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2008 : VOLUME 47
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Martin Orford - The Old Road
Martin Orford - The Old Road
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:GEP
Catalogue #:GEPCD1037
Year of Release:2008
Time:58:01
Info:InsideOut Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Grand Designs (9:58), Power And Speed (5:58), Ray Of Hope (3:53), Take It To The Sun (5:26), Prelude (1:36), The Old Road (8:37), Out In The Darkness (6:27), The Time And The Season (10:46), Endgame (5:20)

Martin Orford probably needs no introduction to the majority of DPRP readers. After serving the music industry for almost a third of a century, first in The Lens and then IQ, becoming a long-time backbone in John Wetton's band and, more recently, a solo artist, Martin is a well-known and well-respected musician. His much publicised decision to leave IQ, release a final solo album and then quit the industry altogether at the end of 2008 was a shock to all and leaves the music world poorer by one talented, popular and out-spoken individual. But, all things come to an end and at least Mr Orford has left us with a swansong album.

The Old Road is, to quote the sleeve notes, "unashamedly retro and proud of it". That is not to say that it is defined by an era of music associated with the past, it is not, but instead is, and quoting again, "about doing it the old way; songs with tunes you can whistle being played by incredible musicians at the top of their game". And what a collection of musicians it is, a sign of the respect and admiration that Martin holds amongst his contemporaries and peers. Contributors include Michael Holmes (IQ), Andy Edwards (IQ, Frost*), Gary Chandler (Jadis), Nick D'Virgilio (NDV, Spock's Beard), Dave Meros (Spock's Beard), John Mitchell (Frost*, Kino, It Bites), Dave Oberlé (Gryphon), Steve Thorne (solo artist, Jadis), Colm Murphy (Broderick), David Longdon (solo artist) and John Wetton (just about anyone and everyone at one time or another!).

Unlike Orford's first solo album, 1999's Classical Music And Popular Songs, which was a collection of material written over the years but not previously recorded, The Old Road, features just under an hour of music written in recent years.

Opening number Grand Designs starts like Brighton Rock by Queen with Orford getting his guitar to sound eerily like Brian May's! However, this only lasts for a few seconds before we are into more familiar prog rock territory. Despite primarily being known as a keyboard player, Orford plays a lot of guitar on this new album and even takes a few lead vocals, as on this track. He handles both tasks with aplomb with his lead guitar lines being as melodic as his keyboard solos. He is no slouch as a lyricist either, telling tales with clear messages that celebrate, well Englishness I suppose. On Grand Designs we are treated to couplets like "fashioning major projects, made with household objects" and "pouring their best intentions, into strange inventions", yes the song is about the underdogs that are seen as geeks and loners at school yet in their own quiet way fashion items that have the potential to, if not change the world at least make it a better place to live in. At 10 minutes long there is plenty of scope for changes in tempo and mood, a pseudo medieval section in the middle, with Orford playing a treble recorder, is of particular note. Power And Speed is the first of only two instrumental numbers. As the title suggests it is an up-tempo piece with no less than four guitarists contributing (Mitchell on lead, Chandler on rhythm, Thorne on acoustic and Orford on miscellaneous electrics). It is not all guitars though, there are a nice selection of keyboards, from the mighty Hammond to various synths, and a solid backing from the Spock's rhythm section. The rhythm section is maintained on Ray Of Hope with Longdon taking the vocals and Orford the guitars and keyboards. Longdon's voice is remarkably similar to Orford's, although with a tad more strength (apparently, Longdon was the second choice as a replacement for Phil Collins in Genesis). A more relaxed number, with acoustic guitar mixing neatly with the electric, and fretless bass adding to the laid back number. A nice 'wind' section lifts the song to a final coda.

There is no mistaking the characteristic voice of John Wetton on Take It To The Sun. This is a number that could easily have been composed by Wetton and would fit easily on one of his own albums. So Wetton fans, that is one reason to buy the album, or persuade John to do his own version on his next album! Prelude, the second instrumental, is Orford expressing his classical side with a lovely piano piece whose only fault is it is far too short. The album's title track underpins the whole philosophy of the album, the relentless 'progress' of modern society, the dismissal of tradition values and ways of life. Dual lead guitars (Orford and Mitchell) add the rock element but craftily mixed with flute, fiddle, acoustic guitars and swathes of keyboards. There is even a section inspired by English folk music, Fairport Convention eat your heart out! Out In The Darkness with lyrics by Steve Thorne (the only co-composition on the album) is a passionate attack on organised religion, a subject matter I am particularly interested in and fully support. It seems that these days it is not considered appropriate (or PC, whatever that odious acronym really means) to voice an opinion that could potentially offend someone's religious sensibilities. So three cheers for Orford and Thorne for not only standing up for their beliefs (or, to some, lack of belief) by putting this intelligent and well-crafted song on an album. It is about time that the religious fanatics, of whatever god, realised that some of their beliefs and laws are simply revolting to atheists - religious freedom should by necessity, include freedom from religion.

Wetton also provide vocals on the energetic and thoroughly fantastic The Time And The Season. The original idea for this song was presented to IQ for potential inclusion on Dark Matter, the band ran out of time and so a fully formed band version was never completed. There is no doubt that an IQ version of this song would have been very different to what is presented here, as this is pure Orford and the way he envisioned the song without the inevitable rearrangements that occur as part of a band. As a nod to the song's history, Mike Holmes adds harmony guitar parts to Orford's lead and Peter Nicholls is credited for lyrical ideas but the rest is pure Orford. The Spock's boys again provide a solid backing and Chandler adds expressive rhythm and 12-string guitar. But Wetton, once again, steals the show with his vocal performance. Final track, Endgame gives Longdon another lead vocal and he also provides a fine performance, although some of his parts can be a bit lost in the mix. A couple of guitar riffs sound a bit like Nik Kershaw but overall it is an uplifting end to the album complete with farewell birdsong.

One hopes that this is not the last we hear of Martin Orford and that at some points in the future he can be coaxed out of retirement to lend his many talents as a composer and a performer to other musical ventures. But in the meantime, The Old Road, provides a reminder to what we will be missing out on. Martin, best wishes mate on whatever you do now, you will be missed.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Matthew Parmenter - Horror Express
Matthew Parmenter - Horror Express
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Strung Out Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Time:51:05
Info:Matthew Parmenter
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: In The Dark (9:22), O Cesare (3:41), Escape Into The Future (4:47), Kaiju (3:51), Snug Bottom Flute And Starveling (3:41), Golden Child (3:51), Monsters From The Id (7:53), Polly New (10:07), All Done [Horror Express] (7:19), The Cutting Room (5:41

Matthew Parmenter is one of the biggest progressive rock talents from the States and with his band Discipline he gave us the excellent Unfolded Like Staircase - one of the best progressive rock albums to ever come out of the US of A. And in 2004 he released his first solo album Astray which received a fully deserved DPRP Recommendation review.

But somehow Parmenter and Discipline have never reached the wider prog audience they deserve. Maybe that is because the music of Matthew Parmenter needs your full attention and more than a couple of spins. It’s highly personal, mostly dark and sometimes even oppressive music. No easy listening. Secondly, you have to appreciate his voice. Matthew Parmenter uses his voice to create different moods and to perform different roles. There is a definite Peter Hammill influence to be heard throughout his work (thanks to Anekdoten’s Niclas Barker who introduced Parmenter to the music of Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator). However maybe things are going to change for Matthew Parmenter as Discipline is doing live performances (they performed at Nearfest 2008) again in the States and he releases his second solo album Horror Express.

The sleeve of Horror Express immediately made me curious about what Ryan Parmenter (who designed the sleeve) wants to express. Of course the album is based on horror stories but the sleeve design made me think of 9/11. Burning high-rise buildings, a vague sort of monster and there are even two planes visible. However you look at it it’s an intriguing design. On the album Matthew Parmenter plays everything himself (although the booklet says that “Henry plays drums, making music”) making this a solo album in the true sense of the word.

The album opens straight away with the first highlight In The Dark. After a haunting opening in which Parmenter introduces a very confused leading character;

“what is that in the dark? Is it a monster? It is a monster. Is it me? Is it a mirror? It is a mirror. Is it me?”

But after a minute the song changes and only Parmenter's piano is left to accompany his voice - coincidentally they used a Steinway piano from 1880 on the album and it sounds beautiful. And from that moment on Matthew Parmenter starts to build up the tension by slowly adding instruments to the song. Brilliant stuff! After that song we are treated to five short songs which is new for Matthew Parmenter. There are two instrumentals. Snug Bottom Flute And Starveling is a more up tempo instrumental with a leading role for the piano. Kaiju is a more solemn, stately instrumental on which Parmenter plays some beautiful violin, with the melody reminding me a bit of the previous track Escape Into The Future. That track is a bit of an outsider on the album, it is a poppy affair with an eighties feel and although it’s a nice track it’s also the weakest track on the album. Another album highlight is the almost classical O Cesare. This song also has a musical feel to it.

As mentioned before Matthew Parmenter is very good in setting an atmosphere and his voice plays a big role in this. A good example is Golden Child. His only words in this song are the title of the track which he repeats through the entire song. But the way he does this and the building up of tension makes the song very very creepy. The last four songs on the album are all brilliant. Because of the fact that these tracks are longer Parmenter takes more time to build up the tension. He plays recorders during the choruses of Monsters From The Id and the song has a beautiful final part complete with church organ. And the main character in this song sounds so lonely. Polly New starts full on prog complete with mellotron and once again there’s that musical feel in the middle of the song and a beautiful little guitar solo. It’s a stunning song and I wished English was my native language so I would be able to completely understand what the story is about. It surely sounds creepy. That same applies to [All Done [Horror Express]. Eerie piano chords and Parmenter sounding like serial killer when sings:

“All done, I’ve finished the job. Job done, I’m finished… for now”

The main instrument in this song is the piano and Parmenter plays it beautifully with subtle added bass work. Then halfway through the song, drums, guitar and saxophone kick in to build up the tension as the main character seems to lose his sanity while repeating the chorus. A great song!

The last song is the instrumental The Cutting Room, here we hear Parmenter playing drums, bass, guitar, piano, mellotron, saxophone and theremin. It’s a brilliant progressive rock song and he way he uses the mellotron choir sounds reminded me of the way Thomas Doncourt of Cathedral uses it. Quite unique. And if you didn’t know already that a theremin and a mellotron are a good combination for horror music then you should listen to The Cutting Room.

With Horror Express Matthew Parmenter has added another great album to his already impressive catalogue. I can highly recommend this album to anyone who likes music that is situated in the darker side of prog. If you are a fan of bands like Goblin, Anekdoten, Anglagard and of course Peter Hammill's Van der Graaf Generator you should really listen to Matthew Parmenter's Horror Express. And while your at it order Unfolded Like Staircase and Astray as well!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Art Of Infinity - Endless Future
Art Of Infinity - Endless Future
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:BSC Music
Catalogue #:LC07235
Year of Release:2008
Time:62:41
Info:Art Of Infinity
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Fourth Dimension (2:13), Endless Future (5:44), The Flow Of Time (4:45), Utopia (18:47), Tube Into Eternity (4:00), Warm Waterfalls (9:03), Age Of Changes (6:27), The Wide End (11:36)

“If the blandness of a lot of the modern ambient (or 'chill out' music to use modern parlance) leaves you somewhat cold but you still hanker for something relaxing to soothe the pressures of life, the universe and everything, German ‘music project’ Art Of Infinity may have the solution.” That was the conclusion by my colleague Mark Hughes when he reviewed the band’s first two albums Dimension Universe and New Horizon, almost five years ago. (As I couldn’t put it any better myself I thought a bit of recycling was in order!)

A new band for me, but based on Mark’s observations it would appear that with Endless Futures the two band masterminds Thorsten Sudler-Mainz and Thorsten Rentsch have taken another step towards making their cosmic ambient music - well - a little less ambient!

All eight tracks are highly atmospheric. A couple offer little more than soothing electronica. However elsewhere there is a strong focus on traditional song structures. A full cast of guest musicians includes three female vocalists and a 60-strong all-male choir features on The Flow Of Time. I particularly enjoy the sensual world music chants of Eva Wolf, while Mexican composer Alquimia brings an exotic vibe to the title track, the uplifting Warm Waterfalls and The Wide End. Throw into the mix some fantastic saxophone scores, a grand piano, cello, and even a didgeridoo on Utopia and you won't need me to tell you that there's plenty of detail to be discovered.

This is a beautiful, warm and rewarding album with an even spread of electronics, progressive and classical elements, very strong vocal rhythms and a hint of rock. Certainly a far more substantive take on ambient music than I’ve previously encountered on my admittedly limited visits to the genre. At the risk of invoking cries of plagiarism, I hear nothing to lead me to a different conclusion to my colleague last time around. As Mark put it: “The music is relaxing and washes over you in gentle waves, yet retaining the human element so often lacking in totally synthesised music ….. the group are very good at what they do.”

Exactly! I’ll just be a little more generous in the point score as: a) my wife really likes this album; b) the gatefold sleeve and booklet is one of the smartest I’ve seen, and c) I was looking for some late-night-with-a-bottle-of-Bordeaux music and this fits the bill perfectly.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



S.O.T.E. - Reasons
SOTE
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4729.AR
Year of Release:2008
Time:78:14
Info:S.O.T.E.
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: 1980 Reason (5:19), 2005 Alone (6:30), 1949 Lacrimosa (1:18), 1953 Natural (4:41), 1993 Countdown (8:17), 2007 Wind (1:58), 1962 Too (6:32), 1965 Breath Of Life Pt.1 (6:39), 1965 Breath Of Life Pt.2 (3:58), 2000 Vaguely (7:22), 1960 One (7:00), 1964 Tree (6:46), 1997 Change (11:56)

S.O.T.E. is an abbreviation for Songs Of The Exile, a three piece progressive rock band from The Netherlands consisting of Peter H. Boer on bass, Emile Boellaard on Drums and Gerton Leijdekker on vocals and guitar. Additionally all members also participate with (guitar) synthesizers to create a complete progressive sound. The setting reminds a bit of Rush and some influences can be heard, but they are certainly not a Rush-clone. I found more similarities with bands like KINO or Queensrÿche. I also found the voice of Gerton Leijdekker like a crossing between Geddy Lee and Ozzy Osbourne, which takes a bit of getting used to. These strange vocal lines do not help to make Reasons more accessible, so just like the rest of the album it takes a long time to get into it. But isn't that usually the case with progressive rock albums?

As it literally is written on the sleeve Reasons is "Another Progressive Rock Story" - S.O.T.E. is not ashamed of being labelled progressive rock. Each song comes with a year and a subtitle, though the songs are not in chronological order. 1980 Reason is a powerful song and is progressive rock the way it was invented. Many changes, complex vocal lines and some great solos. On the other hand 2005 Alone is a more darker sounding song and the music perfectly portraits the title of the song. 1949 Lacrimosa is the first of the instrumental tracks that are definitely needed on this album. As mentioned before the vocals on this album are not the easiest to digest with some songs having huge amounts of lyrics and the words fired upon you. This is the case on 1953 Natural and continues on 1993 Countdown but this eight minute song is even more complex - it's now clear to me that this album is not for inexperienced prog lovers. This song in particular is all over the place and demands the full attention from the listener. After that 2007 Wind provides a short instrumental soundscape, to calm down things a bit. Directly after 2007 Wind the bells chime and another progressive piece 1962 Too starts. This is an instrumental song with many changes and it reminds me of The Ghourishankar.

Breath Of Life is divided in two parts, the first part is a very slow and mournful song that slowly increases in power, whilst the second part is another instrumental soundscape. After the cooling down during the middle section it's time to stretch the progressive boundaries, 2000 Vaguely takes the sound back to the complexity of the first part of the album. This song is more psychedelic than the rock approach from the start of the album and that sound is brought back again in 1960 One, but the mournful vocal lines have stayed.

1964 Tree is an instrumental song that could have come from an album of the Flower Kings. I could swear that I heard Jonas Reingold playing his bass but I have worked my way through the booklet but could not find his name. Now if this track was the end of the album it would have been nice but the best is yet to come. 1997 Change is a song of epic proportion and is not for the weak of mind. Like the lyrics state: "The flesh is strong, and the mind is weak". S.O.T.E. really stretched their limits on this song, only thing left to do is play this album again.

S.O.T.E. is a progressive rock band and are not afraid of this label. Just like many progressive rock albums this one takes a lot of time before you really appreciate the full content of this album. This might serve as a warning to some but to others a welcome invitation, for this album is for experienced prog listeners only and not for people who digest albums with a couple of spins. For those who do have that patience you can really sink their teeth in this album. Reasons is an album recommended to people who like their music with a lot of complexity, it will last you a long time.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Christian Brendel & Zomb – Le Peuple De Songes
Christian Brendel & Zomb – Le Peuple De Songes
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4739.AR
Year of Release:2008
Time:61:44
Info:Christian Brendel
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: L’Instant (1:13), Odyssee (15:46), Les Pas Du Temps (13:02), Dune (7:33), De L’Autre Cote (13:38), En Attendant La Pluie (9:37), La Mille Et Deuxieme Nuit (8:48)

This is one of those occasions when I wish that I’d paid more attention at school. My extremely poor grasp of the French language almost lead me to make a bit of a gaffe (of course I still might have, but I’m pretty sure I have understood things correctly now). You see, I was going to say that this CD was the collaborative work of Avant-Rock group Zomb and French Poet Christian Brendel, but in fact it appears that Brendel is actually an actor/comedian rather than a poet. UK audiences may recognise him from an episode of Sean Bean’s Sharpe series (where he played The Compte De Maquerre).

If I could speak French, I might have a better handle on this project. Brendel’s gruff spoken utterances throughout certainly sound poetic and (potentially) profound, in fact reminding me of the expressive and intense style of Christian Decamps of prog legends Ange, so I’m pretty damn sure he isn’t telling any jokes here.

The prevailing mood is pretty sombre, bordering on the dark and strange, and perfectly matches the surreal dreamlike imagery of the excellent cover art. Vibraphone, flute and guitar provide the main instrumental colours, with a strong King Crimson influence prevailing amongst eastern and world music elements.

The band Zomb were formerly known as La Zombi Et Ses Bizons and had previously issued an album in 2004, entitled Herbe De Bizon. For only their second outing, Le Peuple De Songes (The Dream People) is an astonishingly mature and well-conceived work, which manages to create its own character whilst incorporating inspiration from other acts.

After the brief and unsettlingly eerie atmosphere of the introductory track L’Instant, the rest of the disc is divided into five long tracks which expertly conjure moods of aggression, anguish, despair and dark wonder. I was reminded of fellow-Frenchmen Pulsar’s classic 70’s work Halloween with its heavy use of flute and appropriately dark atmosphere, but it’s a long time since I heard that particular work so I might be misremembering a bit.

Odyssee opens like an outtake from Crimson’s masterpiece Red before morphing into a jazzed up vibraphone extravaganza backed by precision military march-style percussion.

Dune dances in on an intoxicatingly Middle-Eastern melody, but switches tack after a few minutes as the band indulge in some devastating heavy metal riffology, with exhilarating guitar topped by flute and vibes for a compellingly dramatic piece of music.

De L’Autre Cote utilises a more minimalistic musical approach to gradually build tension over its thirteen minute duration, with some riveting vibes work and a thrillingly intense and frenetic conclusion.

Rock, modern classical, folk, jazz and metal techniques are all employed along the way to illustrate this musical journey across a twisted dreamscape.

Although borrowing some techniques from compatriots Magma, particularly in the use of repetitive bass and powerful rhythms, and whilst undeniably experimental in outlook, this is a more accessible and melodic work and could have a wider appeal in the prog community.

The flute and vibraphone work is magnificent throughout, though after 60 minutes of unvarying instrumentation, I was wearying of the approach by the end of the disc.

It’s clear that a lot of care and attention has gone into this work, but I can’t help but feel that a full appreciation and understanding of it can only be achieved by those who are fluent in French, which is a shame as the music is really rather good. I am happy to listen to lots of music with non-English lyrics (indeed, I don’t often pay that much attention to English lyrics), but in this case I really feel like I’m missing out on an important facet of the work in my lack of understanding of the words.

Nevertheless, this is an engaging, and surprisingly good, slice of progressive rock, which I would definitely recommend to French-speaking prog fans, and, with a bit of caution, to other adventurous listeners.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



Dungen - 4
Dungen - 4
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Subliminal
Clearspot
Catalogue #:XMLPSUB0000030
Year of Release:2008
Time:37:36
Info:Dungen
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sätt Att Se (4:45), Mälerås Finest (2:22), Det Tar Tid (4:16), Samtidigt 1 (3:15), Ingenting Är Sig Likt (2:59), Fredag (4:20), Finns Det Någon Möjlighet (3:55), Mina Damer Och Fasaner (3:43), Samtidigt 2 (4:39), Bandhagen (3:23)

Despite the title, 4 is the Swedish pop-prog-psych band's fifth album, the follow-up to last year's Tio Bitar. Dungen is essentially Gustav Ejstes a writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist singer who supplements the band's albums and live performances with guest musicians. On 4, guitarist Reine Fiske, who also played on Tio Bitar, handles all the guitar parts as Ejstes stays seated at the piano only stepping out to add violin and flute. Bassist Mattias Gustavsson from the touring band and new drummer Johan Holmegard complete the line-up.

The opening number, Sätt Att Se, starts with a piano before being pushed into the background by guitar and completed by a violin infused melody. On this track, Ejstes uses his voice more as an instrument to convey a mood, much in the way that Jonti from Sigur Rós does; comparison with the Icelandic band is apt on a musical level as well. To this end it is somewhat irrelevant that the lyrics are in Swedish as the understanding of the words is not crucially germane to the enjoyment of the song. Mälerås Finest is a quite lovely piano flute and violin melody that has a cinematic quality to it while Det Tar Tid has an elegant, if muted, groove with a strong vocal melody, a laid back fuzzed guitar and twinkling ivories. The ending of the song dips into cafe-lounge jazz, although drummer Holmegard sounds as if he is about to break out into his own number, providing a strange but compelling counterpoint. In contrast, Samtidigt 1 is an excerpt from a jam session showcasing the psychedelic credentials of the band with Fiske's guitar taking centre stage. The instrumental is faded out only for a further excerpt (Samtidigt 2) to make an appearance later on in the album, although this time Fiske's playing is a little more restrained and more of Ejstes' piano can be heard. Echoes of The Byrd's Five Miles High can be heard on Ingenting Är Sig Likt with the vocals having a more pivotal role.

Fredag is another instrumental with some great xylophone playing intercut with heavier guitar riffs and melodic piano breaks before we head back into another vocal piece, Finns Det Någon Möjlighet. Starting with a rather jaunty piano and proceeding to a more classical violin drenched section, the song suddenly undergoes a dramatic twist with a rough guitar and lashings of feedback taking over and providing a disparate ending the song. Mina Damer Och Fasaner is somewhat of a hybrid song, sounding like a mixture of a traditional, possibly Eastern European, folk song played on an electric guitar intertwined with relaxed flute and piano interludes. The underlying driving beat is quite a gas and the use of female harmonisations provides a nice contrast to Ejstes' lead vocals. The album is rounded off with Bandhagen which, while too lively to be classified as ambient, does feature many elements of the more outré pieces of this genre.

The overall impression I get from 4 is as if it is a soundtrack from a documentary on the day in the life of a rehearsal studio. A number of groups are practising in different rehearsal rooms and the film, and accompanying soundtrack, dips in and out of each room. In one room a group is playing instrumental music, whilst in another the focus is more on the vocals. Meanwhile, in the third room the group is freaking out on a jam and they are still at it each time their room is revisited! Although the pieces on 4 are short, the longest track being just over four and one half minutes, the pieces are all very well constructed and are able to convey the different sides of the band. I found the album to be a lot more consistent than Tio Bitar and, overall, a very intriguing release. There is a part of me though that would have loved to have just concentrated on the band in Samtidigt mode!

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Billy Sherwood – At The Speed Of Life…
Billy Sherwood – At The Speed Of Life…
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Time:51:05
Info:Billy Sherwood
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Forward (6:27), In The Maze Of The Garden (8:35), In Memory Of... (2:36), Face The Dawn (6:30), Alive And Wondering (5:51), At The Speed Of Life (10:04), Seeing Through The Walls (10:57)

Although bassist and vocalist Billy Sherwood’s main claim to fame is that he was the first American to join the ranks of Yes, he has several more strings to his bow. One time front man for US proggers World Trade from 1987 to 1995, he followed his four year stint in Yes by becoming one half of Conspiracy in 2000 alongside Chris Squire. In 2007 he maintained his Yes links with the formation of CIRCA in partnership with Tony Kaye, Alan White and Jimmy Haun. He is also renowned for his work as a producer including a trio of Pink Floyd tribute albums and more recently he has been involved in the Headsets project with American DJ Jim Ladd. At The Speed Of Life... is his third solo album and follows in the footsteps of The Big Peace (1999) and No Comment (2004). Solo albums can rarely claim to be more solo than this as in addition to bass, vocals and production Sherwood plays everything else including guitars, synth, and drums.

Now this is where I have to be honest and say that my appreciation of Sherwood’s work over the years has been mixed to say the least. Whilst he’s written some memorable songs, plays a mean bass and is a talented all-round instrumentalist, certain aspects of his sound have left me cold. In many ways he epitomises the American style of cool, radio friendly, AOR flavoured prog which for me doesn’t always sit comfortably alongside the richer, more adventurous classic prog style. His influence for example on Yes’ Open Your Eyes album is in my opinion a contributory factor to it being their weakest to date. But back to Sherwood’s current release, a collection of mid-tempo tunes dominated by multi-tracked vocals, upfront bass (in true Chris Squire fashion) and guitar. Things get off to a shaky start with Forward, a ramshackled patchwork of sounds in search of a consistent melody. A less than memorable ascending choral refrain fails to inspire and during the sparse instrumental breaks the song runs out of steam completely. Furthermore the trademark rumbling bass is way too high in the mix to the point of distraction and begins to grate long before the song ends.

The awkwardly titled In The Maze Of The Garden is a minor improvement but again the spiky instrumental work lacks anything resembling a strong hook or a satisfying melody despite the Steve Howe flavoured guitar. The discordant keyboard sound takes its lead from early Spock’s Beard and like the other embellishments here only serves to prolong the song well beyond its comfortable playing time. In Memory Of is a fretless bass instrumental that comes and goes without leaving any kind of impression but at least in terms of quality it marks a turning point of sorts. Sherwood’s archetypical synthetic sounding vocals courtesy of multi-tracking are to the fore in Face The Dawn, a song that does at least include a half decent melody and some good slide guitar work. The obtrusive bass is totally out of step with the rest of the song and sounds like it was cut and pasted in from a different tune altogether. Following a prolonged low-key vocal and synth intro, Alive And Wondering is almost halfway through before it gets going with a lengthy, piercing guitar solo to dominate the second half but there is very little in the way of a coherent structure to speak of.

With an engaging chugging riff, the title track At The Speed Of Life begins promisingly enough but like so many of the songs here it’s twice as long as it should be lacking sufficient ideas to justify its 10 minute length. The only variation is an abrasive guitar break about one third in. Even though the unexceptional chorus is repeated to the point of overkill it fails to register in the brain almost immediately the CD has stopped spinning. The concluding Seeing Through The Walls is for me easily the albums best track but to be fair it has very little in the way of competition. Following a tranquil vocal and keys effects opening, bass and drums kick-in to launch the main melody and it’s a good one with rich counterpoint harmonies (a multi-tracked Sherwood of course). Following a couple of false endings it starts up again each time and despite its strengths, at nigh on 11 minutes, like virtually every song here, it outstays its welcome.

Given Sherwood’s fine track record I really expected so much better than this. Whilst a progressive rock classic was never on the cards, even his normally strong traits (an ear for a good melody and tight arrangements) seem to have abandoned him. The production is sharp with quality mastering by the legendary Joe Gastwirt but the end result is a lumbering mess that lacks Sherwood’s usual flair. A certain progressive rock related website refers to his music as “Crossover Prog” but I’m afraid that on this occasion he’s crossed over into the realms of the dull and uninspired.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Teliof - Is It?
Teliof - Is It?
Country of Origin:Israel
Format:CD
Record Label:CDBaby
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2008
Time:45:21
Info:Teliof
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: They Believe We Exist (3:43), Die For Us (5:25), Is It? [Parts 1-7] (22:38), Piece Of Cake (4:05), Flirting With Hope (1:41), Five To Dusk (3:12), Candy Rehab (1:36), All Of The Above (1:28)

There’s always a fascinating list of albums sent to DPRP Towers for review by (previously) unknown bands. Over the years I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve discovered whenever I take the plunge and try something new. Simakdialog, Fernwood, and Zyle Kukly have all been good finds this year. Unfortunately a few of my choices have left a little to be desired – anyone remember ConXious, Avian or Osada Vida? This album falls firmly into the second category.

Teliof was formed in Tel Aviv in 2006 by a software engineer, a hardware engineer and a musician (Yuval Aviguy, Lior Arinos and Avsha Ilan). The trio immediately set out on the task of recording their debut album and compiling a live show. Several musicians and vocalists contributed to the recording, whilst the stage line-up took its current shape with the addition of a physicist and a Canadian (Roei Remez on keyboards and singer Kristine Sykes-Arinos). The samples I listened to before requesting a copy, suggested the band delivered a broad mix of folk and progressive rock. In reality those two influences are merely the tip of a very unorthodox musical iceberg.

The band’s biog boasts that ‘with Teliof there can be no presumptions, they are beyond definition’. Well that’s certainly true. After half a dozen or so listens, I still can’t really make out what I’ve been listening to.

I admire any band prepared to push the boundaries with inventive compositions and unconventional blends of styles. But for me, Teliof have just set themselves too much of a challenge. Take the first track. It opens with a folky/pop melody. This expands as first a male barbershop chorus is added, and then piano with bursts of proggy keyboards and guitars. Around halfway there’s a boogie woogie bass, then some jazzy piano runs, followed by some comedic guitar. The next track begins with something inspired by the Rocky Horror Show before a church choir is interspersed with some gospel. Another folky/pop melody arrives. Its immature simplicity annoys. A heavy guitar appears and disappears for no apparent reason.

The album radiates around the title track. At twenty two minutes and comprised of seven sections, it is a rather detailed affair. There’s more barbershop and church choirs, more weird guitar-from-nowhere, lots of instrumental work, some annoying LaLa WeeWee vocals and a bit of South American/Andean music tossed in for good measure. I must credit the band for the second part of this song. In mixing elements of Paul Simon’s Graceland with early-period Genesis and vocals by the Moomins, Teliof has created one of the weirdest pieces of music I’ve ever encountered!

You’ve probably guessed, but I haven’t enjoyed listening to this album. There’s no single song or even part of a song that has engaged or endeared me. Apart from a few tuning issues, I quite like the female vocals. The instrumental arrangements can be too messy, but overall it’s not badly performed. There is a humorous, fun, tongue-in-cheek vibe to this record which I liked. The lyrics could be seen as thought-provoking. But as with the music, I have struggled to ‘get it’. There appears to be a very heavy emphasis on religion as the subject matter.

Those who thrive on the challenge of a band that mixes the progressive, experimental and alternative may find something here. Of course this is only my opinion, but the styles are so diverse and unusual, I can see it having only a limited appeal within a very specific sub-genre. As a live show Is It? could be entertaining. As a listening experience it is just too far out of my comfort zone.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ANDY READ




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