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2011 : VOLUME 36
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


The Nerve Institute – Architects Of Flesh-Density
The Nerve Institute – Architects Of Flesh-Density
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck
Productions
Catalogue #:ALT 020
Year of Release:2011
Time:56:47
Info:The Nerve
Institute
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Horror Vacui (8:00), Prussian Blue Persuasion (10:12), Tooth & Flea Korowód (8:20), Die Neue Moritat ... (1:40), « La Jalousie » (7:53), Hadassah Esther Cruciform (8:23), Bande Mmagnétique... At The Ossuary (12:05)

Jez Rowden's Review

American multi-instrumentalist M. Judge (I believe it’s Mike but he certainly isn’t the guy behind Beavis & Butt-head and King of the Hill!) has put together an impressive and incredibly complex piece of work which is about as solo as you can get. Quite the talented chap, Mr. Judge’s palette features guitars, banjo, mandolin, bass, drums, percussion, acoustic and electric piano, organ, synthesizers, mellotron, strings and saxophone with vocals, tape loops, electronics and digital manipulation. He also composed, performed, and recorded it by himself too. Despite this Architects Of Flesh-Density does not possess the nagging sense that you sometimes get with other one-man-band recordings of performers doing what they can on some instruments that they aren’t particularly proficient on. Quite the reverse here as the results are often stunning with energetic and excellent playing plus superb arrangements.

Judge has contributed to numerous avant-garde projects over the years but this collection, the first under The Nerve Institute banner, successfully manages to tread the fine line between accessible and difficult without losing focus. The writing style is quirky and idiosyncratic with nods here and there to other artists and styles whilst retaining a unique vision, a master-class in how to make interesting and different music with heart and soul. When you remember that this album was created by one guy on his laptop it becomes even more awe-inspiring.

There are references to RIO, Frank Zappa, Underground Railroad, avant-prog and fusion but this does not tell the whole story. The disc opens with Horror Vacui on a wave of electric piano, jaunty Battles-style guitar and a rampaging pace that twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing. The vocals are quite low in the mix, the bizarre lyrics delivered in off-kilter fashion and it initially appears that Judge’s voice may be the weak link, but not so as it grows to fit the music perfectly. In fact Prussian Blue Persuasion initially reminds me of The Tangent and I had to check the sleeve to see if a guest vocalist had slipped through as I could have sworn it was Andy Tillison singing! « La Jalousie » also features Tangent style keys and arrangement with treated vocals adding an otherworldly feel before a series of great guitar solos in different settings.

Elsewhere world music influences are featured prominently such as the slow tango section in Horror Vacui which moves into a swirling North African percussion and string finale extended with stop/start dynamics; excellent stuff that really gets the joint jumping. The album is clearly focused on Judge’s musical dexterity and thought provoking arrangements so it is perhaps surprising that there is only one completely instrumental track, the brief Die Neue Moritat..., which features a reprise of the earlier tango section coupled with an erratic and dissonant guitar solo bookended by bursts of static.

Tooth & Flea Korowód sees Gentle Giant vocals and a busy bass line which becomes heavier and more dynamic, stabs of floating electric piano adding light and shade. Hadassah Esther Cruciform breezes in on electronic sounds before coalescing into, at least initially, the “straightest” tune on the album. Not for long though as crazy rhythms and guitars interject with hints of King Crimson and The Flower Kings which stretch out to provide one of the most inventive tracks here, these references continuing on into Bande Magnétique... At The Ossuary with more “Tillison” vocals. The guitars provide a multitude of textures and this track rocks out where it needs to in a tour de force expression of sweeping melody and rhythm. Sections with jazz and fusion influences appear here and elsewhere on the album with waves of poly-rhythmic percussion, fine guitar work and evocative electric piano.

The guitar work throughout is worthy of note and there is an exuberance to the playing which simply crackles with energy. This does not sound like the work of a solitary musician sitting alone in a small room. There is experimentation and delightful playing but the main criteria is listenability and Judge has succeeded in spades as this is an album that reveals more of itself and its creator over many listens. There is a great sense of harmony and although dissonance plays a part this is not one of those jagged and largely unlistenable albums that are supposed to get you stroking your chin and thinking deep thoughts. Architects Of Flesh-Density manages this but also has swing and verve to spare.

The disc sounds great, an un-credited Udi Koomran deserving recognition for a fine mastering job (I expect that Judge was too exhausted to do it himself!) and AltrOck have done very well to get this project released, hopefully to the welcoming ears of eager listeners who will lap it up. This is an avant-garde album for people who blanch at the very thought. Accessible yet complex and a very enjoyable listen, it doesn’t get bogged down but spins from one idea to the next, musicality being high on its list of priorities. Tempos change on a dime and the sheer weight of inventiveness is most impressive, Judge’s imagination helping him stand out as a very gifted composer and performer.

Raffaella Berry's Review

The Nerve Institute is the current incarnation of a project by Kansas City-based composer and multi-intrumentalist Mike Judge, who has been involved in his hometown's music scene for over a decade. Architect Of Flesh-Density is the 8th album released by Judge, the first bearing the name of The Nerve Institute, and the only one, together with the two Sinthome albums (Ficciones, released in 2010, and A Woman Has Given Birth To A Calf's Head, recorded in 2008 but still unreleased), that Judge would acknowledge today. All the music on the album has been written and performed by Judge himself, using an extremely impressive array of instruments, from the traditional rock instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums to tenor saxophone, banjo, mandolin and various electronic devices.

Over the past few years I have happened upon a number of "solo-pilot" projects, which have often left a less than lasting impression on me. While I can definitely appreciate the effort that goes into composing and recording an album without any external help, I cannot help noticing the inherent artificiality of releases that sometimes smack of "vanity project", and are also bound to display some of the artist's limits in a rather unforgiving fashion. Very few gifted multi-instrumentalists are also gifted vocalists, while the widespread use of programmed drums, with their soulless, mechanical sound, spoils the effect of carefully composed and performed music. However, I am happy to report that Architect Of Flesh-Density is luckily quite a different beast. In fact, while listening to the album, I often found it hard to believe that it was a one-man endeavour and not the product of an actual band.

In spite of its cryptic title and somewhat gloomy, though extremely stylish, white-on-black artwork (based on finely-etched anatomical designs), Architect Of Flesh-Density is not your average avant-prog effort, highly intellectual and ever-so-slightly depressing. While the quirkily literate lyrics - very much in the vein of The Mars Volta, surrealistic imagery, specialistic vocabulary and all - point to a brain-challenging intent, the dazzlingly eclectic music is often surprisingly upbeat. Packing more diversity in its 57 minutes than most high-profile prog releases, the album challenges the listener without coming across as needlessly convoluted, and tempering its experimental side with bursts of almost poppy accessibility. In particular, Judge's voice possesses that polite, understated quality typical of Canterbury singers - he often made me think of Egg's Mont Campbell, and, as a whole, the musical content showcased on Architect Of Flesh-Density might easily be seen as a 21st-century update on the vintage Canterbury sound.

Due to their unashamed eclecticism, the 7 tracks on the album - most of them running between 8 and 12 minutes, with the sole exception of the short guitar intermezzo Die Neue Morität ... - are quite difficult to describe effectively. While opener Horror Vacui injects the frantic urgency of heavy metal-style riffing and the steely intensity of Frippian guitar lines into a laid-back, keyboard-based Canterburian fabric, Prussian Blue Persuasion veers into jazz-rock territory, with a strong Latin/Brazilian flavour, before things turn decidedly harsher and more chaotic in the finale. In Tooth & Flea Korowód, heavy riffing and dissonance are tempered by smooth vocals and a superbly understated second half, fleshed out by organ. More jazzy influences grace the offbeat melodic structure of the fluid, relaxed « La Jalousie », though the omnipresent heavy riffing adds some bite; on the other hand, Hadassah Esther Cruciform is probably the most Canterbury-influenced track, with gorgeous keyboard-guitar interplay, politely expressive vocals and an overall pleasingly quirky feel that made me think of Supersister. In closing track Bande Magnétique ... At The Ossuary the vocals take a back seat, letting the guitar step into the limelight, with keyboards and drums providing a solid foundation to the frequent, yet subtle changes of pace.

Although the titles and the visual component might at first come across as somewhat daunting, Architect Of Flesh-Density has the potential to appeal to a rather wider range of listeners than just the "usual suspects" of the RIO/Avant crowd. Though it would not recommend it for casual or background listening, those who like their music arty and challenging, yet not pointlessly unapproachable will certainly find a lot to appreciate in Mike Judge's newest release. Definitely a different take on the subgenre than the glut of symphonic/Neo bands that seem to draw the attention of most progressive rock fans, this is a fresh and innovative album in its own unique way.

Conclusions:

JEZ ROWDEN : 9 out of 10
RAFFAELLA BERRY : 8 out of 10



Sanhedrin - Ever After
Sanhedrin - Ever After
Country of Origin:Israel
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck/
Fading Records
Catalogue #:FAD002
Year of Release:2011
Time:51:42
Info:Sanhedrin
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Overtura (3:07), Il Tredici (11:46), Dark Age (6:18), The Guillotine (6:00), Timepiece (5:30), Sobriety (8:19), Thema (1:08), Steam (9:30)

Sanhedrin, the name of the courts that sat in every city in the biblical land of Israel, are a quintet from the contemporary land of the same name. Centred around brothers Sagi (bass) and Aviv (keyboards and saxophone) Barness, the other three band members are Gadi Ben-Elisha (guitars and mandolin), Igal Baram (drums) and Shem-Tov Levi (flute). Initially the group limited themselves to covering Camel songs but eventually developed the desire to write and record their own material culminating in their debut release, the concept album Ever After. As to what the concept is, it is anyone's guess as the album is entirely instrumental! However, the song titles are evocative enough for anyone to make up their own story!

Equally evocative is the music, grand soundscapes that combine the groups Camel-based heritage with the finest elements of other notable seventies greats. Although the influences can be heard - a dash of Crimson here, a splash of vintage Genesis there - the combined sound is all their own. Ben-Elisha has a lovely tone to his guitar playing and Levi's flute playing is first rate. Keyboards are largely in the analogue camp and generally, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor, play second fiddle to the guitar, providing the symphonic texture. Frequently echoing the main guitar line, the results are quite delightful. A firm example of this is Il Tredici, Italian for thirteen (which might explain the CD cover somewhat) a glorious slice of instrumental prog that is excellently executed. But to prove the band has more than one string to their collective bows, they follow-up with Dark Age which begins sounding like a medieval dirge taken from the Gentle Giant school of writing. However, not content to have the piece remain in the past, soon enough they add a twist and a few centuries to the musical basis leading to an amazingly exciting climax which die-hard ELP fans will love. Guillotine adds some fine organ playing to the mixture in another powerful instrumental while Timepiece is rather more fragmented but gives Baram lots of opportunity to add a variety of drum fills. There is even a final guitar solo that is, in essence, a heartfelt tribute to the sound of David Gilmour. Rather than run the risk of repeating myself, it is enough to say that the Sobriety and Steam are both very accomplished pieces of music that progressive fans, particularly those who have an endearing love of the seventies groups, will take to their hearts. Ben-Elisha even sneaks in a fine solo acoustic guitar piece (Thema) that even Steve Howe wouldn't turn his nose up at.

Although throughout this review there are many mentions of bands from the 'golden era' of prog, that doesn't imply the album is dated. On the contrary, it manages to sound fresh and original in spite of the noted references. There is a lot to listen out for and listen to on this album and I applaud the group for taking their influences and making a sophisticated progressive album all of their own. Easily one of my favourite albums of the year so far and well worth checking out.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Akin - The Way Things End
Akin - The Way Things End
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:15
Info:Akin
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The 92nd Flight (5:42), Cassandra (5:26), Unhearted (3:56), When (3:06), Miracles (4:06), Burning Skies (0:54), Enter Spaceman (3:16), No Seconde Ride (3:18), Before The Storm (1:22), Resilience (5:46), Falling Deeper (3:16), Miller's End (5:16), Coma (5:12), No Betrayal (4:36), A Better End (5:12)

I do hope the title of this album is in no way prophetic, as from the very first play of the very first song, it was clear to me that Akin is a band with a very bright future.

Formed in Lyon in France during 1998, the band produced a demo, a debut album (Verse) and an EP (Forecast) early in their careers and gained reviews in their home country. However, despite opening for the likes of Within Temptation, The Old Dead Tree and Epica, the name Akin didn’t really break out of French borders.

So a new band to these ears. Initially the use of classical and folk influences and some of the vocal and melodic stylings of singer Adeline Gurtner reminded me of a more progressive Kingfisher Sky. Further listens and another Dutch band Illumion seemed an equally good comparison. For the range of styles you could also take reference points from American band Aghora, although this isn’t as heavy. Christopher Gildenlow’s post Pain of Salvation project Dial was another name to compare notes with. Akin has that rare boldness to go to where many different bands have gone before.

There’s also a frequent use of jazz combined with a flautist, some exotic instruments such as the dilruba and djembe, and a very effective string quartet borrowed from the Conservatoire National de Musique et de Danse de Lyon. When slotted together, the 15 tracks make an album which stands clearly in its own, distinct musical territory. Thus I guess it could be said that Akin do not really play music that is akin to any other.

Adeline Gurtner has a lovely voice without a hint of an accent. The guitars have a nice metallic edge but the rhythm section doesn't have any metal feel at all. There is plenty of lighter, even ethereal material that provides a calming contrast to the heavier moments. If one has to give it a name, then Heavy Prog would be the best slot. But really this is the sort of music that could appeal across the board.

The playing is stellar, the composition skills are exquisite and there's an abundance of melodies that you want to some back to again and again.

The only real room from improvement is in the production. Adeline’s voice in particular sounds strangely distant and could do with a warmer sound. But as an independent produced disc this is not a major problem.

For fans of melodic yet adventurous, female-fronted progressive rock bands, this album will comfortably sit in your the top ten albums of 2011.

From the stunning groove and interplay of opener The 92nd Flight, through the catchy simplicity of Enter Spaceman to the inventive soundscape of Miller's End this is a hugely impressive and entertaining album from start to finish.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

ANDY READ



Lunar Dunes – Galaxsea
Lunar Dunes – Galaxsea
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:4Zero
Catalogue #:FZ009
Year of Release:2011
Time:55:56
Info:Lunar Dunes
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Moon Bathing (5:03), Oriental Pacific (5:09), Oh You Strange Tune (4:41), Pharaoh's Dream (4:29), Ayaz (4:51), Svalbard (10:44), Free To Do (8:24), Eastern Promise (5:10), Off World Beacon (7:25)

I am partial to a bit of psychedelia, especially of the ‘Nu’ variety, And Lunar DunesGalaxsea is a confection of all things psych and British with some ethnic spice thrown into its melting pot. It’s certainly not prog. Some of our readers may well find it difficult to understand or embrace, but don’t rush to dismiss this album, it holds many treasures. So, if you have an adventurous disposition and an interest in intelligent modern music, then this may be a dark horse worth backing.

Formed from the core of two British bands that have their origins in the early ‘90s, Lunar Dunes has an inviting pedigree for me. This stems principally from the involvement of Hamilton Lee on Drums and Loops. Some of you may already be close to revulsion at the very mention of ‘Loops’ but Hamilton Lee (or Hami, as he credits himself here) is the drummer and co-founder of Transglobal Underground, a ‘band’ I’m a massive fan of (they’re more of a loose collective than a band per se). Transglobal Underground work with an eclectic fusion of traditions: from Western ‘dance’ to African and Oriental musical styles. There’s just a hint of that present in the Lunar Dunes project, enough to make it feel exotic but not so much as to bracket the work within a ‘World Music’ ouevre. It’s his drumming performance that is ultimately the focus of the listening experience, and I think he’s brilliant. He combines standard rock idioms with those of Dub Reggae and it’s the originality and particular chemistry of what he does that I find massively engaging. Every track has an infectious rhythm, bristling with touch, tone and a custom-cut approach that has me tapping along in generous appreciation. His playing is very nuanced with subtle pattern changes that can take the energy of a track in a new direction. Sometimes, he drives the band and others he is audibly responding to what the other players are doing.

Supporting Hami on bass is Ian Blackaby. A fan of Can, The Chicago Art Ensemble and The Pop Group (whose experiments in post-punk, free jazz and Dub Reggae would eventually lead to the so-called ‘Bristol Sound’ of Massive Attack and Portishead) and these are an unmistakeable influence. His guitar has a heavy, low-pass, throbbing roundness to it and it is gorgeous. His bass lines provide involving melodic patterns and ostinatos around which the more improvisatory elements of Lunar Dunes’ players can jam. Somehow, he is simultaneously at the edge of perception and yet so pervasive that the mix seems saturated with bass; light and heavy in the same moment and the same place. Rounding out the core trio that form the project is Adam Blake on guitar. Adam has played with Brit Raga Rockers, Cornershop and is also a fan of Can as well as Miles Davis. His guitar work is very unique. Heavily processed, he can sound like allsorts and everything, mostly though, it’s evidently a guitar. He really puts his pedal board to maximum effect with an ever-shifting range of textures and atmospherics whirling through the mix and he is not shy of laying down some wonderful psychedelic solos.

Unusual blends of styles find their confluence on Galaxsea then and what emerges is, given the genetic template, unsurprisingly unusual. Consisting of largely instrumental and improvised jams, Lunar Dunes have created an atmospheric and spacey artefact that is every bit as much The Clangers as it is 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s levity and gravity in equal measure. Chaos sits happily with order and the strange with the familiar. I can pick up all sorts of peculiar, half-remembered references from Sci-Fi TV series of the ‘60s – The Original Star Trek, Joe 90, Stingray, The Mysterons (but not Captain Scarlet), The Prisoner, etc. But it’s not melodic themes I’m referring from, it’s the audio backdrop to these programmes, their atmosphere - somewhere between the visionary and the silly.

Take the opener, Moon Bathing. I love it. Great track. Instantly appealing but enduringly intoxicating. A lovely slice of dreamy, gorgeous psy-pop made even more so by the addition of Krupa Pattni’s wordless vocal. She contributes often but always with a sort of ecstactic, writhing, caressing quality. She is ‘The Seductive Assassin’: Emma Peel or Pussy Galore incarnated in sound. Elsewhere, Lunar Dunes conjure the wind blown territories of Sahara nights on the excellent Svalbard where Krupa’s bewitching Djinn intones her wordless song around our minds from all directions to a formless accompaniment of effects-laden guitars and saxes (played by Larry Whelan). Wherever she contributes, the arrangement is elevated by her inclusion.

I love the haunting Free To Do which also has a superb extended solo by Blake and the pulsating Oh You Strange Tune has a UA era Hawkind vibe about it with Hami’s insistent, propulsive drumming. The driven weirdness of Ayaz uses a sample of a pneumatic drill to build tension in its introduction, a tension that is never quite released as it stirs a dizzying tumult around Blake’s improvised lead guitar. All sorts of swirling and bubbling synth pads heighten the funhouse madness. It’s a tune of moving floors and distorting mirrors.

A couple of tracks have failed to make a real impact on me. Eastern Promise utilizes a characteristic Middle Eastern modality but doesn’t manage to ever really get going. Closer. Off World Beacon seems similarly unresolved but gives room for Julia Thornton’s Harp to take a central role in the sound. I think part of the problem for me is that I haven’t pinned down the best listening conditions for these two tracks. They are both slow-burning and quite sparse as well as highly improvisational in character; never quite taking shape but hovering like sonic apparitions, their ghostly forms imply a night-time setting. Endorphin rich, they belong somewhere in the borders between wakefulness and sleep, but this represents part of the problem I’m having with the experience of the album as a whole. The atmospheric and expansive sonic palette of Galaxsea means it’s hard to enjoy in one sitting. Every track has it’s own merits: some would be great to listen to at an intimate Summer evening barbeque with good friends, others belong more to a pre-dawn environment after a night of heavy indulgence; Moon Bathing could happily garner commercial radio play. Overall, it just doesn’t quite hang together, the songs seemed to be arranged like jigsaw puzzle pieces that don’t quite interlock, nor is the second half of the disk as captivating as the first. Having said that, it is very enjoyable and it has substantially grown on me over time. I think it’s one I’ll come back to repeatedly because I’m definitely not done exploring its depths. Galaxsea is an innovative and evocative work with a distinctive footprint that’s worth seeking out if you’re into Krautrock, Spacerock and a bit of jazz.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JON BRADSHAW



White Denim - D
White Denim - D
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Downtown Music
Catalogue #:DWT70236
Year of Release:2011
Time:37:07
Info:White Denim
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: It’s Him (3:18), Burnished (2:36), At The Farm (3:58), Street Joy (3:36), Anvil Everything (3:59), River To Consider (5:00), Drug (3:02), Bess St. (3:39), Is And Is And Is (3:45), Keys (4:02)

I won’t be rating this album and leave the review short but every once in a while you encounter an album that, although not entirely progressive rock, hits you like a rock. It happened to me while listening to the album D from American band White Denim. They are a four piece rock band from Austin, Texas releasing their fifth album. The band consists of James Petralli (vocals, guitars), Joshua Block (drums), Steve Terebecki (vocals, bass) and Austin Jenkins (guitar). Their influences are very wide but psychedelic music is the one that filters through the most on D. But there is blues, punk rock, jazz, experimental rock and progressive rock to be heard. Despite all those influences the album sounds very coherent, focused and very very vibrant.

Not unimportant these guys can play as there are some very impressive riffs, melodies and unusual song structures to be heard on all those the short tracks of this album. Listen for example to the incredible instrumental second half of Bess St. or the instrumental At The Farm. It’s so impressive! River To Consider has some delightful flute playing from guest Alex Coke. Is And Is And Is has a brilliant chorus that lifts the song up to entirely different level. The beautiful Street Joy has Radiohead written all over it and album closer Keys starts of as a country song but is graced with a beautiful string arrangement and ditto chorus. I could go on and on. But I won’t.

If you like adventurous music from bands like Field Music, Black Mountain, Crippled Black Phoenix, Radiohead and Oceansize you should really should check these guys out! I would really love the hear what you think of it too.

Conclusion: Unrated

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Franck Carducci - Oddity
Franck Carducci - Oddity
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent /
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:VOC2257
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:10
Info:Franck Carducci
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Achilles (14:31), The Quind (9:23), The Eyes Of Age (4:30), Alice’s Eerie Dream (11:50), The Last Oddity (10:17), The Carpet Crawlers (6:06), Alice’s Eerie Dream (radio edit) (3:59)

The first thing that strikes you about Franck Carducci’s debut album Oddity is the simplistic almost infantile artwork by Manuela Mambretti that captures the essences of the albums content. It one foul swoop you are given the impression of a chaotic and somewhat anarchic world that encapsulates the characters that are portrayed.

The opening track Achilles based on the character and greatest warrior from Homer’s Iliad sees Carducci cleverly narrating his position. Achilles is an embodiment of the grief of people, a theme that is used throughout the story. His role as the hero of grief is an ironic juxtaposition as conventionally he is usually seen as a hero of glory. In essence Carducci has succinctly captured the emotion of the piece lyrically, musically and vocally even down to pointing out the importance of how Patroclus is used as a theme that humanises Achilles. In its finality it highlights the vulnerability of power and humanity. But this is not a literature lesson, no siree, mind you saying that Carducci does make it all sound exceptional interesting and trust me the Iliad is no easy read by any stretch of the imagination. The importance of what is being presented here though is the music and to be quite honest as with the subject matter, he has hit the nail squarely on the head. The approach has been created with grandeur, bouncing melodies, tight rhythmic passages punctuated emotively. Franck Carducci as well as being a very talented multi-instrumentalist is no slouch on the vocal front either, for me note for note, without any shadow of doubt he resolutely puts himself in Achilles shoes.

The Quind a play on two words, (quiet and mind), again plays with those beautiful melodic structures that are abundant throughout the whole album. Tonally it is a cross between Genesis and Pink Floyd, two bands that have definitely influence Mr Carducci, amongst others, serving him well. The Eyes Of Age see’s the musical approach change somewhat a marriage of folk and country, the best reference would be Dramarama era Agents Of Mercy. Giles Carducci’s mandolin playing really sets the piece off which complements Vivika Sapori-Sudemae violin intricacies that when aligned with Franck’s slightly accentuated vocals makes it a highly entertaining song. This really is the way to tell a story.

Alice’s Eerie Dream see’s the musical arrangements pick up pace, Franck wanders the corridors of literature again, this time tackling Lewis Carroll’s world of Alice. Not so much giving the listener an unchallenged rendition of the highly convoluted mad dalliances of Carroll’s twisted, dark and warped mind, but working in parallel with his thoughts and ideas. The band has really developed the story musically, breathing their personality over it, replete with stunning solo’s, adept contributions that work perfectly together. There is a radio edit of this track, which in all honesty in my eyes kind of defeats the object, which doesn’t work for me, reducing the time of such a splendid and powerful song really serves no purpose and detracts from it full glory, which is my only complaint.

The Last Oddity is inspired by Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey a mixture of Bowie and stunning prog refinement, a conversational piece between Major Tom and Ground Control. The whole song is just filled with fantastic keyboard work that is just layered, perfect interludes offering a feeling of actuality, musically nourishing the soul. The Carpet Crawlers needs no introduction and confirms Carducci’s Genesis influence. This resplendent majestic track offers nothing new to what can and is considered a perfect song; it is though in keeping with the quirkiness of the rest of the album, being another good indicator as to where Franck Carducci is at musically.

All in all Franck has demonstrated that he has an abundance of talent, not only is he an excellent musician but he can also pen very good songs too. Yes he does wear his influences on his sleeve, but that’s not a bad thing. What he does manage to achieve in the process of these influences, is manipulate the classic prog sound yet retain an element of originality. Why not join him on his colourful journey through his imagination. Good stuff indeed.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Utopianisti - Utopianisti
Utopianisti - Utopianisti
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Lusti Music & Arts
Catalogue #:LUSTIC CD006
Year of Release:2011
Time:52:48
Info:Utopianisti
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Alkusoitto (0:25), Plutonium First (4:17), Grain D’âme (5:33), Avaruuden Shamaanit (4:47), Waltz For FZ (6:13), Castro Brothers (2:14), Kärry (6:54), Markus-Sedän Letkeämpi Klezmer (4:59), Bordeaux (4:22), Hopeinen Kyy (4:08), Sull’on Mies Joka Planeetalla (3:56), Tuonelan Lautturi (4:55)

Who is Utonpianisti?

Utopianisti is a project of Markus Pajakkala a Finnish multi instrumentalist and composer who started his musical career on the drums at the early age of 10. Later on he picked up the saxophone and also keyboards. Markus has university education in music which can be heard very clearly in the way he constructs his compositions. Before making this solo-album Markus had been busy playing in numerous other bands and projects within the jazz, rock, folk prog and metal genres. Markus Pajakkala always wanted to release a solo-album, so during the years 2005-2010 he was busy composing all the songs now present on this album.

To complete his project Markus invited several musicians to help him produce this album, seveteen in total, covering a varying range of instruments from guitar players to accordionists, violinists and with the end result that he has almost put together an small orchestra.

The album is almost entirely instrumental with only one track where vocals appear Sull’on Mies Joka Planeetalla. Musically this is an intriguing album and with my first encounter with the music it gave me the idea of it having commonalities with an album by fellow Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat. Both in style and in the use of instruments.

The higher education in music of Markus Pajakkala is firmly present some of the tracks which have a very classical tone to them, while others tend to lean more towards folksongs. This album is one long promotion for eclectic, avant-garde, experimental music. But beware it is a musical extravaganza of the highest level with all the instrumental experiments. If you happen to have a liking for the music of afore mentioned Alamaailman Vasarat or Frank Zappa or perhaps Mirthkon, then be sure to check out this effort of Utopianisti.

An excellent first outing by Utopianisti, I hope to hear a lot more from this excellent musician with refreshing musical ideas.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Imagination School - The Savage Coast
Imagination School - The Savage Coast
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Sonic Junction
Catalogue #:SJCDIS002
Year of Release:2011
Time:44:20
Time:44:20
Info:Imagination
School
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Stormclouds (3:57), The Savage Coast (6:03), Lost (4:51), Shore Song (3:41), A Full Moon And A Cruel Tide (4:38), The Beacon (4:08), Relics (3:47), The Quincunx (4:30), Guided By Stars (5:47), Boy (2:55)

The Savage Coast is the third Imagination School album and the follow-up to 2009's To The Level Of Light. In his review of the latter album, my colleague Gerald Wandio described the instrumental music as being ...keyboard-based, quiet, slow, evocative music, strong on local melodies, nicely arranged, unhurried..., descriptions that largely fit this new album, which is reputedly inspired by England's East Sussex coast. Laurence Harwood, for he is Imagination School, relies largely on piano, old synths and acoustic instruments to generate his often melancholic, generally simplistic and sometimes soporific pieces that take on an English classical air and add a sense of mystery, intrigue and sonority. Tracks such as A Full Moon And A Cruel Tide would suit being used as a score to a film that swoops over land in harsh currents of air being blown on eddies, all at once graceful but with an underpinning frisson of danger.

Indeed much of this music could be used to accompany visual images as it is quite evocative. However, I would add another adjective to Gerald's list and that is 'harmless'. Although I can appreciate the arrangements and the atmospherics of the pieces I couldn't help thinking that, overall, it was all rather inconsequential. I prefer instrumental music to have a lot more variety, to reap the highs and plumb the depths rather than concentrate on the notes found around the middle of the keyboard, which this album seems to do throughout most of its playing time. Yes it is poignant stuff, achingly so at times, but ultimately lacked anything that I could really connect with. I'm sure than anyone who enjoyed To The Level Of Light, and there seems to have been quite a few of you, will find The Savage Coast equally as enthralling. It can't be denied that Harwood is damned good at what he does, but what he does, doesn't do it for me!

One more thing, the press release, and website, proclaims that the music of Imagination School contains traces of, amongst others, The Cardiacs, Radiohead, early Genesis and utilises post-rock soundscapes. Admittedly, The Savage Coast is the only thing I have heard by Harwood, but I would politely suggest that those comparisons are way off the mark. Being a fan of the mentioned bands, and of a variety of post-rock groups, I can honestly state that I heard nothing on this album that conjured up any such resemblances.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Odin's Court - Human Life In Motion
Odin's Court - Human Life In Motion
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR201
Year of Release:2011
Time:63:15
Info:Odin's Court
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Affect Us [Affectus] (3:50), Blue Line 5:30am [Inops] (5:37), Can't Forgive Me [Invidia] (5:11), There Then, Here Again [Frustror] (4:29), Blacktop Southbound [Animus] (4:38), Silent Revolution [Insania] (4:01), The Wrong Turn At The Right Time [Oneiroi] (5:27), Red Glow Dreaming [Laetitia] (4:53), The Echo Of Chaos [Poena] (4:20), Feathered We Fly [Termanatio] (3:59), Leaving Chicago [Moestitia] (5:20)

Hailing from the US state of Maryland, Odin’s Court has been active for about 10 years, initially releasing three independent albums, however following Deathanity back in 2008, this is the second to get a worldwide release via ProgRock Records.

I vaguely recall hearing Deathanity after my interest was piqued with the involvement of Tom S Englund from Evergrey but I don’t think it prompted further investigation. The DPRP review did little to change my mind. But having seen the video for Affect Us, the opening track of their latest release, I thought the blend of prog rock, melodic hard rock and metal was worth further investigation.

My previous hunch was the better judgement. I find Human Life In Motion almost impossible to listen to.

I can see what the band is attempting to do, but the desire of the drummer to constantly play outside of the timing of the singer, who constantly sings outside the timing of the pianist/keyboardist just doesn’t work for me at all. The first time I listened to this on my PC I started to search for the open tab where the other two songs were playing in the background. It just doesn’t sound right.

The voice of singer and guitarist Matt Brookins is not bad but tends to stick within a fairly narrow band of the lower registers. Firstly, this is somewhat at odds with the rest of the band which as I’ve said explores the full dynamic template. Secondly, I just find his delivery becomes little monotonous and lacks the variety in power and passion that I feel this sort of music demands.

There are some good ideas, some strong melodies and some tasty guitar solos but the constant chaotic clashing of chords, beats and mood totally overwhelms the songs. It’s a bit like the design paradigm of a mathematical algorithm put to music. Some may be able to settle into the conflicting grooves but I’m afraid for me this is the audio equivalent of my son’s idea of a tidy bedroom - messy!

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Antiklimax – Green Largo
Antiklimax – Green Largo
Country of Origin:France
Format:CDR
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:50:35
Info:Antiklimax
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Abandoned Places (2:34), Halo (2:54), Dreary Culture (6:21), Paradigma (5:35), Tribulation (4:36), Green Largo (16:01), Pariah (8:31), Tim’s Song [Bonus Track] (4:03)

When I reviewed Aurora Polaris from French electronic project Antiklimax in 2009, I found it to be devoid of beats and suggested with future releases that Antiklimax incorporate the element of electronic drums more prominently to create a sound more groovy and danceable. But with the third and latest release Green Largo, it is evident that Antiklimax main man Vincent Bénésy is eschewing what is admittedly perhaps a trendy electronica dance sound for something more relaxed and minimal. Indeed, some meaning in this regard can be interpreted in part from the album’s title, as Wikipedia describes “Largo” as “a very slow tempo, or a musical piece or movement in such a tempo”. And on the promotional information sheet that came with the review copy of Green Largo, Bénésy describes the music as “polyphonic and minimalist sequences rarely touched by any beat pattern” and he touches on “elements of technology”, perhaps alluding to the colour reference in the album’s title, “overwhelmed by nature”.

Green Largo was performed and recorded by Bénésy, with additional ambience, final sound treatment and mastering courtesy of returning collaborator Margus Mets. The instruments used on Green Largo include the AlgoMusic Atomic sequencer coupled with Doepfer modules from the A100 system, Yamaha DX 7, Roland MC 505, Crumar Multiman S, guitar, bass, and percussion (including maracas, claves, hand claps, cardboard tube, cornflakes bag, and drum samples triggered by live drumming on pads). Gotta love the Einsturzende Neubaten-style found instruments, and you can’t kick it more old school than with hand claps.

But does this marriage of found percussion and synthesizer technology create for a decent album? On Dreary Culture, while the alien synthesizers sound like they could have come from the spaceship in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, they nonetheless achieve a pastoral quality. And Mother Nature gets in on the action as well in the title track, which sees carefully placed indigenous nature like percussive sounds evoking Vidna Obmana, smooth sheets of ambience signaling Obmana collaborator Steve Roach, and some clever modern synth elements which could have come from the studio of Brian Eno during U2’s Zooropa sessions.

Minimalism is the overall name of the game on Green Largo, and while it is not my cup of tea, caffeine aside if I listened to this album enough times while falling asleep at night I believe it could grow on me at a subconscious level and perhaps induce some dreams about Eno along the way. If you’re looking for something rocking or danceable, this isn’t it.

Green Largo is available in its seven track proper album form via download from Amazon and Itunes, as evidenced by an Internet search which did not turn up any sign of the availability of a physical CD version. You can download the bonus track Tim’s Song, written by Bénésy in tribute to the late sound designer Tim Conrardy who passed away in 2009, by going to HERE.

For purposes of this review I received what was listed in our writer’s pipeline as a CDR, coloured a bright yellow and modestly housed in a plastic envelope with a folding four-paneled card. The post modern cover art comes courtesy of Jay Nungesser, from a rooftop photo of the New California Academy of Sciences building, designed by architect Renzo Plano.

One area of opportunity I see for Bénésy with future Antiklimax releases is to continue to explore the influences of Steve Roach and modern era Eno. I understand that danceable beats aren’t Bénésy’s bag, yet nonetheless I am rating Green Largo a point higher than I did with Aurora Polaris.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN


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