REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Yesterdays - Holdfénykert
Tracklist: Sunlit Garden (1:58), Infinite (4:36), Don't Be Scared (5:50), It's So Divine (3:10), If Ever... (4:49), Where Are You? (8:02), Just Stay (5:33), Moonlit Garden (2:15), Seven - I Your Colours II My Words (11:48), Somewhere In Space (6:25)
I first became aware of Yesterdays whilst researching for the review of Flamborough Head’s excellent Live In Budapest album. They had invited the Dutch proggers to play at the 2007 Hungarian Miniprog festival and also shared the bill with them. My interest was further sparked when I discovered that their music (in addition to their name) was influenced by a love of all things Yes. Starting out in 2000 playing Yes covers, after a series of unofficial releases their first album proper Holdfénykert (Moonlit Garden) debuted in 2006. Taken up by Musea, it has been remastered, enhanced and given an international release which thankfully brought it to the attention of the DPRP. Founder member Bogáti-Bokor Ákos (guitars, keys, vocals) is joined on the album by a sizable ensemble including Kozma Kis Emese (flute), Jánosi Kinga (lead vocals), Kósa Dávid (percussion), Csergő Domokos (drums), Enyedi Zsolt (keyboards), Vitályos Lehel (bass), Fülőp Timea (vocals) and Bazso Tibor (sound engineer, vocals). The bands website shows a couple of new names suggesting that the line-up is continually evolving.
Although the introductory instrumental Sunlit Garden is a little under two minutes long, it captures the essence of the bands sound perfectly. A dominant and bubbly flute melody sets the scene with chugging acoustic guitars against a hazy Mellotron backdrop. It’s overlaid by a neat Spanish guitar break complete with flamenco rhythm handclaps. My initial thoughts were this is more Manning than it is Yes. Likewise the exquisite Infinite is more in the vein of early Genesis and Camel taking the acoustic, pastoral prog route with a warm bass line pulsating throughout. Jánosi’s beautiful voice has a floating dreamlike quality, singing in her native language of Magyar as she does on this song or in accented English as she does later. Don't Be Scared has a light jazzy vibe with electric piano, classical guitar and expressive drum work. The ever present flute makes a cheeky reference to the main theme from Close To The Edge followed by a prominent bass and Mellotron part that could have come from Fragile. The moody guitar synth towards the close is a reminder that there has been very little electric guitar thus far with acoustic instruments seemingly Bogáti-Bokor Ákos’ preferred choice.
Speaking of which, the aptly titled It's So Divine starts out sounding very close to the intro to And You And I before developing into an evocative acoustic guitar solo complete with the obligatory squeaking strings. It sounds like a cross between Mood For A Day and Masquerade (one of the few highlights of Yes’ Union album) and is clearly a Steve Howe homage. The upbeat If Ever... continues the mood of the earlier songs with a breezy vocal reminiscent of Judie Tzuke enhanced by engaging harmonies. Where Are You? is a song of two halves that starts out reflective and thoughtful with a laid back flute solo completing the mood. It becomes more strident around the halfway mark with rhythmic piano chords and an atmospheric Robert Fripp flavoured electric guitar break. Just Stay has a romantic quality thanks to fretless bass, lyrical flute, Mellotron strings and delightful harmonies. It also includes a compelling neo-prog style synth solo that could have come from the fingers of Martin Orford or Clive Nolan. At the end there is another sly reference, this time with flute and voice briefly quoting Strawberry Fields Forever.
The title track Moonlit Garden is ironically one of the shortest being a delicate and beautiful Steve Hackett tinged classical guitar and harpsichord duet. In a similar fashion to Genesis’ Horizons it sets the scene for the albums token epic, the two-part Seven. If the band has been relatively restrained up to this point, they pull out all the stops making this easily the most proggy offering. Part one Your Colours is introduced by a sparkling Moog theme in the vein of Gordon Giltrap’s Heartsong and Beggars Opera’s version of Classical Gas (both hit instrumentals from the 70’s) which gives way to the song section with a simple but memorable chorus. Superb counterpoint, a cappella harmonies make way for part two My Words which opens with a bittersweet vocal melody that owes a debt to The Beatles’ In My Life. The instrumental interlude that follows features some great edgy guitar, flute and Hammond dynamics in The Tangent mould before reprising the strong chorus from part one. Infectious cascading piano and guitar play out to round off an excellent track. In contrast the concluding Somewhere In Space has a more contemporary sound, with spacey guitar, a looped rhythm and hypnotic multi-tracked voices. The best part is an all too brief but stunning Howesque slide guitar coda.
A pity that autumn is just around the corner because this is perfect music for a summer’s day. Although amplified instruments are never far away it has a sunny, acoustic vibe for the most part which is a far cry from the subject of my previous review, After Forever’s dark metal laden Prison Of Desire. It only goes to prove that it’s virtually impossible to pigeonhole prog music no matter how much people try. The CD enhancements I mentioned earlier include a video to accompany the song Somewhere In Space, pics of the band members and links to related websites. There are already several other projects in the pipeline for Yesterdays including a second album due later this year plus two lengthy pieces recorded for Colossus’ forthcoming Inferno and Spaghetti Epic III albums. In the meantime this slice of 70’s influenced melodic prog is here to enjoy.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Gargantua - Kotegarda
Tracklist: Wzdy Czelestnik (5:34), Kotegarda III (0:27), Interrferrometerr (6:04), Meszuga Klejpulesa (4:48), The Augurs of Spring [Dances Of The Young Girls] (3:58), Paralaksy Dyzaskorufin (6:06), Tripl Ratamaklie (5:28), Kotegarda II (1:05), Gargoyles (8:16), Kotegarda I (1:50)
Kotegarda is the second release from Polish group Gargantua after their self-titled debut released in 2003. In his review at the time DPRP's Mark Hughes noted the unique nature of the music and the skill of the players and it seems that they have continued to move forward over the intervening 5 years, this time producing a fascinating and intriguing ride through the strange back waters and hinterlands of RIO and avant garde prog while opening up new areas for exploration. Their MySpace has this to say about what the group themselves think they sound like:-
“Stravinsky's deaf illegitimate son romancing Reich's sleepy gorilla while
rocking a decapitated doll in a banana-peel cradle and listening to the new
Univers Zero hit single on Radio Dada.”
They may be right. The group comprises Marcin Borowski (drums/percussion), Leszek Mrozowski (bass) and Bartek Zeman (guitar and vocals) who appeared on the first album plus Tylda Ciolosz (violin) and Pawel Kubica (keyboards). Most of them also contribute “Facial Noises” - an apt description as singing it ain't! Their music is certainly different with influences coming from such sources as RIO, jazz, King Crimson at their quirkiest with arrangements via Gentle Giant making a fusion that is exhilarating and difficult yet accommodating. The references do not overpower the music and the whole is certainly much greater than the sum of its parts.
This release is uncompromising yet consistent using both the eclectic and recognizable sounds of rock, modern classical and jazz in a quest to produce, in their own words, sound poems without words. The pieces are generally fairly short and snappy using dissonance, polyrhythms, mixed meters and unorthodox harmonies with references to Steve Reich and Stravinski (The Augers Of Spring is an excerpt from The Rite Of Spring). However, this is not “weird” for the sake of it and has a method, the underlying themes making a sound that is morphed out of any expected dimension while remaining true to itself. The music is angular and sometimes harsh but melodies sweep in and out and makes for a very listenable whole, the warmth of the acoustic piano and violin melding beautifully with the electric instruments.
Opener Wzdy Czelestnik starts with a distinctly Gentle Giant violin over acoustic guitar and busy drums before moving into a mournful King Crimson-like violin section. Vocals are added, which may or may not be Polish, this being the only piece with any discernible vocal content, voices being used elsewhere for sounds rather than words. There are jazzy sections with some great dissonant piano and stabs of guitar which suddenly take on a woozy and distorted turn with bass and drums bubbling away and violin keeping the melody. Magnificently played this is a beautifully constructed piece that keeps a structure while meandering wildly through different styles and it is quite a feat that the group can keep the thread of the pieces intact under these circumstances. Odd troll like vocals are added and somehow fit with the melody and peculiar rhythms without becoming jarring.
The next piece is the first (or last) of a trilogy of short pieces that intersperse the album. Kotegarda-III is nothing more than a brief passage of effects. Later on, Kotegarda-II features a muffled horn, guitar and violin fragments and what sounds like someone sweeping with a heavy brush! Kotegarda-I brings the album to a close and is the best of the three, burbling along nicely and a fitting way to end. These pieces add little to the whole but their brevity doesn't lead to boredom.
Interrferrometer again has a striking GG feel before moving on into jazz piano and bonkers percussion. The drums drive the pace while violin and keys add a metronomic melody. Another great guitar solo blasts dissonance over the top, violin then taking the lead for a wonderfully disjointed and off kilter solo before the group join again for an ensemble section on a rising scale. There is good cymbal work and warm bass before a distorted organ takes over. The drums in this section sometimes sound like someone falling down the stairs before the violin returns to nail a melody over another precarious rhythm.
Meszuga Klejpulesa opens with almost Pat Metheny guitar with interesting bass and percussion. Violin stabs and sparse piano are added just for good measure and the main body of the piece features a repetitive violin figure over bobbing guitar. Very intricate and a bit Krimson with a nice touch of jazz.
The Augurs Of Spring [Dances Of The Young Girls] opens with the familiar theme broken up by a detuned radio effect. Drums crash, various keys enter and go off in all directions and there's some very dirty guitar. Plenty of groups have used and abused Stravinsky over the years but this is just great stuff and I'd like to think that the old man would approve.
Atmospheric keyboard washes offer a change of pace at the start of Paralaksy Dyzaskorufin, giving way to a darker mood than anything that has gone before. Dissonance prevails with the five musicians each playing a different piece at the same time with a very Robert Fripp guitar line emerging and that could easily be David Cross playing along with it in 1973. Some fiendishly inventive Keith Tippett piano also adds to the early KC vibe.
Tripl Ratamaklie utilises vibraphone sounds in the intro with rumbling bass and a short and repeated distorted guitar pattern. Violin squawks over the top, then plucks, then swoops, moving from one snatch of melody to the next effortlessly. Vocal whoops interject and there is a passage where the rhythm falls away altogether before effortlessly jumping back. A Fripp guitar of a very different colour features here while the violin holds the rhythm. Some excellent percussion intrudes before a return to the GG flavoured theme originally heard at the start of the piece with a mad fugue taking us to the conclusion.
Gargoyles, the longest piece on the album, starts with rain effects and haunting voices before a driving rhythm propels guitar and violin as they entwine around each other. The players give each other space and there is some breathtaking ensemble playing. Groups of talented musicians are ten a penny but there is so much thought involved in the exuberance of these pieces that it blows my mind. A fast paced Larks Tongues' influenced section leads into a beautifully understated violin that lifts the mood. More thrashing Frippian guitar with the rhythm section working hard, a mournful edge to the piano and sinister violin over distorted drums before the slashing guitar returns.
This album is a total grower. My initial thought was “Whoa, what's going on here?”. Give it three or four listens and it gets under your skin. This is not the work of sombre, furrow browed musos; there is a playfulness and energy that is often lacking in music of this type. This is by far the best and most enjoyable avant prog album I've ever heard. It is the violin that holds the music together and is the star of the show despite all of the playing being first rate. The writing and arranging is simply breathtaking and fleeting references skip by building a superb whole and it is the personality of the group that shines through giving a warm feel. The influences are there but the resulting music is new and vibrant.
You could write a book on this stuff, there is so much going on. It is a striking, questioning and exhilarating album from a supremely talented group of musicians. Don't expect an easy ride as this is electric chamber music for asylums but there is more beauty here than you might think and it is also lighter and more uplifting than could be expected. This is complex, brilliantly thought out, superbly executed, unique and almost unclassifiable. A challenging yet accessible work that deserves a wider hearing than it will undoubtedly get, I look forward to watching them develop over the coming years.
Some music is difficult or obtuse simply for the sake of it but this is not the case here, much thought having gone into the process of producing modern avant garde music with a sense of history. This album proves that music of this type does not have to be more or less unlistenable but, of course, not everyone will like it. I'm giving a high rating because it is very well deserved. A revelation and one of my most enjoyable finds of 2008.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Sieges Even - Playgrounds
Tracklist: When Alpha And Omega Collide (5:33), Tidal (4:21), Unbreakable (9:31), The Waking Hours (4:55), Iconic (5:03), These Empty Places (9:06), Duende (5:10), Paramount (8:14), The Lonely Views Of Condors (6:43), The Weight (11:08)
After a eight-year hiatus, hitting the limelight with two compelling albums is no mean feat. In addition to The Art of Navigating... and last year's Paramount, I've also discovered their great little 1991 release A Sense of Change. Thus, I currently count these German/Dutch purveyors of modern, melodic progressive heavy rock as one of my favourite bands.
So of course, I could never be disappointed to receive a new album from the band. However, I was little surprised when I read news of Playgrounds, the band's first live album. Surprised, because when I interviewed singer Arno Menses at the Progpower Europe festival last October, I was told the current line-up would be waiting until they had another studio album under their belt before trying their hand at a live recording and DVD. They haven't waited, and there's sadly no DVD to go with this album.
Recorded at various venues on that same tour, Playgrounds is a well-selected and paced collection of 10 songs drawn exclusively from their last three albums. With due respect to fans of the band's first four albums, Playgrounds is in effect a 'Best of..' played live.
I've never really been a fan of live albums. Live DVDs are either a great way to actually see bands that are never likely to come to your neck of the woods, or as a momento of a gig that your were able to witness. Without the visuals, pure live albums seem rather pointless. If I want to listen to the songs, I'll always take the well-produced studio verion with all the added detail and clarity. A live show is about just that - the show, the atmosphere, seeing if a band can cut it onstage, getting a sense of the personalities behind the music - and maybe having a few beers and a sore neck the following morning!!
With Playgrounds the music is fantastic, the playing is great, and the set list is to-die-for. This is the proof, if any was needed, that Arno Menses can deliver on stage. His interpretation of The Waking Hours and These Empty Places from A Sense of Change take the songs to a whole new level. The highlights of this album for me.
But the sound isn't great and a bit inconsistent. The vocals are very much to the fore, with the guitars, bass and drums often rather lost behind. Having been mightly impressed with the energy and heaviness of the band at Progpower, I just don't get that feeling from the audio here. The crowd is pretty non-existant too. A band like Sieges Even is never going to be big on crowd participation and sing-along choruses, but it would be nice to know someone was in the audience. The fact that this is a montage of songs recorded at different gigs, rather than an entire, single show, also breaks the flow up a little. As a headlining act I would also expect a little more than 70 minutes. I don't feel that one of the older songs (Lifecycles?) and another from The Art Of Navigating... would have made this disc overly long.
Sorry to sound a bit negative. This is still a fine showcase, which I've really enjoyed listening to. Despite my reservations, for fans of the band it's a pretty essential purchase. For those who are curious, it's a good place to get a first taste. The mark below is weighed down by my general indifference to 'live albums', so add at least another point if your preferences differ. Personally, I wish they'd waited until the next studio album, and then done a proper tour, DVD and live album set to cater for all tastes.
NB: The above review of Playgrounds was written just prior to the announcement that Sieges Even were calling it a day.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Osada Vida – The Body Parts Party
Tracklist: Body [The Body Parts Party] (6:42), Liver [Mr Liver’s Letter To You] (8:58), Brain [Mind On Cloud Nine] (4:21), Tongue [A White Lie] (7:40), Spine [In Full Swing] (6:54), Heart [Back And Forth] (5:12), Muscle [Strong But Powerless] (6:25), Bone [My Name Is Bone The Single Bone] (11:04)
Having languished in obscurity for almost a decade, releasing three low profile albums, Poland’s Osada Vida seem to be intent on making up for lost time; this year has already seen the international release of their fourth album Three Seats Behind A Triangle (originally put out in 2006) and hot on its heels we have the ambitious concept album, The Body Parts Party.
Its certainly an original concept – to quote the band, the album is about ‘people’s feelings and emotions – the positive and negative ones. Its’ also about thoughts and reflections on a human’s ordinary existence. All this is symbolised and described by means of different body parts and organs’. Its to the band’s credit that what could have come over as po-faced and faintly ridiculous is instead delivered with some flare and more than a hint of humour; it also helps that the songs are presented as eight separate tracks, so can be enjoyed purely on a song by song basis as well.
Musically, the inevitable Riverside comparisons that all Polish prog bands seem to get do bear some weight in this case, at least on a surface level, as like their better-known countrymen they straddle the divide between ‘prog rock’ and ‘prog metal’, with a general heaviness always threatening to cut through the lighter moments. Its fair to say that Osada Vida’s music doesn’t in general have the emotional resonance that Riverside can conjure in their best moments, but they do have an engaging quirkiness and a willingness to embrace a variety of different musical forms and adapt them quite naturally to their own distinct style.
Most of the songs are chock full of choppy riffs, busy bass lines and fluid synth work, with plenty of solo spots for guitarist Bartek Bereska and keyboard player Rafal Paluszek. It’s the latter’s work which initially stands out – switching effortlessly between very seventies-esque organ work, jazzy piano runs and more classically inspired workouts, Paluszek is clearly a very talented individual. Bereska initially seems to rather trail in his wake, with the solo spots on the first couple of tracks being average at best, but comes into his own with an extended, blues-tinged solo reminiscent of David Gilmour on Brain (a mellow, psychedelic-tinged track which, perhaps intentionally, has some resemblance to Floyd’s Brain Damage), and follows this up with a soaring workout in Heart that would give Steve Rothery a run for his money.
Whilst some of the influences are predictable – the aforementioned Brain, the sombre, emotive ballad Tongue, which is similar to late 90’s Porcupine Tree, and the instrumental Spine, which sports undeniable Riverside influences – others are less so; Liver works in some lounge jazz stylings, Muscle combines slap-bass funk passages with a grunge feel in the chorus, whilst the (perhaps over-extended) closer Bone has traces of Satellite, modern Marillion and even some fusion influences.
As Andy mentioned in his review of the previous album, the weakest link is definitely the vocals, Lukasz Lisiak’s rather flat, inexpressive voice not really being the best tool to get this often dynamic music across. Unlike Andy, it doesn’t really spoil my enjoyment of the album (and his voice, heavily effects-laden, actually works fine on a couple of the mellower tracks), but it does take the edge off a bit. I think to really progress to the next level, the band need to think about hiring a dedicated singer – after all, as bassist, programmer and main songwriter, its not as if Lisiak doesn’t have enough to do already!
Overall, on a musical level, I really enjoyed this varied effort, chock full of fine melodies and some exemplary solo work. As I indicated earlier, I think the weak vocals probably mean it falls just shy of being universally recommended, but this is definitely a band to watch out for, and if less-than-stellar vocals don’t put you off, fans of heavier prog would be well advised to give it a shot.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
James LaBrie - Prime Cuts
Tracklist: Afterlife (8:32), Red Barchetta (6:14), Shores Of Avalon (4:16), Vertebrates (5:45), A Time And A Place (6:14), This Time This Way (5:07), His Voice (3:44), As A Man Thinks (8:11), A Simple Man (5:21), No Returning (4:13)
The American Magna Carta label has always made good use of its back catalogue through compilations and re-issues. This time it’s an opportunity to bring together some of the side projects of Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie.
The various members of the world’s most successful ProgMetal band (or maybe second if you count Rush!) have always been pretty prolific in between albums. However, as the most identifiable ‘voice’ of the band, I’ve always been surprised at the relative lack of interest in Mr LaBrie’s various outside interests. Both of the Mullmuzzler albums trod fairly similar ground to DT. His two self-named solo albums released via the InsideOut label, explored slightly different territory but are very accomplished affairs, especially the second album.
If you’ve never explored this branch of the Dream Theater family tree, then this Prime Cuts offers a good taste of LaBrie’s five ‘solo’ projects with Magna Carta. There are five tracks from Mullmuzzler. The best of these is the opener Afterlife, although this ‘extended’ version has a hideous ending. There’s a nice, if not groundbreaking version of Rush’s Red Barchetta from the label’s album in tribute to the Canadian trio. The two tracks taken from the Explorers Club project, reminds me how poor an album that was. Much better is LaBrie’s duet with Lisa Bouchelle taken from the Leonardo; The Absolute Man concept album. Finally there’s a cracking version of ELP’s timeless classic A Time And A Place. This is taken from another of the label’s tribute albums.
There is nothing here of any value that LaBrie completists won’t already have. However if you’re a fan of Dream Theater and have never explored this aspect of their singer’s career, then it provides a good taster.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Orenda – A Tale Of A Tortured Soul
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4744 AR|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: ACT I: Rise And Fall - “Nice To Meet You” (2:18), From The Ashes: Chapter One, Chapter Two (8:34), Angel’ Salvation (5:00), ACT II: Among All Things - The Trial (8:43), Passion And Loneliness (13:09), Lost (6:12), ACT III :Back To Death - Night (10:00), Redemption (15:36), “I’m Back” (7:35)
Orenda, are you a speeding ticket? Because baby, you’ve got fine all over you. Okay, I know, another lame pick-up line. But seriously, folks, A Tale Of A Tortured Soul, the debut concept release from this French progressive metal band, ranks up there in my top ten of favorite stuff I’ve reviewed since joining DPRP last year, and I don’t normally go for progressive metal. This is math-metal with generous symphonic touches throughout its nine tracks, which are chained together across the CD to form one 77-minute cinematic piece.
Judging by the lyrics, the CD’s concept is centered on the theme of life, death, and redemption. The lyrics are written in an opera libretto format and points of view are expressed by four different actors or personas: “Mem’ocho”, “The Earth”, “The Angels”, and “God”. Similar to Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon project, but with much better vocals.
Although A Tale Of A Tortured Soul is the band’s debut, they have actually been around for a decade. All the band members have nicknames; they are Anthony Lefebvre (“Mastertouille”) on lead vocals, backing vocals, percussions, all Mem’ocho’s and God’s voices, and some Angels’ and Earth’s voices; Stephane Coubray (“Stefo”) on keyboards and piano, backing vocals, lead vocals and almost all Earth’s voices; Jean-Charles Valentin (“Jisso Metol”) on fretless bass, double bass, and backing vocals; Cedric Saulnier (“Sergio”) on guitars, backing vocals, and lead vocals; and Raphael Leger (“Rafal”) on drums and rap vocals (to quote the CD booklet, “let your fucking soul run amock”).
Things may seem to run amock on this 77-minute opus, but tricky, intricate arrangements, machine-gun like riffs, Leger’s crisp, tight drumming, lots of driving beats and overall awesome musicianship keep the CD steady as she goes, without losing musical diversity overboard. You get speed metal one minute and ballads the next, like the change of scenery in a movie. The CD’s production and playing are top notch. Valentin is a phenomenal guitarist. I want to see a DVD of him playing because when I listen to the guitar soloing on Passion And Loneliness I can’t imagine someone can play that fast. Although Italian virtuoso Simone Fiorletta (Moonlight Comedy) comes to mind. Passion And Loneliness also features a piano section from Coubray evoking prog supergroup Kino. Other comparisons are so obvious they almost don’t need mentioning - Rush, Marillion, Pink Floyd, etc. Oddly enough, the eighties arena rock of Styx and Loverboy also comes to mind.
This CD will appeal to anyone who is a fan of progressive metal in general. For more conservative listeners, Orenda is probably not for you.
For their next release, I suggest they take a crack at a double CD. And bring on that DVD!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
DeeExpus Project - Half Way Home
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Greed (7:38), Pointless Child (6:03), PTtee (12:14), One Eight (7:36), One Day (1:28), Seven Nights (6:29), Half Way Home (17:10)
Given that this is my fourth consecutive review of a band’s debut album and all receiving a DPRP recommendation, the future of progressive rock is looking very healthy. That’s especially when there are bands like DeeExpus around to maintain the momentum. I say band when they are in fact a duo comprising songwriter, producer and multi instrumentalist Andy Ditchfield and singer Tony Wright. It started out as a solo project of Andy’s before he teamed up with Tony in March of last year. The pair had once been members of the same band MZR based in the North East of England. In the interim period Andy performed with AOR band The Real McCabe whilst Tony sang with Newcastle act Wet Picasso before abandoning the music business altogether. It was his chance meeting with Andy that rekindled his interest which is just as well because judging by the results of this album they were born to make music together. Andy plays virtually all the instruments on the album with occasional support from Phil Sloane (guitar), Steve Wright (guitar), Mike Henderson (keyboard) and Ian Raine (additional bass guitar in Half Way Home).
Combining high-octane rock with prog and a touch of early 80’s quality pop this is a stunning debut exuding confident song writing, top notch musicianship and classy production. This is evident from the word go with the excellent Greed, as good an opener as I have heard all year. A barrage of heavy, but always melodious riffs drives the song along with Wright’s assured vocal gliding effortlessly in the foreground. It culminates in a dazzling climax that combines a stirring synth theme with massed voices. Pointless Child displays a more commercial side but is no less worthy for that. It features a compelling middle eight that bears more than a passing resemblance to Nik Kershaw’s hit tune The Riddle plus hypnotic wordless chants recalling the much underrated Red Box. The high spot is an exhilarating guitar solo reminiscent of Trevor Rabin’s coda from Can’t Look Away (for me his best guitar work inside or outside of Yes).
Billed as a tribute to Porcupine Tree, PTtee is said to include several references to their songs but not being a PT expert most of these passed me by. What I can say with some certainty however is the solid guitar work harks back to In Absentia’s Blackest Eyes. Mike Henderson adds a striking synth solo before the closing section which features the unlikely but masterful combination of glockenspiel playing the melody line over a wall of guitar riffs. OK, so I know U2 did a similar thing back in 1980 in their debut I Will Follow but it still works a treat nonetheless. During One Eight Wright’s plaintive vocal reminds me of Joe Jackson whilst elsewhere he sometimes sounds like a cross between Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, bringing Tears For Fears to mind. This song builds from laidback acoustic beginnings to another thundering guitar driven ending with Phil Sloane adding the extra guitar muscle.
The delicate One Day is a pretty acoustic guitar and piano duet that provides an effective intro to Seven Nights. This begins in a stately fashion with a measured vocal refrain that has close comparisons with Porcupine Tree’s Gravity Eyelids. A prominent synth line signals a propelling guitar riff topped by rich Yes style harmonies that sink into your brain and refuse to budge. The title piece Half Way Home may be 17 minutes plus in length but its so ear friendly the time just zips by. A snatch of solo drums is joined by a busy guitar and organ line heralding a weighty guitar solo courtesy of Steve Wright. This eventually subsides to make way for a relaxed song section accompanied by Steve Rothery flavoured ringing guitar (ala Lavender). The songs mood matches Wright’s lyrics perfectly as they weave a sad tale with tragic consequences. There is a hint of Dream Theater as piano, strings and monumental sounding twin guitars build to a suitably dramatic conclusion capped with an infectious chorus.
A really cannot recommend this album highly enough, as debuts go it’s quite remarkable. In fact the sound is so brimming with confidence it would be easy to except that Ditchfield and co had been recording and performing as a unit for several years. Ditchfield’s memorable songs (with One Eight and the title track co-written with Wright) have all the requisite hooks to keep even the most casual of listeners engaged. And his rock solid production is so good it had me checking the liner notes to see if a certain Karl Groom wasn’t at the helm. The drum sound in Pointless Child for example is awesome. DeeExpus have recently settled into a working line up of Tony Wright, Andy Ditchfield, Steve Wright, Ian Raine plus Leigh Crowther (drums) and Andrew Hart (keyboards). They plan to go out on the road very soon and I strongly suggest you catch them if can. They would certainly be an ideal band for the stage of the Rotherham based Classic Rock Society. As a parting thought I’m going to add Spock’s Beard and Threshold to the above names as a further point of reference.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Kevin Bartlett - Glow In The Dark
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Nothing Really (5:51), The Sorrow, The Fish, And Glastonbury Hill (9:08), God’s Little Do-Over (8:25), Chauncey Saucer Survives 2012 (9:16), Moon v. Moon (11:58), Stethoscope (8:16), Resuscitation (2:21), Glow In The Dark (7:55), Something Probably (6:58), Next Life... Let’s Just Wave To Each Other (7:50)
If you haven’t heard of Kevin Bartlett or think you haven’t heard his music, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I say that because I’m ashamed of myself: to my knowledge, I hadn’t heard his name until I received this CD for review. And yet if you check out his website, you’ll see that he’s been in the music business since the sixties in one capacity or another (including working on lighting design for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who, and John Cage!) and has made a couple dozen albums, some of them soundtracks and some background music for museums and art galleries. He’s even composed music for Sesame Street! So the chances are that all of us have encountered his work of one kind or another.
For my purposes here, I’m glad I’ve learned about Bartlett’s background, because, listening to this disc over and over and trying to arrange my thoughts, it kept nagging at me that this almost sounded like deliberate background music. What I mean is this: a lot of ambient music might come across as “just background music,” something to be noticed or ignored as the listener chooses, but usually the composer wants anything but to be ignored! That is, it’s a failure of the album if the music really comes across as “just background music.” But this might be the sort of album that is meant to be background music – leaving out the adverb “just.” Indeed, this is the kind of music you might hear as you walked through a trendy art gallery or science museum. Or it could be the soundtrack for a BBC documentary about the cosmos or about the ocean floor. In fact, the album is also the soundtrack for a film called Peaceable Kingdom, which seems to be about people who have realized that the use of animals for food is wrong and have rescued them from farms and ranches. So you know that this isn’t the sort of album that’s necessarily made to be sat and listened to the way one would listen to, say, the latest Metallica album. (Sorry, just had to throw that one in – something from the other side of the musical spectrum!)
However, it’s issued as a stand-alone album, so I have to review it on those terms; and unfortunately, as a stand-alone album, it’s still background music, perhaps even “just” background music. It’s very pleasant to listen to, for sure; and certain tracks, the ones featuring acoustic piano or synthesized choir or synthesized percussion (or all three, as on the wonderfully titled Next Life... Let’s Just Wave to Each Other), are quite stirring. I also like the wordless female vocals on The Sorrow, The Fish, And Glastonbury Hill (again, a title that’s a bit more exciting than the song!), a piece that features some nice dynamics, too, very quiet sections juxtaposed with rather dramatic and stirring passages. Bartlett is certainly a talented composer, and one is not surprised to read on his website that he was sought after in the seventies and eighties as a master synthesist, because all the compositions here are very tightly constructed, though not overloaded with parts.
However, as a whole, this very long CD strikes me as sort of Enigma-light, though I say that not wanting to do a disservice to Bartlett, whose commercial intentions are surely very different from those of Enigma mastermind Michael Cretu. But Enigma traffics in some of the same soundscapey material, though it’s considerably jazzed up on that group’s recordings with mystical lyrics and occasionally, of course, Gregorian chants. No Gregorian chants here! But I have to say that, as good as the album is on its own terms, it’s a bit far in the background even for background music. I’ll avoid the adverb “just,” but I can’t really recommend this album highly even for listeners who – like me – appreciate interesting ambient music. Not at all bad, far from it – but not memorable.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lot Lorien - Lot Lorien
|Country of Origin:||Bulgaria|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: Dream (3:51), Stoyan Si Konche Izvede (3:35), Byal Ravnec (6:06), Mari Mariiko (3:32), The Wild Vine (4:29), Bulgari Glava Vdignali (5:29), Bela Dena (4:15), The Old Town (3:45), Janissar (5:36), Cuando Un Hijo Se Te Va (3:55), Falling In Love (3:09), A Ballad For The Lost (6:48)
Progressive rock from Bulgaria? Yes, but Lot Lorien mix their progressive influences with elements from Bulgarian, Balkan and World folklore. And by presenting this traditional music in a contemporary format they want to make it more accessible to people from all around the world.
Lot Lorien was founded in 1998 by Kiril Georgiev (acoustic guitar, tambura, lod, saz, midi piano and midi harp) and Zlatomir Valchev (drums, tapan, djembe, tabla, darbouka, glockenspiel and percussion). The band name was derived from the books of J.J.R. Tolkien. Other band members are Galina Koycheva (violin and keyboards), Bora Petkova (vocal and kazoo), Petar Pavlov (bass), Aleksandar Kinov (keyboards and samples) and Yasen Kazandjiev (didjeridoo). Next to these people there are a host of special guests featured on the album. On the album Lot lorien’s mix of modern and traditional results in an intriguing album that needs your full attention to be appreciated. This is Lot Lorien's third album after 2002’s Eastern Wind and 2003’s Live In Ohrid (with Theodosii Spassov).
From the twelve songs on the album there are ten original songs written by Kiril Georgiev, while the other two songs are rearranged traditional pieces. I have to say that it really took me a while to get into this album. Traditional Balkan folk music forms a firm basis for most of the songs, but there are certainly progressive moments to be enjoyed on the album. However you do need an open mind and if you show some perseverance you are rewarded with some beautiful melodies, excellent musicianship and impressive vocals.
The album opens with the excellent Dream, which after an atmospheric opening with beautiful violin, the drums and bass kick in and we are introduced to the beautiful voice of Bora Petkova. The song is up-tempo and has some nice melodies. Apart from the strong voice the rhythm section stands out, they are really responsible for bringing those traditional elements alive with some tight and interesting arrangements. A similar experience I had when I was introduced to the music of French folk/prog band Motis. Another beautiful song is Byal Ravnec. Again a haunting vocal melody backed by piano, acoustic guitar and a relaxed but intriguing rhythm section. Christian Nedelchev adds some nice gadulka, (an instrument that looks and sounds a lot like a violin), touches to the song.
On all the twelve short songs of this album a lot of detail has been spent on melodies and arrangements, however do not expect full on progrock instrumental arrangements. Although the short Mari Mariiko features what could be called an instrumental break. The instrumental The Wild Vine is the most progressive song on the album with its sudden tempo changes. In the quiet section of the song Kiril Georgiev plays some beautiful acoustic guitar; an instrument he uses a lot on the album to great effect (listen to his great playing in Janissar). The kazoo played by Bora Petkova also has a short appearance in this song. Also Bulgari Glava Vdignali has some progressive elements especially during the intro and once again some strong violin playing by Galina Koycheva. Bela Dena has that same violin featured heavily.
There’s not a lot that is disappointing about the album, although personally I would have liked to hear more instrumental passages and there is not much keyboard playing to be heard. It’s used to add atmosphere to the songs, for example in the opening of Dream and during Cuando Un Hijo Se Te Va.
So as you might have figured out I’m really impressed with this album. I think that the strength of this album lies in the superb playing and great arrangements that centre around violin, acoustic guitar and strong and intriguing rhythms. On top of that Lot Lorien have in Bora Petkova a great and self assured sounding vocalist. All these elements make Lot Lorien an adventurous, (Ballad Of The Lost has a bagpipe solo; yes really!), folk album with some faint progrock elements. People who like bands like Mostly Autumn and the earlier mentioned Motis should check out this album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Luca Scherani - Everyday’s Life
|Country of Origin:||Italy|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: In The Darkness (4:48), In The Morning (6:34), Anonimous (5:40), Everyday’s Life (5:03), Il Dono (7:27), Solo Chi Ha Sofferto (5:38), In The Evening(6:22), Soli (3:25)
Keyboard player Luca Scherani may not be a familiar name in the history of prog but he has contributed to some good albums. As a member of Italian band Trama he released the album Prodomi Di Finzioni Sovrapposte in 1999. But he also contributed keyboards to a number of Fabio Zuffanti projects such as Merlin, The Rock Opera, Hostsonaten (“Springtides” from 2004) and Finisterre (“Harmony Of The Spheres” from 2002). Last year he released his first solo album
The album tells the story of an ordinary day in someone’s life, with its ups and downs and on this largely instrumental album, Luca Scherani’s message is that you have to learn from every experience; good and bad. The music on this album can be described as a mix between electronic music, jazz and prog rock - in that exact order. Scherani is a very versatile musician as he plays not only keyboards, but also guitar and bass.
The album sounds very good and there are some strong songs to be heard on the album. In The Morning is a very nice symphonic song and the addition of real drums (Stefano Malvasio), percussion (Fausto Sidri), extra guitar (Andrea Cocciardo), bass (Carlo Malvasio) and violin (Nicola Peirano) make the song even better. On the other hand there is Anonimous, which starts as an experimental electronic piece of music with a jazzy feel where Daniele Lagomarsino adds some beautiful acoustic guitar to this song. It’s all very varied stuff even within a single song. In The Evening starts as a soundscape then turns into a jazzy song with again some excellent bass work by Carlo Malvasio but finally the track transforms into a dance (well almost) song, but with a delicious progressive rock ending. A sSpecial mention also for the strong soloing by guitar player Ivano Orio Oliveri, and all of this in just over six minutes. Also Solo Chi Ha Sofferto is a good song with an almost lanquid atmosphere.
However there are also some things I do not like about the album. The use of the vocoder for instance. I do not like the sound of it and in my opinion decreases the quality of a song like In The Evening. Why not use the beautiful voice of Nadia Scherani instead, who sings the closing track Soli beautifully? On another note I do not always like the synth sounds Scherani uses on the album, for example in Il Dono he uses some very cold and shrieking sounds. But these are really minor observations and all in all I feel that Luca Scherani has made a fine and varied album.
If you like your music with lots of electronic and jazz influences mixed with some progressive rock now and then, you should definitely try Everyday’s Life.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10