next album from becoming a little samey towards the end. There are plenty of memorable melodies, some clever atmospheres and few moments of pure beauty. I don’t think too many debut albums have impressed me as much this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
D.F.A. - 4th
Tracklist: Baltasaurus (14:19), Flying Trip (7:51), Vietato Generalizzare (6:40), Mosq Runa (18:57), The Mirror (10:16), La Ballata De S’isposa ‘E Mannorri (6:16)
It has been nine years since D.F.A.’s last studio album, but the line-up remains constant: Silvio Minella – Guitars; Alberto Bonomi – Keyboards; Luca Baldassari – Bass; and Alberto de Grandis –Drums /Vocals. This time around, a few guests help out; Zoltan Szabo and Maria Vicentini add Cello and Violin and Viola respectively to tracks 4 and 6; and, also on track 6, vocal trio Andhira contribute wonderful harmonies.
Consisting of only six tracks, D.F.A.’s fourth album finds them in relaxed mode, comfortably indulging in long compositions (three over the ten-minute mark and nothing under six minutes). Regrettably, 4th doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations engendered by the very high quality of the preceding albums and the extraordinarily long wait for this one to finally appear.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still a really good album, it’s just not the great album I’d hoped for. Too often the band appear just a tad too relaxed, letting the tunes meander and occasionally drift into a lazy groove. Of course, there are moments where the band really turns up the heat (parts of Baltasaurus, Vietato Generalizzare), sometimes (e.g. other parts of Baltasaurus, Flying Trip), are a touch too safely ensconced in a funky fusion style to generate much excitement. DFA’s real talents lie in their ability to meld and merge elements of fusion with progressive rock and space music into something special and unique. They don’t pull this off as often here as on previous outings.
On the plus side, there is still room for lots of great spotlights and soloing from organ, synths and guitar and, of course, the rhythm section is as tight as ever throughout.
It is telling that some of the better moments are when the band is joined by guests on Mosq Runa and, particularly, La Ballata De S’isposa ‘E Mannorri – it’s not just the added textures which delight, it’s as if the band themselves are re-invigorated and find their peak form again. The lengthy Mosq Runa is slow to start, but gradually the piano is joined by the cello and violin and the melody grows more robust and engaging. There is a distinct Canterbury sound here as well as a touch of funk, and some terrific organ runs and guitar breaks.
La Ballata…is my favourite track, spicing up the fusion sound with added string section and some marvellous vocal harmonising from the female trio Andhira – imagine an Italian Steeleye Span gone jazz. This has a really original feel to it and is an avenue I’d really like the band to explore further.
Perhaps not quite living up to the expectations generated by such a long wait, the album is a pleasant slice of progressive fusion and, in its high spots, points to new directions which will hopefully bear fruit sooner rather than later.
I’m sure DFA’s fans will enjoy this CD a lot, but I’d recommend their earlier albums for newcomers to try first.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Christopher - Torched Laughter
Tracklist: Jaw Filled Wreckage (6:01), The Tilted Figures (5:08), Clockwork Contiminate (5:10), Evening Flesh [Innuxtorviit] (3:39), Finely Tuned Meat (3:02), Another Blue Ribbon [Wax Me] (7:34)
A couple of years ago, 2006 to be precise, I received an album from Ontario based multi-instrumentalist Christopher and I have to say that Smoke And Origination proved to be a tricky, if not intriguing review to undertake. So when this latest offering from Christopher arrived a few weeks ago, I noted that added to the main title of his latest album were the words, "the smoke and origination companion", therefore I opened the DVD styled case with equal measures of anticipation and trepidation.
Now it could well be partly due to the time taken to digest Smoke And Origination, or perhaps that Christopher has utilised ideas and themes from his previous release, but Torched Laughter rang comfortably in my ears from the very first run through. And although Torched Laughter is a different beast to Smoke And Origination; it's shorter, more succinct and certainly more accessible from the outset, it still retains those definable traits that made its predecessor such a strong album. Gone are the heavier guitars and thundering rhythms that featured on SAO, however what remains is no less dense or heavy.
Christopher's music still remains dark, sombre and atmospheric and one that lays careful foundation to his poetic and thoughtful lyrics. Instrumentally the music utilises a multitude of acoustic instruments and strong percussion for its melodic and rhythmic structures. Added to this are cleverly interwoven effects which catch the ear from time to time, whilst the keyboards are used sparingly but to excellent effect. Somewhat like a musical jigsaw, individually the tiny parts making little sense, but as they gradually fall into place the full picture becomes clear.
Featuring themes from my favourite track from Smoke And Origination, Jaw Filled Wreckage sets the tone superbly. Sparse instrumentation, with gradually adding and subtracting layers. Christopher's engaging voice works immediately and as with the previous album his warm vocal tone sits comfortably within the music. He also employs the upper registers to great effect and once again the vocal harmonies are suitably employed. As I said earlier it is the delicate parts that weave in and out that give this music its character.
Whereas Jaw Filled Wreckage hinted at Christopher's Eastern influences, they come to the forefront in The Tilted Figures which is rhythmically driven and encompassing strong ethnic sounds. The track also gives us our first real taster of Christopher's manipulation of certain sounds that at first didn't quite work for me, but eventually became integral to the music. And so to my favourite piece from the album - Clockwork Contiminate - just give it a whirl on MySpace (although bear in mind the dynamics are somewhat lost there). Following this is another great track Evening Flesh [Innuxtorviit], the gentle acoustic guitar, emellotron sounds, infectious melodies and lyrics that are captivating.
Finely Tuned Meat is a bit of a strange affair and one that initially I skipped, however its familiar and haunting vocals gradually saw it gain favour. The closing track though is a real winner. From a humble piano and vocal intro the track builds over its seven and a half minute duration, culminating in a stomping and infectious conclusion to the album. Great stuff...
So are there any artists I could suggest as comparators... well none spring to mind. So as a pointer and a very loose pointer at that, then if performers such as Steven Wilson, No-man, Opeth (in their more delicate moments), or Peter Gabriel feature in your music collection, then as all the tracks from Torched Laughter can be found on Christopher's MySpace, a visit there may well prove worthwhile. This is unlikely to find immediate favour with the traditional progger - no odd metering, no solos to speak of, no keyboard drenched epics, however the for those prepared to explore the ever expanding boundaries of prog, then this might just be a pleasant surprise.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Gourishankar - Close Grip
Tracklist: Gripped By Fear (2:04), Insomnia (7:28), Sweet Earth (8:02), In The Hope (2:17), Wind Of Night (8:59), Autumn Frost (10:57), Close To Death (3:13), For Nobody [Bonus] (4:39)
Over the last couple of years the progressive rock genre has seen music coming from more and more different parts of the world. After South America, Scandinavia and Poland we now see an increasing number of releases from Russia; with bands like Eternal Wanderers, Apple Pie and Little Tragedies who have been releasing albums from the early 2000s. Also part of this new progressive market is The Gourishankar who now release their second album Close Grip.
The band was formed in 2002 in Syktyvkar near the Ural mountains and founded by guitar and bass player Nomy Agranson and keyboard player Doran Usher. For this album they are joined by vocalist Vlad M.J. Whiner and Cat Heady on drums (along with two other guests on drums) and loops. Agranson and Usher are the core of the band as Whiner seems to have left the band and Heady, well Heady seems to be a ... well ... a ... cat.
The songs on this album and the previous one, 2nd Hands, are based on classical Russian poetry translated into English. The mention of 2nd Hands as “the previous one” strictly isn’t correct as Close Grip is The Gourishankar's first album, which the band released themselves in 2003. They debuted in 2002 with an EP called Integral Symphony that contained four tracks that are also on, the now re-released Close Grip. The sleeve of the album portrays a man who tries to hang on with his left hand to a rock or a building. After many listening hours I could identify with that man as I will explain later.
First I would like to talk about the musicians. The quality of the guitar and keyboard playing is superb, Agranson and Usher are well skilled musicians and on this album they present a mix of modern progressive rock with a touch of progmetal. The first song on the album is Insomnia, (which appears after the first of three atmospheric instrumentals from the album - Gripped By Fear being the first), shows this immediately. Heavy guitars and swirling keyboard sounds make up for a great song. Especially the instrumental part with its unison guitars, keyboards melodies and a great “how to go mad with a trumpet” part. Whiner has a very pleasant voice not unlike Geddy Lee. There is only one problem with the vocals. If there weren’t English lyrics in the CD booklet I would have no idea in what language Whiner was singing.
Unfortunately the band does not succeed in maintaining the high quality of Insomnia. The first four minutes of Sweet Earth are of Insomnia quality but in the remaining four minutes we are treated to at least four breaks before ending the song with a reggae like part. Don't get me wrong, the parts on their own are fine but they just make the song very fragmented. Again I’m afraid to say that the other two songs on the album Wind Of Night and Autumn Frost also suffer from too many good ideas in one piece. And that brings me to the man on the sleeve of the album and like that man I was trying to hold on, trying to follow the many directions within one song. The problem lies in that the seven tracks on the album contain enough good ideas for at least another album, but The Gourishankar have incorporated them all on Close Grip. Maybe they wanted to sound like a modern Gentle Giant who like no other band was able to combine totally different parts of music and make them sound completely natural when put together. I mention this as the album ends with cover of Gentle Giant's For Nobody; one of the better songs from their Missing Piece album. The Gourishankar's version is a much heavier, musically they do a reasonably good job making the song sound modern and exiting, however the quality of the vocal parts lets the song down a bit. Still it’s a brave attempt. Btw; why call a song a bonus track when it’s on every version of the album?
I found it difficult to rate this album. The Gourishankar is a very promising band but they should apply the "less is more" strategy a little more often. I’m sure that then they will be able to make an excellent modern progressive rock album, but for now Close Grip has left me with an unsatisfactory feeling after each listen. Still I think that the quality is absolutely there and that makes The Gourishankar a worthy addition to all those new progressive band from Russia.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10