Reviews in this issue:
- Paintbox - Bright Gold And Red
- Prog-résiste (VA) - Convention 2007 [DVD]
- Forgas – Cocktail
- Univers Zero - Univers Zero
- Fromuz - Overlook
- The Black Noodle Project - Eleonore
Paintbox - Bright Gold And Red
Tracklist: Lighthouse (3:09), Stop Running (3:10), Wild Chance (3:55), Heaven (4:15), Walls Coming Down (4:32), 45 On (3:48), Chameleon (3:29), Winter (3:34), Love (3:34), Air (4:26), Choosing Love (4:00)
Yet another Swedish progressive rock band you may well ask. Well actually no. Yes they are from Sweden (the city of Halmstad to be precise) but this is certainly not prog, or at least not in the generally accepted sense. The origins of Paintbox date back just two years when Linnea Olsson (vocals, cello, upright bass) and Fredrik "Gicken" Johansson (guitars, bass, keyboards, etc) struck up a song writing partnership. Both are members of Swedish proggers Isildur's Bane but if you are familiar with that bands experimental style don’t expect this to be a sound alike. That’s despite guest appearances by former members of the band. Completing the line-up is drummer Magnus Helgesson who along with Johansson is also responsible for the transparent production. The sonic clarity they achieve in the vocal department in particular is startlingly good.
The trio have produced an engaging collection of songs that are sometimes poppy, sometimes delicate and fragile. They are all centred around Linnea’s stunningly beautiful vocals with often sparse instrumental backing. The minimalist arrangements combined with Linnea’s hypnotic voice renders each song with an endearing charm that I for one found totally compelling. The closest comparison I can think of although it’s not an especially exact one is Sixpence None The Richer’s hit Kiss Me from a few years back. Linnea sings without a trace of an accent sounding if anything very American at times bringing some of the more introspective US female singer-songwriters to mind especially Suzanne Vega.
The album opens with one of its best songs Lighthouse benefitting from a warm acoustic guitar, cello and glockenspiel soundscape. The strong melody reminds me of another song but frustratingly I just can’t put my finger on it. Written by Linnea, the infectious Wild Chance is the song that first attracted me to Paintbox and remains probably my favourite. The skipping rhythmic line played on keys and later enhanced by colourful backing voices is reminiscent of OMD’s Enola Gay. Should it be released as a single it has to my ears hit potential written all over it as does the upbeat 45 On. Linnea sounds quite different here singing in a higher register joined by a simple but very effective handclap rhythm. The title by the way is a reference to the good old fashioned vinyl singles format and not a hand gun.
Elsewhere the songs are generally more laidback ranging from Walls Coming Down with its floating, dreamlike quality to the suitably bleak and haunting Winter. The atmospheric Chameleon would not sound out of place performed by Sinead O’Connor or Bjork with ambient guitar and evocative violin from guests Mariette Hansson and Laima Olsson respectively. The delicate Love with its sunny acoustic guitar is almost like a lullaby with a keyboard melody wandering in halfway through straight out of Genesis’ Duchess. In contrast Air has a harder, driving edge that has a U2 feel about it with a prominent synth line and spacey guitar from guest Christof Jeppson. Following the quality of the material that has gone before Choosing Love sounds a tad uninspired with its discordant acoustic guitar picking and repetitive choral refrain. The smooth harmonies later on go partway to redeeming an otherwise disappointing closer.
For me this unique and compulsive debut release from Paintbox ushered in the New Year like a breath of fresh air. I say unique because it’s unlike anything else I’ve heard recently providing a welcome distraction for my prog accustomed ears. For want of a better description it could be labelled indie pop-rock but that would be a tad limiting because Bright Gold And Red deserves to find a wide and appreciative audience regardless of musical preferences. Live performances are planned to promote the album and hopefully this is just the start of a fruitful partnership that will co-exist harmoniously alongside their commitments to Isildur's Bane. This disc comes housed in a suitably glossy digipak rounding off a very superior release indeed.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Prog-résiste (VA) - Convention 2007 [DVD]
Tracklist: Karma Depth - Beyond Belief, Nemo - Meme Peau, Meme Destin, Hamadryad - Alien Sphere/Still They Laugh, Lazuli - Cassiopee/Mon Mari M'Bat, Hypnos69 - Ominous, Beardfish - A Love Story
Plus snippets from Hall Of Fame featuring: Plackband, Galahad, High Wheel, Magenta, Lord Of Mushrooms, Sphere 3, A.C.T., Mangala Vallis, Amanda, Paatos, The Watch, Eclat, Liquid Scarlet, Ken’s Novel, C.A.P., Madelgaire, ExVagus, Focus, Riverside and Maschera Di Cera.
Time for the fifth DVD produced from the annual convention held by Belgian magazine Prog-résiste, and the fourth that we have reviewed on DPRP. Held once again at Belgium’s well-known Spirit Of 66 club in October 2007, the format remains largely the same as it appears to have been in previous years, with six of the seven diverse acts getting a track each. They appear in the order they appeared at the concert without for some reason any mention of Sweden’s Carptree who played on the first day.
Those who only watch DVDs with big production values can stop reading now. This is home-made, warts-and-all production, with four hand-held cameras capturing the bands on a small stage with a basic lightshow and sound taken directly from the mixing desk. Some of the syncing is annoyingly off; the sound occasionally distorts; and the cameraman dodging the musicians on the already cramped stage is a bit distracting. However no complaints from me, as the quality of both sound and pictures is perfectly watchable.
Whereas in the last edition (according to our review) the performances were padded out by footage of people entering the venue and vox-pop style interviews, this time there is a far more interesting and relevant Hall Of Fame segment. This shows short clips (around a minute) from each of the bands who appeared in each of the previous years. A good move as this really adds to the viewer's ability to sample new bands.
Of the Hall Of Fame clips it’s a mixture of familiar names (Magenta, Galahad, Paatos, Focus and Riverside) with some from the more obscure end of the Prog spectrum (Eclat, Madelgaire, Liquid Scarlet and High Wheel). On this limited evidence I’d pay good money to see Paatos and Lord Of Mushrooms and I am curios to hear more of Amanda and C.A.P.
Of the bands from 2007, Lazuli stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of originality, songs and performance. Now added to my 'must-see' list. Biggest surprise was Hamadryad – a sparklingly characterful performance of well crafted songs.
Overall I come to the same conclusion as previous reviewers. Whilst the words ‘essential’ and ‘top quality production’ never sprang to mind while viewing, this DVD package is a fantastic souvenir for anyone who was there. For those who weren’t, it provides a great insight into what this festival is about, as well as a good chance for some of these bands to raise their profile to a wider audience.
Seeing that it costs a mere 7 Euros (plus postage), clocks in at 82 minutes, and offers tastes of varying degrees of no less 27 bands, then it’s great value for money for casual prog fans looking for some new names to check out.
It’s certainly done enough for me to see if I can arrange a trip to check out this event sometime soon, as well as to track down some more Hamadryad.
The DVD is available direct from the magazine website which is offering special deals if you buy DVDs from the previous shows at the same time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Forgas – Cocktail
Tracklist: Automne 69 (0:49), Monks [La Danse Des Moines] (4:24), Reflet D’Ail (1:06), Couer Violon (1:05), Orgueil (1:38), Vol D’Hirondelles (1:28), Cocktail (3:42), Rituel (1:18), Rhume Des Foins (5:35), My Trip (18:24), My Trip [Demo 1975] (6:32), Cocktail [Middle Section](1:38), Cocktail [Main Theme] (3:18), Plein Les Poches (3:58), Paris-Londres (2:43), Nos Cheveux Emmeles (2:37), Magie Major (1:42), Comme Un Hibou (1:36), Poursuite (3:16), Elle Qui Attend (1:34), Arrete-Toi (2:10), Espoir (2:04), Descendez Pour Vous Rhabiller (0:29)
Cocktail is a generously expanded reissue of Patrick Forgas’ debut album originally issued in 1977, but rescued from oblivion by Musea Records.
Don’t expect any melodic/symphonic (dare I say Neo) prog here though, as this is very much a Canterbury style fusion album, perhaps more suited to the Cuneiform label than Musea. In fact, Forgas’ more recent outfit Forgas Band Phenomena have released a couple of discs on Cuneiform.
On Cocktail, Forgas does a good job of emulating his hero Robert Wyatt, with much obvious inspiration from Wyatt and the early incarnation of Soft Machine, whilst adding a French twist to the psychedelic pop/jazz blend pioneered by the Canterbury legends.
Patrick is a superb drummer and his eccentric vocal style also recalls Wyatt’s own idiosyncratic approach. With a strong supporting cast of fusioneers including members of Zao and Magma, this Noah’s Ark of an album features at least two each of the following instruments: guitar, bass, sax, violin and keyboards. There is also lots of flute and Forgas adds a dash of synths to the proceedings.
The original album featured 9 short tracks on side one and the mammoth My Trip on side two. The shorter tracks are generally a bit too short to amount to much and can be a dizzying experience. Mixing odd little vocal numbers like Autumne 69, Reflet D’Ail, and Vol D’Hirondelles, with the slick funk of Orgueil, there is a tad too much chopping and changing for a cohesive listening experience. The title track is a little too close to cheesy lounge music for my tastes.
A few more longer tracks like the hard driving fusion of Monks or the nonchalant Rhume Des Foins would have helped to balance the album a bit better.
Far superior is the lengthy suite My Trip, where the piece evolves much more naturally through several distinct sections and is overflowing with inventive instrumental colouration and a plethora of solo spots, particularly notable being violin and flute lead sections.
Holding it all together is a dynamite rhythm section with Forgas at the helm; he is a restlessly inventive drummer and also adds in plenty of quirky percussion fills.
The album also contains much jazzy saxophone, but it stays in the melodic zone without degenerating into free form squeaking, as some jazz players are wont to do.
I know you should not look a gift horse in the mouth (as the saying goes), but I found the addition of no less than 13 bonus tracks to be more than I could stand in a single listening session. With the bonus tracks, the album swells to almost twice its original size, and includes various demos and alternate takes of album tracks as well as previously unreleased material. Of course, you can choose to dip into the album a few tracks at a time and much of the bonus material is as good as the original album, with some tracks being a little more experimental.
To sum up, Cocktail is perhaps no lost masterpiece but well worthy of reissue and certainly good value for money in this expanded edition. If you like early Soft Machine or playful jazz fusion, there is plenty here to grab your attention.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Univers Zero - Univers Zero
Tracklist: Ronde (15:08), Carabosse (3:41), Docteur Petiot (7:32), Malaise (7:52), Complainte (3:21), La Faulx (28:07)
Where to begin when writing a review about Univers Zero, one can start by saying they are unique. The band is from Belgium and was formed in 1974 and plays very dark music, in the style of avant-garde, twentieth century chamber and RIO (they were one of the founders of the Rock In Opposition the movement). This is a re-issue of their debut album which was released thirty years ago. The original vinyl was self titled Univers Zéro and was later renamed 1313, the catalogue number of that limited pressing. The original recordings have been re-mastered and remixed from the original tapes and the original name and cover have been used.
The music of Univers Zero is mostly classical instruments and highly inaccessible compositions. The instruments are mainly acoustic, among them are bassoon, violin, harmonium, viola, oboe and spinet. The compositions are influenced by composers such as Bartok and Stravinsky. It is all highly inaccessible and sometimes it is a cacophony of instruments. The percussion part is also classically orientated so I cannot understand why Univers Zero is regarded as a progressive rock band. On later albums they used more rock instruments but this album to me is an album of classical music with a very small rock feeling to it. This does not mean that this album is not interesting to progressive rock fans, many do like an occasional classic intermezzo. Apart from the songs that appeared on the original recording this re-issue features a live recording La Faulx which was performed at a Belgium radio studio. To me this song is impossible to grab, it's a very long improvisation with many classical instruments passing by. It is all so dark and depressing, not my cup of tea at all.
I cannot give this album a rating. From one point of view it is very interesting and at times it certainly appeals to me. Good musicianship, good quality of sound and really something out of the ordinary, I would certainly regard this as a very important and classic album. On the other side it is really inaccessible and so dark and depressing that I would not invite people to listen to this. The extra song on this re-issue is half an hour of even more inaccessible music and even more depressing. Only for people who are interested in dark classical chamber music.
Conclusion: Not rated
Fromuz - Overlook
Tracklist: Stone Salad (15:18), Other Side Of The Water (14:09), Crashmind (10:52), 13th August (11:54), Return to Wax Inhabitants Town (17:01)
Progressive rock has clearly extended its global reach in recent years – I’ve reviewed bands from such unlikely locations as Bahrain, Israel, Cuba and Indonesia in my time writing for DPRP, and Fromuz represent another country perhaps not known for its prog rock scene – the former Soviet country of Uzbekistan (hence, one presumes, the band’s name).
An instrumental quartet, Overlook is Fromuz’s sophomore release, (read the review of their debut Audio Diplomacy), and is best described as heavy prog fusion in the vein of contemporaries such as Planet X, Karcius and (perhaps the closest in terms of style) Spaced Out. Guitarist Vitalay Popeloff appears to be the driving force of the band, cranking out the heavy riffs that kick off the majority of the lengthy pieces here, and displaying a varied technique when unleashing his solo’s – on just the opening track, Stone Salad, he goes from passionate and anthemic stadium rock-style solo’s to free jazz noodling via a spot of Flamenco. The music as a whole is similarly adventurous, although it must be said that some of the segues between different styles are rather clumsily executed.
Although fusion is the name of the game for the majority of this set, there are some more straightforwardly ‘progressive’ moments here. The influence of Pink Floyd looms heavily on Other Side Of The Water, from Popeloff’s soaring, Gilmour-esque guitar solo early on in the track, through to a latter section where the tense atmosphere, strummed guitars, dextrous analogue keyboard work and use of the vocoder draws inescapable comparisons to the Floyd epic Dogs, from their Animals opus (perhaps the illustration in the booklet accompanying this song’s lyrics – four chimneys of a power station rising from a lake – are a tacit acknowledgement of the song’s similarities!). Keyboardist Albert Khalmurzaev, meanwhile, finally gets his share in the spotlight on final track Return To Wax Inhabitants Town, a largely symphonic piece where he creates an effective, slightly spooky atmosphere with an array of sounds that conjure up images of old-fashioned fairgrounds with ghost trains and Wurlitzers. Some of the keyboard melodies are redolent of the likes of IQ, and the song is less bombastic than much of what has gone before – until, that is, a rather heavy-handed guitar riff cuts in about two thirds of the way through and somewhat kills the carefully crafted atmosphere this far created.
At nearly seventy minutes, this is a rather long album to listen to in one sitting, and I can’t help thinking that some of the tracks could have been pruned a little without losing any of their effectiveness. In addition, both Crashmind and 13th August are slightly dull affairs that aren’t really on a par with the other three tracks, meaning the album does dip around the middle. That being said, there is enough here to interest fans of the heavy fusion style, and in particular of the bands mentioned earlier in the review.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
The Black Noodle Project - Eleonore
Tracklist: Sorrow (7:50), Hope (5:05), Fear (3:04), Awareness (9:54), Resistance (6:04), Escape (4:15), Deliverance (9:34)
The Black Noodle Project started as a solo project of Jeremie Grima (guitars and vocals), gradually transforming into a full band. Eleonore is the band's fourth album (if we include the 2003 demo Dark Smiles…). After the release of the third album keyboard player Matthieu Jaubert left the band and wasn’t replaced, therefore next to Grima the band consists of Anthony Leteve (bass), Sebastien Bourdeix (guitars) and Fabrice Berger (drums - who replaces Franck Girault who left the band in 2007).
Eleonore is a concept album and I must say, the package looks superb and the sleeve is beautiful. You are able to read the full story on which the album was based on the band's internet site, where you will find a section which features the actual story about Eleonore. This fifteen page book tells the story (Eleonore et le livre interdit) of a little girl who lives in the woods with her parents and her passion is reading books. When the girls parents die she locks herself up in the attic and starts to read all the books that are lying there in an attempt to find a way to bring back her parents. But then she finds a mysterious book and the fairy tale begins. The band's website is also full of more of the beautiful drawings (by Sandrine Leprat) as those that are on the sleeve. So, top marks for the sleeve and the website but what about the music?
The band opted for a more heavier approach on this album, a bit like Porcupine Tree's Deadwing but without any keyboards. However, and after I've played the album numerous times - the music still doesn’t grip me. It’s not bad, but it fails to pull me into the story. Eleonore I'm afraid just lacks enough strong melodies and themes to keep things musically interesting. Hope for example is a good song where the acoustic verses work well with the louder choruses, however the middle heavier instrumental section is messy and lets things down. And this applies to the first half of the album I’m afraid; Fear is an atmospheric instrumental which begins in a rather dull fashion and just at the point things start to become exciting, the song is over. Album opener Sorrow has a good chorus but again the verses sound messy and the instrumental middle part is not very imaginative.
It is left till the second part of the album to introduce the strongest songs - Resistance, Escape and Deliverance are all strong tracks with good melodies, some inspired guitar solos and great bass playing. Especially the instrumental section of Deliverance is well done - it’s a haunting part of the song where the tension builds up. These three songs do show the bands ability to write a good tune.
So all in all I've got mixed feelings about the album, certainly the lyrics tell the story well, just a shame that the music does not manage to support it. I'm find it hard to express what I mean with that. Maybe if you take Ritual's 26-minute A Dangerous Journey, which is a perfect example of a song where the music and the lyrics together tell the story by using different instruments to create different moods. The emphasis on the guitars and the absence of keyboards means that Black Noodle's Eleonore sounds a bit one dimensional to me.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10