Reviews in this issue:
- Lunatic Soul - Lunatic Soul (Duo Review)
- Finnegans Wake – Blue
- Strawberry Fields – Rivers Gone Dry
- Wobbler - Afterglow
- The Healing Road – Timanfaya
- Science NV - Really Loud Noises
- Mrs. Vee (VA) – Manifesto
- The 16 Deadly Improvs – The Revenge Of The 16 Deadly Improvs
- Cloudmachine – Back On Land
- Aviva Omnibus – Nutcracker In Fury
- Eyering - Imagery [EP]
- Amfibian - Skip The Goodbyes
Lunatic Soul - Lunatic Soul
Tracklist: Prebirth (1:10), The New Beginning (4:50), Out On A Limb (5:27), Summerland (5:00), Lunatic Soul (6:47), Where The Darkness Is Deepest (3:57), Near Life Experience (5:27), Adrift (3:05), The Final Truth (7:34), Waiting For The Dawn (3:36)
Edwin Roosjen's Review
Five years ago Polish band Riverside stepped into the world of progressive rock and were destined to become a major player in the scene. Their trilogy acclaimed big success and the band's name had been set. Their live performances were also successful and especially the performance of bass-player and singer Mariusz Duda was much appreciated.
Lunatic Soul is a solo album/project by this charismatic frontman, and amongst the other musicians are Riverside keyboard player Michal Lapaj and Quidam's Maciej Meller. Those people who expecting music just like Riverside will be surprised as Lunatic Soul is an ambient sounding project and does not have heavy guitars or the sudden grunt-like vocals Mariusz produces on the Riverside albums. I find this step in style comparable to Steven Wilson's change of style from the heavier music on Porcupine Tree in comparison to the ambient sound on some of his solo albums and No-man, I also hear resemblance with Blackfield.
Prebirth is a noisy intro, like the opener on Riverside's album Second Life Syndrome. Whilst New Beginning opens with acoustic guitar and one by one ambient new age sounds like flute, jungle like bongo's and "oehoeh" vocals are added. Half way through the song Mariusz starts his vocals in a whispering style that can also be found on the Riverside albums. The whole song is one big intro to a climax that never happens. Out On A limb is not as dark and Mariusz vocals are more clearer. This song delivers more action but I miss the melodic bass-lines that makes the Riverside sound special. You could expect that this would be provided abundantly but he chooses to provide this song with a dull grungy bass line.
Summerland comes a bit closer to the Riverside sound but also has similarities with Porcupine Tree, and this resemblance is even greater on Lunatic Soul. Where The Darkness Is Deepest is dominated by a Jaws like keyboard, the rest are ambient sounds and noises.
Near Life Experience is also instrumental, the bass lines on this song are beginning to sound like the melodic bass sound from Riverside. A very nice song, more entertaining than the other instrumental tracks but not really anything that blows me away. Adrift continues the mode in a sound which is a combination between Porcupine Tree and Blackfield. The Final Truth has a slow looping rhythm comparable to mellow songs of Nine Inch Nails, but sadly due to it's length this song becomes very boring, as there is not really much going on. Concluding proceedings is Waiting For The Dawn which is three and a half minutes of noises and stuff, way too new age to my liking.
Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda has created a surprise for all Riverside fans with this solo project. Lunatic Soul is very ambient laid back music somewhere between Blackfield and Porcupine Tree, and certainly Steven Wilson fans will love this album. Unfortunately this album does not fit my taste in music and as a fan of Riverside I am pretty disappointed.
The strength of Riverside are the combination of the ambient intros and outros with the heavier parts. Also missing on this album are the melodic bass lines that I would have surely expected on a solo album coming from a bass player. Sure it has it's moments but on the whole it sounds all too mellow for me an the ambient soundscapes are stretched beyond my point of interest. People interested in the ambient projects of Steven Wilson will surely love this album.
Erik Neuteboom's Review
This is a Polish musical project features two Riverside members: singer/bass player Mariusz Duda and keyboard player Michal Lapaj (he plays in two songs with his Hammond organ). Mariusz excels as a true multi-instrumentalist, playing an array of instruments on all tracks on the album. Along with this he is also responsible for writing all lyrics and music. Because of Mariusz' melancholic moods and fascination for madness I didn't expect any In Dulci Jubilo-like songs, and I was right, as most of the music this debut CD is dark and brooding.
The music is not similar to Riverside, that's a plus for Lunatic Soul as only a few songs are in the vein of the typical heavy prog Riverside sound. For example the title track, Where The Darkness Is Deeper (hypnotising with orchestral keyboards) and Drift (dreamy with warm vocals and sensitive electric guitar), would not be out of place on a Riverside album. But in general Lunatic Soul sounds more subdued and more atmospheric, from sultry and dreamy to hypnotizing. I would like to describe Mariusz his vocals as 'impressionistic' the way he colours the compositions (pretty dark in my opinion). His strongest contributions are in the second, very compelling part of the title track (expressive with lush Hammond support) and the strong build-up The Final Truth (from a dreamy first part to a bombastic finale with emotional vocals).
In a few songs you can enjoy ethnic instruments like the kalimba ('thumb-piano') in the title track and the 'quzheng' (koto) in the Far Eastern sounding Waiting For The Dawn.
I am sure the fans of Mariusz his distinctive vocals will be pleased with the album but you have to be up to the more subdued and atmospheric sound. But I love the way Lunatic Soul uses a wide range of interesting instruments and succeeds to put emotion into her music although Mariusz "seems to live on the dark side of the moon" is my impression.
Finnegans Wake – Blue
Tracklist: Honfleur La Jolie (6:47), Die Geste Von Kreuzlingen (4:30), Mida (6:06) Luftspiel (4:07), Blue (5:48), Ents And Things (5:40), Magical Cave (4:50), The Battle Of Novgorod (3:52), Vulnavia (4:07) Bonus Track: Agakuk (7:12)
Finnegans Wake was originally formed in Belgium in 1993, intent on exploring a Canterbury-inspired progressive music. Over the course of four albums, various line-up/label changes and relocation to Brazil, they have gradually morphed into an avant-prog/chamber music group, and fittingly have found a home on Italian avant specialists AltrOck.
On their fifth album, Blue, FW share much in common with fellow AltrOck stable mates Yugen and Rational Diet, as well as with R.I.O. founders Henry Cow and their offshoot Art Bears.
Having only previously heard their second album, Green, I was surprised how much the band have progressed. Whilst quite enjoyable, Green never really clicked with me and I have not gone back to it in quite a while, until I needed to compare it for this review. Blue represents a huge leap, stylistically and in the quality of the music as well.
The core band now appears to be: Henry Krutzen (keyboards), Alain Lemaitre (bass), Alexandre Johnson (flute) and Marcello Onofre (keyboards). In addition, there are a host of guests appearing on the album, including violin, oboe, cello, and trumpet. Morgan Agren (drums) & Reginald Trigaux (guitar) contribute to the bonus track Agakuk.
The music is complex, intricate, demanding and edgy, but still mostly melodic. Abandoning conventional song structures (no verse, verse, chorus stuff here), each composition journeys through lots of twists and turns, marrying symphonic prog with modern classical chamber textures and a strong dose of electronic keyboards, as well as the heaviness of King Crimson and the dark moodiness of Univers Zero.
Detracting slightly from my appreciation of the album is the presence, on four of the tracks, of vocalist Amarilis De Rebua, whose operatic tones are not exactly my cup of tea, even if expertly performed. Italian avant legends Pierrot Lunaire and Opus Avantra might give you some idea of what to expect in the vocal department. The vocals are featured only briefly so I wouldn’t let it put you off too much – of course, there will be some who love operatic vocals anyway.
My favourite tracks are Mida, Blue, Ents And Things and Agakuk. Blue especially, has a very modern classical-minimalist influenced sound (think Glass/Reich), full of electronic burbles and melodic flute. Unexpected melodies flutter around for a constantly surprising track, also featuring superb organ and soaring violin. It’s a wonderful track!
Although nothing on the album makes me reach for the skip button, my least favourite track is Luftspiel. With uncompromising vocals and dissonant music, this is a difficult listen. On the MySpace page, you can sample both Blue and Luftspiel, which should give you an idea of whether this might be of interest to you.
Personally speaking, I found much to enjoy in these challenging compositions. The richly textured music offers new surprises at every turn. Perhaps not for the casual listener, Blue should amply reward those who can give it the time and attention it deserves.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Strawberry Fields – Rivers Gone Dry
Tracklist: Your Story (5:51), Close (5:33), River’s Gone Dry (6:54), Fool (5:55), Moon (3:51), Beautiful (3:56), Open Your Eyes (5:48), Maybe (4:26), Flow (7:31)
Strawberry Fields is one of the many projects by Polish artist Wojtek Szadkowski, especially known for his work with Collage and in current days with Satellite. Another of his projects is Peter Pan, and Robin, the beautiful singer from Strawberry Fields happens to be the girlfriend of Peter Pan’s guitarist Radek Chwieralski and so she became involved in this project. The other members of Strawberry Fields are the same as in Satellite: Sarhan Kubeisi on the guitar, Jarek Michalski on the bass and Krzys Palczwewski on the keyboards. Wojtek plays drums, acoustic guitar and keyboards on this album and is the composer of all the songs. With a little help from Palczwewski he produced the album too. The lyrics were written by Marta Kniewska (Robin), who makes her debut as singer and lyricist.
Soft xylophone like sounds open Your Story and Robin’s fragile and sensual voice starts singing with a lot a echo and reverb, at the end of her line abruptly cut off, an unusual production technique. The chorus is melodic and supported by strong riffs by Kubeisi’s guitar. As with Satellite the vocal often is recorded twice, so with a background vocal, mostly a few tones lower than the melody-line. Style is pop-rock (in a good sense) with a little touch of blues.
Electronics and keyboards dominate the opening of the song Close, which for my part could have easily been a Satellite song: same characteristics and melancholy. The chorus again is somewhat stronger, more rock oriented and sung by a distorted voice. Whereas the title track is a beautiful blend of symphonic music, good pop as in for instance works by Depeche Mode and melodic electronic music. Following this, Fool, opens with just vocals and a little bit of organ, secondly an acoustic guitar and in the chorus drums, bass and electric guitar. Main chords are D minor and C. The music is in the vein of the Cranberries and here’s some catchy guitar solo’s by Kubeisi.
In Moon, we travel back to the sixties as far as atmosphere, guitar, bass and drums are concerned. The softly rumbling organ contributes to this ‘oldies feel’ but Robin’s voice is definitely of this decade! The second half of the song features some string arrangements. A fine pop track is Beautiful, apart from the organ is a lot like the Cranberries again. A bit ghostly, is the opening of Open Your eyes: dark synth tones and an almost whispering voice of Robin soothes and almost hypnotizes you. In between a catchy, much more up tempo chorus, with powerful riffs from Kubeisi’s guitar. Almost the same kind of opening in the track Maybe and a ditto chorus as in the previous track. Sometimes Agua de Annique comes into mind although Anneke van Giersbergen’s vocals are more powerful and she has a different vibe.
The longest and best track is saved for last: Flow has it all: atmospheric, symphonic, a little progressive and very melodic altogether. Slow and tasteful music that keeps you longing for more and certainly one or two tracks in this style would have made the album even stronger. As in other tracks the combination of just one minor and one flat chord are the fundamentals of the chorus, sung by Robin by multiple layers of her vocal and Kubeisi plays some very nice Floydian guitar.
Conclusion: a very nice pop-rock album, hardly as progressive as Satellite, less frequent changes in tempo, barely any really long instrumental pieces and the basic melodies are fairly straight forward. It’s the combination that works and it’s my belief this album has the potential to appeal to many others rather than just the ‘prog-fans’. Fans of Satellite and other neo prog-acts should listen before buying, but people with an interest in good pop-rock with a symphonic touch, should definitely check it out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Wobbler - Afterglow
Tracklist: The Haywain (0:55), Imperial Wwinter White (15:02), Interlude (2:35), In Taberna (13:10), Armoury (3:00)
We will have to wait a while for a new White Willow album whilst the band members take some time to focus on other projects. Band leader Jacob Holm Lupo will release his first album as The Opium Cartel by the end of May. White Willow's keys man Lars Fredrik Frøislie is busy writing and recording his second In Lingua Mortua album full of black metal material mixed with folk, country and electronica. And now Frøislie releases Afterglow also the second offering by his other band Wobbler. This is not really a new album as the songs on the album are re-recordings of some older songs from 1999 and two of these songs have been available as downloads from the bands website. However the songs have been totally re-arranged and recorded. These two songs Imperial Winter White and In Taberna together with three other songs form Afterglow.
When Wobbler's debut album Hinterland was released in 2005 they were seen as “the new Anglagard”. That stamp was understandable but also a bit unfair because the two Anglagard albums are classics and comparing Hinterland with those two albums could only result in disappointment. I think Hinterland was a good album that showed that the band was full of ideas which they all wanted to include on the album. This however gave the album a slightly fragmented feel. Too many ideas, and because of that, the mostly instrumental tracks sounded impressive but failed to stick.
The band used an incredible array of musical instruments on Hinterland that all had seen the light of day before 1975 and that hasn’t changed on Afterglow. The album consists of three short tracks and two long ones. Opening track The Haywain doesn’t even last a minute but surprises none the less with its gentle medieval feel. Drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppe plays Crumhorns and recorders on a track that brings to mind the excellent Gryphon (go see them on the 6th June in London for a reunion concert). This medieval atmosphere returns on album closer Armoury. Again an excellent track with a “subtle” ending on church organ and Moog (Keith Emerson anyone??). Morten Andreas Eriksens acoustic guitar accompanied by Kristian Karl Hultgren on acoustic bass and guest Sigrun Eng on cello form the ingredients for Interlude.
That leaves the two long tracks. And it must be said that in these tracks not much has changed. There are still more tempo changes and odd time signatures than you can shake a stick at, however there is one important change and that is the fact that these two tracks not only impress this time, but they also moved me. The melodies are stronger and the different parts of the songs seem to fit better to each other than on Hinterland. So; better melodies and better arrangements (there is also a nod to the start of the improvised part of King Crimson's Starless on Imperial Winter White. Listen to the woodblocks and bass part). Still this is not music for the faint hearted and it still confirms all those stereotypes that progressive rock is associated with (Rickenbackers, Hammonds, Moogs, mellotrons and long songs that seem to be written to show of the band members abilities). The guests on the album also contribute positively. Ketil Vestrum Einarsens flute parts act as the perfect melancholic counterparts to the wall of sound the band is able to produce. Aage Molkte Schou adds new colours with his percussion. And I also would like to hear more of Tony Johannessens vocals!
On the whole there is more to enjoy on this album. The arrangements are better and the melodies are stronger. Also the albums length (only 35 minutes) seems to make the music easier to digest. If this would have been an 80 minute affair it might get tiresome (something that is shown by most albums by The Mars Volta). Especially the three short tracks show a new side of Wobbler that I would like to hear more of. With Afterglow Wobbler has improved and that is a good thing. If Wobbler keeps on growing musically like they showen on Afterglow, their third album will be a DPRP recommended album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Healing Road – Timanfaya
Tracklist: Devil's Garden (4:32), The Green Caves (5:08), Crashing Waves (4:28), Crater Camels (5:44), Absynthe (3:12), Fire Mountains (9:37), Mirador (5:06), Blackbeach (3:33), Observe And Learn (9:12)
A couple of years ago an album entitled Hope | Omid caught my attention which featured several bands and artists under the collective name The Bearded Project. The name by the way is the one adopted by the German based Spock’s Beard fan club whose members appeared on the album. It was certainly a well rounded compilation good enough to receive a DPRP recommended tag with the standout track for me coming from the band The Healing Road. I say band when infact it is the psydoneum of keyboardist Hanspeter Hess with Timanfaya being his second album to date following the self titled début in 2006. On this occasion it’s an all instrumental affair and a concept of sorts based on his travels around Lanzarote. Timanfaya is the name of the national park on the island and as a visitor myself some 20 years ago I can certainly identify with many of the track titles.
Joining Hess is an impressive line-up of friends and musicians including Thommy Frank (guitars, bass), Dominik Wimmer (guitars), Kai Heyrock (guitars, bass), Roland Enders (guitars), Claus Flittiger (guitars), Michael Jarosch (guitars), Markus Roth (keyboards), Stefan Dittmar (drums, percussion) and Ben Schneider (drum programming). The end result is a colourful collection of melodic, neo-prog instrumentals boasting a very clean sound with rich keyboard textures to the fore. The guitar work from the various contributors has plenty of bite but in each instance stops short of straying into power metal territory. In addition to his not inconsiderable keyboard skills, Hess proves to be a fine drummer particularly during the explosive intro to Devil's Garden. It’s a suitably punchy synth driven opener with powerful wall-to-wall guitar pyrotechnics.
The following three pieces The Green Caves, Crashing Waves and Crater Camels prove to be less compelling where my attention span began to wander at times although they each have their moments. Particularly good is the chiming guitar melody that enlivens the first of the trio. The strident nature of the opening track returns with Absynthe which features excellent organ soloing over a busy, syncopated rhythm. It stops mid-track for a jazzy improvised section reminiscent of Larks Tongues In Aspic era Crimson which personally I found an unnecessary diversion.
The concluding four tracks are for me the strongest beginning with the albums centrepiece Fire Mountains. It kicks-off all guns blazing with manic Emerson style organ over a rapid fire rhythm before segueing seamlessly into a heavenly synth theme guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of the neck. A spacey Oldfield flavoured guitar section brings memories of the closing to the original Tubular Bells flooding back. Mirador is better still with a tranquil piano and weeping Hackett style guitar interlude that’s broken by a burst of clattering tribal drums straight out of the finale from Oldfield’s Amarok. Hess piles on the drama with orchestral keys building to a rousing climax.
From mellow piano beginnings, Blackbeach develops into a beautiful, rhapsodic theme with melodic Knopfler style guitar picking to play out. The concluding Observe And Learn, although not as strong as the proceeding Fire Mountains, still manages to cram a variety of moods into its near ten minutes running time. The atmospheric guitar led introduction has that indelible Floydian stamp whilst Wakeman’s fingers could so easily be responsible for the rapid, rippling piano sequence. Blistering guitar and synth interplay build to a stately and satisfying conclusion.
Even before the ink on this review was dry there was already a new album available under The Healing Road banner entitled Tales From The Dam. Hopefully that particular release will feature as the subject of a future review. For now however this superb slice of accessible, ear friendly prog is available to enjoy. Along with Hess and his contributors due credit should be given to Andy Horn the man responsible for the mixing and mastering ensuring a superior sound to support the equally superior compositions and musicianship. This is one instance where the absence of vocals is far from a handicap allowing instruments free reign to soar and sing in the spirit of true harmony with melodious results.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Science NV - Really Loud Noises
Tracklist: Devil In Witches' Hands (6:25), Bolero (6:33), Rim Forest (2:43), Mountain Pass Blues (4:51), Chacooonne (6:18), Number Five (5:40), After Math (5:48), Jalapeno Swamp Gas (3:55), Hard Break (3:17), Violet Sky/Karnival (9:52)
Somewhat embarrassingly, the debut album by Science NV has been with DPRP for nearly 10 months now. With apologies to the band for such a delay, this is in no way a reflection of the quality of the music, purely a matter of logistics in terms of the number of CDs we have submitted for review that, occasionally, some do slip under the radar. Anyway, Really Loud Noises is the name of the album by the four musicians who are: Jim Henriques (guitar, keyboards, drums and percussion), David Graves (keyboards), Larry Jay Davis (bass, guitar) and Rich Kallet (drums and percussion). The group is based in San Francisco, California and deem their prog credentials to be fulfilled by the inclusion of "stately instrumentals, classical interpretations, ambient experiments, bombast and irreverence". Of course, ticking boxes against a list of requirements does not a prog album make, it is still all down to the music.
And music is all you get because, as you probably noticed from the credits, there are no vocals! The important thing about this is that no vocals are needed, the music stands up by itself. Opener Devil In Witches' Hands sets the pace with a great mixture of keyboard and guitar work. Sounding in places like an early composition by Al Di Meola, this beat-laden number is a great start to proceedings. Interpretations of classical numbers can often be rather irksome, more so when they are well known pieces of music. Science NV's version of Ravel's Bolero just about shades it on the side of acceptability, mainly due to the inventive use of keyboards, played by both Henriques and Graves. They do a good job of building to the crescendo at the culmination of the piece, managing to capture an orchestral air without going to over the top. Rim Forest also features Graves and Henriques on keyboards, with the latter also playing the bass synth. Davis proves that he is no slouch on the guitar, irrespective of the number of strings running down his fretboard. There is something about Mountain Pass Blues that I don't really get. Jazzier than previous numbers it features fake horns in the rather languid opening section which sets up first a guitar and then piano solo. Both solos are decent enough but, to me, admittedly not a great lover of jazz, the whole piece doesn't hang together all that well. Better by far is Chacoonne, a deceptively simple piece enhanced by the violins of guest musician Alisa Rose. Both ominous and menacing at the same time, this dramatic piece is the soundtrack to a film yet to be made.
The second 'half' of the CD begins with Number Five, which is actually the sixth track on the disk! A slower piano based piece with a lovely guitar soloing away in the background and another jazz-tinged piano solo, which was more in context with the overall piece. There is a bit of a drone going on throughout After Math which positions itself in the more experimental section of the progressive spectrum. The acoustic upright bass is a winner and the quite Frippesque guitar adds ambience. The musical variety continues with Jalapeno Swamp Gas and Hard Break with a deft synth bass reappearing on the former and some heavy percussion on the latter. One could almost split the two by a decade, as Jalapeno Swamp Gas is quite seventies while the more synth encrusted Hard Break has a definite 80s feel, quite Ultravoxian in many ways. Final number is Violet Sky/Karnival, the longest piece on the album, it is a thoroughly engaging number that, to run the risk of being oxymoronic, is best described as heavy ambient. Rather like one of the less boring pieces by David Sylvian, there is a lot going on but it does maintain a coherence that is often lacking in such pieces. Intriguing and hypnotic, I have just played it through three times in a row and remain hooked by the surprises and lack of uniformity of the piece.
Science NV, a group that write and perform out of the love of music rather than as a career option (all have scientific day jobs, hence the name) have certainly come up with a varied and impressive album. The playing throughout is excellent and each of the tracks has something different to offer, which is not something that can be said about all instrumental albums. The album does improve with repeated listenings, that I can testify to as first time I heard Bolero I couldn't stand it but now it is definitely growing on me! In a bold move the album is available from the bands website where you can download tracks and donate some cash directly to the band, although a physical disc is also available at a decent price. So visit the website, listen to the music and download tracks you like for a proverbial 'buck or two' each, can't be bad!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mrs. Vee (VA) – Manifesto
Tracklist: Safety Deposit Box - Folk Night Chord (2:38), The Resonance Association - Subatomic Zoo (3:26), Orphidice - Coming Home (7:31), Svefn Plural - Fruit Photographer (5:51), Sand Snowman - Twilight Of The Dogs (8:21), Goodbye Pluto - The Hum (10:18), Mox - The Forming Of An Emotional Sphere (5:03), Electronica Ghost Voice Phenomena - Troubled Sleep (3:27), The 3rd Fire - What Else Could I Say? (4:41), The Resonance Association - Descent (2:39), Raelism - Somewhere In The Future, Where Everything Has Worked Out OK (5:08), General Paulus - So How Far Would You Go? (4:17), Lovers Of London - Lovers Of London (3:55), Vultures - Tower 12 (12:04)
When DPRP was sent for review a copy of The Resonance Association’s Northern Coastline Soundtrack, Daniel Vincent of that band kindly included a copy of Manifesto, a new sampler from Mrs. Vee, the band’s label. This is my first crack at reviewing a sampler, so I’m basically going to take it from the beginning and work my way to the end, track by track.
First up is Safety Deposit Box with the track Folk Night Chord. Safety Deposit Box is a solo project of Vincent. The tune contributed here is a couple of minutes of industrial space-like stuff. Not folk, and not a chord. Listen between the lines. The debut Safety Deposit Box EP is entitled Rotten Static Airwaves and can be downloaded from Mrs. Vee.
We then venture into ethnic territory with Subatomic Zoo from none other than The Resonance Association. Think Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, but more plugged in. Vincent is joined in this band by Dominic Hemy. The track is taken from their second full-length release We Still Have The Stars.
More ethnic influences come by way of the third track, Coming Home by experimental band Orphidice. Electronic and ambient are the major hallmarks of the band’s sound, judging by this track which is somewhat bubbly in its techno percussion. It yet displays a smooth sheen evoking Flowermouth-era No~Man. Enigma and Steve Howe also serve as pointers. This song is found on the sophomore Orphidice release Transit and also on a companion EP which can be downloaded from Mrs. Vee.
The Howe influence is evident again on the fourth track, Fruit Photographer by Svefn Plural. Other elements include some analog organ flavours, acoustic guitar and worldly percussion. The band’s debut release is available as a download from Mrs. Vee.
Pagan folk is centre stage on the fifth track, Twilight Of The Dogs by Sand Snowman. Evoking Mostly Autumn and Black Tape For A Blue Girl, this band has two releases via the Tonefloat label. Just when you think this band has recorded a three-minute folk song, this track stretches and stretches - to eight minutes. Sand Snowman’s next forthcoming Tonefloat release is going to feature an appearance by the one and only Steven Wilson.
We are then catapulted into outer space via the next track, The Hum by six-piece instrumental improv collective Goodbye Pluto. As a paradox, you could probably see Pluto when listening to this band. Kraut after midnight, meeting drone and bumping into sixties-era Pink Floyd along the way. Coming down the pike will be the band’s debut EP on Mrs Vee.
We continue our ride through the reaches of space via the seventh track, The Forming Of An Emotional Sphere by Mox. Under the stewardship of Misha Salnikov, this formation in electronic experiments has released four CDs, with two more set to launch. Check out the release Early Ganglions, available as a download from Mrs. Vee.
The eighth track is titled Troubled Sleep by the appropriately named Electronica Ghost Voice Phenomena, the moniker for this project from Jamie Rowell. This track may remind you of what troubled sleep would sound like, but other than that it is three minutes of minimal, uninspiring electronics. It’s taken from the double CD and again, appropriately named release V/Night Time Ambience. I’ll have to add this sonic sleep aid to my insomnia music collection (seriously). Rowell’s project sees their debut Mrs. Vee release later in 2009.
Track number nine sees us delve into drone via What Else Could I Say? by The 3rd Fire, a solo project from Dominic Hemy of The Resonance Association. Lots of astral electronics and minimal guitar. From the forthcoming release You Will Die For Your Revolution, coming soon from Mrs. Vee.
Track number ten is another offering from The Resonance Association, this time a dancy little number titled Descent, laid down during the We Still Have The Stars recording sessions.
Max Rael, co-founder of UK industrial band History Of Guns, brings us under the moniker Raelism track number eleven, entitled Somewhere In The Future, Where Everything Has Worked Out OK. Analog steampunk via the programming and mellotron sounds. Another forthcoming EP on Mrs. Vee.
Track twelve is a sharp twist into some good old fashioned rock and roll courtesy of UK band General Paulus and their tune So How Far Would You Go? This band sounds more like The Stooges then, well, The Stooges do. Perhaps the most unique sounding track on the sampler, and an unlikely addition to the roster of Mrs. Vee, who will be offering new releases and re-releases of their music in 2009.
Track thirteen is entitled Lovers Of London, by the band of the same name and another project of Vincent. A straightforward song-based track with some acoustic touches recalling John Paul Jones. The band focuses on post progressive pop, with a debut release forthcoming from Mrs. Vee.
The last track is entitled Tower 12, by Vultures, an experimental band hailing from Dalston, North London, UK. It’s basically twelve minutes of bland electronic drivel that regrettably closes the sampler on a flat note. More recordings from this band are coming from Mrs. Vee throughout 2009, and perhaps some dance-oriented drum programming and remixing would be an area of opportunity for Vultures.
My initial thought on reviewing this sampler was that all the bands would sound like The Resonance Association. Some do, but I was pleasantly surprised by the overall variety between the bands. Mrs. Vee’s got talent, and something for every non-conformist out there.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The 16 Deadly Improvs – The Revenge Of The 16 Deadly Improvs
Tracklist: UnEarthly (1:27), Brave Archer (4:24), Don’t Move (5:52), Flammenwerfer (7:35), When The Tail Hits, The Head Reacts (3:26), The Fall (3:35), In The Black (3:57), Spectrum: MMVII B.C. (4:26), The 80’s (0:36), Open (5:15), Cyclopean (4:32), Tongues Of The Moon (4:09), 2/9 (3:13), Marco Polo vs. The 4 Assassins (2:47), Quiet American (5:27), UnEarthly Reprise (13:44)
Just imagine my trepidation when I received this CD for review and discovered that the title wasn’t a joke: the sixteen tracks on this CD are, indeed, all improvisations. Moreover, they’re improvisations recorded in two and a half hours and (if we’re to believe the liner notes) fixed up with only a few overdubs, and those overdubs are also allegedly “spur-of-the-moment” (whatever that can mean). Imagine my further trepidation, not to say dread (okay, we can say it), when I read the band’s claim that “We believe this is a largely successful attempt to make music in a pure and ideal form...” I take it as an article of belief that artists should not pronounce on their own art, especially must not praise it! And furthermore, as we stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with a solid thousand years of Western music behind us – most of it carefully composed and artfully performed – I find myself dubious about the claim that “pure and ideal” music is that which is improvised on the spot.
Well, so much for my preconceptions. Now imagine how pleased I am to be able to say that, darn it, the band is right: this is a largely successful attempt! Not wholly successful, for sure; and I still refuse to accept the band’s theory about what constitutes the “pure and ideal” form of music. But this is a brave and, frankly, quite enjoyable experimental album.
I hadn’t heard of this group before, but apparently this is their fourth such album. Presumably therefore they’ve worked out a procedure, or more likely a number of procedures, for getting going in the studio when they gather to create a collection of improvisations. Without knowing the extent of the overdubbing, I can still say that the compositions (for such they emerge as) are in many cases quite impressive, some even featuring vocals (overdubbed, as one would expect would be necessary; but still, adding vocals to improvised instrumentals is no mean feat!). There are a few pieces that sound just like what you’d expect from six guys getting together and jamming with “no prior rehearsals or sharing of musical ideas” (also from the liner notes) – chief among them, I think, being the amusingly titled Flammenwerfer, which is rather grating than inventive – but as I say, a good three-quarters of these improvisations come out sounding like real (if loose) compositions.
Well, you want to know, what kind of music is it? The bulk of the music is not what I would call “progressive” (or anything like it); but I’ll admit that some of the pieces aren’t a million miles removed from, say, Red-era King Crimson or even the instrumentals on Bowie’s Berlin albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger). Most impressive to me is the way the improvisations often build and then devolve: this group (there are six members) can turn or stop on a dime, and they obviously are good at cueing each other when it’s time to take a new tack. Perhaps the most impressive of these pieces is Cyclopean, which is also the track closest to what we might call progressive rock. I particularly like the repetitive guitar solo that almost, but not quite, overstays its welcome (think of Neil Young’s infamous one-note solo on Cinnamon Girl and you’re in the ballpark).
Most of the improvs are closest to what most of us would consider fairly tightly controlled free-form jazz (not a contradiction – honest!). Kudos especially go to Jeff Bridi, who plays bass on most of the tracks. It must have been tempting for him on many occasions to lay out and stick to the roots and tempting on other occasions to go nuts (because, after all, who listens to what the bass is doing?) – but, in my judgement, he not only creates just the right bass lines for most of these pieces but manages to find the pocket as well – surely a difficult chore when improvising! Gene Bohensky and Dave Wilson, who alternate on drums and percussion, also deserve to be singled out for not filling the spaces whenever they appear: both percussionists show tact and musicality as they find their place in the improvs.
On the whole, then, as I said at the outset, I have to concur with what I wish the band itself had not said: this is indeed a largely successful attempt. Despite this success, though, I remain entirely un-persuaded that the theory behind the album is sound. As fans of improvised music or what are usually called “jam bands” (Phish, Grateful Dead, and Dave Matthews Band fans, stand up!) will attest, improvisations can indeed be musical, tuneful, delightful. As fans of almost all of Western music will counter, though, there’s surely something to be said for taking care in composition and in creating performances that can be at least approximately duplicated; so, while this is a solid album and a demonstration of the virtues of improvisation, surely it’s not proof that improvisation is the only “pure and ideal form of music” to be found. But it may be that, despite its words, the band never intended it to be so – never intended it to be more than it is.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cloudmachine – Back On Land
Tracklist: Things Are Going To Change (4:38), Big Love (3:17), Safe Haven (3:22), Siren’s Song (3:39), Grace (4:56), Pirouettes On New Legs (1:08), Fading Picture (5:15), The Gold (3:57), Spit Me Out (3:47), We’re Watching You (4:50), Sanctuary (3:48)
Cloudmachine is a Dutch band, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Ruud Houwelingen and Back On Land is the band's third offering and successor to the highly acclaimed album Hum Of Life. For this album, Ruud was not so much looking for incorporating elements from progressive music, but rather to create an atmosphere he so intensely admires from the album Mule Variations by Tom Waits. His attempts to make contact with Grammy winning engineer Oz Fritz were successful and Fritz came to the Netherlands to familiarize himself with the band and their music. Using almost exclusively authentic instruments, the recordings were made in Weesp and the mixing was done by Fritz in California. Next to their own instruments (guitars, keyboards, bass and drums), the band used a grand piano from 1938, a Würlitzer, a Hammond organ, an old piano, a vibraphone and sometimes even brushes for the drums. The organic sound is the most important characteristic for this album.
Opener Things Are Going To Change is a nice mid-tempo pop-song with a delightful ‘busy bass’ played by Ray Edgar Duyns. Immediately the quality of the music is striking and every little detail is taken care of, such as and for example the string arrangement at the end of the song, reminding a bit of Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles. An acoustic piano by Marco Kuypers opens Big Love, a tender love song with a more rocking chorus: pounding bass and the ‘big’ Hammond organ. Another love song is Safe Haven, a combination of acoustic guitar, piano and vocals, often in multiple layers. The occasional echoing electric guitar by Richard Lagerweij contributes to the feeling of nostalgia. Even more, the strings and horn-section combined with not using any percussion produce an atmosphere coming close to some of Tom Waits’ songs. The Siren’s Song is a catchy song with the same characteristics as found in the first track.
Melancholy with a bluesy touch we know from the music in the Southern States of the USA we can appreciate in Grace: acoustic guitar, softly pumped organ, piano, drums and bass in the verses but a more powerful instrumentation in the choruses and with more raw electric guitars. Excellent vocal performance by Ruud. Pirouettes On New Legs is a little piece of piano solo, performed on an old piano. The track with at least some progressive influences is Fading Picture, an ‘electric’ track in the same vein as some of the songs on the Calling All Stations albums by Genesis. More keyboards and a deep humming bass feature in the more rocking pop tune The Gold, although the verses mainly consist of vocals, drums, bass, acoustic guitar and piano. Acoustic piano, brushes on the drums, a slide guitar and thus the ultimate melancholy in Spit Me Out is a very touching track, sounding quite ‘American’ but in the good sense! The title of this album comes from the lyrics of this song, sensitively sung by Ruud.
Subtle drumming by Michiel van Zundert, Ruud’s vocal sometimes distorted and a Würlitzer are the ingredients for the up-tempo rocker We’re Watching You. Sadly the album is already finished with Sanctuary. An electric guitar, at some point an almost whispering vocal and a pump organ and a brass arrangement provide an atmosphere as we could expect to hear in American movies when someone is buried in the Southern States: a lot of sadness, melancholy and a bit of slow jazz.
The artwork of this digipack is tastefully done by Ruud and the booklet contains some photo’s and the complete lyrics and credits.
In summary Back On Land, just as its predecessor Hum Of Life, again is a superb production from Dutch soil. The organic, warm and somewhat melancholic atmosphere has been created perfectly combining Houweling’s compositions, the band’s craftsmanship and an engineer extraordinaire. Not so much prog, but a very nice pop/rock album for all those out there leaning more towards good songs and arrangements rather than long track with extensive soloing. The more you listen to this album, the more it grows on you!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Aviva Omnibus – Nutcracker In Fury
Tracklist: Sisoehtopa (0:52), Overture In Fury (5:07), Heavy March (6:58), Children Of The Damned (4:29), The Frozen Doll’s Town (6:34), Dance Of The Tea Giants (4:55), Flower Fever (2:28), Coda Cold (6:01), Apotheosis (2:54)
Aviva Omnibus is so named after Russian keyboardist and composer Dmitri ‘Aviva’ Loukianenko. Following his 2007 debut solo album Rokus Tonalis, he returns with his first ‘band’ outing joined once again by guitarist Andrew Pruden. On this occasion Pruden appears on just the one track Dance Of The Tea Giants with Yurij Molodoy responsible for the lion’s share of guitar work. The band also boasts a second keyboardist named Vika who adds her violin talents to a couple of tracks. Both drums and bass are credited to Mamina (is it customary for Russian musicians to have just the one name?). Just like its predecessor the aptly titled Nutcracker In Fury is inspired by the work of a classical composer, namely Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. His 1892 ballet in turn was based on an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ written in 1816.
If you’ve already followed the above link to the last album then you’ll be aware that in his review my colleague Mark made several references to ELP. As a result you may be saying to yourself, didn’t Emerson and co. do a cover of Nut Rocker, also based on Tchaikovsky’s famous piece? They did of course but it would be fair to say that this album is a million miles away from that light hearted interpretation. Loukianenko and his band take it all very seriously but not that this is a note by note rehash, far from it. Instead it’s a dark, impressionistic work that occasionally incorporates snatches of Tchaikovsky’s tunes as a reminder of the source material. Hoffmann’s storyline is also subverted from a children’s fantasy tale into a conflict between the ordinary Russian people and the ruling powers. If the concept sounds fairly heavy then it’s matched by the music. This is not for the faint hearted, summed up effectively by the unsettling track titles.
The suitably titled Overture In Fury sets the scene with a barrage of metallic guitar supporting manic violin and synth references to Tchaikovsky’s themes. Heavy March is one of the better tracks and just like Nut Rocker it’s based on the March Of The Wooden Soldiers sequence from the ballet. The fuzzed organ that picks out the triumphant melody owes something to Keith Emerson in style whilst the chugging bass driven rhythm for its part takes liberties with ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man. Following the overly (for my tastes) avant-garde Children Of The Damned, The Frozen Doll’s Town effectively balances aggressive, tonal flights with moments of pure grace featuring Loukianenko’s rhapsodic piano and rich synth timbres. Pruden’s abrasive guitar riff during the aforementioned Dance Of The Tea Giants is strongly reminiscent of King Crimson at their edgiest with playful keyboard effects turning Tchaikovsky’s Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy on its head. Coda Cold is another musical contradiction with its discordant, semi-improvised feel sweetened by lush keyboard orchestrations. For the concluding Apotheosis, Loukianenko effectively captures the sound of the celesta, an instrument pioneered by Tchaikovsky, creating a sweet musical box effect rounded off by a climatic orchestral crescendo.
Loukianenko has come up with an interesting concept, re-working what he acknowledges to be his favourite piece of classical music. If I’ve interpreted his sleeves notes correctly he admits to deliberately avoiding a faithful recreation although occasionally as in Children Of The Damned and Flower Fever he incorporates samples from orchestral performances of the original work which frankly I found an unnecessary addition. The same goes for the intrusive vocals which thankfully appear only sparingly. Performed in English, they are either heavily processed, part spoken or growled and distract from rather than complimenting the music. In every other respect this is a finely judged balance of prog, classical, fusion and metal that thunders along making short work of the forty minutes playing time. Special mention should go to Oleg Petrunichev’s superb artwork with its chilling juxtaposition of horror imagery and childlike innocence perfectly capturing the essence of the music. As a final note I should echo Mark’s summing up of the last album when he suggested approach with caution, even ELP fans may find this one a challenge.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Eyering - Imagery
Tracklist: Questions (6:38), Thousand Lights (3:51), Imagery (0:37), To See Another Day (7:06), Shame (5:59)
If I were a young guy in a young band (all five of the musicians in Eyering are between 22 and 25), I’m pretty sure I’d hate to hear my demo described as “promising”. (To me, that word is usually used in the same sense as “interesting” – something you say to someone when you can’t think of anything else to say but which usually has the opposite of its literal meaning!). So I’m going to avoid that word as I describe the brief demo EP by this new Italian band. I can honestly say that they’re inventive and ambitious, although four songs (I won’t count the half-minute title track) don’t give us a lot to go on.
The four bands mentioned (as the ones Eyering is “in the wake of”!) in the promo letter that accompanied the CD are Rush, Tool, Porcupine Tree, and Opeth. Well, okay. I’ll say right now that I hear nothing of Rush in this band’s sound, though perhaps a little (very little) of Tool. I myself would say that Porcupine Tree is the band’s main influence, right down to the laid-back, gloomy, not-un-Steven-Wilson-like vocals of Luca Cipriani. In fact, “influence” might not be a strong enough word. At the risk of sounding cruel – and I’ll emphasize that this is meant as description rather than evaluation – Eyering might be loosely described as “Porcupine Tree lite,” the “lite” meaning “quite derivative” rather than “not heavy”. And, you know, an ambitious young band could do a lot worse than to emulate, at least in its nascent stages, the mighty Tree.
But there are nice touches here not essayed by Steven Wilson’s band. Check out the funky bass slaps and pops in Thousand Lights, for example, or the almost-folky vocals over lovely piano runs at the beginning of To See Another Day. The musicianship throughout is impressive, too; I’ll single out bassist Alberto Mirasola and keyboardist Fulvio Terranegra for special praise. I like the way the keyboards are employed as integral to the songs, not just being used to add atmospheric touches, and the bass lines are by turns tasteful and tasty.
So – a brief review for a brief demo EP. Eyering has the chops and a fairly clear sense, it seems to me, of the kind of band it wants to be; I shouldn’t be surprised if, by the time the band records a full-length album, it has emerged from the shadow of its main influence and has found more of a sound of its own. At the very least, I’m delighted to hear such a young band setting its sights so high.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Amfibian - Skip The Goodbyes
Tracklist: Sheep (4:03), Bystander (2:58), Skip The Goodbyes (4:38), See You In Sydney (4:56), Pieces (5:18), High Water Mark (4:22), Teresa (4:20), Skipping Stones (3:53), Memory Oof Your Smile (4:49), Graffiti (3:15), Lonely And Low (3:44), Thunderclap (6:06), Nothing New (5:22)
Music is music, as they say, so we won’t hold it against Amfibian that there’s not a shred of progressiveness about Skip The Goodbyes. Not compositionally, not instrumentally. No, not a whiff. No big deal perhaps: more significant is the fact that after about the sixth song the music just flops into a contiguous substance and the album drags on for much longer than its 58 minutes would indicate.
Skip The Goodbyes is Amfibian’s third album, following 2000’s Amfibian Tales and 2004’s From The Ether. The band has suffered a number of line-up changes over the years and is now led by longtime Phish lyricist Tom Marshall and guitarist Anthony Krizan.
I would describe the music on here as a cross between AOR, soft and Southern-rock: it ends up sounding not a million miles from someone like Little River Band, although not as good. There’s melody, there’s a few guitar solos and it’s pleasant enough but, crucially for an album of this type, it lacks “killer” songs and hooks. It’s for this reason that it does “feel” like a much longer album than it actually is! And you, dear reader, dare to wonder why it is that many people these days choose to download single tracks rather than albums!
If it was a better album, I’d give it a longer review, but seeing as it’s neither progressive nor very good, there really is little point in continuing.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10