REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Taylor's Universe - Artificial Joy
|Country of Origin:||Denmark|
|Record Label:||Marvel Of|
|Catalogue #:||MOBCD 020|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Work (4:41), Artificial Joy (4:25), Days Run Like Horses (7:02), Atmosfear (7:04), Laughter (7:01), Telephone (4:59), Fame (9:44)
I started to get a feeling of “dejá vu” when beginning to write this review of one of Robin Taylor’s projects latest releases, the 10th album by Taylor’s Universe, called Artificial Joy: weren’t the words I was writing on the page very similar or identical to some I had written not long ago? Of course, they were! It was less than a year ago that I reviewed their Return To Whatever album for these pages and, as I started to write, the similarity was resonating. I’ll have to be careful not to repeat myself too much!
Robin Taylor’s musical output is bordering on the prodigious: he releases albums under the projects Art Cinema, Taylor’s Universe and Taylor’s Free Universe, as well as under his own name. I’ve heard a number of his albums now – under every project with the exception of Taylor’s Free Universe – and in my experience he is one of those musicians who always delivers top quality music and performances – that relates both to himself as well as to the musicians with whom he chooses to play. That he is not better known and appreciated is a travesty of justice. Perhaps he hasn’t yet produced that dizzying album that makes everyone agog, but then neither does he disappoint. Frankly, I’d be surprised if anyone with an interest in progressive music would be thinking it was a waste of money if they bought Artificial Joy. In that review of mine of Return to Whatever, I said that everyone should own at least one album by this musician, and I am reiterating that view here: he deserves to be heard.
Artificial Joy is an album of what might be described as progressive rock-jazz fusion (in that order, not jazz-rock). I’m certain that a proportion of the music to be heard on the album is improvised, and there are “experimental” sections in some of these compositions, but from the two albums I’ve heard of his Taylor’s Universe project, neither the improvisation nor experimentation are acerbic; the compositions always retains a strong musicality that ensures the music is appealing to fans other than exclusive lovers of all things experimental/avant-garde.
The musical highlights of Artificial Joy, other than that pleasurable, jazzified vibe are the electric guitars of Finn Olafsson and Michael Denner, the saxophone sound, which is shared between Jakob Mygind and Carsten Sindvald; and Taylor’s keyboards (he is also credited with guitar and percussion). The interplay between these elements within the varying rhythmic framework is always captivating.
Pretty piano and pleasant synthesizer textures open the album, then Sindvald plays some tasty clarinet during Work. The excellent title track, Artificial Joy, follows and features some gorgeous counterpoint between the guitar, the sax and the clarinet. The third track features some experimentation – actually, “exploration” is a better word – of the textures and sounds of saxes and synths. Atmosfear has a number of distinct phases: a melodic and “easy” rhythm opening, followed by a more rhythmically complex second phase where the band’s rhythm section shine, the sax exploration comes in the third phase, the guitar shines in the fourth; then the band “jam” in a melodic mood towards the end. The sax opens up Laughter before Louise Nipper takes hold of the second phase with a fun spoken vocal, the composition developing again towards the end. Telephone starts conventionally before some exploration develops and then the album ends on its jazziest and sonic exploration note with Fame.
Overall, Artificial Joy is a skilful and enjoyable blend of very melodic and more exploratory rock-jazz fusion. On reflection, I think I was a bit harsh in only awarding the band’s previous album a 6 out of 10 rating, and this one is better – it has a greater experimental, and more progressive “bite”, but without losing its sensuous musicality. Enjoy!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Amnesiac Quartet - Tribute To Radiohead
Tracklist: Everything In Its Right Place (14:31), Morning Bell (12:30), A Wolf At The Door (7:45), Sail To The Moon (7:09), I Might Be Wrong (12:36)
Tribute albums fall into one of two categories for me, either being banal note for note copies of an already existing product, (not much point in that really), or an exciting rework of the original pieces where time and patience has been used to good effect, to add dimension to what is an already loved and known, creating new and fresh soundscapes. This is where this album lies. Thom Yorke and the boys must be revelling in what Amnesiac Quartet has created here as it could have gone wrong on so many levels.
Amnesiac Quartet's Tribute To Radiohead consists of Sabastient Paindestre (clavier), Joachim Florent (contrabasse), Fabrice Theuillon (soprano saxophone) and Antoine Paganotti (drums) are the four very talented musicians whose pedigree is unquestionable, being / having been members of Rigolus, Jean-Louis or Surnatural Orchestra and Magma. Anyone who has come across or knows these musicians will already know that this is not going to be your average straight cover album, but instead is going to feature a halfway house between jazz and prog. In total we have five instrumental tracks here all lovingly created and played very proficiently one from Kid A, two from Hail To The Thief and two from Amnesiac.
Everything In Its Right Place is nearly ten minutes longer than the original version and features no vocals whatsoever. It keeps to the free spirit of the original Radiohead version moving into improvisation with some exquisite saxophone playing and drumming, yet taking absolutely nothing away from the original.
Morning Bell again is another longer version than the original, staying faithful and Theuillon’s saxophone playing emulating Thom Yorke’s vocals. This really is good stuff again dropping into improv mode adding further depth to the song featuring some complex interaction between all the musicians.
The original version of A Wolf At The Door is a track with a very difficult vocal phrasing and is not always easy on the ear, as with a lot of Radiohead tracks they are very much layered, so it can take quite a few listens to try and work out what is happening. This track is no exception to that rule either and Amnesiac Quartet have again played some very complex musical passages, each taking turns in creating a clear and precise tones. Improv is used to great effect as you would expect each seemingly taking a turn in emulating the vocal passage throughout. I always found this a bit of a stranger song and I don’t really know why? Amnesiac Quartet has added to the mystery.
Sail To The Moon doesn’t carry the same powerful tone as the original version off the Hail To The Thief album, but in its own way has reinvented the track. We have the vocal phrasing created by the soprano saxophone, a theme that runs through the album, creating atmosphere whilst Paindestre, Florent and Paganotti have added the emotion. As the song lyrics said, “I was dropped from moonbeams and sailed on shooting stars”. Thom sung it on the original, Amnesiac Quartet created the image with their interpretation.
I Might Be Wrong is probably the most challenging track in my opinion that they have taken on board. They have not only reworked it with some outstanding saxophone and keyboard interludes with some complex playing, they have still kept the piece challenging adding interpretation and depth.
This album will obviously appeal to the Radiohead fans out there who would love to hear reinterpretations and well constructed versions of some of their songs. This is Radiohead done on a grand scale. I can only imagine Thom Yorke and the boys giving this the massive thumbs up. It also stands up as a damn fine jazz album too, for those who aren’t familiar Radiohead.
Time after time Amnesiac Quartet nails the selected tracks, creating a unique feel with a perfect soundstage. This is one of the things I love about the jazz approach. These tracks have been recorded live and every so often you can just about hear some applause but you have to listen very carefully.
I am a massive fan of the Grateful Dead who were / are renowned for turning a five minute song into a twenty minute opus, seeing where they could take it. Well ladies and gentlemen this is exactly what Amnesiac Quartet have done here too. Powerfully good stuff and a big thumbs up from me too.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Spin 1ne 2wo – Spin 1ne 2wo
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||1993/2010|
Tracklist: All Along The Watchtower (3:11), Can't Find My Way Home (5:24), Angel (4:56), White Room (5:34), Reason To Believe (3:37), You Keep Me Hanging On (5:26), Black Dog (3:57), On The Road Again (5:09), Feel Like Makin' Love (5:36), Reeling In The Years (5:01), Who Are You (6:27), Kashmir (6:24)
An album of cover versions is not something you would expect to find too often in the DPRP reviews section especially when it’s a collection of rock standards. What makes this particular effort stand head and shoulders above the rest however is the faultless execution from the prestigious line-up involved. That includes Paul Carrack (my wife’s favourite male singer) better known as a solo artist and
front man for Mike & The Mechanics, Tony Levin bassist par excellence with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel and legendary producer Rupert Hine here providing the keyboards. They are joined by guitarist Phil Palmer who has toured with the likes of Wishbone Ash, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits and Pete Townshend plus drummer Steve Ferrone a former member of the Average White Band and a much in demand session drummer.
Spin 1ne 2wo was instigated by Palmer in 1993 as a one-off project with the basic premise of assembling a group of seasoned musicians to perform a bunch of rock classics which in most cases would have already been familiar to those involved. The versions here generally follow the originals with a respectful accuracy although songs like Angel and Reason To Believe have been heard in so many guises it’s difficult to recall how they originally sounded. All Along The Watchtower for example is probably better known for Hendrix’s cover (which provides the model here) rather than Dylan’s original. It’s taken at a slightly faster tempo here with stunning guitar work from Palmer. He also gives Clapton a run for his money with a blistering solo during Cream’s White Room.
Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George had a commendable stab at Blind Faith's Find My Way Back Home on their Cover To Cover album but the powerful rhythm partnership of Levin and Ferrone in the extended outro here is simply awesome. Other standout moments include Hine’s edgy Hammond and orchestrated keys during a stately You Keep Me Hanging On, Carrack’s soulful delivery of Bad Company’s Feel Like Makin' Love and Palmer’s impeccable steel guitar during a compelling rendition of Steely Dan’s Reeling In The Years. Carrack’s strident performance of The Who’s infectious Who Are You makes interesting comparisons with Roger Daltrey’s whilst the backing vocals (courtesy of Carrack and Hine) could easily be Pete Townsend himself.
Whilst some may find the treatment of songs like Angel and Reason To Believe a tad too laidback, of most interest to readers of this site I’m sure will be the two Led Zeppelin covers Black Dog and Kashmir. A purely instrumental interpretation of the former rocks as hard as the original ever did whilst the latter captures the majesty of Zep’s classic with Levin and Ferrone impressively recreating Jones and Bonham’s legendary stomping rhythm pattern.
It’s true that an album of this nature would not normally be my first listening choice but this is one that I’ll happily take with me to while away an hour or so during a long car journey. In the same situation I also found that its tuneful qualities lends itself to continuous replays particularly thanks to the presence of Carrack’s easy on the ear tones. Everything about this recording oozes class and special mention should go to Hine’s impeccable production values which ensure not one note or syllable is wasted.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rain Tongue - Rain Tongue
Tracklist: Terra (6:09), No More Secrets (1:43), To The Nearest Sun (9:07), Chaparral (5:36), Cloud Atlas (7:56), When Will It Fly Over Them (5:51), Lucky Girl (6:41), Two Minutes To Awakening (1:59), Feathers (11:59)
It is always interesting to review CDs released by The Russian Association of Independent Genres (or R.A.I.G. for short) as one never knows quite what one will be faced with! This first release by Rain Tongue is no exception, although don't think that because it is a debut album Rain Tongue are a new group. A trio from Bryansk in Russia, the three musicians, Alexei Ivanov (guitars, bass, keyboards), Dmitry Bulavintzev (drums, percussion) and Konstantin Isaev (accordion) have been together since 1996. They have previously released ten albums, seven under the name Teatr Tenei and three following a name change to Yazyk Dozhdya, all featuring song-oriented indie-rock songs with lyrics sung in their native language. A dramatic shift occurred in late 2007 when the band decided on both another name change (to the current Rain Tongue) and a change in musical direction to instrumental music that formed, according to the record label, "a fanciful bridge between melodic art rock and dreamy post-rock."
The album is very relaxing, although steers well clear of any ambient/new wave territory being far more interesting and dynamic. The addition throughout of various male (sung by Ivanov) and female (by Victoria Nevzhinakaya) vocalisation add key hooks to the music, no more so than on the opening Terra. The brief No More Secrets links into To The Nearest Sun, a soothing number where the two vocalists blend together well and the music takes on a rhythmical, faintly hypnotising beat that in many ways resembles some of the music produced by Sigur Ros over the years. Chaparral is rather more up-tempo with the piano, bass and drums forming an effective rhythm section underpinning the stylish guitar musings. The next two tracks, Cloud Atlas and When Will It Fly Over Them, both feature Isaev on accordion (he also plays bass and guitar but this album very much seems to be Ivanov's creation). On the first of these pieces, the accordion offers up a very melancholy, almost plaintive, edge to the music, an air reinforced by some very nice acoustic guitar work and low-key female vocalisations. In the second piece the accordion provides a more traditional role and at times I am reminded of Eroc's Wolkenreise, although this is possible because it is the only other frame of reference I have of accordions in rock music!
Lucky Girl, by comparison, is rather jolly, with a lovely xylophone throughout that again rings out a resemblance to the Icelandic giants. Two Minutes To Awakening is a lovely acoustic guitar piece that forms the introduction to the closing piece, Feathers which carries on the mellow vibe of the preceding instrumental. The longest of the pieces, it is also the most diverse, and also probably the most enjoyable, probably because the whole album is rather a treat from start to finish. As this album is only released in a limited print run (500 copies!) it is very unlikely the band will reach international acclaim but if you are into melodic, instrumental music then Rain Tongue are certainly a band to keep an eye out for.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Electric Sorcery – Electric Sorcery II
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Three Eyes (6:20), Horpus Richter (5:38), Deeper (4:30), S.O.B. (4:00), The Urge (8:37), Konsequench (4:53), Little Warrior (4:43), Year Of The Eel (3:22), Apparition (3:23), Inkriminated (5:24)
This is, unsurprisingly, the second release from Vermont trio Electric Sorcery, Derek Campbell (vocals/guitar/theramin/flute/harmonica), Micah Carbonneau (drums, some vocals/guitar/bass), Luke Laplant (Electronic Wind Instrument (E.W.I.)/sax/keys). Electric Sorcery take their influences from psychedelic ‘70s music but add their own twists to the sound. Funk and reggae rhythms and punk energy spice the stew producing a pretty unique blend. Campbell’s rich voice works well in this setting and the breadth of instrumentation is key to the band's sound. Laplant is a recent addition having replaced bassist Nathanael Reynolds giving the music a new quality whilst retaining the heavy low end tones.
Three Eyes is punk rock that briefly morphs into Hawkwind before emerging into loping Dub Reggae with a soulful vocal. The guitar adds a rocky edge but this is funky and groove laden stuff where you will hear off kilter percussion and blasts of saxophone amidst the screaming guitars. There is a ragged, jam-band quality to the playing which suggests that Electric Sorcery are primarily a live band and it would be fun to see how they pull off the swoops, changes and flips in the flesh where their repertoire also includes tracks by Frank Zappa, Buddy Miles, Santana, King Crimson and N.E.R.D.. There are some clips on their MySpace that show them in impressive action.
The frantic instrumental Horpus Richter chases in after the opener exuding energy with crashing guitar chords and furious drumming. I’m not sure what an E.W.I. is but it is probably responsible for the underlying electronic nuances and punctuation that give the album a strong psychedelic edge. Deeper features sinister guitar over a faintly samba rhythm, echoed vocal and spacey sounds. It doesn’t move far from its initial feel but is a very unusual piece. S.O.B. raises the energy level with lots of sax and Ska rhythms employed in a way similar to Ozric Tentacles before The Urge gets heavy and ominous with, I imagine, the E.W.I. doing its thing up front. This could have been based on the theme to an old TV cop show before heading into funk territory with a great vocal from Campbell including a thrashy Rage Against The Machine rap section that fits the tone well. Bass is all over this one which is odd as the only track listing a bass is Little Warrior so this may be keyboard. The extended improv section has a distinctly ‘70s feel.
Konsequench again heads into Ozric territory with trippy guitar over a funky “bass”. There’s a harder edged jazzy feel to the end section which packs this track with variety. The aforementioned Little Warrior is funky with soulful, if slightly wonky, vocals from Micah this time and a lovely guitar solo in keeping with the mood. Year Of The Eel is a slippery thing, groovy with much E.W.I. and Apparition is slow burning psychedelic punk. Closer Inkriminated is a wonderful culmination of what the album is about: catchy riffs and electronica mixed with laid-back reggae and psychedelia. There’s a harmonica that sounds like an electric guitar and a very neat King Crimson influenced section where Laplant pulls off a great Belew impression.
This is a dynamic and fun(ky) listen, the band pulling in many influences to create their unique vision. Lovers of Psychedelia and Space Rock should love this but don’t be put off if you don’t like Ska or Reggae; give it a listen, this is groovy stuff.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Voodoo Monkey Child - Under A Crescent Moon
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Little Pond Records|
|Year of Release:||2009|
CD1: Reigning Fire (4:20), Away (5:27), In The Bed (4:40), My Love (6:45), We Can Do It (7:03), Seek (6:44), Dama Dama (8:44), Dollhouse (6:07), Closer To Home (7:49)
CD2: Vcerejsi Noc [In The Bed] (4:39), Cas [Reigning Fire] (4:23), Tua Naruc Sila Ma [My Love] (6:45), V Oblacich [Away] (5:28)
Voodoo Monkey Child are a five piece progressive rock band from Chicago Illinois featuring R Scott Allen (keyboards/omnichord), Michael Ferguson (guitars/backing vocals), Scott Hume (drums/percussion/backing vocals), Tim Rogers (bass/backing vocals) and Janey Age [Jana Hurdesova] (vocals/percussion). This is their second album and is somewhat intriguing. Why? Because their second disk of this set is a rework of four tracks off the first CD redone in Czech! This would be because Janey Age is from the Czech Republic who has been living in the USA since 1999. It offers a European feel to the music too.
Let me lead the way because what I have come across is a little gem. There is some outstanding guitar work especially on Seek and some very powerful vocals from Janey throughout the whole album. This is a real grower of an album and if you are prepared to acquire a copy you will be richly rewarded. This would appeal massively to anyone who loves melodic prog or AOR, as it covers both these genres very well.
Reigning Fire the retro crackling of vinyl and piano chord starts the procedures before the song drops into a pounding military paced rhythm section formulaic rock track with some fancy keyboard work thrown in. The Czech vocal version on disk two I personally think makes the track sounds ballsy. Musically it’s exactly the same.
Away opens like an 80’s AOR track with the guitar work being the stand out feature, tones and solo’s to die for. I really love the groove that runs through the whole piece, it’s so precise. The alternate vocal version offers nothing new at all really to this track. I personally believe the album version is the stronger of the two.
In The Bed is strong vocally although Janey’s diction does slip from time to time which makes it sound sultry, something that is not really associated with prog, but hey ho. The Czech version reinforces this feeling giving it more depth and emotion. Vocally Vaya Con Dios sprang to mind.
My Love is another beautiful piece with layered vocals adding depth to the whole affair supported by some really good keyboard work from Scott Allen. When the guitar started Kansas’ Dust In The Wind jumped to my mind, again the alternative vocal version adds depth.
We Can Do It allows Janey to show her vocal prowess with the song having a very catch hook and a great summery sound, supported by some excellent keyboard work. This has Magenta phrased vocals written all over it, and I could imagine the guys playing this.
Seek is a powerful and the standout track that made me sit up and really listen. The intro is a piano piece which leads the way for some rather outstanding and memorable guitar work from Ferguson. The rest of the band underpin and complement Ferguson's dexterous work, creating some great hooks and melodies all driven by Janey’s powerful vocals. This is classy stuff indeed and had me pressing the repeat button straight away, having not totally believing what I had just heard.
Dama Dama again is another great track with more absolutely stunning guitar work and vocals. The keyboard work of Scott Allen is so complimentary to the whole piece adding dynamics. The layering of the vocals just oozes quality.
Dollhouse starts out with laughter and piano before the rest of the gang kick in with great rhythm section work from Hume and Rogers who keep this piece driving forward changing pace at will. I love Hume’s drumming on this track especially just before the song falls into the beginning of the Ring A Round Roses nursery rhyme.
Closer To Home sadly brings the whole affair to an end with yet even more fantastic musicianship. All the strings are pulled out to end on a high with more great melodies, great hooks a band that are tighter than a camels backside in a sand storm.
The two things that standout most on this album are the vocals and guitar work. This is not to say that the rest of the band is any less significant, not by a long way, as this is a strong and consistent album from beginning to end, the band even use an Omnichord, (how prog sounding is that) which you can hear all through the album.
Janey started singing at the age of 6 and you can certainly tell over the years she has certainly perfected her craft. Vocally she is strong and confident working well within her range whether singing in her native tongue or in English. It is quite easy sometimes for singers of this genre to take an operatic style approach, something that Janey has avoided.
The bands influences are diverse and it’s nice to see that they haven’t tried to emulate them in sound or style really which is refreshing. I know it can be quite flattering to emulate your heroes or sound like your influences but it can also be boring too. This is something that Voodoo Monkey Child has managed to avoid. Sometimes when you hear a new band you automatically draw comparisons and this is not something that happened to me this time as it just pulled me in from beginning to end, and that is unusual for me.
I love the whole feel and vibe of this album which has been well produced and packaged. This is not a band who are lacking in confidence and approach which has made them richer for it. The good old US of A seems to be able to throw bands of this calibre out like there’s no tomorrow and I am not sure as too why? This is a band that I would love to see live. If you love melodic female fronted prog bands then this is certainly one for you.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Gak Omek - Nonrenormalizability
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Blue Cube Music|
|Year of Release:||2010|
|Info:||The Gak Omek|
Tracklist: The Tunguska Event (6:16), The Pythagorean Lambdoma (7:26), Galaxia Nuncius (10:00), Nonrenormalizability (15:16), Bagudzinishinabe (4:00), Fifteen Billion Nanoseconds In Hell (0:15), Alien Television (5:59), Into The Fourth Density (8:14)
The Gak Omek is Robert Burger of Brainstatik, who plays all instruments and has composed all the songs on this album. The instrumentation on this album is therefore quite extensive when knowing that one man is playing every single one of these instruments.
Nonrenormalizability is a completely instrumental album and as such will not attract too many people, and radio play may also often be lacking, however The Gak Omek delivers an album which is food for imagination as each song is a well written and played full of energy and emotion. After the careful study of the titles of each song I thought it interesting enough to look for explanations to the titles, mainly driven by the title of the
second track on the album, The Pythagorean Lambdoma. I laid a connection to a mathematician of ancient history named Pythagoras, famous for his algorithms. It appeared to be a good guess as I found that the Pythagorean Lambdoma is a sort of keyboard using a pattern for the sound palette making it the sound very harmonic - which can be said for the song with that name.
Searching further for the rest of the songs, I found that the album deals with different science subjects. The soundscapes in The Tunguska Event were most likely inspired by the event of the same name that occurred in the beginning of the 20th century in Russia, where a meteorite set off a large explosion just above the land. Using your imagination you can picture what must have happened.
Galaxia Nuncius deals with the experiment by NASA sending messages into outer space in their efforts trying to make contact with extra terrestrial life. Some vocals are added to make it seem contact has been established. A space rock song
Nonrenormalizability itself is inspired by the abstract mathematical quantum theory and sees Robert Burger taking on an abstract journey with his synths and other electronic devices. This song reminded me of a younger Mike Oldfield in making Tubular Bells, although the song itself is very different, for me it is of similar making as Tubular Bells back in the ‘70’s - beautiful melody.
Bagudzinishinabe is very surrealistic music about alien life forms playing music. Experimental electronic prog with an easy touch and nice underlying melody lines which make it very accessible. To complete this song Mr Burger has made a video which can be found on Vimeo.
15 Billion Nanoseconds In Hell adds up to 15 seconds of noise.
With his last track Robert again visits the aliens, with their Alien Television - listenable experimental electronic music - again accompanied by a video on Vimeo.
The two songs with a video are worth finding on Vimeo, (both can be found on The Gak Omek's MySpace (linked above), and have been done very nicely. Back to the CD. The music is not completely my beef but is strong in its genre. It is also benefits from a good concept. If you like Ozric Tentacles, you might agree.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Proximal Distance - Proximal Distance
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Algol (7:52), The Shaman (8:02), Contemplation (3:17), Flashback to Now [A Hippy’s Lament] (4:40), Deep Space Intermission (5:35), Leaves Fall (3:50), Journey of Truth (7:32), Coherence (7:54), Expanding Universe (14:15)
I sometimes envy my American friend Bill. You see he likes both kinds of music – Country and Western. Not for him the dizzying complexity of multiple crosscutting sub-genres. So, here we have another prog record, this time American symphonic prog. Which after quite a while listening to brutal hardcore avant splatter prog is a bit of a relief. In fact I’d begun to develop a ‘nam (Rother’nam) thousand yard stare and what with bereavement and the cover of Canturbe’s new record I needed a bit of symphonic relief, I can tell you. And not the kind you get for £1.50 a minute.
Here we have Proximal Distance, a collaboration of two bands, Slychosis and Majestic, featuring multi-instrumentalists Gregg Johns (Slychosis) and Jeff Hamel (Majestic). Vocals are provided by Majestic’s Jessica Rasche, and drums and percussion feature Jeremy Mitchell and Todd Sears of Slychosis. Vocally Jessica Rasche operates mainly in the operatic, shoutier range of Tracey Hitchens and Lana Lane - which is an acquired taste I have to admit - but she does have her calmer moments, where her voice is more reminiscent of Kim Seviour, say, or Lisa Fury.
Now, female fronted prog bands (FFPB) are something of an enigma. Checking out recent ‘best of’ lists indicates that prog fans aren’t overly enamoured of said bands. Now, before I go on, you conspiracy theorists (you know who you are. Or do you?) just might want to go off and yahoogle the number forty-six. Whilst not one of the DPRP’s recent best 25 prog albums of 2009 featured an FFPB, elsewhere there is some grudging recognition of the female form. An interweb site’s long-standing “best 100 Prog album” list sees Renaissance at number 46. A glossy prog magazine has recently done a Top 50 and my own personal favourite, Magenta’s Seven sits pretty at, you guessed it, number 46. Cue spooky music. However, Karnataka’s latest will more than likely make it onto a number of top ten lists come the year end, so whilst the listening public may not love FFPBs they do obviously like them. Given the “46 effect”, then this effort by Proximal Distance is not, statistically at least, going to light up the prog world but that’s not to say it isn’t good. It is. Very good in places in fact. But if you’re not into FFPBs you’ve probably already stopped reading. Which is a shame.
On the odd occasion male vocals come into the mix there’s a bit of an Izz kind of groove going on. Which is no bad thing.
Throughout the record there are enough classic prog references – Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Kansas – to keep most listeners happy.
Personal favourites include:
Opener, the wonderfully full-on symphonic instrumental Algol lets loose with all guns blazing, with its Chris Squire Rickenbacker bass sound (that makes a return on Expanding Universe) and premature choral ending, which leads into a Floydian dash for the finish line. We then segue into second track The Shaman with a Rush-like overture. There’s even some Necromancer/2112 vocoder stuff later on, complete with evil laugh that’s good fun but as cheesy as the World Edam Rolling Championships. Gypsy has an infuriatingly catchy little guitar run, and male/female vocal interplay that will have fans of Izz tapping their foot appreciatively. Contemplation, a quieter acoustic number gives way to Flashback To Now [A Hippy’s Lament], that harks back to early 1970s BOC, most noticeably the riffs to The Subhuman and Harvester Of Eyes, replete with buzz guitars married to a 21st century lyric about twitterbook and facespace, again with good use of male/female vocals. Epic closer Expanding Universe sees the band veering into prog metal territory, with wonderfully frenetic duelling twin guitars, before a typically bombastic Scandinavian prog style climax – think A.C.T, Kaipa or Beardfish and you won’t go far wrong.
There’s a professionally produced booklet, featuring excellent artwork by collaborator Vladimir Moldavsky to complete the package. Honouring prog’s past, with more than a tip of the hat to the present, you get nearly 75 minutes of high quality symphonic progressive rock for your money. Clearly, you’ve got to have an open mind to FFPBs, but if you do this is well worth a punt. You can get it (together with Majestic and Slychosis albums) direct from the band, or at any number of interweb retailers.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10