REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Gavin Harrison & 05Ric – Circles
Tracklist: Faith (5:02), Scar (4:00), Break (4:55), Beyond The ‘A’ (3:58), Eye (3:35), Goodbye (3:20), Circles (4:30), Source (5:49), Last Call (3:32), Crisis (3:42)
This second album from the duo of Porcupine Tree (and “current” King Crimson) drummer Gavin Harrison and multi-instrumentalist/singer 05Ric is a very interesting disc. The use of Harrison’s snippets of rhythms is fascinating as, by his own admission, they are fragments that he couldn’t find a home for anywhere else and which blossom in this setting. His playing has always been exemplary but it is his ear for an off the wall, novel idea that puts him a cut above other top-draw percussionists. He also adds some bass and guitar where necessary. 05Ric has a number of solo albums to his credit and his unusual use of extended range bass with his soulful vocals is a mouth watering combination. The two met by chance and collaborate by email and it is testament to their diligence and talent how well they gel, the result being a dazzling amalgam of their individual styles that is both accessible and muso-friendly in its complexity and virtuosity.
Circles was self-produced by Harrison and 05Ric and has previously been available online but now gets a full release on Kscope in this 2-disc version which includes a 5.1 surround sound DVD-A mixed by Jakko Jakszyk who is currently adding the same treatment to the next batch of King Crimson reissues. The sound quality is, as you would expect, exemplary on both versions and would make a worthy demonstration disc due to the variety of tones and textures employed.
Although Circles is listed as the first track Faith actually opens the disc, the whole track listing running in a different order to the sleeve. Faith is laid-back in style with washes of strings before a skittering drum pattern emerges. There is an otherworldly feel with O5Ric’s vocals immediately reminiscent of David Sylvian, his words evocative and interesting, fitting in well with the music. It is immediately apparent that this album consists of well put together songs that integrate Harrison’s drum fragments and experimentation sublimely. This is not a mish-mash of incomplete ideas but an absorbing glimpse of what two uniquely creative musicians can come up with. The album is complicated yet accessible and opens itself up with each successive listen as more of the detail becomes apparent.
Scar is next, a much more frenetic listen with guitar from Harrison and bass textures emanating from 05Ric’s extended range bass but also a very guitar-like solo. The drumming is complex but also more straight forward. The drive is there but it is almost impossible to keep up with the variations as they happen.
The twinkling strings and quiet verses of Break open into tougher chorus-like sections. The playing, as throughout, is superb and fascinating and there is an incredible amount going on. Peculiarly, one brief section, due to the phrasing and delivery, sounds like the opening to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen with different lyrics. Odd.
Beyond The ‘A’ is funky and bouncy with added guitar and another lovely solo from 05Ric which shows the versatility of his instrument of choice. Eye is excellent with the two locking in on a variety of textures with fab bass work and a great vocal. Goodbye is another fast paced workout; 05Ric’s vocal surfing beautifully over the top. The playing shines with inventiveness and includes a jazzy solo from 05Ric.
The title track feels very KCrimsonesque with repeating guitar lines and driving, off-kilter rhythm. This is the only track with any additional input, Gary Sanctuary adding some gorgeous Keith Jarrett influenced piano that fits in and adds to the whole. With the references within 05Ric voice this track could have come from the Sylvian/Fripp collaboration The First Day.
Source is a straight song competing with a convoluted rhythm and topped with another fine solo from 05Ric. I’d call it a draw! Last Call is low tempo with hypnotic guitar and a cinematic feel and Crisis rounds things off nicely taking us through a number of aural landscapes that hadn’t been previously visited and adding a touch of the sinister with a building climax.
None of the pieces are self indulgent or outstay their welcome and luckily they haven’t skimped on the tunes. From the start the disc is very engaging but after multiple listens I really got to love it. This is superb stuff and Harrison’s rhythms and fills are simply mind-melting in their intricacy. If he wasn’t already noted as one of the top percussionists of his generation this would probably do it for him, the disc is like a master class of what can be achieved by sophisticated use of time and space, and the addition of 05Ric who I had not heard before is a revelation. If they were to play this live, and hopefully they will manage it one day, I expect that one or two additional players would be required to completely pull it off but it would be one hell of a night out that’s for sure! Absorbing stuff and highly recommended to anyone who loves Sylvian, latter day KC or spectacular use of the bass and drums in general.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Christina – Broken Lines & Bleeding Hearts
Tracklist: Free (4:37), Way Back To My Heart (4:54), Deep Oceans (4:16), Hanging By A Thread (3:25), Tales Of Broken Hearts (5:54), Helen’s Song (4:48), Down To The River (4:37), Do Or Die (4:17), Reel Life (4:15), Immorality (5:50), Deep Oceans [Oceans Deep Jem Godfrey Remix] (5:27)
More than two years ago I interviewed Rob Reed and Christina Booth about the then latest Magenta album
Metamorphosis during which the pair touched upon another album that was in the stages of preparation. That album was Christina’s long-awaited debut solo album which has just now seen the light of day under the intriguing title Broken Lines & Bleeding Hearts.
Whilst style wise this might be far removed from the symphonic-rock sound of Magenta it will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Rob and Christina’s eclectic musical tastes. Along with pop and rock, elements of blues and jazz surface, all of which are handled with supreme confidence and panache. Christina’s beautiful, crystalline voice obviously takes centre stage with Rob taking care of most of the instrumental backing including keyboards, piano, bass and guitars. Magenta’s Chris Fry is on hand to lend his classical and acoustic guitar talents as is John Mitchell (who seems to be everywhere at the moment) who adds lead guitar to a couple of tracks. Additional support comes from Steve Balsamo (vocals), Fran Bramble (backing vocals), Troy Donockley (Uillean pipes), Ryan Ashton (drums), Andy Coughlan (fretless bass) and Kieran Bailey (drums).
The opening song Free has been around for awhile in download format and is typical of the modern radio friendly sound that Reed has clearly strived for in his production. Christina’s voice is starkly upfront and the arrangement builds from seemingly humble beginnings into a full blown gospel workout, providing an excellent start to the album. Way Back To My Heart sounds naggingly familiar with its incessant vocal hook whilst Deep Oceans (the first of two versions here) features a typically warm and full vocal from Christina. Hanging By A Thread with its relentless acoustic guitar riff has a singer-songwriter vibe about it contrasting with the melancholic poignancy of Tales Of Broken Hearts. The backing voices are simply gorgeous here and the instrumental backdrop is deceptively sparse but effective. Helen’s Song is similarly bittersweet with a haunting melody that’s not a million miles from Magenta’s recordings.
Down To The River intensifies the mood with a lolloping upfront bass line and Christina at her most lyrically cutting and she is similarly acerbic during Do Or Die matched by Mitchell’s forceful solo. Reel Life is in a much lighter vein with a catchy chorus and full scale orchestral effects courtesy of Reed’s keys. The excellent Immorality is probably the albums best song with fine vocal support from Balsamo before climaxing with the stirring sound of Donockley’s Uillean pipes. The final track is a reprise of Deep Oceans, this time remixed by Jem Godfrey of Frost* fame. It doesn’t have the same cool, jazzy late night feel of the earlier version but its memorable hook still provides a classy ending to the proceedings.
Given her vocal talents it was clear that Christina would one day embark on a project that would have the potential of broadening her appeal outside the Magenta
fan base. Her guest appearances elsewhere especially her commanding performance on the She album by Caamora is a further testimony to this. Given the right kind of exposure Broken Lines & Bleeding Hearts has the commercial potential to introduce Christina to a larger mainstream audience. It’s also a fine showcase for both her and Rob’s song writing talents proving that they have an inherent feel for a good melody which will come as no surprise to every self respecting Magenta fan.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Anderson/Wakeman – The Living Tree
Tracklist: Living Tree [Part 1] (4:04), Morning Star (4:30), House Of Freedom (5:38), Living Tree [Part 2] (4:37), Anyway And Always (3:51), 23/24/11 (6:25), Forever (5:33), Garden (3:23), Just One Man (4:46)
Picture the scene if you will. In a surprising turn of events Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman take their leave of Yes whilst the remaining trio of Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White team up with a new singer and a keyboardist for a successful tour of the USA. I could of course be describing the more recent events of 2008 but history has a habit of repeating itself and it’s actually 1980 that I have in mind. Back then Anderson and Wakeman used their time away from Yes as an opportunity to further their individual solo careers. Fast forward to 2010 and the pair finally get around to doing what many Yes fans (including myself) wished they’d done 30 years ago and that is pool their resources into a joint project.
The Living Tree comes in the wake of a number of recent live shows both solo and together with the lyrics and melodies credited to Anderson and the music to Wakeman. Anderson of course also provides the vocals and occasional acoustic guitar whilst Wakeman is responsible for all keyboards. Modern technology had its part to play allowing the two to record in separate locations (Anderson in the US and Wakeman in the UK). The end result will come as no surprise to those that have followed the pairs more recent solo endeavours but may come as a disappoint if it’s a prog-rock extravaganza you’re looking for. The Living Tree sees both men growing old gracefully with Anderson’s (still) angelic vocal tones accompanied by Wakeman’s characteristically lyrical piano and a wash of symphonic keys that ebb and flow in the background.
I’m not going to dwell on the individual tracks as is usually the case because to be perfectly honest in terms of style, quality or content there is little to separate the nine songs here. Basically if you’re a fan of their solo work then you’ll appreciate this. Diehard (and older) Yes fans will also find much to enjoy particularly if you can connect with Anderson’s (and to a lesser extent Wakeman’s) more romantic and spiritual tendencies. There is an almost religious undercurrent in both the words and music which combined with the melancholic and nostalgic tone that prevails makes this an album that I’m sure would be very appropriate for the Christmas season which is just around the corner.
Anderson’s lyrics have been noticeably less ambiguous of late and that’s certainly true here. He also remains in fine vocal form which is just as well because he’s placed high in the mix with Wakeman’s contributions being too far back in my opinion. In addition to their solo efforts I was also reminded of the mellower side of Jon & Vangelis. The song Forever for example is very evocative of Anyone Can Light A Candle from the Page Of Life album. However, apart from the title song which works well in its divided form, the standout tracks for me are House Of Freedom and 23/24/11. The latter song is a good example of Anderson’s more direct lyrical style with the significant of the title relating to a soldier counting down the days, minutes and hours before he can return home from the front. Sadly it’s a subject that will forever remain topical.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
North Atlantic Oscillation – Grappling Hooks
Tracklist: Marrow (2:04), Hollywood Has Ended (4:55), Cell Count (4:56), Some Blue Hive (4:49), Audioplastic (4:24), Ceiling Poem (4:09), Alexanderplatz (3:37), 77 Hours (5:08), Star Chamber (3:13), Drawing Maps From Memory (3:45), Ritual (7:07), [Untitled] (0:45)
The Kscope label is rapidly becoming a driving force within the field of progressive rock. It's a label that seems to have a very positive influence on bands and or artists that have been around for a while. Bands like Anathema, No-Sound and The Pineapple Thief for example have all released albums that can be considered to be the best things they have done. But the label also seems to have a keen eye for new talent. For me Kscope, like the 4AD Label in the eighties, sets a high standard. Every album released on the 4AD Label could be purchased without listening. And I'm starting to have the same feeling with Kscope. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is yet another band to release their (first) album for this company.
Grappling Hooks is an intriguing album. It does not really fit into any category and I find it also very hard to compare this album with the music of other bands (I will try, though), which is a very good thing, I think. Ben Martin (drums, programming, synths and percussion) and Sam Healy (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, synths, programming, saxophone and percussion) write modern, accessible but adventurous songs. They are full of vocal harmonies, loud guitars, rolling drums and atmospheric keyboards.
The first six tracks of the album are all of an incredible high quality. Opener Marrow has everything I mentioned above and sounds not unlike the last album from label mates Engineers. Hollywood Has Ended is a very good pop/prog track which begins very atmospheric but after the introduction of a pulsating bass the drums and guitars kick in. It all sounds deceptively lightweight (even the la la la’s are there) but it is an excellent track where quieter sections are countered by outbursts of guitars. Cell Count is a far more electronic track with again those drums upfront in the mix. This song has a chorus to die for.
The tracks are arranged with enough experimentation and addition of sounds, loops and other programming tricks to keep the listener interested.
My favourite track of the album is the slightly psychedelic Some Blue Hive which reminds me of the excellent Elbow (especially the drums). This track again has a beautiful chorus and a great dual guitar/keyboard melody and a surprising saxophone solo.
The mostly instrumental (bar some “oh oh oh’s”) ‘Audioplastic has vibes at the start and layers of keyboards and again those trademark loud, distorted drums. The sixth track, Ceiling Poem is a quiet electronic track with strong vocals that is ripped apart in the middle by some heavy guitars and Hammond.
These tracks are all rather excellent. However NAO do not succeed in maintaining this high level of quality on the second part of the album. The instrumental Star Chamber never develops from a good idea into an actual composition. Also the following Drawing Maps From Memory and to a lesser extent album closer Ritual misses that extra special something that the first six tracks of the album have. Of the last five tracks on the album only 77 hours is highlight, with its heavy over the top ending.
However 7 great tracks out of 11 is not a bad score at all. On Grappling Hooks NAO create a modern progressive prog/pop sound that, I think, will also appeal to those who like the excellent last albums of Anathema and Engineers.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dean Watson – Unsettled
Tracklist: The Encounter (5:03), The Push (3:36), Out Of The Mist (8:25), Sequence Of Events (3:25), Dip (6:56), The Departure (4:40), Gray Matter (6:16), Orb (7:47), 11th Heaven Blues (4:00), Still [Unsettled] (2:15)
Bob Mulvey's Review
This little gem of an album came out of nowhere and proved to be a real stroke of luck on my behalf. Whilst browsing the internet I inadvertently stumbled across the MySpace site of Canadian multi-instrumentalist Dean Watson. A quick glance at his influences prompted me to take a listen to the album opener The Encounter. Impressed with what I heard I took a listen to the remaining tracks and then contacted Dean about the album and the possibilities of having it reviewed on DPRP. That was back in July and since then a number of circumstances, (none attributed to Dean or Gert), meant that this album has taken an age to be reviewed. Hopefully though there will still be enough time left this year for people to check out Unsettled - prior to this year's annual poll. This will certainly feature in my top ten for 2010.
OK, onto the music. Unsettled features ten instrumental tracks which lie firmly within the progressive, jazz/rock and fusion genres, although there are excursions into the blues and rock fields to. What is quite remarkable about this album is that the material and playing is all undertaken by Dean himself. Now quite often solo efforts, even by extremely gifted individuals, can fall foul of a lack of ideas, repetition or just self indulgence. Dean Watson seems to have avoided all of these pitfalls and come up with an album that is rhythmically stimulating, rich in melodic structure and still not afraid to allow space for ambience to take it's place.
From the very outset The Encounter sets the tone. Neat keyboard lines are intermingled with fiery guitar riffs. The drums and bass are complimentary and show a great understanding of both instruments. The odd metering, choice of sounds and the strong guitar riffs made me mindful of Derek Sherinian and Planet X. Whereas The Push is a more groove orientated piece with a nice push from the bass. Hammondy organs and strong guitar riffs bring Sherinian to mind again, but also early 80's Jeff Beck.
Things are allowed to cool with the aptly titled Out Of The Mist. Gently picked guitars make a dark, ambient bed for the piece with light, but haunting, strings interspersed into the music - drifting in and out of the mix. There is light and shade here in this tranquil, but still slightly menacing piece. Half way in the track builds in intensity and then around the three quarter way mark the track takes on a more progressive metal approach with an awkward but driving rhythm.
Sequence Of Events brings us back with a mixture of lighter weight keyboards set against a driving guitar. Keith Emerson came to mind here, possible because of the keyboard sounds or the driven organ or perhaps the feint hint towards Gustav Holst in the strings. Dean uses this track to take on some, in context, keyboard soloing and then concluding the track with some nifty electric piano. DIP, also keyboard driven, takes the jazzy notions from the end of Sequence Of Events but this time in a funky sort of Dave Brubeck mutation. Great punctuation via the Hammond before Mr Watson lets us know that he is no slouch on the guitar either. Again around the halfway point the track takes on a different phase with the introduction of a stronger riff. All returns to the lighter opening section and another fine solo on the keys.
Next up is The Departure - our "power ballad". Wind and gentle piano lay the foundation for a legato guitar solo. The pace for the track is stately, with an ever building intensity that befits the music superbly. As seems to be the way for Dean however, the music takes a twist around the three minute mark and the guitar is replaced with gritty organ, a stomping beat and marimba(ish) fills to take us out. Gray Matter on the other hand raises the tempo with an incessant driving beat and some fierce some guitar work. But as always there's a twist in the tail and this time it comes as a fusion excursion with trade offs between the keyboards and the guitar.
For the Orb we remain in the jazz rock mould with a strong guitar theme, Hammond organ and deft electric piano. The strong rhythm section lays ground to some flights of keyboard and guitar fantasy.
Now normally the mere mention of the blues makes me shudder and with quivering hand poised over the next button on the CD player, however Dean has managed to add more than enough elements to make 11th Heaven Blues a very strong track. Soaring guitar over a lush bed of strings. Add in a strong riff punctuated by the Hammond organ and things are looking good. The solo, again on the Hammond, brings in notions of Keith Emerson again, whilst the guitar riffs remind me of a band once signed to the ELP Manticore label - Stray Dog. Blues by name, prog by nature.
Acoustic guitar, gentle percussion and the odd flourish from the piano are the chosen weapons for the peaceful closing piece, Still [Unsettled]...
So there we have it, a great solo effort from Dean Watson and a well constructed and executed album. Dean is equally as gifted on the fretted instruments as he is on the keyboards, with my only reservations here being with the drumming. Not that there is much to fault, the samples are very good and his understanding of drumming is excellent, but I was just left wondering what Unsettled might have sounded like with a Virgil Donati or Will Kennedy or a Barry Connors...
Fans of instrumental prog, jazz/rock and fusion should certainly check out this album and if any of the artists mentioned in this article interest you, along with say Steve Morse/Dixie Dregs, Jordan Rudess/LTE, Dream Theater, instrumental Rush - then there is going to be something here for you. Heartily recommended.
Gert Hulshof's Review
Dean Watson is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist who has enjoyed a long musical career having first started playing in bands at the end of the 70´s. He formed his own band AirKraft where he played together with drummer Barry Connors. Later on they went on to form a jazz fusion band called Where´s The Nine.
After seeing a painting by Ron Eady, Dean felt he needed to say something about the inspiration he drew from this. So here it is Unsettled, based and inspired by the Ron Eady painting of the same name.
The album is a ten track long journey through the thoughts of Mr Dean Watson and the reflection of how and what he feels the painting is telling us. What I will do in this review is reflect my feelings to the combined music and painting. First I will begin by describing what can be seen in the painting, as the painting is the lead through this musical extravaganza. Of course people can see different things and experience this very differently.
So here goes. We are looking at a harbour in ancient history. The dock, as well as the ship, we see in the foggy horizon suggest we must be in the late 15th or 16th centuries. There are people are waiting for the ship to arrive, but can hardly see it entering the harbour because of the fog. Listening to the music tells you a story of what might have happened during the sailing of ships into the harbour.
The Encounter: Starting heavy on percussion The Encounter takes us just a tiny bit out of our harbour, where the ships still cruise in the open sea and at a steady pace - reflected later on by a distorted guitar sound, pitching. In my imagination I see ships drawing nearer to a safe harbour. On the pier I see people talking as described by a guitar lines talking to bass and keyboards. Meantime the melody steps in again to make way for the encounter taking place - the ships that would be arriving very shortly. Mr Watson has succeeded here to bring alive the picture in his music, still this is the first track and there is yet more to come.
The Push: As the story continues with the second track the jazz-fusion style played by Dean is very well suited to imaginary story telling. The story in my imagination continues with a ship pulling in, which is reflected in the music by a more or less walking bass line and low-key running melody lines.
Out Of The Mist: The tranquillity of the guitar playing, electric as well as acoustic, leave you, (or at least I was), imagining a giant ship entering the harbour at slow pace. The added keyboards, with string effect only give credence to this. Nicely played and full of emotion and instrumental music at his best. Steering but leaving room for your own imagination. We are now ready to drop the anchor and leave the ship. The heavier section in this track gives way to different imagery with the neat bass line setting things off. One can only wonder - all this inspiration from just one painting - well at least that is what was the initial inspiration. I can listen for hours to music that has been created in this way, instrumental music, it clear your mind and soul.
Sequence Of Events: Here I see a lot of situations happening, one after another, when listening to this keyboard dominated song, Nice detail is the shuffle sound of “matchboxes” being shaken. A grand and massive sound wave is created. I believe Mr Watson can do more with the percussion and guitar than is obvious in this album. The electric piano playing here is done in the free style jazz manner. Nice, very nice.
DIP: Has a "jumping piano" nicely interacting with a slightly distorted guitar. Later on other keyboards are added although the song retains the jumpy feel - but still very refreshing at the same time...
The Departure: Wonderful dreamy music, music to close your eyes and take your spot once more in the imaginary journey of unsettled. There's a nice touch from the keyboards playing a rhythm on a vibraphone or marimba sound. Keyboards are still very prominent here.
Gray Matter: We are driven forward by a continuously driven drums along with a nice melody line played full of emotion. The keyboard work is also of a high standard and with some great soloing on the keys and guitar. The subtle electric piano leaves no doubt we are in jazz-fusion territory. This is how you make instrumental music very worthwhile.
Orb: Continuing where we left, but is it still what we think it is. Dean has put a lot of effort in keeping a thread in the music. We can hear the conceptual melody line returning once more.
11th Heaven Blues: Heavenly played guitar in a rock/blues style. A great song making us feel we are in seventh heaven and could handle practically anything around. What a great piece of instrumental music this is a true masterpiece of imagery and tell tale all at the same time.
Still [Unsettled]: Percussion and acoustic guitar finish what has been a fantastic journey through the mind - the spirit carries on. You might have called this CD the Imaginary Tales of Dean Watson.
I cannot wait to hear the sequel to this work of art as no stone has been left unturned on this brilliantly played album. Mind you it is a solo effort - although all and that means here is that all has been done by one man - I would love to see and hear this work performed in a live setting. You can imagine what is possible with modern day technology. This would be a fantastic experience. But for now we are kept to this wonderful piece of music.
The music in this CD could be described in various ways, we have influences of many musical styles like jazz, fusion, blues, rock, avant garde. You name it, therefore we have a term called progressive music - and by all means this is progressive instrumental music of a very high standard.
BOB MULVEY : 8 out of 10
GERT HULSHOF : 9 out of 10
Rodrigo San Martin – There’s No Way Out
|Country of Origin:||Argentina|
|Record Label:||Circe Produccions|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Day (15:42), No (6:00), War, Act 2 (21:07)
So 2010 sees the second release from the rather talented Rodrigo San Martin, the multi instrumentalist from Argentina, playing electric and acoustic guitars, piano, keyboards, mellotron, Hammond organ, synthesizer, bass guitar, synthesized glockenspiel, drum programming and sorting the orchestral arrangements too. Rodrigo has chosen to bring in two vocalists for this album, which works very well, Jelena Perisic and Craig Kerley, allowing him to concentrate even more on the music, laying a strong foundation, which has allowed him to build such a strong and thought provoking album.
The artwork for There’s No Way Out is rather interesting with its approach, an almost Messianic figure standing before the mass’, almost in adulation, preaching the last words, a fitting scene for what is presented inside. Don’t get me wrong this is not a “God Squad” album, far from it, rather a thought provoking three piece movement of interesting word play and musical interaction, a listening experience.
So the concept, which is very intelligently thought out; a thinking mans album, which could be very applicable about today’s society; An individual has an epiphany, believing themselves to be the one to change the world, setting their fellow humans free, becoming their leader in the “revolution against oppression”, (their ears, their eyes, their spokes person), although we are never told what the oppression is, which is the really beauty of the concept. The individual then points out to the world emotionally, screaming "you're totally wrong, I'm tired of giving myself up and living by your rules; this is the last time I surrender to you". Finally post apocalypse, this person has succeeded in "taking control" but everything in not perfect as they had hoped. They are depressed because now that have accomplished their goal not having a purpose anymore, thus becoming the one who is corrupt who "sells out". Trying to impose their ways, becoming the oppressor, just like the one they had been fighting all their life. The power for me in the whole album / concept is stated in the closing lines, ”The time of men has ended, and now’s the time for individuals, No one to follow only ideas to share”.
This is not an album that takes a whimsical approach, more an album that has been crafted to challenge your senses, making you think, this album has got quality stamped all over it, almost like a 2010 take on 2112.
4378th Day the opening salvo sees Rodrigo opening this fifteen minute plus song, applying some atmospheric keyboard work that is interlaced with some beautiful guitar picking; sounding vaguely like a mix of Floyd and Dire Straits. It’s not long before the tempo and mood changes as Jelena, (who has one hell of a vocal range) perfectly compliments the music. I really love her interaction as she crafts her tones around the thought provoking lyrics, “The end is near now it’s time to change open up their eyes and set them free” and “Forget all you have seen or heard everything was just a lie”. Now these may sound like random lines, out of context, but in the grand scheme of things they are powerful and fitting.
The guitar runs and keyboard interactions really add depth, whilst the solid backline really drives, perfectly; sedate one moment, then more upbeat the next, crescendo’s rising and falling, creating the illusion of emotion. Rodrigo has spent some time layering this and the other two songs out, which is precise and exact in approach.
No is a far shorter piece, a more upbeat number seeing a very jazzy bass line, being incorporated into the mix, the layered keyboard work really complements the more aggressive guitar framework. Craig Kerley has a more passionate vocal approach, almost filled with angst, a cry of anger, resigned, loss of self belief, questioning his belief and understanding. Such is the looseness of the word play, its ambiguity; you could easily miss the connection, it really is a pivotal piece between 4378th Day and War, Act 2. The strength of the song though, could allow it to stand on its own two feet.
War, Act 2 is a dark post apocalyptical piece that changes the tone of the album, re affirming that this is really a concept of humanity and their re-alignment of their thoughts on how things should be after years of misconception, questioning the validity of mankind’s thought process, the realisation of what was, what is and what it should be, almost an epiphany, realising everything is not as perfect as hoped, musically reminding me somewhat of a cross between Black Sabbath and Rush.
Rodrigo has quite brilliantly used ethereal sound structures marrying them in places with powerful chord progression, thrown in some deft and funky bass passage work, strong and adept stickmanship and some stunning guitar runs, musically being fluid and dynamic, being mature beyond his age of only 22. This really is a showcasing of his musical talent, which for me is what makes his music so wonderful, unique and special, which is backed up by his strong lyrical penmanship, “I have become everything I despise I have become the same thing I always fought”.
Rodrigo has worked on this album over several months, devoting time and emotion, producing another very stunning and diverse album, (he could have quite easily produced another album similar to 1). His
first album 1 which I reviewed, received an impressive 8 out of 10. This for me is a far better album, being even more cohesive, stepping up to the plate to deliver that crucial sophomore album and definitely upping the ante. Boy did he hit the bullseye.
Ladies and gentlemen of the world, add this artist to your list for investigating, if you don’t know him yet, you really are missing out on something rather special. Furthermore do your self a favour, invest in this rather stunning album.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Dungen – Skitt I Allt
Tracklist: Vara Snabb (3:10), Min Enda Vän (3:15), Brallor (3:15), Soda (3:39), Högdalstoppen (4:44), Skitt I Allt (2:59), Barnen Undrar (3:21), Blandband (3:49), Nästa Sommar (3:20), Marken Låg Stilla (2:55)
I was drawn to this release because members of Dungen also form part of The Amazing whose album I reviewed back in January. Whilst I wasn’t overwhelmed by The Amazing, they were interesting enough for me to want to have a sniff at Dungen for the first time, just out of curiosity really. Like The Amazing, Dungen dabble in that late 60s psychedelic folk-rock sound that has its confluence with prog in the jazzy/folk fusion of the Canterbury sound. However, do not let me beguile you into believing that this bears much resemble to Soft Machine, Caravan et al. In fact, don’t let me beguile you into believing this is prog at all.
At only thirty four minutes, the whole album is as long as one track in some prog quarters. The ten slender ditties on offer here are, on the whole, as light and sweet as candy floss; sugary clouds with no nutritional value whatsoever but full of fairground distraction. Romany chic, glass and gold and highly polished chrome; the travelling life under open skies; self-sufficient, self-contained and clannish tradition veined with superstition. Dungen are musical gypsies unwilling to be penned in or tied down; defying governance and living by their own code outside the norms of civic society. I find this creative independence of their approach very satisfying. They bring a bit of then to now, blending the tried and tested with something totally contemporary.
This is my roundabout way of saying that I find their music hard to describe or categorize. It falls outside of my experience yet has a cohesive identity that I recognise. In broad strokes, what I hear are breezy, airy arrangements made all the more spacious by heavy reverb. Occasionally, Dungen go cloud-bathing in the thermosphere where they write tunes to accompany the Aurora, such as the dense and spacey Högdalstoppen or the driving, up tempo skydance that is Brallor. In other places there is an earthier feel to their compositions, like the title track with its lovely psyche/garage groove. Mostly though, these songs have a radiant lambency that would fit well alongside The Beach Boys or the hopeful pop songs of the early ‘70s, or those bucolic moments of The Beatles’ Abbey Road or The White Album, or maybe The Kinks’ dreamy ode to London, Waterloo Sunset. The lovely instrumental, Vara Snabb, that opens the album even has some big Duane Eddy guitar tones. I don’t think I’d be too wide of the mark to add Nico and The Velvet Underground to this list, especially in their Venus In Furs mode. These are rough pointers to the sound, but I’m not doing them justice with these scant references.
Often, the songs are full of summery sunshine. The exquisite Min Enda Vän has the nostalgia of a childhood memory; of running through tall grasses, the fascination and wonder of nature through small eyes and forming minds. The lens flares and silhouetted smiles of Soda toy in those same fields in a later summer with the innocent thrill, the rushing heart of a first kiss; playful teasing, fleeting glances and holding hands captured on 8mm film. Nästa Sommar musically laments the passing of the sun into a September shade with congas and acoustic six-string providing a pensive rhythmic backdrop for Gustav Estjes’ buttercream vocal.
The ethereal nature of these songs derives from the parts played by piano, flute and Reine Fiske’s (ex-Landberk) mercurial guitar work which is top notch, living happily with the bones of many of his rock and roll ancestors. From Jimi Hendrix to Joe Walsh via Lou Reed and Neil Young, there are elements of style that echo through his playing from these past masters, but we are hearing his own voice, his own interpretation and revision of these precedent vogues and nothing is overwrought. Estje’s uncomplicated piano work is on the money, adding drama and weight, but it’s in his use of the flute as an extra melodic voice that this airy quality I keep referring to is most palpable. Folding and refolding the melody, the flute work is a really important dynamic in the overall sound and very welcome to my ears each time it is used. Johan Holmegard’s crush-rolling, ghost-stroking and brushed drumming is not only expressive but also a feature of the rhythm section as a whole which uses a varied and interesting array of percussive instruments to confer understated but colourful texture to the songs. From the simplicity of the heavily reverbed handclaps in Min Enda Vän which, combined with a subtle cabasa, provide the only rhythmic accompaniment in the song, through to woodblocks, tambourines and a variety of shakers.
I think the main difficulty I have in holding more than an appreciation of this album is that it’s too light. These 10 songs are like canapés, insubstantial and gossamer light. Though rich in mellow flavours, I am merely left wanting more. I could listen to another 30 minutes of the gentler, dreamier side of Dungen’s work without feeling full. Conversely, their spacier, more raucous excursions do little for me and I shall leave those on the edge of my plate. I can’t give this album an all-embracing thumbs-up as a result. Nor do I think it would be of much interest to you, faithful reader, unless you already have a taste for such morsels as these. Just I said with The Amazing, in any other circumstance, for any other audience, I would feel comfortable with giving this work a solid 7 out of 10, but my reservations from the perspective of a prog audience mean I must dock half a mark, for being only marginally relevant to our peculiar tastes.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Pocketful – Ambiguous Signs
Tracklist: Voices (6:30), A Hint Of What Is Missing (5:18), Speak (5:09), Wasting My Time (5:15), When The Leaves Fell From The Trees (4:30), Wrong (2:41)
Pocketful – Evergreens
Tracklist: The Hundred Miles (5:49), Infection (6:15), Nobody Knows (4:14), And Once Again (1:35), Keep The Engine Running (4:20)
Pocketful – Sparkling Revisited
Tracklist: Sparkling (4:14), Before The Bullfight (6:08), Don’t Know Much (4:56), Behind Thoughts Part 1 (5:20)
Pocketful – A Sparrow’s Mind
Tracklist: A Sparrow’s Mind (4:50), Desire (5:00), She Won’t Steal My Thoughts Tonight (4:39), The Final Song (4:58)
Pocketful are a band hailing from Sweden who consist of Jerker Rellmark (vocals, keyboards and trumpet) and Johan Engström (guitars and keyboards), together with lyricist Joakim Gralén. Pocketful formed back in 2002 out of the remains of a long gone Swedish band. After three years together they released their first album called Sparkling, after which they vanished from the scene for a while, only to come back in 2008 with their first EP release for Ovanbeck Records called A Sparrow’s Mind. In contrast to the first album the come back EP received good critiques, resulting in the re-release of a handful of tracks from the Sparkling album, aptly called Sparkling Revisited. It had taken a while before a A Sparrow’s Mind saw the light of day, but in the meantime Pocketful kept writing and recording. Two more releases were to follow in the following year - Ambigious Signs and Pocketful Evergreens.
So far so good. In my opinion it is time to give some attention to this band. The music of Pocketful is on the edge of ambient, chamber music, down tempo and progressive. You could say the music has hints of No-Man, Blackfield along with Coldplay. The music is very mellow,
emotional, although there are the occasional up tempo songs. so the tenure of the music is mostly dark, ambient in style with the occasional cheerful song.
The end of 2010 sees a new EP album from Pocketful released and I was hoping to review that one along with the rest of their music, thus spanning their whole discography in one review. I have not yet received the album for review, so I need to do that next time around. Now for the individual EP’s and tracks in reverse order so the newest CD first.
Ambiguous Signs contains six tracks and before I start I can say the tracks here are all of a different nature.
Voices is the opening track for this EP and how they open it - a song that could easily be released as a single and with a high potential to become a huge international hit. If the media would only pick it up and play it of course. A pop-rock tune with a Coldplay like progressive edge to it, that honestly would appeal to a very broad audience as it is a damn good pop song.
A Hint Of What Is Missing, is a mellow, emotional song in the Blackfield mould. A very good melody, strong on vocals and with the addition of a female voice for the extra effect. Not too sombre but if one feels emotionally low, perhaps not one to listen to. The track features a nice trumpet solo in the middle of the song. Addictive - you keep listening (well I do anyway).
Ever heard of Kraftwerk? Well I know Pocketful have heard of this German band, as Speak, the song I am writing about now, is electronic based with voices over. Yet in many respects it is nothing like Kraftwerk, only the electronic sounds remind of the illustrious band of Autobahn fame. The singing of Jerker here sometimes reminds of Dahl Ohme from Gazpacho.
In Wasting My Time I feel as if I have stepped into the world of the mellow, jazzy blues - like the world of Sade and the likes, Again this song differs in intonation quite a bit from the rest. The common parts between all songs so far is the emotional spirit they contain.
When The Leaves Fell From The Trees has an amazing, unbelievable and addictive nature. It amazes me over and over that these songs all are of such a high standard, yet Pocketful have not been picked up, or even worse have gone unnoticed more or less. The sheer simplicity here makes it as progressive as you can get. A minimalistic approach, with grand choruses.
Wrong - this is Pocketful not Gazpacho. Need I say more - it’s that intriguing.
The Hundred Miles is the first evergreen, your classic down tempo rock song which is nicely crafted around a basic simple theme and then by adding many different sounds the tune excels - pure craftsmanship.
Infection again is electronic based, with high pitched vocals which could be done by Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson, albeit in a slightly altered arrangement - emotional, lots of electronic sounds.
Nobody Knows No-Man! Hell everybody here has heard of No-man, therefore I urge you listen to Pocketful, these guys can absolutely manage to reach the same high levels that No-man or Blackfield do.
And Once Again is something bands do every now and again, it is just a filler, with no additional value whatsoever. Too short to really stick to you and too long not to stay in your memory. Electro with vocals through a Vocoder I think.
With Keep The Engine Running comes along another Gazpacho like song with a solid approach by the boys. A highly intensive ballad.
Sparkling is a more up tempo song than most of the other songs performed by Pocketful. It has a happy song with a strong melody and has great potential as a single. A pop rock song, but again with a Gazpacho-like feel to it.
Before The Bullfight is a cover song originally performed by none other then David Sylvian. This beautiful version by Pocketful sees Jerker Rellmark’s (almost accentless) voice fitting perfectly to the lush music. One of my favourite tracks of all an awesome cover.
Don’t Know Much is another lush track, almost chamber music with a jazzy feel all over. A continuation of what had been started with Before The Bullfight. This is the type of lush, mellow music that Pocketful do best, absolutely full of emotion. Excellent music for a weary afternoon or just to relax to.
Behind Thoughts Part 1 continues the mellow tunes - the tenure of this song is a little different, but still high on relaxing feelings. Some slightly distorted guitar work is added in this song to finish the EP off.
The more and more I listen to the music of this excellent Swedish band the more the shivers run down my spine. Granted you need to be in “that” mood to really enjoy Pocketful's music. Well now on to the very last of the EP review in this bundle.
A Sparrow’s Mind:
This EP contains just 4 songs, with a total running time of 19:28 minutes, and is the shortest of the four EPs covered in this review. Now so far most of the music described has been down tempo, well A Sparrow’s Mind breaks the mould and starts with a more or less more up (mid) tempo song.
The title track is the starter for this EP, as said a mid tempo song with a wink to the progressive sounds of the "ever so" often mentioned No-Man and Gazpacho. Maybe it is Jerker’s voice that offers most the hints to their Norwegian colleagues. A well structured song with more guitar than most of the other songs.
The second track here is Desire. A song that works very well with good lyrics, a well sung chorus that again gives it a pop song element, but with that great mellow atmosphere the Pocketful can create. Desire is also a more mid tempo type song with a "breathing hunger" present.
She Won’t Steal My Thoughts Tonight has a mellow jazzy feeling to it and again the rich kind of sound I would expect from the likes of No-Man, but with yet again with pointers towards Sade - especially the atmosphere> A touch of brass as a finishing touch.
The aptly titled The Final Song rounds off this review. A duet sung by Jerker and Terese Oresten.
All throughout this review I have been searching for one word to describe the atmosphere in these songs. Melancholia is that word and well, it’s full of melancholia. This is Very well structured, basically straightforward music, but with a twist.
Ambiguous Signs: 7.5 out of 10
Evergreens: 7 out of 10
Sparkling Revisited: 7.5 out of 10
A Sparrow’s Mind: 7 out of 10
Awenson – Wizard
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||DR 8468|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Hypnotic Ways (30:08), Psychedelic Dream (41:12)
It doesn’t seem that long ago when electronic music was primarily relegated to the newly created ambient space genre. The recent offering from Awenson (Joël Bernard) seems to have come straight from the beginning. The one-man band concept using sequencers to build upon a continuous stream of gentle sounds is employed much in the way of Jean Michel Jarre.
This one coming from a German influenced French composer, the album is Wizard and is the follow up to Awen’s Shadows released back in 2005 and follows the same trend for period and technology (slight name change notwithstanding.) This reminds me a lot of Oxygene or Equinox from Jarre’s early and well-known work where the thrust of the emotion for this music is directed toward a relaxed, meditative experience. I have been a fan of this European styling of chill-out music since its inception so the retro feel to my ears is akin to wearing a comfortable old shirt that refuses to wear out.
The choice to lay this album down in two long tracks fills the continuous flow bill nicely for this genre. Never does it wander from its prime directive to invoke relaxation and the transition from the first track to the next is marked by a slight shift in sounds employed to continue the meditative saga, namely simple structure and smooth transitions.
There are some slight drawbacks, however; a small glimpse past the nostalgia reveals an obvious drawback to the contemporary crowd: it takes far too long to develop the tracks into the real meat of the tune. The case is best expressed in the second track where it takes a full 10 minutes of “deep space” type sound effects to break into the substance. There is a tendency to dwell on the minimal for far too long when it is unnecessary for this style.
My criticism is coming from the point of view of a “progressive” review. Where this album is progressive in the respect that it builds on a simple concept, pulls back, and builds again, it could have made strides with this audience by using the same nostalgic device to make a modern case. Shorter intros and faster development would allow for more “progression” into a more complex and intricate framework. There are many examples of this where relaxation is not sacrificed in the quest for interest (attention span) such as the Fahrenheit Projects, Bluetech, Cell or HUVA Network where subtlety is amplified and the dreamscape is vivid and varied.
Again, my criticism is purely from the point of view of the progressive theme here at DPRP, which asks a lot of the music reviewed here. Tangerine Dream is a staple of progressive electronic music, and it falls short most of the time for me.
Simply put, if you are a fan of the electronic music of early Kitaro, Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Ambient Voids, you will likely find this to be an inviting return. It is different enough, but quite similar. I enjoyed this album and won’t hesitate to take it out again next time I lay out all night for a meteor shower.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10