REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Hawkwind - Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||1976/2009|
Tracklist: Reefer Madness (6:03), Steppenwolf (9:46), City Of Lagoons (5:12), The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon (3:37), Kerb Crawler (3:47), Kadu Flyer (5:32), Chronoglide Skyway (4:42), Honky Dorky (3:17), Kerb Crawler [Single Mix] (3:44), Back On The Streets [Unreleased Mix] (3:06), The Dream Of Isis [Unreleased Mix] (2:57)
1975 was a somewhat tumultuous year for Hawkwind which started with the sacking of bass player Lemmy, the only way the band could salvage their North American tour after Mr. Kilminster was discovered by the authorities to be in possession of amphetamine sulphate. Then following the Reading Festival that August, dancer Stacia also took her leave of the band, although on a rather more positive note, singer and lyricist Robert Calvert did make an appearance with the group at the festival, following his departure two years earlier to record a couple of idiosyncratic solo albums. His joining the band on stage was a prequel to his rejoining full time the following year. Hawkwind's contract with the United Artists label was also fulfilled by the band delivering a greatest hits album (Roadhawks) and deciding that a change was in order, opting to sign a new deal with Charisma records at the same time as changing their management. The septet of Dave Brock (guitars, vocals), Robert Calvert (vocals), Nik Turner (sax, flute, vocals), Simon House (keyboards, violin), Paul Ruldolph (bass), Simon King (drums) and Alan Powell (drums) started work on the new album at Roundhouse Studios in February 1976.
The opening cut on the album, Reefer Madness, was inspired by a 1936 film of the same name made by an American church group as a warning against the perils of smoking marijuana. By the 1970s the film was a popular underground success due to the comedic performances of the actors and the crazy plot. No doubt the indulgence of the substance the film was warning against made it all the more mirth-inducing. With a wry lyrical interpretation by Calvert, including a 'stoned' spoken interlude that was revisited on the
Hawlklords album a couple of years later, plenty of sax and an infectious beat, Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music was off to a solid start. Steppenwolf, a song that was to become a fan favourite, was also inspired by art, although this time it was a little bit more high brow - the novel of the same name by Herman Hesse. At just under 10 minutes, the piece is by far the longest on the album, and features a lot of Hawkwind trademarks - some heavy riffing courtesy of Brock, a lovely middle violin and bass section that simply flows along, some classic Calvert narration (some in German) and the twin drummers pounding out a synchronous beat. Interestingly, in an interview with Simon King reproduced in the booklet, he mentions that Steppenwolf is a "thirteen minute track". It's a shame that version, if it ever existed, couldn't have been located!
However, Calvert's return did not overawe the band as shown by the inclusion of three instrumentals on the album, and a fourth released as a b-side. The first of these is City Of Lagoons, written by drummer Alan Powell which has a definite feel of Pink Floyd about it, particularly the guitar. The marvellously titled The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon, was based on an idea that Paul Ruldolph had cooked up on a synthesiser he had at his home. With the addition of some heavily reverberated drums and a multitude of sound effects this piece could almost be viewed as a precursor to a lot of house and rave music, if it wasn't for Turner's sax free-form wailing over the top. The final album instrumental actually closed the record. Chronoglide Skyway is Simon House at his best, atmospheric and dreamy, the type of stuff that future Hawkwind keyboard player Tim Blake was apt to record on his solo albums. Kerb Crawler, the only track lifted as a single, is the most commercial number and features some (uncredited) female backing vocals that differentiated it from the rest of the album style wise whilst the last song, Kadu Flyer, is based on a true story of a man's attempt to fly a glider off the summit of Mount Everest (although there is no indication of how he would get it up the mountain!). Written by House and Turner, but credited to former Pink Fairies manager Jamie Mandelkau for publishing reasons, it is a song of two halves: the first half telling the story and carrying the tune, the second being a bit more shambolic with Eastern influences. At a guess I would that House contributed the first part and Turner the second.
Four bonus tracks are included the first being a rare b-side, Hunky Dory, which in reality is just an excised instrumental section of an extended Reefer Madness (possibly the version featured on a Spirit Of The Age ~ An Anthology 1976 - 1984. The flip side of the single was, as previously mentioned, Kerb Crawler, although it was specifically remixed for release by none other than David Gilmour, a friend of the band's new manager. As only one of the tracks on the album was considered suitable for single release, the band recorded two new tracks as a follow-up single which was released in early 1977. Back On The Streets c/w The Dream Of Isis was quite unremarkable when all is said and done. The a-side did appear as an additional track on the US version of the album and must have stuck out as much as it does here. Isis is more in keeping with the style of the album but really sounds more like a jam than anything more concrete. Still, in keeping with the value for money aspect of the reissues, both of these tracks are included as previously unreleased mixes.
Another solid album from Hawkwind from their 'second phase', and often considered to be second tier music alongside their 'classic' earlier albums. However, it has to be said that a lot of the music on this, and other albums from this period, have aged remarkably well, in many respects better than that on the earlier albums. The original artwork, based on the US science fiction magazines 'Amazing stories' and 'Astounding Science Fiction' is faithfully reproduced, right down to the spoof advertisements ('Doctor Brock's Atomic Pile Preparations' anyone?!) Unfortunately, given the dimensions of the CD booklet, one needs a magnifying glass to read the adverts on the inner back cover, but full marks to Esoteric for making the effort! With the sound quality greatly improved over previous CD releases and plenty of informative information in the booklet, I certainly look forward to the remaining Hawkwind reissues.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hawkwind - Live Chronicles
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||1985/2009|
|Time:||CD 1: 47:31|
CD 2: 43:56
CD One: The Chronicle Of The Black Sword (1:52), Song Of The Swords (3:09), Dragons And Fables (3:10), Narration (0:46), The Sea King (4:07), Dead God’s Homecoming (1:32), Angels Of Death (4:43), Shade Gate (3:49), Rocky Paths (2:52), Narration [Elric The Enchanter Part One] (0:55), The Pulsing Cavern (2:15), Master Of The Universe (4:01), Dragon Song (1:33), Dreaming City (4:30), Choose Your Masque (4:52), Fight Sequence (3:26)
CD Two: Assault & Battery (3:40), Sleep Of A Thousand Tears (4:37), Zarozinia (4:17), Lords Of Chaos (1:01), The Dark Lords (1:37), Wizards Of Pan Tang (1:42), Moonglum (4:41), Elric The Enchanter [Part Two] (2:27), Needle Gun (4:08), Conjuration Of Magnu (1:52), Magnu (3:17), Dust Of Time (2:30), The Final Fight (1:28), Horn Of Fate [Destiny] (6:40)
Live Chronicles, the 1986 Hawkwind recording documenting the stage show based on The Chronicle Of The Black Sword album, itself based on Michael Moorcock's Elric novels, has had a rather varied release history, particularly in the digital format. Thankfully, with Esoteric/Cherry Red obtaining the rights to this period of the Wind's output, the definitive version of the show has now been put together. The current CD therefore includes the Moorcock narrations, omitted from the original release due to the author being in dispute with the owner of GWR records, and the two tracks (Assault & Battery and Sleep Of A Thousand Tears) that had been licensed to Flicknife for use as b-sides to singles. The various legal wranglings and other negotiations meant that the album, recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 3 & 4 December 1985, was not released until eleven months later. Although numerous Hawkwind live recordings were available in the mid 1980s, there was good enough reason for issuing another, more official, live offering:
The Chronicle Of The Black Sword had returned the band to the album charts, silencing critics who had labelled them a spent force, and the presentation of the Elric story in a specifically staged and ordered set that included older numbers incorporated into the story. Although, both nights had been filmed as well as recorded, only highlights of the film were made available, initially on video and subsequently on DVD (also issued by Cherry Red). Checking the Cherry Red website, it seems that even this release does not contain the whole concert as the track listing of the DVD includes Brainstorm, Coded Languages, Born To Go, Utopia, and Levitation, the latter four tracks being encores. Maybe it is the completist in me, but it would have been nice to have the entire concert!
The band at the time consisted of: the ever present Dave Brock on guitar, keyboards and vocals; Huw Lloyd-Langton on guitar and vocals; Harvey Bainbridge on keyboards and vocals; Alan Davey on bass and vocals; and Danny Thompson on drums. Guests, in addition to Michael Moorcock, included Tony Crerar, Kris Tait and Tim Pollard but as they were mime artists they don't feature on the album for obvious reasons! As the tour had started a month prior to the Hammersmith shows, the band performance is tight and the show well-honed. As one would expect from what is essentially a concept performance, there is a natural flow that is virtually seamless. Although the narrative incursions help to move the story along, not having read the books or being able to see the story enacted through the visuals of mime is no hindrance to enjoyment of the proceedings. As one would expect, there are plenty of space warblings courtesy of the synth work of Bainbridge and, at times, Brock. However, it is Lloyd-Langton who should really get the plaudits for having the most presence on the album. Hawkwind, to my mind, have always sounded best, particularly live, when they have had a lead guitarist in their ranks; for all his qualities Brock is much more suited as a rhythm player. With the guitar more prominent, the album borders on heavy rock at times, particularly on tracks such as Angels Of Death, the version here being far superior to the studio version released four years previously on the
Sonic Attack album. Of course, there is no fear of the band going all heavy metal, the characteristic synth instrumentals such as Shade Gate and the somewhat superfluous Lords Of Chaos are still present and even the narrative piece Dead God's Homecoming sounds like it could have been lifted directly from
Warriors On The Edge Of Time.
Since the loss of Robert Calvert, Hawkwind have always been a bit weak in the vocal department. Generally this has no overbearing effect on the faster numbers but when things are slowed down, as on Dreaming City for example, the deficiencies are more apparent, particularly when Bainbridge or Lloyd-Langton take the lead; having said that Brock himself manages a good performance of the rather lovely Zarozinia. The other notable thing about the album is that, with the exception of the final
Horn Of Fate [Destiny], every track is under five minutes in duration. This helps to keep things moving along with no excursions into lengthy jamming. Indeed, tracks like the reinstated Sleep Of A Thousand Tears, at just over four and one half minutes, almost seem over long! Still, it is good to have this piece back in the running order as, although the lyrics are written by Moorcock, there are very few of them and most of the song is a vibrant guitar-driven rocker. Speaking of which, Wizards Of Pan Tang is like the bastard offspring of a speeding You Shouldn't Do That with the lead guitar wailing out the birthing pains. Magnu, long being one of my favourite Hawkwind pieces, has been shortened by some five minutes, which may at first appear to be rather drastic but, in the context of the album/stage show, it does make sense. Likewise, Dust Of Time is almost four minutes shorter but again, seems perfectly correct in its setting within the show.
So, what is one to make of Live Chronicles? As a guide I would say not as good as Space Ritual but has the edge over Live Seventy Nine. However, it all really does depend on individual preferences as the bands that made those three albums were as distinctly different as the style of music on each, albeit within the framework of a 'Hawkwind' sound. Live Chronicles was my first real exposure to this era of the band and it has left me impressed with the energy and drive they had after a period of frankly quite poor releases and dodgy licensing deals. Anyone who thought that the best period of the band died along with Calvert, or that the RCA releases were the last gasps of a dying group, should give Live Chronicles a listen and re-evaluate their assumptions; Hawkwind on Live Chronicles are in fine form.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hawkwind - Electric Tepee
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||1992/2009|
Tracklist: LSD (8:15), Blue Shift (4:20), Death Of War (4:48), The Secret Agent (8:12), Garden Pests (2:09), Space Dust (5:20), Snake Dance (3:52), Mask Of Morning (8:20), Rites Of Netherworld (0:37), Don’t Understand (7:03), Sadness Runs Deep (5:58), Right To Decide (4:25), Going To Hawaii (7:33), Electric Tepee (3:10)
At the end of the Spring in 1991 Hawkwind found themselves without a keyboard player as Harvey Bainbridge was the latest crew member to take advantage of the group's open door policy. Following him out of the door was vocalist Bridget Wishart leaving only a trio of Dave Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick. With a US tour already booked, which would have been financially disastrous for the band to cancel, and no time to spend looking for a replacement, the group simply had to get on with it and, for the first time, perform as a trio. Thankfully, both Brock and Davey could utilise new MIDI technology to trigger massive amounts of keyboard and sound modules giving the impression that there were far more than three musicians on stage. The lack of trepidation about a reduction in the ranks obviously paid off as the US tour was heavily praised as being of a high musical standard and jolly good fun. The reduced transportation and hotel costs undoubtedly helped balance the account sheets as well! Due to the successful live dates, when it came time to record a new album in early 1992, the group decided to keep the trio format with Davey and Brock on bass and guitar, respectively, doubling up on keyboards. Chadwick remained master of the drum kit although in real terms he didn't actually play on the album per se. As a nod towards the then current dance scene, Chadwick actually sampled all of his own drum sounds and then constructed the rhythm tracks by programming all of the samples! As the band were, once again, between record labels, the decision was made to record the new material at Brock's home studio in Devon, a decision that helped, or possibly forced, the group to take a completely new approach to recording away from an established studio. They were also not so constrained by time/financial considerations so were free to lay down lots of ideas which resulted in enough tracks being recorded to fill a double vinyl album release (and hence there being no room for any bonus tracks on this remastered edition).
I did not know what to expect from this album as I had long given up following the ins and outs of the band, largely brought about by the myriad of poor quality releases that had escaped on to the market and the fact that my musical tastes have changed somewhat since the days when I would hang out at festivals. The opening cut of the album, LSD initially confirmed my suspicion that I may have moved on but Hawkwind still seemed to be back plodding the furloughs of their past successes with a largely rambling instrumental replete with synthesised swishes and swoops, driving bass and rhythm guitar passages. Not in itself a bad piece of music in itself, but of a type that had been done numerous times before. Keyboards dominate Blue Shift, a very atmospheric piece that I can envisage being used in some television documentary on wide open and desolate spaces, indeed, space itself could be one possibility. With the double album there is more room to include pieces such as this, which is fair enough, my only concern is that perhaps it is too early in proceedings for such a number. More echoes of 'classic' Hawkwind appear with the recitation of a poem under the opening phrases of Death Of War; the military snare and sound effects provide a suitably ominous environment with the child-like voices at the end being rather spooky. Things are more up-beat with The Secret Agent, Brock's guitar pushing its way to the forefront and adding aggression to the amusing lyric. A good rocking number with Davey providing a prominent bass line and Chadwick proving that programmed drums can sound very good. I can't help but be reminded of the Hawklords in the way the song is structured and progresses, however it is extended for a minute or two too far, although the brutal stopping dead certainly befits the song.
Garden Pests is nothing more than filler and merits no more than that, while Space Dust is a less worthy cousin to Blue Shift, and Snake Dance a less worthy second cousin to Space Dust. Just when you think the band are disappearing up their own synth hole we are sucked back to a (past) reality with Mask Of Morning, a lyrical reworking of Mirror Of Illusion from the very first Hawkwind album in 1970 (and probably the last one to feature acoustic guitars!) The deconstruction/reconstruction actually works well, the palimpsest almost being as if a new recording had been placed over the tapes of the original song that had been incompletely erased. Again, a few edits to slim down the piece excising some of the more superfluous bits would have made things a bit tighter for me. Rites Of The Netherworld is a "I wonder what this synth setting sounds like" and I don't understand why Don't Understand is as dull as it is when it had the potential to be so much more if only it wasn't so repetitive. Again, we are saved from abandoning hope by Sadness Runs Deep which has an undercurrent of Eastern promise even if the lyrics are not the most positive. At the time of the album's release Right To Decide caused some controversy as it was inspired by the murder of a council official over a dispute over an illegally constructed building. The lyrics are a comment on all the rules and regulations that are forced upon the populace by official bodies ("you can't do this, you can't do that, you can't go forward and you can't go back") and the third verse directly referred to the murder. A promo version of the song featuring the third verse fell into the hands of the press who, as is their want, caused a large fuss without considering the context. Eventually, Brock spoke with the sister of the murderer explained his point of view and fully consented to the removal of the offending lyric. Despite all the fuss, Right To Decide is the best song on the album and would even have had a fairly decent chance of getting in the charts (I don't know if it was released as a single, if so then my assessment of what makes a good pop song is way off as it wasn't a hit, if not then I can state from the smug position of hindsight that it would have been!). The final two tracks are both instrumental. Going to Hawaii is fairly ambient but has a backbeat that certainly derives from the dance culture, although that shouldn't put anyone off as it is one of the better instrumentals, with one of the worst titles. Electric Tepee is described as 'shamanistic' in the booklet, probably because of the native American chanting included at the end. Probably nothing shamanistic about it at all, but hey, it has more than three syllables and sounds good, or at least better than the actual bit of music it is referring to which, again, is largely superfluous.
As I had no real expectations surrounding this album it is hard to assess if the CD lived up to them or left me disappointed. I am left with the impression that the album is too long: by cutting out some of the noodling, making the longer tracks a bit more succinct and generally paring things down a bit, Electric Tepee could have been quite a cracker of an album. Which leaves me with a dilemma. If, for instance, the album had originally been a single album and on this re-release the omitted tracks were included as previously unreleased bonus items, then no doubt it would have been cause for grand celebrations and calls of great value. However, with essentially the same tracks representing a complete album the feeling is one of slight disappointment (and you thought this reviewing lark was easy!). Maybe I am being too critical and was hoping that the album would be bursting out there to be favourably compared with the definitive Hawkwind albums. I guess that, after all, Hawkwind had changed as they got older, although having a stage set were each of the three musicians were encased in their own tepee, is rather too Spinal Tap!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Seven Day Hunt – File This Dream
Tracklist: No Plaster Saint (14:27), The Noise (7:23), Money Speaks (5:39), File This Dream (8:21), Red Stained Knife (7:23), Hidden Behind Myself (4:06), The Voice Inside (7:42), Etched (1:38), In Delusion (12:01)
You may recall Dutch proggers Egdon Heath who picked up a couple of DPRP reviews and had a lifespan that ran from the early 80’s up until 1999. Like so many bands before them they dissolved due to a general lack of interest from the paying public leaving four studio albums, one live album and their drummer behind them. The other band members continued working together although by the time they began work on a new album under the collective name Seven Day Hunt they had acquired a new vocalist. His name is Han Uil, former singer with prog metallers Antares who along with Jaap Mulder (keyboards, backing vocals), Aldo Adema (guitars, programming), Erik Koning (drums, backing vocals) and Marcel Copini (bass) has produced a rich and impressively executed slice of modern progressive rock with nods to the usual suspects from the past.
The album is bookended by two mini-epics which for my money prove to be the strongest of the material here especially the opener No Plaster Saint. The memorable melody rolls along at a heady pace with Uil’s gutsy vocal delivery driven by Koning’s efficient drumming and Copini’s prominent bass lines. The strident style is offset by Mulder’s exotic keyboard flourishes but the closing four minutes belong to Adema with a bombastic guitar coda that has that unmistakable Gilmour stamp. In Delusion on the other hand is less immediate with its contrasting sections mixing edgy riffs with relaxed jazzy interludes. Another histrionic guitar solo from Adema is only outdone by some very neat Squire like upfront bass. As the album faded to a close Copini’s consistently inventive bass work which in addition to the Yes man brings Levin to mind had pretty much taken the honours for me.
In between these two pieces there are some very strong moments with good use of dynamics although at nearly 70 minutes I did find my attention span wandering at times. Highlights include a characteristic proggy synth solo during The Noise and the symphonic, piano led grandeur of Hidden Behind Myself which brought memories of The Enid flooding back. On the downside, despite Uil’s attention grabbing vocal presence the backing singing is often a little ragged around the edges and some may find guest Carola Magermans’ impassioned ohhing and ahhing towards the end of File This Dream a little too close to the Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky for comfort. More rewarding is the soaring synth and guitar break in Red Stained Knife that has shades of Wind And Wuthering era Genesis and the gentle vocal duet (again featuring Carola) during The Voice Inside.
There is very little to fault this debut from Seven Day Hunt particularly if you like your prog with a healthy injection of vocals because they’re everywhere on this album. Thankfully Uil proves to be a more than capable front man and is also responsible for the lyrics whilst Mulder and Adema provide the music with the keyboardist being credited with the lion’s share. The result is a confident and energetic sound which also boasts impressive instrumental work containing all the necessary ingredients to keep genre fans satisfied.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Zed - You Are Here
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Flying Potato (7:18), Schwartzenheimer (6:03), Daddy's Wallet (6:56), WTF (6:15), Bar Code (7:19), 3 Times Better than Real Fruit (3:28), Stepping Stone (7:35), Africa (10:53), Off Bass (4:01)
This album isn't 'progressive rock', but many of us appreciate other genres of music like jazz and classical and recognise their influence in 'progressive rock' music.
Zed describe themselves as a 'fresh brand of progressive instrumental jazz fusion'. The accompanying information says that if you like Weather Report, Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra then you are in the right place. I certainly hear the likeness with the other bands, although I would say that Zed's music on this album isn't as obscure/hectic or perhaps as 'difficult' as some moments of the previously mentioned bands music could be. If you do have time for those types of bands, or an interest in instrumental music then read on.
If you have already seen the word jazz and thought 'oh no', please don't fret. This isn't start stop, 'free form avant garde' jazz. Sometimes I think it's only labelled ' jazzy' because of the saxophone and the use of free rhythms that defy most other genre definitions. In my opinion it is really is more of an experiment with rhythms combined with more recognisable aspects of jazz, funk and groove.
My initial impressions were very favourable indeed, the variety in every track keeps you listening for the next intelligent beat, sometimes complimented by melody and or a traditional 'question and answer' jazz phraseology between guitar and sax. The clean and spacious production gives the instruments room to be listened to. The musicianship is superb, delicate, powerful, complicated but never pretentious - 'for the sake of it'... as Gentle Giant once mocked us. I'll highlight a few tracks as examples.
The first track is always quite important as I feel that it can give the listener great inspiration, or desperation. Flying Potato opens the album with a clean guitar playing a laid back vibe with an easy riff, progressing to guitar and sax melodies. The first track is quite typical of the album with a multitude of different parts, which later develops to solid drums and fluid 'creamy' solo guitar with sounds that evoke a sort of Frank Gambale thing, set over subtle keyboards. That was a real surprise, I wondered what the next track would be like!
Daddy's Wallet definitely deserves a mention with it's interesting fretless bass intro, in a sort of soft 'bossanova' (I think that I am right!) mellow rhythm with sax solo. The track builds, slowly meanders and then steps up a gear to more walking bass. I like this track as the last parts just let go to into a head nodding, jazzy funk groove even like 'The Brand New Heavies', with guitar solo backed by soft 'Rhodes' piano. A retro synth solo too finshes it off nicely. Top quality in my book.
The last track Off Bass commences with bass, guitar, keyboards all seemingly playing against each other in interesting motifs... This track contains so many rhythms that it reminds me of a cross between Duty Free Area and Chick Corea's Elektric Band. Many parts of the album remind me of Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds Of Fire, Miles Beyond as there is a great understanding and 'understated funkiness' throughout the music, hints of rhythm, changes of direction and full of ideas. The prominent sax throughout reminds me of Traffic's On the Road live LP, not really sure why, but it just reminds me of that great LP.
In summary, I haven't gone into too much detail about each track, but I think that you get the idea. If you are a 'straight prog only' music lover then I wouldn't put this on the top of your list, but I also think that a group like this can be a portal into other types of music. If you have a broader taste in music and enjoy intelligent instrumental musical experimentation, or jazz and funk fusion with hefty slices of saxophone, then I would highly recommend this album. It made me go back and listen to other music, which is also a good thing. My only one criticism of this album, but by no means an insult, it seems that you could take some parts of the tracks and piece them into other tracks. I am sure that with extended listening that this is perhaps a throw away statement from me. If you like a combination of the following LP's or groups then I would go ahead and order a copy of this excellent album: Traffic's On the Road, Chick Corea's Elektrik Band, Frank Gambale, Average White Band, Bill Bruford's Earthworks (especially later albums like A Part Yet Apart and Footloose And Fancy Free) and even some other jazz Dutch artists like Marzio Scholten, and less known acts like Belgium's Aka Moon.
I am going to give this release a prog rating of 5 but only because it's not progressive rock. If I were to give it a music and jazz fusion rating it would be an 8!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Lüüp - Distress Signal Code
|Country of Origin:||Greece|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4764|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Through Your Woods (4:47), Faith In You (4:19), Water (4:05), Sketches For Two Puppets [i. Blown With Life, ii. Dance Grotesque, iii. Farewell] (14:35), From Here (5:26), Distress Signal Code (9:35), Our Waves (3:34), Urban Legend (5:06), Memories Of The Future (6:14)
Once in a while, (but not often enough), an album appears out of nowhere and brings you unexpected musical satisfaction. Distress Signal Code is one of those gems. Lüüp is Greek flautist Stelios Romaliadis’ project, and a wonderful demonstration of how much you can do with some woodwind instruments and a few guests. Overall, this is an album focused on creating moods and textures, often delving into a dreamy atmosphere. There are no drums or prominent percussion, no recognizable beats. Just flutes and saxes with keyboards and vocals. This is music to make you float.
By the way, there’s a guest musician on this CD, named David Jackson. You might have heard about him. For your information (if you still need it), he’s (was?) the wind master from legends Van Der Graaf Generator. Being one of Romaliadis’ musical heroes, his influence is featured quite strongly throughout the CD, but most notably on the two extended live improvisations included here, Sketches For Two Puppets and title track Distress Signal Code. Both are a delight to listen to; both flights into the unknown, where flutes and saxophones scream and whisper creating a fascinating, often mildly eerie atmosphere. Both tracks also share some occasional recurring themes, as well as some VDGG touches here and there. If you like what Robert Fripp has been doing with Theo Travis then this definitely deserves an appreciative listen.
If you fancy a more “technological” edge, there are tracks like Urban Legend and Memories Of The Future, featuring a stronger presence of rhythm (in the shape of Akis Boyatzis’ basslines) and sound effects, the latter including some voice samples and loops. In any case, be it with bare acoustic instruments, or layers of effects, the CD manages to balance a consistent experimental edge with a strong melodic sensibility.
For those looking for aural beauty, please welcome Lisa Isaksson and her beautiful voice, which graces hypnotic opening track Through Your Woods and the even more fragile sounds of Our Waves, a small and delicate miniature. Annie Haslam fans will surely dig it.
Probably, the odd track here is Water, sung by Akis Boyatzis. Not a bad track at all, showing a nice Dead Can Dance influence (Boyatzis’ vocals reminded me of Brendan Perry), but probably slightly out of place within the dominant atmosphere on the CD.
Despite these minor gripes, Distress Signal Code surely provides a wonderful musical experience, which comes wrapped in simple and wonderful artwork (by Anna Stratoudaki, featuring photos of clowns Toto and Carolo), which is a faithful reflection of the music. Recommended!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Henriëtte Kat - Home
Tracklist: Home (5:53), Ja Wir Hallen Alles [comprising:- (i) Ja Wir Haben Alles (8:24), (ii) Also Ist Es (2:17), (iii) Zuruckgefunden] (5:35), Beautiful Day (6:00), Jacob’s Struggle [comprising:- (i) Reiten, Reiten, Reiten (3:20), (ii) Solitude (2:31), (iii) The Sun Is Rising] (8:59), Right From The Start (8:27)
"It’s all about music!". So proclaims Henriëtte Kat on her interesting website. I happen to agree with her, so we’re off to a good start! “Magic music, that I love to share with you”. Thank you, Henriëtte. You have a gift that’s well worth sharing!
Home is a beautiful album. Its soundscape is not “rock”, nor even “progressive rock”. Henriëtte quotes progressive rock bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes and King Crimson as influences, as well as a number of famous classical composers, but this music is primarily about creating ambience and is probably closer to the music of someone like Einaudi, whose grand piano soundscapes come straight from a classical tradition. The key element here is effect and on Home Henriëtte’s use of particular and very specific synthesizer (musical) sounds is sublime: it really is like watching a painter wield their palette and brush, mixing a precise colour here, adding a brush stroke there. Henriëtte’s own description of her music is illuminating:
“I see and feel music as moving structures with form, color and meaning. As allegorical symbols that speak to me. They have beauty and essence that cannot be expressed in words. Music is a subtle matter.... Music, harmony, it is this great mystery that I want to share with my listeners.”
If you want a “signpost” for Henriëtte’s music to a modern progressive rock band, in terms of effect and tempo, as well as sparseness with economy and subtlety of sounds, then No-Man are the closest I can come up with.
Home is Henriëtte’s third album of music played entirely on synthesizers but it is a departure from her previous work in that she sings on seven of the nine compositions. Now, I’ve not yet heard the other two albums, but Henriëtte’s voice itself adds much musical colour and emotion, as well as rhythm, that it’s hard to imagine Home being bettered by a totally instrumental album. Within the context of Home the two instrumental tracks, Also Ist Es and Solitude, are pretty and work well, short as they are, but act almost as linking pieces. (I will have to test this theory by buying one or both of her previous albums). Perhaps if you’ve heard either her Violet Fire or Orion Symphony albums and not been too sure about whether to invest in another then maybe you’ll be persuaded to do so by the singing.
The singing itself is good, not brilliant. Always in tune, Henriëtte’s range is such that when she needs to reach some higher notes she goes falsetto, such as on Home and The Sun Is Rising, and the problem with this is that it momentarily shifts the listener’s focus onto the voice in a way that I feel she does not intend, and by doing so it detracts slightly from the overall aural picture. This is a minor criticism only, overall the singing adds to the effect of this music. The voice is often used as a rhythmic compositional element, rather than for melody. On Ja Wir Haben Alles and Zuruckgefunden for instance she uses oft repeated phrases and words in association with the synthesizer music to create a hypnotic, trance-like effect. It’s good!
Home, Beautiful Day, The Sun Is Rising and Right From The Start all feature strong melodic writing but without ever losing a sense of soft rhythm, like waves breaking on the shore. Perhaps thinking of reaching a wider audience, Henriëtte makes the distinction of singing in English in these songs where the main vocal element is melodious rather than rhythmic.
The sounds Henriëtte ekes from her synthesizer are just gorgeous. She is constantly shifting sound-colours gracefully, without ever losing sense of the main musical ideas; always looking to add a sound-sensation here, another there, like shooting stars or flickering auroral whisps on a clear and starry night sky. Flutey synths, tubular bells, the gorgeous string synth phrase in the opening to Ja Wir Haben Alles, the crystal droplets in Reiten, Reiten, Reiten, deep and bass-rich string synth timbres. These little adventures in sound are like the sparkling diamonds shining in a pretty jewel.
I’ve found that Home has become more enjoyable with each listen. In order to really appreciate the soundscape, this is one album that really repays being listened to on the best hi-fi system that you have available. Like many people these days I do a lot of my music listening on a mp3 player, it has been a real boon in opening up fresh listening time, and Home does sound good on it. However, in the comfort of your sitting room, in front of the hi-fi is where you will feel the real power of Henriëtte’s luscious synthesizer sounds, particularly when those deep, broad notes come sweeping from the loudspeakers to wrap you in a warm embrace.
Progressive rock fans - yes, that means you! - are generally very open about what music they will chance listening to, certainly those fans not exclusively encamped in the metal zone. Unless you’re one of those, and in particular if you’ve ever enjoyed any type of ambient music, then it may profit you to give Henriëtte Kat’s Home a spin. And then another...and another...and before you know it this CD may find its way into your year’s favourites list.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Psicodreamics - Fantasynth
|Country of Origin:||Spain|
|Record Label:||Witches Of The|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Unicorn’s Dream [The Beginning] (6:02), Sleepy Sorrow (6:37), Spellbound (4:06), Erotronic (4:20), Mythos (5:57), Orient Spirit (3:11), Forbidden Pleasures (5:47), La Rosa De Los Vientos (6:30), Imaginarium (3:46), In Synthetic Fantasy (5:36), Palace Of Sensuality (4:12), A Winter Tale (4:21), Unicorn’s Dream
[The End] (5:44)
Psicodreamics is the artist name of the Spanish electronic musician Salva Moreno. For over a decade he is making melodic electronic music inspired by the synthi-pop from the eighties but he is definitely defining his own style on his new album Fantasynth. A mixture of ambient, chill out, new age, symphonic and ethnic music. Thirteen brand new tracks are the follow up to his last album A Midnight Tale, a collection of unreleased music from the early days of his career as an EM artist.
A dreamy opening in Unicorn’s Dream, soft piano sounds and percussion in a South-American rhythm leave us wandering in an enchanted forest. In Sleepy Sorrow is a more up tempo track and basic sounds are provided by glockenspiel and a cello-sample. Tasteful orchestrations accompany a cheerful melody played by a synth almost sounding like a bagpipe and at the end we hear some accordion. Dark and deep bass tones in Spellbound and a very nice melody bringing back memories of that delightful era of synthi-pop in the eighties. Next track Erotronic without a doubt has been inspired by aforementioned synthi-pop by bands like Depeche Mode, Visage or maybe even Space. However Moreno uses different sounds, more effects and more modern production techniques as well as most original percussion-sounds, but also adding a Southern flavour. In Mythos the main melody line is played by a saxophone-sample and the catchy soft rhythm pattern lets you drift away, while having most pleasant dreams.
An oriental atmosphere is created in Orient Spirit as one could have expected from the title, but the funny ‘leads’ are performed by samples of nagging, almost weeping (children’s) voices. As in the following track Forbidden Pleasures the music reminds me of Giorgio Moroder’s I Like Chopin. Sweet and mellow are the piano sounds on a floating carpet of orchestrations and a delightful shuffling rhythm and some distant church organ sounds can be distinguished. La Rosa is a very nice ‘new age meet pop’ track with a lot of strings and is followed by a symphonic piece calledImaginarium with organ and the style here is comparable to Dutch acts like the Future World Orchestra or Peru. The same genre but the tranquillity of Wavestar and some resemblances with some of Jarre’s effects in In Synthetic Fantasy can be recognized. For the track Palace Of Sensuality the main melody is played on a synthesizer having the strange sound of a combination of woodwind, organ and strings. In A Winter Tale there are floating sounds of flute and oboe/clarinet, in the background amongst others the “orchestra” and a glockenspiel. The albums ends as dreamy as it began, with Unicorn’s Dream, [The End].
Fantasynth is an extremely nice collection of sensual, melodic instrumental music from an artist who can no longer be considered an amateur. His approach to modern electronic music, the quality and originality of his production skills make him a professional overall. All tracks show structure, variation and have a certain tension that keeps the listener in the spell of his fantasies, put to music. As usual, Salva has enriched his CD-R’s with MP3 files.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Yosi Piamenta's Heavenly Jams Band - Bridging The Gap... Live!
Tracklist: Mitzvah (16:38), David & Goliath (8:09), As The Years Go Passing By (8:55), Dream Of Redemption (10:15), Kol Hamesameach (6:16), Agadelcha (18:32)
With a career stretching back to early 70s and with nine albums under his belt, it may, or may not, come as surprise to some that the name Yosi Piamenta is unknown to them - as it was in fact for me until a few weeks back. Israeli born and now resident in Brooklyn, guitarist Yosi Piamenta is a regular and popular performer on the New York circuit and as a testament to this the album currently in my player, Bridging The Gap... Live!, is taken from two such concerts.
Yosi Piamenta's Heavenly Jams Band not surprisingly fall into the jam band category. Not a new phenomenon with early noted rock exponents being Grateful Dead, The Allman's through the Ozrics, Phish and with today's popular exponents The String Cheese Incident, moe, Umphrey's McGee - apologies to the numerous bands I have
omitted here. In true jam band fashion Piamenta has taken the pot puree of musical styles the make up the jam band sound, mixed them with his own ethnic roots and ended up with his own slant on this music.
Tracks one through four were recorded at Club 29 and feature keyboardist and flautist Kofi Burbridge, drummer Yonrico Scott and bassist Todd Smallie from the Yonrico Scott /Derek Trucks Bands. These guys are all seasoned musicians of the highest calibre and certainly the empathy between themselves and their understanding of their respective instruments is apparent throughout. And this is vital for these lengthy, mainly instrumental, jams to work.
And this is the case as the rather lengthy Mitzvah kicks things off. Following the Middle Eastern tinged intro by Piamenta the band gradually wind themselves in. Restrained and atmospheric is the early order of the day as the music slowly unfolds. In fact some seven or so minutes elapse before Mitzvah picks up a groove, with Piamenta adding a solo before the ensemble vocals enter at around the ten minute mark. This is followed by an engaging driven riff and some excellent flute from Burbridge. The vocals return once again before we are taken out by Piamenta's wah-wahed solo... Considering the length of this opening piece it was surprising how quickly the time passed.
The more concise and tightly organised rhythm section on David & Goliath sees some excellent interplay between Piamenta (guitar) and Burbridge (on both flute and keyboards). Not to be outdone Todd Smallie takes on a solo section, superbly punctuated by Yonrico Scott, who in turn takes on his own concise break. The unison riff returns as we exit track two. Great stuff! The mood is taken right down for the bluesy As The Years Go Passing By. Now I have to admit I'm not much of a blues man myself, however this track sat comfortably on the album and with me. In many respects it had the atmosphere of Led Zep's Since I've Been Loving You. Last track from the Club 29 gig is the catchy Dream Of Redemption and once again we find it is the tight rhythm section who add the strength to the music. Once the opening riff subsides and the free top line improvising passages begin, it would be oh so easy for the interest to wane, if it were not for the efforts of Scott and Smallie constantly reigning your attention back. Again another fine flute section from Burbridge before he moves on to the Hammondy organ solo...
We move on a few months to the second of the gigs featured on this CD and New Jersey's Mexicali Blues Cafe. Noted guest appearances this time around are from guitarists Andrew Black and Barry Richman. I'm assuming the rhythm section isn't the same at Mexicali gig as there is certainly a different vibe to these two tracks - of course I could be wrong. Either way the playing is still top notch. Things kick of with the catchy Kol Hamesameach, which my teenage daughter assures was heavily influenced by Holly Valance's hit Kiss Kiss. I did suggest that it had a very familiar sounding Middle Eastern melody and not a million miles away from Tarkan's hit Simarik. Anyway whoever has the copyright, I prefer this version with its rolling guitar riff, infectious vocals and great solos... Less controversially in the Mulvey household, Bridging The Gap... Live! closes as it started with another lengthy track - Agadelcha. This time around more vocal orientated and with strong ethnic leanings - although perhaps mention that the guitar is never far away. The laid back vibe allows the album to gently drift out.
This album grew on me the more I listened to it. The mixture of differing classic rock, blues and even proggy styles worked well together and certainly Piamenta's roots offered a pleasant slant. Yosi Piamenta is affectionately nicknamed "The Hasidic Hendrix" and "The Sephardic Santana" and certainly a cross of these two guitarists can be heard throughout the music. Along with a few other notable infusions dotted here and there - The Allman Brothers, Tull, Al Di Meola, Purple -
so what is offered up includes a whole host of influences and divergences. Bridging The Gap... Live! therefore is not just about the guitar and certainly the other musicians bring their own talents to the party. And talking of parties it really does come across as if these guys are having a ball. So perhaps we should take note that as a live album, the lengthening of passages is par for the course and what we have here is music that is free flowing and improvised with an interesting structures binding it all together.
Considering Bridging The Gap... Live! clocks in at just under an hour and twenty minutes it never really seemed to outstay its welcome. With the only exception being my least favourite and closing track Agadelcha, which was perhaps a little overlong. This said I shall return to this album and although I can't say that I buy too many so called "jam band" albums, if I did, then this would certainly be one I would wish to have.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Red Star Revolt – Red Star Revolt
Tracklist: Dementia (5:46), At Most Desire (4:22), The Song Remains (5:39), Prove Me Wrong (3:42), FM [All Or Nothing] (4:48), Sour (3:17), All She Could Have Been (4:19), Separation Of Soul (4:44), Thorns For June (6:00), More Than It’s Worth (4:02), Them (3:53), Wired (5:53) Bonus Track: Los Muertos (5:15)
Being a European football fan of a certain vintage, I always want to follow the first two words of this band’s name with ‘Belgrade’ – I will try my best throughout this review not to do that. Red Star Bel… , sorry, Red Star Revolt are a trio hailing from Colorado in the USA who play a style of music that they themselves label as ‘modern rock with an intoxicating dose of 70’s prog’. Whilst this seems to cover a number of bases, a cursory listen to first track Dementia might have you labelling them as a clone of a certain hipper-than-thou US outfit – from the up-tempo, nervy riffing and the nasally, hyperventilating vocals through to the spacey, psyched out interludes, this track screams ‘The Mars Volta wannabies’ to me.
Thankfully however the remainder of the tracks show that the band have a wider pool of influences, and are no mere clones. At Most Desire features more of a heavy, alternative rock-style sound, with some intriguing bass guitar work – there are hints of Soundgarden in the overall approach, whilst the tight, repetitive guitar riffs are reminiscent of Tool. Prove Me Wrong and Sour both have a good groove, and benefit from some funky bass work – there’s something of a Queens Of The Stone Age vibe operating here. The band dig further back for their inspiration on The Song Remains and Thorns For June, given the name of the first track its not surprising that both recall Led Zeppelin, not at their rockiest but rather in their more thoughtful, ethereal guise. Separation Of Soul has a hint of The Doors’ classic Roadhouse Blues in its pile-driving main riff, whilst the guitar solo on the hard rocking FM [All Or Nothing] is in the Alex Lifeson vein.
Unfortunately, at sixty minutes this album does feel rather long – about two thirds of the way through I was having real trouble keeping my mind from wandering. Partly this is due to some less than stellar songs towards the end of the album, but I also feel that the band’s style becomes rather stale when stretched this far, with traits that seemed endearing early on (particularly the cribbing of some familiar sonic motifs) becomes rather annoying later on. Production wise, things are generally reasonable, although the over-loud, clanking drum sound on a few tracks is a distraction.
Overall, this certainly shows promise, and those who enjoy a combination of modern rock with the technicality and off-the-wall elements of prog may wish to investigate further. Ultimately though, I feel that Red Star Revolt may have been better off kicking off their recording career with a shorter, more focused album, or even an EP.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Vinc Project - My Story
Tracklist: My Love (2:39), Passion (4:44), Dream Of Eternity (4:39), My Heart Bleeds (4:54), No Reason (5:13), Hopeless (4:36), Without You (3:38), My Story (4:56), New Day (4:51)
Swiss multi-instrumentalist Vincent Zermatten takes a break from guitar duties in the melodic dark-metal band Ever Since for My Story, his solo recording released under the moniker Vinc Project. It sees “Vinc” in a more melancholic musical vein, as he outlines a loose autobiography of his recent life across the CD’s nine tracks.
The CD’s music was composed, arranged, and produced by Vinc. He plays guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, as well as handling vocals. Additional vocals are provided on a few tracks by the simply-credited “JP” and “Ben”. “Tim” and “Domitille” contribute violin and cello respectively to several of the CD’s tracks, and along with Vinc’s acoustic guitar they give an overall neo-classical feel that would see Vinc Project fit comfortably into the roster on Goth-ambient-ethereal label Projekt Records.
The sound quality of the CD is clear while the music itself is a mixed bag. Vinc competently displays his guitar soloing skills on Dream Of Eternity, which also features the string section of Tim and Domitille. The strings add a nice layer overall on this CD, but they do not quite venture into the symphonic flourishes similar to what ELO laid down in their heyday. Whispered vocals from Vinc adorn Dream Of Eternity and a few other tracks, bringing modern day Gary Numan to mind along with Lycia vocalist Mike Van Portfleet. It is too bad that Vinc chose to whisper so many vocals on this CD, as he has an otherwise powerful singing voice. Fish-era Marillion serves as a pointer on the mellotron-filled Passion and the dark My Heart Bleeds, and Jethro Tull is evoked on the grunge-like, Goth-influenced title track.
On this CD Vinc clearly shows his creative and muse-seeking skills and his musical chops. His guitar finesse is evident on the solo acoustic section of Hopeless and his keyboard wizardry sparkles all over intro instrumental track My Love. All but one of the tracks is sung in English, with the other in French. The CD also features a video clip of My Story.
After listening to My Story, I feel that some of the tunes could have been composed with a little more originality. That is not too say that it could not grow on me more with future listens.
The CD booklet is well designed and along with the lyrics includes some additional printed text in the form of prose, including a poem entitled My Only Love. This, along with the neoclassical elements and the emotional songwriting would see Vinc fit in well as a member of Goth act Black Tape For A Blue Girl.
Fans of emotive, dark folk-rock may like this CD. If you are into brighter, less melancholic music, Vinc Project may not be for you.
For his next CD, I suggest Vinc focus more on the composition and arrangements of his songs. Featuring the string section of Tim and Domitille more prominently would also be an improvement.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Jack Dupon - L'Echelle Du Désir
Tracklist: La Trilogie Des Mouches [I. La Secte/II. Le Sacre De La Reine/III. Mille Millions De Mouches Molles] (29:48), Cousine (7:30), Le Taureau (9:04), L'Homme A La Jambe Qui Boit (23:34), Oppression (4:48)
Interesting sleeve surrounding this debut album by French group Jack Dupon. The contents are also interesting, but unfortunately not of the type that sustains the attention, in fact at times it is just plain annoying. Quirky, dissonant, anarchic, avant garde, call it what you may, but I found it very hard going. I suppose the spirit of that other idiosyncratic French band, Gong, infuses the album and there is very much an atmosphere of anything goes. The two longer tracks, La Trilogie Des Mouches and L'Homme A La Jambe Qui Boit, have some half decent instrumental passages but the problem is they are joined by discordant passages that makes them uneasy listening at the best of time, certainly if you attempt to take them all in at one go. Just as a passage starts to develop and become interesting, the band throw a curve ball and the interest momentum is lost.
I'm really quite lost for words! I really couldn't get to grips with this album. Maybe I am getting old and no longer have the patience or aptitude to deal with something so radically different and out of the mainstream, even when the mainstream in terms of progressive rock is slightly off kilter. As the band state on their website:
The music is almost impossible to describe..., just a shame it is almost impossible to listen to.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10