Reviews in this issue:
- Hamadryad – Intrusion
- Magic Pie - The Suffering Joy
- Nichelodeon - Il Gioco Del Silenzio
- MindSplit – Charmed Human Arts Of Significance
- Robert Illesh - Golden
- The Machine – Drie
- Sungrazer - Sungrazer
- Taylor’s Free Universe - Two Pack
- Colster - Colster
- Information Superhighway - This Is Not The Ending
Hamadryad – Intrusion
Tracklist: Funk-A-Trunk (8:55), Pray To My God (11:15), Lap Of Love (6:34), Sentenced (6:12), Here And Now (6:55), In My Country (5:32), Torture Zone (5:37), He Was Recalling Memories But You Know I Didn’t Believe A Single Word Because, No Matter How Much Emphasis He Was Putting In It… Still Smelled Like Bull Sh*t [a.k.a. Liar] (5:43)
Intrusion marks Hamadryad’s third studio release since their 2001 debut Conservation Of Mass and it’s been five years in the making since ‘05s Safe In Conformity. Gatot Widayanto loved these earlier albums, recommending them both highly and I’m certainly going to track them down. As to whether they bear any semblances to Intrusion remains to be seen, but it appears that this is a band that likes to walk the rocky shores of uncertainty. You’ll find all the best artists there. I say this because the line-up for Intrusion is new, as was the case between albums one and two. Equally, they themselves acknowledge that none of their albums are strictly alike and that they actively seek to vary their output, “transcending passing trends”.
Facilitating this, Intrusion showcases only two of the original Hamdryad line-up in the shape of bassist, Jean-François Désilets who also sings lead and backing vocals and guitarist Denis Jalbert. Keys are played by Sébastien Cloutier and drums are shared by principal sticksman, Nicolas Turcotte with Yves Jalbert (Hamadryad’s original drummer) who features on two tracks (Funk-A-Trunk and Pray to My God). Perhaps the greatest innovation is the recruitment of Jean-Phil Major as a dedicated lead vocalist, not a tack they’ve sailed before. Jean-Phil is able to adopt a range of vocal styles that vary from theatrical, almost musical theatre clarity and vibrato, to a fine take of Serj Tankian (System Of A Down) in Lap Of Love and Funk-A-Trunk. There’s also something of David Bowie’s cool, slightly dissonant Hunky Dory croon as well as Bowie’s capacity to change vocal character, section to section, song to song. There’s also a bit of ‘tinging’ (modulated talking), in Funk-A-Trunk, Lost and Liar all of which makes for a versatile and engaging performance. What’s more, he’s a great storyteller. I want to listen to what he is saying, to follow the narrative lyrics which are worthy of a mention in their own right, but, before I do, I think it’s also worth mentioning that Benoit David (Yes, Mystery) makes a guest appearance on In My Country. Again, just for the record, the closing instrumental section of this song is gorgeous; think Transatlantic meets The Flower Kings (and I think I mean that as much for the overall sound of the album as this track). In My Country is followed by the glorious instrumental, Torture Zone. This adds up to about 8 minutes of spectacularly good music segueing seamlessly into Lost, but I digress.
There’s a lot of collaboration gone into the libretto for these songs. The trio of Jean-François Désilets, Christian Lamarche, and Yves Jalbert share the honours for what I consider to be a dramatic and often humorous songsheet. Humour is not the right word though. I think absurd would be more fitting. Any attempt at humour in music is apt to implosion and immediately prone to accusations of facile juvenility or mere silliness if not handled well. There are precedents of course, and you can take your pick from the prog annals of good and bad to know what I mean. Here, suffice it to say that the lyrics of Intrusion are as much a part of the musical landscape as any of the instruments and they lend rich character to the album by allowing it to be judged on a kind of literary level.
Funk-A-Trunk is a Martin Scorcese movie in song. Written from the perspective of an about-to-be-dead victim of a mobster or gangland killing whose body will be disposed of in the in the trunk of an old car, driven into a lake, is stellar on all fronts. Pray To My God is a vitriolic, impassioned litany on the double-standards of religion and the gullibility of believers (“Fear the sacred doll”), Lap Of Love is concerned with and about E-sex in all its ubiquitous manifestations; from social networking to webcams. Sentenced pokes its thumbs into the ribs of the rich by describing the imagined torment and anguish of someone born ‘by accident’ into wealth and privilege who is the “prisoner of life, subject to everyone’s envy”. In My Country has an autobiographical feel about a band unable to play a gig because they are turned away from immigration/border control, presumably of the USA (“Unwelcome, where is the freedom/We’ve heard so much about?”). Lost is an angrily told tale of a wasted youth seeking higher consciousness in the grip of drugs and booze. It’s a tale of addiction and, ultimately, the freedom from it. Liar is, as the superbly verbose full title (see above) would suggest, about the irritation of being trapped in a situation with a liar.
An eclectic bag then and whilst not exactly songs of revolution or a particularly refined social conscience, they are songs that are about something and there’s plenty to ruminate over and, even sing along too occasionally. I think this says something about the album’s structure too. Primarily, these are self-contained songs. There are no epics here – just, on average, six or seven minute long vignettes, each describing a scene in a new way. Progressive almost by definition; each song redefines the tenor of the album by using a slightly different palette. All 118 elements of the periodic table, created in the heart of a dying star are seeded through the cosmos in a supernova. This is Intrusion. It’s a musical supernova. Everything you could conceivably wish for in an album of progressive music is here: from the avant garde, to moments of pure acoustic grace.
I’d like you to take it as read that the musicianship of each player is absolutely top-notch, but I want you emphasise a few highlights. I’ll start with the drums. They are incredibly accurately miked and beautifully acoustic, sounding round, sprung and tuned to perfection; the snare snaps and rings with a lean, muscular definition. Fills and accents on the toms tumble through the stereo phasing like gymnasts and this is a general reflection of the superb production throughout the album for every instrument. The dynamics are crisp and the balance in the arrangements keeps everything in motion: sometimes fluid, sometimes angular and often both in parallel to create a kind of centrifugal effect that separates the sonic substance by weight with extraordinary clarity. Twiddled by Jean-François and Denis, these guys really know how to set up a studio!
Extensively shifting time signatures, compound rhythms and syncopations amplify this pitch and yaw in the superb rhythm section. Jean-François’ fabulous bass work is full of style and character, shifting in and out of sync with the musical trajectory, but always propelling events with the power of a riptide. Denis’ guitar has more personalities than Sybil Dorsett in what I consider to be one of the best studio performances I’ve heard all year. His musicality is just one staggeringly engaging facet of the profoundly complex but always legible and accessible compositions, including a brief and joyous mandolin in Pray To My God and Sentenced. Sébastien’s keyboard work is an often exhilarating combination of dense, churning Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes with e-piano accompanied by a wonderful array of synth pads and leads that remind me very much of Andy Tillison in style. In fact, there’s something about this album that bears comparison with The Tangent in sound and style.
I’ve no idea whether I’ve even come close to giving an accurate impression of Intrusion to you. There’s so much going on that it goes beyond my desire to talk about all of it to you and even to know how to describe it. I hope that I’m doing it justice and I hope that my enthusiasm for what I’m hearing is being translated by your eyes into something your ears need to hear, because, at the end of the day, that’s my message to you. Get your hands on this album. It almost defines modern prog and I’m sure that there’s something for all of our readers within it and, if anyone ever wants to know what prog sounds like, just wave this CD under their noses. For me, it’s one of the best albums of 2010 that I only picked up in December. I’ve been playing it almost daily ever since and it’s still dazzling and astonishing me with every spin. Everything’s a highlight and this is as close as I’ve come to scoring an album with a ten. Even then, the only thing that’s stopping me is a principle: that which is perfect is already in decay. Perfect order tends to perfect disorder. That’s the only reason the second law of thermodynamics is in my review and the only reason I’m not giving a ten.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Magic Pie - The Suffering Joy
Tracklist: A Life's Work (24:18): Part 1 - Questions Unanswered (1:17), Part 2 - Overture (3:24), Part 3 - A Brand New Day (2:28), Part 4 - The Suffering Joy (17:09), Headlines (9:30), Endless Ocean (3:12), Slightly Mad (9:48), Tired (15:22), In Memoriam (8:40)
After creating a great deal of interest in prog circles with their 2005 debut Motions Of Desire and even more so with the 2007 follow up Circus Of Life, Magic Pie appear to have let the momentum slip of late. Album releases are not the only focus of a band’s activities of course and they’ve certainly remained busy on the gigging front including visits to the US and UK. With a near four year gap separating The Suffering Joy and the last album it was important that they came up with a strong successor. All the requisite ingredients are certainly in place with the line-up remaining virtually unchanged from the previous two releases. The one exception is Eirikur Hauksson (lead vocals) who replaces Allan Olsen although the change is perhaps less apparent than would be initially expected. Otherwise its business as usual with Eirik Hanssen (vocals), Kim Stenberg (guitars, vocals), Lars Petter Holstad (bass), Gilbert Marshall (keyboards, vocals) and Jan Torkild Johannessen (drums).
The album’s contradictory title is for me symbolic of the band itself, mixing as they do contemporary symphonic prog and prog-metal with classic 70’s rock. Like fellow Scandinavians’ Moon Safari they also recognise the value of strong vocals in addition to strong musicianship. Similar to its two predecessors, the album’s twenty-five minute core piece A Life's Work is subdivided into individually titled songs. As the cover artwork suggests, it concerns the approach of old age and reflecting on the complexity of a life that’s gone before. The opening Questions Unanswered is a short but poignant vocal and keyboard arrangement that leads into the prog-metalish instrumental Overture which is reminiscent of Dream Theater and Neal Morse at their overblown best. In stark contrast is the reflective A Brand New Day which could have easily been the work of The Flower Kings with delicate harmonies and a beautiful (Mellotron) flute melody.
As its length would imply, the title song The Suffering Joy goes through numerous twists and turns incorporating themes from the previous three tracks. The memorable chorus is surrounded by some particularly fine individual sections both vocal and instrumental. In the former category is a lengthy section that utilises crunching riffs and female backing vocals (courtesy of guest Maria Bentzen) to add a definite Ayreon flavour to the proceedings. There is also some very fast and flashy guitar and organ interplay that sounds like it’s meant to impress and if that’s the case it succeeds. The ending for me however is a little disappointing, not sounding anywhere near as grand as it might have done.
Headlines makes good use of the band’s multiple vocal talents with Hauksson’s bombastic delivery complemented by superb but not over elaborate counterpoint harmonies. The uplifting instrumental midsection is a real joy with guitar and synth blending so precisely it’s hard to tell which is which. Endless Ocean is the album’s token acoustic diversion but it’s a good one with another strong chorus and west coast harmonies in the style of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Slightly Mad on the other hand lives up to its title with impressively frantic instrumental work that brings to mind Liquid Tension Experiment and Spock’s Beard’s Skeletons At The Feast. The jazz-funk mid section is equally well played particularly the guitar solo but the laidback song part that concludes (again featuring Maria Bentzen) means that for me the track overall is a little too fragmented for its own good.
In addition to A Life's Work the album’s other epic contender is Tired which despite the downbeat title opens with a stirring synth fanfare. With its repetitive lines and spoken samples, the vocal arrangement admittedly borrows from Pink Floyd’s Eclipse but there’s enough fresh ideas going on to justify its fifteen plus minute length. Again the harmonies are effective without being overdone and yet more metal guitar and organ shredding features showy musicianship particularly from Stenberg. It’s worth noting at this point that Stenberg is responsible for writing and arranging all the songs on the album in addition to the production and mixing.
The concluding In Memoriam has a distinct retro feel with a suitably sinister vocal and sprawling bluesy guitar work. The chorus is however more uplifting than the title would suggest with Hauksson’s raunchy vocal bringing Bruce Dickinson readily to mind. The closing, half spoken lines “Is God the maker of this complex scheme, Am I his decoy through my suffering joy?” reprises the lyrics from the opening song Questions Unanswered, effectively bringing the album full circle.
This is another impressive release from Stenberg and co. demonstrating their acute ability to blend a variety of styles (albeit mostly in a prog vein) into an entertaining whole. If I had to add one note of criticism then for me it’s the occasional lapse into prog-metal cliché usually following a lyrical vocal section. The intention here I’m sure is to emphasis their ability to create light and shade which I have to concede they do remarkably well. Otherwise there is little to fault here and certainly new man Hauksson adds an extra dimension with his dynamic delivery. Like the two previous Magic Pie releases this comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Nichelodeon - Il Gioco Del Silenzio
CD: Fame (3:53), Fiaba (6:56), Claustrofilia (5:27), Malamore E La Luna (9:00), Amanti In Guerra (5:56), Ombre Cinesi (5:30), Apnea (7:14), Il Giardino Degli Altri (8:16), "unamed track" (1:45), Se (7:49), Lana Di Vetro (7:55), Cio Che Rimane (8:59)
DVD: Il Gioco Del Silenzio ~ Nichelodeon In Concert Live A Solemn Preface, Ombre Cinesi, Apnea, Se, Cio Che Rimane, Malamore E La Luna: “Passaggio Nella Loggia Nera” – Twin Peaks Live Soundtrack Prologue Liberami (Tabernacolo Erotico), Pt1 A Walk In The Black Lodge (Sycamore Trees), Pt2 The Blank, Pt3 RR Diner, Pt4 Return To The Black Lodge [Firewalking], Pt5 Out Of The Lodge (Come Sta Annie?)
The literal translation of the album title is “The game of silence”, which is certainly something that this album is not. For me this should be a much talked about album.
Nichelodeon are a septet that consists of Francesco Chiapperini (saxes, clarinet flute and EWI), Andrea Illuminati (piano, melodica and bombarda), Claudio Milano (voice), Andrea Murada (percussions, noise effects, didjeridoo, rhythmic vocals and flute), Max Pierini (upright bass and ocarina), Luca Pissavini (viola, synth, toy instruments, field recordings, duduk, no input mixer and theremin) and Lorenzo Sempio (guitars).
Nichelodeon the Italian prog miesters have released their first studio album Il Gioco Del Silenzio. This is a band/album that needs to be heard to be believed, an avant grade art rock album that oozes class from beginning to end. Such is the magnitude of the musical compositional approach and tones, you can’t but be impressed, it’s just mesmerizing and will leave you with your jaw slack and mouth wide open with the intensity of the creations here. It’s been some time since an album of this genre has really grabbed my attention so much. This is a band that doesn’t care about how music should be approached or sound, they just create their own version, or should that be vision, imagine David Lynch married with the excellence of Diamanda Galas producing a musical protégé and calling it Nichelodeon, having a somewhat childlike curiosity, now you are somewhere in the ballpark.
The initial artwork is strange but rather compelling, a beautiful use of simplicity and colour, although remaining complex and dark in its metaphor. The inclusion of the DVD in this package is a pure act of genius that needs to be witnessed. We are presented with the band playing their discordant music, a sight to behold, especially watching the vocalist Claudio Milano using his vocal as a pure musical identity in itself, knowing no real boundaries in its construction of musical passage. It is also impressive to see the band create songs from this album live too. The real genius though of this DVD is the section called, “Passaggio Nella Loggia Nera” which translates to “A walk inside the black lodge”. This is just the bee’s knees as it, “collects part of the repertoire of the group in some ill-tempered interpretations and incorporates them in the soundtrack of the last episode of Twin Peaks”, (being Twin Peaks 20th anniversary show), which is just magnificent. As with Lynches prime work it is rather intriguing and compelling. Such is the dynamics and the approach of the band the two just go hand in hand. The quality of the picture and sound transfer to the DVD is outstanding and features material from the said Twin Peaks episode interjected with their music. I certainly never saw that coming, which brought back fond memories of the very weird, wonderful and eclectic TV series.
Musically you can’t but fail to be impressed! This is highbrow entertainment, from the opening Fame where the band state their claim in what they are about. Their non-rhythmic tones really rattle around almost compelling, having a resistible effect on your senses, offering a culmination of beauty and weirdness in one fowl swoop. This is a theme that belies the whole recording throughout. One minute the music is sedate, peaceful and beautiful, the next it’s confused, aggressive and dark. The musicianship is of a very high standard, the construct of the album has been well thought-out and maturely presented, addictive in its nature. In fact I would go as far as to say that Claudio Milano is one of the best male vocalists I have ever heard, without a shadow of doubt, which when it is married with the other six band members equates to a perfection.
Although the lyrics are in Italian, the booklet that comes with the album has the English translations, which adds a whole new meaning and dimension to the songs. They are powerful, stark and reactionary both in their delivery and translation.
Fame which opens the album really poses a dilemma as it initially sounds like Rammstein vocally, but it’s not long before that comparison fades away. The jazzy interludes and keyboard soirees intermingled with Claudio’s vocals just takes the whole creation to another level. It all has a very transparent interaction, making the music sound maligned, evil in disposition. Fiaba doesn’t echo the same sentiment as Fame with its loving opening passages, being sparse and barren before the emptiness is filled with some magnificent and creative tones, which can be cacophonous in approach initial, but that is the genius of the whole creation here. What leads people to create such intrinsic wordplay is beyond me, but all I can say is thanks for doing so. Claustrofilia balances a discordant sound with perfection, whilst poetic justice is created around the dark almost erotic confined tones, which add to the complete intensity of the piece. Malamore E La Luna the longest piece on the album sees Claudio being the main protagonist with his vocal gymnastics, whilst the rest of the band fills in around his workout. It works on so many levels emotionally, taking a similar approach to Claustrofilia but offering more diversity, the crescendo of tones married with the often unique interjections, one minute supporting the next leading, the madness really adding another layer to the complete structure. This is not a straight forward piece by any stretch of the imagination, but Andrea Illuminati’ contribution to the whole feel is beyond reproach.
Amanti In Guerra is another rather melancholic piece that offers story telling of the highest order, stated and impassioned, lovers at war, (the translation of the title), has a body of layered vocals, that are just dynamic and beautiful. Ombre Cinesi initial haunting tones, oriental in approach, confiscate the reality of life, having an almost religious demeanour in places before the madness of the piece transpires, offering a soundtrack of support to the vocals, in a storyline manner, almost like a chaotic piece of artwork. To read the lyrics from Apnea is one thing, but looking at the bigger picture it only confirms the creative power of Nichelodeon, to be able to succinctly define the topic with such accuracy, musically is just astounding. The band following this up with, Il Giardino Degli Altri for me the best song on the whole album, a song of confusion, powerful and commanding, which defines Milano’s vocals for the power house that they are, Native Indian or Aboriginal sounding passages that really labour the mind, compellingly. Track nine which has no name, it is for all intent and purpose the weakest track here, a short interlude before Se starts, another strange and questioning track, which again sees Illuminati’s interesting dextrous finger work. The meter and timber is almost non-existent but is supported by the anarchic interactions of Chiapperini and Pissavini amongst others. Penultimate track Lana Di Vetro with its persuasive, melodic and repeating rhythmic theme, offers the nearest thing to any form of commercialism the band touch on. As the album started, it closes with calm eloquence in the form of Cio Che Rimane, which builds and shadows an approach that you would expect from the likes of Galas, which in comparison is a high accolade to bestow.
It can be quite easy to be dismissive about this genre, but in doing so with albums this good, will lead to you missing out on something excellent indeed. As a band they have intelligently crafted and manipulated several genres together, contemporary classical, jazz, psychedelic, electronic sound design, noise, world music and new avant garde. It is quite easy to get carried away sometimes in the wash and excitement, but this really is hand on heart an album worth trying, even if you don’t buy another album of this genre. Now only if I could persuade the band to send me more of their creations?
What leads people to create such intrinsic wordplay and grandeur music like this is beyond me, but all I can say is thank you for doing so.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
MindSplit – Charmed Human Arts Of Significance
Tracklist: Prologue - The Awakening (2:46), Silhouettes (12:33), The Traveller (3:31), Presence Of Time (7:28), ...Elsewhere (2:47), Inside The Heart Of Silence (9:05), Battle Of The Mind (4:51), Visual Minds – The Eternal Flame (4:14), NMe - Myself & I (4:26), Through The Eyes Of A Child (3:11), A Room With Thousand Doors (2:54), A Purpose Of Circumstance (10:02), Abandoned Echoes (6:29), Epilogue – The Imaginary End (1:08)
MindSplit is the brainchild of H.B. Anderson (vocals) and Mathias Holm (guitar), two musicians who have been working on and off together on regular basis - both solo as well as a band members in various projects. A couple of years back they decided to start a band of their own and to finally make the album they had always wanted to make - thus Mindsplit was founded. The other members in MindSplit are: Conny Payne (bass), Jon Skäre (drums) and Jonas Lidström (keyboards).
MindSplit hail from the Nordic country of Sweden, yet another progmetal band from the land that has already brought so many great bands. Yes, MindSplit is another fine band from that region and with the album Charmed Human Arts Of Significance [C.H.A.O.S.] they deliver a fine debut. It has, however, taken me quite some time to get the hang of the music as MindSplit produce a cross between neo-progressive tunes as we might here from bands such as Pendragon and/or IQ, but less symphonic. Whilst there are pointers towards Dream Theater and/or Shadow Gallery - even Ayreon.
Looking at the titles of the various songs on this lengthy album, you may think you have ended up in some shrinks office with all those deep titles. What to say about Inside The Heart Of Silence - now tell me what does this suggest to you? What do Mindsplit think? Well they find it needs a soulful start by piano and acoustic guitar, light percussion with flute and H.B. singing almost as if it were a religious tune. But then as the song passes the 1:30 minute mark we find ourselves inside the heart, (probably), with heavy music which is far from the silence in fact the drum sound is pounding - as steady as a beating heart. The song develops further and further it gathers pace, moving faster and faster. The overall feel of the song reminds me strongly of Ayreon on the album Into The Electric Castle. A strong song with good structure, but alas a familiar sound...
The complete idea for the album came to existence when H.B. Anderson found notes belonging to his late great, great grandfather. He had been compiling notes during therapy sessions all around the world and drawn them up into a kind of fantasy like world, with a highly philosophical inclination. The fantasy has inspired the boys in MindSplit to come up with what we could call another typecasting in CHAOS theory - although that is of course far fetched.
The more and more I listened to the album, the more inspirational it became, with all the twists and turns in the songs, the temperament changes, as well as tempo differences, sometimes changing more than once in one song. Also the more I listen I get a feeling H.B. surely must have had a role in one of Ayreon's albums - but as I cannot find his name anywhere then this is not so.
What I do know is his way of bringing the songs across vocally is of a high standard indeed, his voice could be typecast along the veins of Allen, Lande, King to name a few. A very powerful voice, capable of bringing across the emotions in a song. Musically Charmed Human Arts Of Significance is of a high standard and fans of the genre will have found themselves a new band. I have done my best to find a style within the progressive genre MindSplit might fit into, but it just is not one but many. But most likely I think it is heavy progressive, with a twist. I couldn’t really find a flaw on the album, or it must be, it all sounds a little too familiar, a bit too Ayreon like - but still it is different.
I conclusion I would like to say that I have not done a track by track because I feel the album needs to be listened to as a whole - I know it will take some time to sit through but believe me you won’t even notice you’ve been listening and enjoying the music for 75 minutes. It is over before you know it and guess what that is what makes this album outstanding, therefore, this album by MindSplit comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Robert Illesh - Golden
Tracklist: Tribute (2:34), By Candlelight (11:01), Shades Of Twilight (8:04), A Lady's Tune (3:12), Autumn (5:34), Missing You (3:20), Repose (7:49), Golden (6:06), Epilogue (3:43)
The name Robert Illesh is not one that readily springs to mind but he’s a talented guitarist, composer and producer with an interesting pedigree. Born in 1971, he’s been playing guitar since the age of 11 and has worked with Steve Howe and Jon Anderson (Yes), Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull) as well as being lead guitarist with UK based Yes tribute band Fragile. He joined the latter in 2000 and it was with other Fragile members past and present that he recorded the impressive self titled Aquaplanage album in 2008.
Illesh’s first recorded solo outing is exactly that, one man and his acoustic guitar (or rather several acoustic guitars) played with impeccable timing, technique and feel. Like me, you could be forgiven for expecting the playing to be heavily influenced by Steve Howe but that’s not the case. Illesh doesn’t feel a need to indulge in a multitude of generic styles like jazz, blues, country or folk, instead the focus here is on light, but beautifully evocative melodies.
The opening track Tribute may be the album’s shortest but it’s also one of the strongest with a gloriously sunny theme and just hint of wordless vocals. Like many of the pieces here the guitars are double tracked with the melody line from one guitar underpinned by the rhythm of another. The end result is a full and rich sound allowing Illesh to conjure up a varied range of textures and emotions particularly during the lengthy By Candlelight. At different points the playing here evokes Steve Hackett’s acoustic work on his early solo albums (Star Of Sirius comes to mind) and Neal Morse’s acoustic diversions with Spock’s Beard. Illesh makes good use of the latter’s technique (also used by Trevor Rabin) of suddenly speeding up and then slowing down again.
Shades Of Twilight sees Illesh’s classical influences surfacing with wonderfully emotive Spanish guitar playing which at times is reminiscent of Hackett’s signature tune Horizons. Autumn captures the mood of the season perfectly with Illesh adding the wistful sound of the recorder before being joined by a lovely string arrangement courtesy of Sarah Turner (violin, viola) and Val Banks (cello). Likewise the strings give an added dimension to the memorable and intimate Missing You which could be described as a ballad without the words. The title track Golden brings the rich, chiming acoustic style of Anthony Phillips to the fore leaving the appropriately titled Epilogue to provide a suitably poignant close.
Listening to this collection it’s clear that this has been a labour of love for Illesh and suggests that he’s a romantic at heart. Special mention should also go to his first rate production and the mastering by Rob Aubrey. Played on a good hi-fi system the guitars resonate with sharpness and depth and even when transferred to the car the unwanted sounds fail to diminish the sonic clarity. This is music for reflection, meditation or just simply enjoying.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Machine – Drie
Tracklist: Pyro (5:06), Sunbow (9:15), Medulla (6:00), Aurora (3:29), Tsiolkovsky’s Budget ~ a. S-IC, b. S-II, c. S-IVB (15:50), Paradox (1:55), First Unique Prime (17:58), Jam No. Phi (10:21)
The Machine are a Dutch trio, Drie being their third album. Given the label it’s released on, and the length of the songs (not to mention their titles!), you’ll probably not be surprised that we’re in psychedelic/stoner rock territory here. Whilst the opening cut Pyro suggests the band might be little more than Jimi Hendrix wannabies, they show more variety on subsequent tracks – Medulla has some good fuzzed-up, spacey riffs, Aurora is an acoustic track with nicely strummed guitars ala early seventies Pink Floyd, whilst Paradox has a tight groove and some big riffs in the chorus.
It’s the epics that really allow the band to stretch out; the three-part Tsiolkovsky’s Budget builds very nicely, from its’ Echoes like opening through some sinewy guitar lines and mantra-like vocals, through a mid-section of juddering, heavy riffs and chunky groove, to a wah-wah drenched finale. First Unique Prime has a slow, spacey build up, with a consistent groove allowing the band to experiment with different textures and sounds before a wild freak-out of a jam closes things out.
At over seventy nine minutes, you could argue that some trimming could have taken place, and some of the riffing is a little generic, but this is countered by the band’s strong sense of building up atmosphere, and in particular by David Eering’s excellent lead guitar work, blending imaginative use of the effects pedal with a strong sense of melody. It all adds up to another strong genre release from Elektrohasch.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sungrazer - Sungrazer
Tracklist: If (7:42), Intermezzo (3:49), Somo (7:05), Common Believer (7:44), Zero Zero (5:23), Mountain Dusk (7:12)
Elektrohasch have made something of a niche for themselves in recent years, discovering new talent that explores various different areas within the wide ranging ‘psychedelic’ musical spectrum. Sungrazer, a relatively new band from the Netherlands, mine a variety of sounds that fall within that umbrella on this debut offering.
Opener If serves as a good introduction to the band’s sound; Hendrix-style guitar licks (think Crosstown Traffic) are married to a blissed-out stoner groove worthy of prime-time Kyuss. Dreamy vocals and a whelter of spacey sound effects lead to an atmospheric finale reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive.
The next few tracks show the mellower side of the band; guest Conny Schneider provides some sparse, almost ambient saxophone playing on the chilled out Intermezzo; Somo is an extended, dreamy ballad with some spectral guitar playing from front-man Rutger Smeets, whilst Common Believer builds from a mellow start to a more powerful, full-bodied chorus similar to those favoured by UK band Amplifier. There are some good doomy riffs on this one, although it probably outstays its welcome a little.
Zero Zero features some edgy riffs reminiscent of nineties alternative bands such as Soundgarden, whilst Mountain Dusk returns to the spacey groove and stoner riffs of the earlier songs.
The album was recorded on analogue equipment, and this certainly shows in the open sound which, if a little rough around the edges, suits the songs well. Given the genre, this probably isn’t an album that will appeal to all readers of this site, but for those who do enjoy music in the psychedelic/stoner field, this is well worth a listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Taylor’s Free Universe - Two Pack
CD 1: Heavy Friends (5:13), The Ghost Of Goran (9:56), Stoned Mushrooms (7:19)
CD 2: Dark City (11:41), Don’t You Miles Me! (11:53)
Personnel on Disc One: Robin Taylor (electric guitars, keyboard, basses and percussions), Jakob Mygind (tenor sax), Carsten Sindvald (soprano and tenor sax), Klaus Thane (drums) and Louise Nipper (voices)
Personnel on Disc Two: Robin Taylor (guitar), Karsten Vogel (soprano and tenor sax), Pierre Tassone (violin), Assi Roar (bass) and Rasmus Grosell (drums)
This is a nice little package, two 3” CD’s with the interesting and captivating tones of multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor. Taylor’s Free Universe Two Pack offers diversity, showmanship and that all important virtuosity. Make no mistake here Robin Taylor is an awesome guitarist, a guy who is full of musical ideas and isn’t afraid to show it either.
Since 1991 he has released 29 albums, which to be honest is quite prolific. The question then is this. Can someone so prolific be any good? Well I can’t speak for his past works, 19 of his albums have been reviewed here at DPRP headquarters, with only 2009’s Artificial Joy being DPRP recommended and Family Shot getting short sharp shrift; so all the bases are covered really. So I guess it’s time for me to stick my neck and reputation on the line and see where I stand with his work. From what I have heard here and I know experimental avant garde approaches aren’t everyone’s choice, I really love what has been created.
The personnel that feature on the disks differ for both albums, as does the musical approach, CD1 being slightly heavier, more rhythmic and structured, as opposed to the more freeformed jazz experimental avant garde approach of CD2. Not to court controversy, but I love both the approaches that Robin has taken, it for me highlights his willingness to take risks and excel in doing so.
Heavy Friends the shortest piece here has some really fascinating guitar tones that are just brought to life by the punctuation of Mygrind’s tenor sax interactions, a perfect combination, which seem to be built around a steady toned foundation. The Ghost Of Goran is an interesting piece being more sedate in its approach than Heavy Friends. Sindvald’s sax alights the piece, with its astute sagacious and atmospheric approach; beautiful, scaling heady heights as it travels to its finality. Stoned Mushrooms sees Taylor’s dexterous fingers working their magic over the keyboards; a highly layered instrumental whose meter and timbre dances eloquently around, being held together by Thranes adept drumming, confirming that Taylor can work well within a structured environment too.
Dark City moves in opposite circles to the tracks on CD1 as does Don’t You Miles Me! being braver and more audacious in their approach. Dark City offers its magnificent, convoluted tones that are driving, aggressive, masculine and daring. The precision of musicianship here is second to none, which is reinforced by the rather excellent production. Although we have the group working to the same ends their individual interactions are just majestic; their little runs here and there really texture the soundscapes. Don’t You Miles Me!, although not as aggressive as Dark City, it is musically more acerbic, which feels like a nod and a wink to the excellence of Miles Davis. The balance of this piece is written around Vogel’s Sax tones as opposed to Dark City which was been constructed around Taylor’s guitar virtuosity; in actuality the whole band are just on fire. The combination of Taylor and Vogel has produced something rather interesting to these ears.
If you are prepared to take Taylor’s challange and listen to these two discs you might be genuinely surprised.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Colster - Colster
Tracklist: Searching Absolution [fase 1] (6:05), The First Wail (6:27), Everyday Life (8:44), Island Asylum (8:18), Mind Rejection (2:26), Searching Absolution [fase 2] (3:31), Searching Absolution [fase 3] (3:59), Melancholy (4:15), Se Through The Tears (5:13)
Livio Cravero (bass, guitar, synths) and Franscesco Previotto (drums, percussion) from Italy together form Colster and here with their self-titled album they make their debut album. Colster was created by the two band members as an outlet for their experiences in life, both the positive and negative sensations from their past lives, their musical influences, their experiences through travelling. This gave them the freedom of creativity to produce this instrumental release using whatever musical style, genre was needed. This includes progressive rock, psychedelic sounds, ambient atmospheres, mixing blues, rock Jazz, feelings and nature. All of the above are present in the music in one way or another. Mixing this just right leaves you listening to Colster. Although an instrumental from start to finish it’s full of mood swings, catchy tunes, but then again lots of psychedelia as well.
In their press release Cravero and Previotto state that they try to create an atmosphere where the listener is free to form his own interpretation and imagination. My listening experience tells me listening to the album is like one long trip. No need for a drugs just listen in and let Cravero take you away with his creative guitar playing or even the synth sounds in the back. Whereas Previotto with his very subtle drumming and playing the percussion just adds the right backing to the various tracks. Looking at the single tracks each of them creates their own specific atmosphere and takes you as a listener to another place in the everyday life.
- Searching Absolution has a feel to it, as though it was one long, bad experience and you are trying to get to peace with yourself, or get absolution. Psychedelic sounds remind me of Hawkwind in the early 70’s. A rough tune with heavy guitar, but also tranquil bits and pieces.
- On track 2 The First Wail, the listener is taken on a trip to the main character's lost love or lost emotions and where the wail is represented through a wailing guitar sounds and with organ forming the background.
- Everyday Life is very psychedelic, with mood swings all over the place, not to mention musical styles. We hear some jazzy bits, a little blues, prog rock, in fact everything comes along.
- Island Asylum is a track with very subtle guitar work and easy, almost tranquil synths, in the background. Do not misunderstand me, however, the track is not an easy listening piece of music, but sets a peaceful feeling where you can float off to the higher world.
- Next up is Mind Rejection which is an electronic piece in the vein of Ozric Tentacles, rather short just under 2:30, but with synths that really crawl into the mind.
- Following this are part 2 and 3 of Searching Absolution and I could not understand why they didn't join these two tracks into one as this would do the music a lot more justice.
- Melancholy is what the song title states - a melancholic piece of music, with guitar wailing sounds and lovely synthesizer play, all encased in an ambient like atmosphere.
- With See Through The Tears, the final chapter on the album, it all continues with ambient tunes leaving lots of room for interpretation by the listeners.
Cravero and Previotto, as Colster, have delivered a nice album that will most definitely appeal to people that like Dean Watson or John Petrucci, even Steve Vai and Joe Satriani - granted it is more psychedelic than those artists care to play, but it is very well done.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Information Superhighway - This Is Not The Ending
Tracklist: Almost Morning (11:32), The Real Things (11:32), Soft And Not Knowing (3:27), This Is The Beginning (7:26), Your Voice Pt 2 (6:12)
The quartet that is Information Superhighway is made up of Leslie Beukelman (voice, effects and keyboards), Rob Clearfield (keyboards and guitar), Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and John Smilie (drums) release their debut album This Is Not The Ending.
Rob Clearfield and Patrick Mulchay are the two known names for me here, being a member of Chicago’s District 97, whose album I reviewed not too long ago, which all in all makes both men very busy indeed.
As with Jonathan Schang of District 97, Clearfield takes the leading role writing all the music and lyrics presented here except for Your Voice Pt 2 which sees Beukelman being involved. The musical influences are drawn from various genres which include, jazz fusion, prog rock, Icelandic ambient pop, Americana and gospel, which when it’s all mixed together is rather interesting, making the band sound very cohesive with their deft approach. I like the way the band evolved a modern rock sound invoking a melodic pop approach layered with a jazz improvisational sound frame, which holds the attention, but at times can make the music feel unstructured a feeling that falls away the more you listen to the album.
Almost Morning, which is strangely the same length as the following track The Real Things starts out all mild mannered, but builds to a powerful proposition, marrying beauty and musical patterns which climax into a sonic wall of sound, confirming the uniqueness of Clearfield’s penning style. Leslie Beukelman’s vocal really adds character which distracts you from the musical framework at times, like a siren on the waves. The fascinating point of the songs here is the production, although it is crystal clear, it still maintains an air of roughness, which again highlights the music notation. What the band did with Almost Morning musically, Leslie more than matched vocally on the rather stunning The Real Things.
Soft And Not Knowing is a more sedate affair being more commercially in its approach, with the importance being focused more on the dynamic vocal delivery of the lyrics, whilst the ethereal musical accompaniment patiently works alongside, (check out the video). Along with Your Voice Pt 2, it highlights that there is more than one dimension to this bands musical songbook, which may in turn put some purists off, as prog they aren’t, high class Americana songs they are, but this doesn’t detract from the class of the songs, music created through poetic imagination. This Is The Beginning sees that band dropping back to the land of off kilter tones again, the band displaying their prowess in improvisational jazz, finely balancing Clearfield’s atmospheric keyboards with Smilie’s stunning drum patterns, which leads to an outburst of mammoth tones both vocally and musically, complementing and defining each other, a battle of harmony and harmonics.
The closing Your Voice Pt 2, Pt 1 having appeared on the bands 2006 debut First Morning, has the band sounding very much like the Cowboy Junkies, and confirms the diversity the band can offer. Obviously the inclusion of Beukelman’s penmanship has offered a differing light on the band. Long gone is the intricate music, what we see here is the band operating on a whole new level.
The real hero of the album though is Clearfield’s guitar work, which grounds the solid foundations for the music to be constructed on and around, with autonomy, putting the musical interaction into perspective, defining the necessary requirements of its interaction. These are musicians that really need the freedom to breathe and play with sonic soundstages, Information Superhighway and Clearfield’s writing approach has allowed this to happen.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10