REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Moon Safari - [blomljud]
|Country of Origin:||Sweden|
|Year of Release:||2008|
CD1: Constant Bloom (1:27), Methuselah's Children (15:42), In The Countryside (5:42), Moonwalk (8:48), Bluebells (10:11), The Ghost Of Flowers Past (9:46)
CD2 Yasgur's Farm (8:06), Lady Of The Woodlands (3:36), A Tale Of Three And Tree (3:28), Other Half Of The Sky [i. Written In The Stars, ii. The Meaning Of Success, iii. Child Inside The Man, iv. After All] (31:44), To Sail Beyond The Sunset (5:18)
Sweden's Moon Safari follow-up their highly rated debut album
A Doorway To Summer with the eagerly anticipated double CD [blomljud]. Since the debut album in late 2005, there has been a slight line-up change in the band with guitarist Anthon Johansson being replaced by Pontus Åkesson (who also contributes lead and backing vocals), although Johansson does contribute to one track. The remaining members of the band remain Simon Åkesson (lead and backing vocals, keyboards), Petter Sandström (lead and backing vocals, acoustic guitar), Johan Westerlund (lead and backing vocals, bass) and Tobias Lundgren (drums and backing vocals). You may have noticed (!) that there are four lead vocalists credited. That is primarily due to the opening number, Constant Bloom, an a cappella number. But not just any a cappella number, this one has the telltale signs that arranger Simon Åkesson has been listening to the excellent harmony work of the early Beach Boys, and they certainly nail it. Indeed, the entire album is laden with layers of excellent harmonies, which added to the sumptuous melodies that are resplendently imbued into every song, make this a joyous album to listen to during the tail end of the winter.
An optimistic album that covers topics such as the arrival of summer, the spring blooming of flowers (there are a lot of references to flowers throughout the album), the summer of love, space exploration and forests, Moon Safari are not in danger of being accused of being introspective miserabilists! The album contains almost 104 minutes of new music, the majority of which is contained in just six songs, the remaining five pieces only have a playing time of just over 15 minutes! However, the band are skilled enough, even at this early stage of their career, to be able to carry off the extended composition without ever having to resort to undue repetition or becoming even the slightest bit boring. They manage this by layering their songs with consummate ease. First example of this is Methuselah's Children which blends counterpointed harmony singing with acoustic sections and even manage to include an electric guitar and Mellotron ending that avoids being cliché. One of the advantages of having two main lead vocalists (Simon Åkesson and Petter Sandström) is that they can play off each other, the differences in each of their voices providing a nice contrast when arranged one after the other but adding to the harmony when used simultaneously. This is evident in the neat 'pop song' In The Countryside that even manages to include an accordion solo without sounding cheesy!
Moonwalk starts a bit more aggressively with a Hammond organ growling in the foreground and, appropriately, the electric guitar soaring over the top. The song in primarily instrumental with the only words being provided by spoken clips from films (such as '2001: A Space Odyssey') or from actual NASA transmissions from the Apollo 8 space mission. Without any of the harmony vocals, the piece is one of the most progressive on the album, with a variety of keyboards being used to add texture. One thing I love about Moon Safari is their blending of acoustic and electric instruments, although in
Moonwalk these two elements are not represented in separate sections, but in the more subtle application of an acoustic guitar or piano, tucked away so that it is barely noticeable without paying close attention. From the mostly electric we head into the purely acoustic introduction of Bluebells, another piece that leans heavily on the combined vocal talents of the band. In particular, another a cappella section sung in the round is an aural treat and in the following verse, where each of the four lead vocalists sing a solo line each, it is impossible to decide, if ever one wanted to do such a thing, who has the better voice! The first CD ends with The Ghost Of Flowers Past which at times reminds me of The Alan Parsons Project. As fits the title, the song is a lament but the overall rockier nature of the song give the group an opportunity to display their progressive credentials. The crescendo finale would make a fitting ending to any album, and a great one at that, but joy to behold, we are only half-way through!
The second CD starts with Yasgur's Farm, which for the youngsters out there was the site of the infamous 1969 Woodstock Festival. The song starts like a late sixties piece although once the synths start it brings it more into the modern era. The lyrics deal with the over-riding conflict of that time, the fact that it was the summer of love and yet half way round the world the US was involved in the horrors of the Vietnam war. The next two songs are positively brief by the standards of the album! Lady Of The Woodland is a more folkish number, a sort of fairy reel, with a violin riff (played by guest Måns Axelsson-Ljung) and A Tale Of Three And Tree is an acoustic ballad that sets up the intro to Other Half Of The Sky perfectly.
The first part of this 32-minute epic, Written In The Stars is predominantly acoustic guitar and piano. A Mellotron and pedal steel guitar (played by guest Anders Pettersson) introduces The Meaning Of Success which ramps up into a dirty guitar and Hammond riff before getting into the vocals. Again the prog credentials are displayed with some great group playing, before another acoustic section leads directly into Child
Inside The Mood. After the more downbeat lyrical and musical nature of the previous section, we are back into more upbeat and optimistic territory. After a relatively slow piano and acoustic guitar intro, the electric guitar is introduced and gradually things build into a slice of great prog. Galloping lead guitar, a high pitched lead synth and keyboard choral effects push things onwards with guitar and Hammond solos creating a fine piece of music leading to more fine harmony singing to close off the section. After All, the conclusion to the piece, starts with a prominent bass and drum rhythm pounding away behind various synth solos leading neatly into another fine vocal melody that ends the song on an upbeat nature of positivity. A nice touch is instead of going for the big finish, which they have already done at the end of the first CD with The Ghost Of Flowers Past, the song ends with a gentle fade of acoustic guitar and twinkling piano as if to symbolise a continuance, what appears to be the end is, in fact, just the beginning, a reflection, if you will, of the lyrical message. After such a mammoth progressive effort, the album ends with the gentle To Sail Beyond The Sunset. Simply a gorgeous piece of music with that rounds off the album perfectly.
[blomljud] is simply a wonderful album, displaying the immense musical, vocal and arranging talents of Moon Safari. I only have one gripe about the album and, with apologies to Petter Sandström, it is the cover artwork, which in no way does justice to the music. It looks amateurish and one can't even say he holds a naive charm as it doesn't! A man with no legs and a silly hat carrying a bass guitar and a rose in vacuum container somehow crossing a desert containing (on the back of the CD) what one assumes is the torch from the Statue of Liberty (very Planet Of the Apes!), sorry it is rather dire. Much better is the simple design on the CD, five hand prints circling the CD is much more striking and, to me, conveys a much more powerful image. Afraid the cover and booklet paintings have robbed the band of a perfect review score, but that is me being petty, don't let it put anyone off buying and listening to this marvellous album!
Conclusion: 9.95 out of 10
IQ - Forever Live
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Giant Electric Pea|
|Catalogue #:||SPV 79707 DVD|
|Year of Release:||2007|
|Encoding & Sound||Stereo, 5.1|
Disc One: The Wake, The Darkest Hour, Widow's Peak, Out Of Nowhere, Nostalgia/Falling Apart At The Seams, The Last Human Gateway (middle section), Fading Senses, The Thousand Days, Leap Of Faith, Human Nature, The Enemy Smacks, Headlong, The Last Human Gateway (end section)
Disc Two: Scenes From The Day (With Peter Nicholls Commentary), Extra Tracks From The Concert (No Love Lost, Wiggle), Early Versions Noorderligt, Tilburg (22.1.93) (The Darkest Hour, Fading Senses, Came Down), Bonus Tracks Noorderligt, Tilburg [Further Away (3.9.93), Corners (22.1.93), N.T.O.C. (Resistance) (22.1.93)], Photo Gallery, IQ Family Tree
Back in the mid-nineties a friend of mine lent me his copy of IQ's Ever CD. This was my first encounter with one of my favourite bands. The first time I actually saw them live was during the tour that supported the release of the Forever Live box set. This long anticipated item included a video and CD of a gig recorded in the Stadthalle in Kleve, Germany at the first show of the Ever tour. This was to be one of my first IQ purchases and together with the gig itself triggered my enthusiasm for this band.
In 1998 I reviewed the CD-only re-release of the double CD. As far as the setlist of the gig is concerned I would like to refer you to that review. Suffice it to say that the concert leaned heavily on the Ever and The Wake albums with renditions of The Last Human Gateway, The Enemy Smacks and a few 'Menel era' favourites added. One could say that with the 70% of all pre-Subterranea favourites are present in this set. Especially The Enemy Smacks deserves special attention. It was one of the reasons to record this gig since it features Peter Nicholls' wonderful theatrics of a drug addict going spectral. Other highlights are the new arrangements of two sections of The Last Human Gateway, with splendid tension building on the end section. The DVD
is also your only chance to see certain IQ members with substantially more hair (most notably John)!
In it's original form both live CD and video were already highly recommended items, but this DVD edition comes with a bonus disc full of extra's. First of all there's additional material from the day of the gig consisting of two tracks that were omitted from the original video (No Love Lost and Wiggle) and behind the scenes footage. Wiggle is a tongue-in-cheek song that the band normally play when something breaks down. In this case it was played when film reels were being changed. For the people who have complained that the Forever Live video did not capture the band's sense of humour this should come as a bit of compensation. Both this track and
No Love Lost are filmed with a digital camcorder, so the footage is not of the same quality as the rest of the material on disk one. It's shot several meters from the stage, probably from the mixing desk, so it gives you the feeling of being in the audience, complete with camera crew moving up and down the rail in front of the stage. No Love Lost comes with remixed audio that was recorded and used for the live CD.
Scenes from the Day is a 30 minute documentary with commentary by Peter Nicholls and projection engineer Andy McEvoy. The latter, who wasn't part of the IQ crew at the time acts as 'conversation partner', asking Peter the occasional question about the gig and preparations. It's quite informative and interesting but keep in mind that the footage is handycam material from the mid nineties, so don't expect crystal clear visuals. Also, it's a bit of a shame that no proper individual microphones were used to record the commentary, making the sound a bit echoing. You really need to pay close attention to hear what is being said, especially since the commentary is combined with the original sound of the footage in the background. The picture-in-picture box with Peter and Andy discussing the footage is a nice added feature compared to your average movie commentary. The footage itself shows the pre-gig preparations, backstage scenes, shots from besides the stage during the gig and post-gig drinking and chatting with fans and random silliness.
Besides Wiggle and No Love Lost there's quite a lot of additional music on the bonus disk: six more live songs that were recorded during two different gigs in The Noorderligt (Tilburg, Holland). Most of the footage originates from a gig the band played on 22nd January 1993, a couple of months before the Ever album was recorded. The footage is not as professional but quite watchable and shot with multiple cameras (three I think). The audio quality is not bad either for amateur standards (think very good bootleg quality). The band plays three early versions of Ever tracks: Two Loafs, Egg Dicky Dicky (as The Darkest Hour and Fading Senses were known under their working titles) plus Came Down. They all feature some different lyrics and vocal melodies but are already quite close to the final versions. Most remarkably, Came Down hasn't got the 'far away' chorus yet and goes straight into the guitar solo. Corners and the rare NOTC Resistance are other additional tracks recorded at same Noorderligt gig. There's lots of energy on the stage and the performances are great, although vocally it's not one of Peter's best nights.
Further Away was dropped from the Kleve setlist because the band wasn't comfortable with the long, complex epic. The tracks is present in the bonus material though, recorded at a gig in Noorderligt as well, this time on the 3rd September 1993, a couple of months after the release of Ever. The sound quality of this recording is very good and again there's multiple camera's at work and the editing is done tastefully. Unfortunately this performance shows that it was the right decision to drop it from the Kleve setlist. Even after several months the band has to struggle through its 15 minutes. Peter's voice starts breaking down after a couple of minutes and the guitar solos are far from fluent. The rarity value makes it a welcome addition to the DVD though.
The four minute Photo Gallery features shot from the Kleve gig but is especially interesting for the accompanying soundtrack: one of Mike's ambient trance remixes of IQ tracks, in this case using samples of The Darkest Hour. I'm still hoping that the band release some of these remixes on CD. Not only are they tastefully done but it's something that could be released relatively easily and provide some cash flow for recording their next studio album.
The IQ Family Tree is a nice idea; a visual presentation of the genealogy of the band and it's spin-offs, forerunners, side-projects and other bands in which IQ members played. I love these diagrams of entangled incestuous connections. As far as the practicality of including it on the DVD is concerned it's a whole different story. Navigating through the tree is a bit of a pain in the behind and the silly sound effects that are funny the first couple of times start to get on your nerves before you have even struggled through half of the tree. Also, by the time you have seen a screen or four you've lost the bigger picture. This really is something that works best on a big fold-out poster and doesn't come across all that well on a TV screen.
IQ wouldn't be IQ if the second disk wasn't packed with hidden and obvious silliness. There's been substantial tinkering with some of the footage. Watch closely to see Peter and Andy change into a clown and gorilla during the Scenes from the day. In the live footage other weird stuff is happening, like hands and heads suddenly inflating out of proportions, strange sound effects and Mike Holmes going into repetitive motions at the side of the stage while the rest of the band continues to move normally. It's a matter of taste if you like this stuff, but I have to admit that after spotting some of these it had me searching for more. There also seems to be a multitude of strange subtitles that can only be anagrams, which the band seems to like so much. Skim me hole !
Not owning a surround set I can't really comment on the sound of the DVD, although I have the feeling that some additional sound effects have been added here and there. Visually the DVD is what you would expect from a re-release. Having said that this DVD is probably my favourite IQ DVD as far as the filming and editing is concerned. The footage is clear, the stage is the right size, all band members are filmed prominently and there's tasteful crossfading and combined shots. Add to this the killer setlist and you've got a winner! As such the original concert film on the first DVD is already highly recommended and the many extra's on the second disc only add to the value for money and provide the icing on the cake. A must-have for IQ fans and also recommended for prog fans that would like to know more about the early nineties period of this band.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Spaced Out - Live At The Crescendo Festival DVD
|Country of Origin:||Canada|
|Record Label:||Unicorn Digital|
|Year of Release:||2007|
|Encoding & Sound||All Regions|
Tracklist: A Freak Az, Toxix, Infinite Ammo, New Breed, The Fifth Dimension, The Lost Train, Unstable Matter, Guitar Interlude, Singularity, Antimatter, Bass Interlude, Blood Fall, Art Attack Pt 2, Jamosphere, Minor Blast, Furax Extras: Picture Slideshow, Sever the Seven, London Rehearsal, Web Links
In my previous review of Spaced Out's Live At The Crescendo CD, I was quite impressed by the excellent sound they where able to achieve live. It should be no surprise that the DVD version also retains this almost studio like sound quality. The track listing also remains largely the same as well. The most notable exception is the inclusion of Art Attack Pt 2, a very syncopated and dissonant yet oddly satisfying piece - I can’t seem to stop listening to it.
If great sound wasn’t enough, the video quality is also excellent. It seems today, bands that don’t have big budgets, are able to gain access to better quality cameras and recording equipment. I think I can even take it as far as comparing it to Dream Theater’s latest two DVDs Score and Live at Budokan.
There are few extra features. The strangest of which is the inclusion of Sever The Seven as a bonus video. I don’t understand why it’s not just included in with the main show. There is also a short three minute clip of a rehearsal in London and a slide show. I don’t find much of anything interesting here.
After recently revisiting the two Liquid Tension Experiment albums, I couldn’t help but draw some similarity between them and Spaced Out, in structure and even in a few of Mark Tremblay’s improvised guitar solos. In Tom De Val’s review of Unstable Matter he compared Spaced Out to LTE and Planet X. I agree with this and think it is a good benchmark to judge them by. They also use, in one form or another, a riff similar to that used in Derek Sherinian’s 1999 fusion record Planet X. More specifically Apocalypse 1470 bc.
I really enjoy fusion, especially the kind leaning in the heavier direction (my other reviews may have already given that away!). It has taken some time to really appreciate Spaced Out, but it was well worth the effort. Over all this is a great live DVD. If you already own the CD than this may not be worth purchasing unless you prefer watching live shows as opposed to just listening to them. The only big drawbacks are the special features, however, they are not the biggest deciding factor in choosing whether or not I will come back to a DVD.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Seven Reizh – Samsâra
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Encore... (0:51), Soñj (4:56), Ay Adu (5:58), O Redek (10:09), Qim Iydi... (6:36), Awalik (3:50), An Tourioù (4:15), La Longue Marche (6:40), A-roak… (5:15), Vers Ma Maison... (5:14), All Loen... (3:09), Perdue Au Loin... (3:09), Kouezhan (5:36), Samsâra (7:31)
When I received The Tangent’s double disc and book set to review earlier this year I assumed that it would be the most lavish CD presentation 2008 had to offer. I was wrong; in terms of packaging this release from French ensemble Seven Reizh beats it hands down. When I opened the mail my initial reaction was that the DPRP had branched out into the book review business. The CD comes housed in a hardback picture book measuring 25 x 26cm that tells through its 61 fully illustrated colour pages the story behind the albums concept. No amount of glossy packaging however can disguise a poor album but no worries on that score as it also comes up trumps on the musical front. The two men credited for the work are Claude Mignon the composer and Gérard Le Dortz the writer and conceptual artist. Hailing from Brittany this is their second release with their debut Strinkadenn'Ys from 2001 receiving a favourable DPRP recommendation. Samsâra was I believe originally released in 2006 although we have only recently received a review copy.
Mignon provides the guitar and keyboards and he is joined once again by Farid Aït Siameur (vocals), Gurvan Mével (drums and percussion), Ronan Hilaireau (piano), Olivier Carole (basses), and Gwenhaël Mével (bombardes and whistles). Doro.t takes over the female lead vocal slot vacated by Bleunwenn. The book also lists a host of guest musicians supplying everything from accordion to Celtic harp to violin. Even if you’re French speaking you may struggle with the track titles as the majority of them are in the traditional Breton language. Likewise Doro.t sings in the same dialect which suits the music’s Celtic-folk persuasion to perfection. Interestingly although her predecessor spoke Breton, Doro.t doesn’t but her voice was considered ideal for the music so she was given tuition in singing the language. Siameur’s vocals on the other hand are performed in Kabyle, a language introduced to France by Algerian immigrants. He and Doro.t compliment each other beautifully however and none more so than during La Longue Marche where they combine forces for the exquisite chorus. Doro.t has a lovely voice that’s both pure and sensuous whilst Siameur’s singing is warm and evocative that suits the colourful dialect.
Musically the sound is lush and intricate and incorporates folk, Celtic, prog, world music even classical elements. Songs like Soñj, A-roak and the title track blend recognisable rock elements like guitars, bass, piano, synths and drums with the more traditional flute, violin, trumpet, harp, pipes and cello to create rich textures of sound. The results are a harmonious delight and whatever your instrumental preference there is so much here to enjoy. Guitars are used to good effect offsetting melodious acoustic playing in several songs with a jagged and incisive electric sound that features strongly in O Redek and All Loen. Guest guitarist Jose Larracéleta shines in particular, contrasting his romantic Spanish guitar solo in Ay Adu with a gutsy metallic ending to the heaviest track A-roak. During Kouezhan Mignon’s electric guitar has a mellow Robert Fripp feel. The vibrant drum sound eschews the use of cymbals bringing to mind the playing on Peter Gabriel’s third album by a certain well known drummer. If like me you have a soft spot for the stirring sound of the pipes (in measured doses) then you’ll warm to O Redek and Awalik. The Breton pipes have a sharper, and to my ears more tuneful sound than the more familiar bagpipes. The Bombardes, a high pitched reed instrument, is also effectively integrated adding a Middle Eastern flavour to Ay Adu, La Longue Marche and Perdue Au Loin.
I would be willing to wager that in addition to folk and world music, composer Mignon’s CD collection has a good representation of prog related artists especially Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd. Oldfield’s style is all over this album including the lilting and rhythmic melody in Soñj, the haunting arrangement of O Redek, the classical guitar and vocals in Awalik, even his Piltdown Man groans appear in An Tourioù. The influences of Ommadawn, Incantations and Amarok are the most obvious. Likewise the lush acoustic guitar and ominous synth sound of An Tourioù evokes Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine and their style echoes throughout the title track that closes. Howard Shore’s The Lord Of The Rings score reverberates in Perdue Au Loin and La Longue Marche especially, with its symphonic folk style incorporating recorder, harp, pipes and whistles. The latter also brought Iona to mind. The distinctive wordless harmonies of Clannad are conspicuous in Soñj and other notable vocal devices adopted include the Gregorian chant that opens Qim Iydi and the engaging child voice of Marianne Le Dortz performing Vers Ma Maison.
Putting music into words is always a challenge and none more so than for this album. Thankfully the diversity and complexity here goes hand in hand with accessibility and melody. The book obviously comes with a price tag and I’m unsure if a more modest version is available. Either way I strongly recommended you click on the samples link above and discover the exotic world of Seven Reizh for yourself. This release is the second in a planned trilogy based on the fictional character Enora, who is no longer the child that appeared in the last album. Adulthood finds her in search of happiness in a half world between dreams and reality. Although the lyrics will be incomprehensible to many people including myself they are reproduced in the book in Breton, French and English. I for one hope that the third part does eventually see the light of day even if it is another five year’s wait.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Circusfolk - Making Faces
|Country of Origin:||Finland|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: Submarina (5:14), If (3:20), Step Away (4:30), The Fool (6:22), Where in the Outside in (3:19), Haven (4:49), Rhubarbed Wire (6:17), Strangers (3:46)
This is the debut album from this Finnish band, after a couple of EP's. Circusfolk consists of six people playing guitars, organs, melodica, bass, drums,
viola and violin - and most of them also sing. The evolution of this review has been rather strange: the first time I heard the CD I got the impression that this is rather standard neo-prog with not much to offer. You know, this kind of material that can best be described as "same old story". Yet, with time I started discovering interesting indie rock influences that enrich the diversity and make things more interesting. Some hints that might help me make my point: the group photo on MySpace, which so much reminds me of The Smashing Pumpkins artwork in the Mellon Collie era and the mentioning of the innovative Danish pop act Mew in their list of MySpace "sounds like".
If I had to mention some influences I would say No-Man and the lighter side of Porcupine Tree, Enchant, Mew and Rush, with some technical efforts here and there bringing to mind King Crimson or Sieges Even. Particular mention should be made to the effect of the violin here and there. For example, The Fool is absolutely dominated by a beautiful violin interlude that reminds me of No-Man's track Angel Gets Caught In The Beauty Trap. I have a feeling the band could gain a lot from exploiting this instrument further. All instrumentalists are gifted and they seem to draw inspiration from various sources, as for example, the guitar style ranges from melodic tunes ala Enchant, up to technical Fripp-like experimentations and Lifeson-style riffs. The main voice is pretty "low profile" - I would never say it is unique, but it fits pretty well, especially when it is aiming at being mellow. The singing though could be improved in a couple of instances.
Without identifying a really weak track, it must be said that the definite highlight of the album is the song Haven: I am pretty sure that most of the people out
there that would hear this song would be very tempted to buy this album. It is almost a prog classic due to a beautiful refrain that brings Enchant to mind and a very memorable blend of Tony Banks-like keys, guitar and violin. Once again the latter instrument tastefully flavours the song, which despite being quite repetitive and simple in its structure, reaches compositional perfection. The track has also been released as a single, and according to the band it did pretty well in Finland - no surprise. Rhubarbed Wire is a counterexample: many many changes and naughty mood by the band as they expose their most experimental arsenal. Organs and more Steven Wilson-like songwriting can also be found, as in the album closer Strangers.
To close this review I'll say that there is a lot of adventure combined with emotional parts in a rather balanced offering. The use of Hammond and violin could be expanded and some of the vocal parts could be more taken care of. Also, some material that tends to become a bit cliché could be avoided, but anyway things already work the way they are. I see a lot of freshness in this band and I wouldn't be surprised if they do great things next time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Taylor's Universe - Terra Nova
Tracklist: Terra Nova (5:48), Amhage West (5:21), Meccano (3:44), They Usually Come At Night (6:48), Metropolarization (4:34), Land Of Lamps (7:26), Ruby Wires (4:02), City Of Greed (6:42)
Surely one of the most prolific writers and performers within the broad spectrum of prog has to be Danish composer Robin Taylor. Under a number of guises - as a solo project, within a number of pairings with other musicians, or as here under the
Taylor's Universe banner. Certainly to my knowledge releasing more than one album per year, and as two new releases have just recently landed on the DPRP table, perhaps time that 2007's Terra Nova received an appraisal.
And with such a prolific output one might considered that some quality me be sacrificed along the line. Not so, and although not all of Mr Taylor's output has been favourably reviewed, certainly a criticism of the musicianship is not on the agenda. Which brings us to the line-up for this the seventh outing for Taylor's Universe, and one that sees the continuing relationship between Robin Taylor (guitars, keyboards, percussion, flute and assorted treatments) and Karsten Vogel (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones & bass clarinet), along with Rasmus Grossel (drums). Guest performances from are courtesy of Hugh Steinmetz (trumpet & flugelhorn - track 4), Louise Napper (voice - tracks 1, 2 & 5) and Jytte Lindberg (voice - tracks 1 & 8).
Robin Taylor is a guy who seems to be forever moving forward and this release sees a change in direction, well certainly to my ears. The greater use of the Hammond organ, more immediate melodies and perhaps a slightly more simplistic approach makes Terra Nova an enjoyable and welcome listening experience. The opening tune begins with a simple rising piano melody, which is gradually coloured by a number of keyboard layers. Wordless vocals add nicely to the piece. Karsten Vogel is on excellent form adding both succinct melodies earlier on in the piece on soprano sax, whilst later improvised solos from the lower registered saxes. A great little opener. And this is swiftly followed by the extremely catchy Amhage West - a track that sticks with you well after the album has finished.
The Hammond continues to dominate the proceedings, not in an overpowering fashion, but with initial melodies performed by said instrument. As in Meccano which follows Amhage West - although here the music is punctuated and with a grittier rocky edge. The track concludes with a striking solo from Karsten Vogel. In contrast They Usually Come At Night is a slow smouldering track with the initially melody taken by Hugh Steinmetz's trumpet. Building in intensity, Rasmus Grossel is allowed to cut loose giving the track great impetus. All gradually descending eerily into the "dark".
A simple piano melody is once again employed to take us into Metropolarization. Now life wouldn't be the same if Robin Taylor made things simple and
Metropolarization redresses the balance. And from the catchy opening the tune becomes more menacing via the strong synth lines and underlying chordal structure. In parts reminding of a twisted relation of ELP's outro to Lucky Man. Following is the longest tune on the album, Land Of Lamps, driven along by Taylor's bass synth line. An atmospheric piece with again a menacing quality and a hint of the Emerson's in the synth sounds. In contrast Ruby Wires is a simple catchy number with a Latinessque rhythm and in context solos from Karsten Vogel.
The album concludes with the twisted but rather engaging City Of Greed. A steady pace is maintained throughout - with minimal drumming (may even just be a ride cymbal) and little featurettes from the Hammond organ.
I have to say that I found the arrangements less complicated and more structured than previous albums I have encountered from Mr Taylor. Erring less toward the improvised jazzier end of the progressive spectrum and more toward a structured and more accessible brand of prog. I can therefore imagine that this album (along with another two I currently have sitting in my pipeline to be reviewed) could well open up a wider listener-ship for Taylor's Universe.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10