REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Sky Architect – A Dying Man’s Hymn
Tracklist: Rustle In The Wind: Treebird (9:15), Melody Of The Air – Expositio (6:16), The Campfire Ghost's Song (10:01), II – Death’s Contraption: Woodcutters Vile (12:59), Melody Of The Air – Explicatio (11:15), The Breach (11:05), III – Dreams: Revelation - Hitodama's Return (6:38), Melody Of The Air – Recapitulatio (4:39), A Dying Man's Hymn (5:12)
I very much enjoyed Sky Architect’s debut album last year. It ended up making my top ten in 2010 and it still gets regular visits to the CD drawer, which, as Rafaella pointed out recently, is a rare thing when you’re reviewing an album. No matter how much you like them, they tend to go on the shelf and stay there once you’re done. In some sense, poring over every cell of a CD diminishes its appeal and longevity. Not so with this band. I very much anticipated the release of A Dying Man’s Hymn and it has not disappointed.
I’ve been sitting on it a while, listening to it slowly and carefully because, like their debut, Sky Architect don’t hit you between the eyes. They creep into your consciousness and gradually convince you that what you are hearing is astonishingly coherent and refined. Some three months after its release, I will now sign my allegiances with little resistance and as much blood as my veins are capable of spilling.
What’s more, these fearless young Dutchmen have opted to produce a concept album on A Dying Man’s Hymn. It’s… erm… about a man who is dying and the music is the hymn that accompanies his passing. So far, so clear then. However, I can’t profess to have unlatched the windows of meaning on this one. The lyrics are extremely obtuse, all chimera and mystery set within a kind of Grimm’s Tales forest of twisted roots and dangerous encounter. Whether I understand it or not there are certainly moments of lyrical poetry. In particular, I am possessed by the line: "Sensation of a million dragonflies/Lifting me up through the clouds" to construe the moment of death and the ensuing ‘out-of-body’ experience. A million dragonflies. The sensation of… a million dragonflies. I can’t stop thinking about it, trying to imagine what that must be like. I don’t suppose I’m even remotely close, but it thrills me. That’s just one line in one song, but the album is full of similarly evocative imagery. This one really does play out on the cinema screen of your mind in wild and fantastic ways.
Musically, there is a definite link to Excavations Of The Mind but the occasional rough edges and stylistic borrowings of their debut have been sublimated to produce something that is organic and singular and now, very much, Sky Architect. I don’t imagine they are going to survive a single review (this one included) without a reference to Echolyn, Gentle Giant and early Floyd (think Ummagumma) but these are mere passing points in the sound to give you an idea. Sonically, the album has similar production values to Steve Unruh’s work on Challenging Gravity and with his band-project Resistor on Rise. Beautifully miked instruments capture a rich, round, live, analogue sound. Everything rings and bounces and springs with the vibrancy of performance and it’s all remarkably assured and richly orchestrated in a way that signals a band full of confidence, and so they should be.
Structurally, the album is divided into three suites, each containing three parts and each of these suites being stylistically separate. The first is emotional, the second strident and the third pastoral successively depicting tragedy, yearning and ultimately, tranquil acceptance. In spite of its constantly morphing compositional style, there is a melancholic air pervades all three suites along with restraint, vividness and intricacy. Even when it gets going full tilt in the likes of Woodcutter’s Vile, it never becomes overbearing or fatiguing; a host of instruments in clamorous seizure will always give way to quieter sections that have a strong emotional charge.
A Rustle In The Wind begins the album with elegance. Tom Luchies (voice, and guitars) is in captivating form with his smooth, clean delivery perfectly suiting the understated melody established by guitar and piano. This main theme is given a range of treatments and arrangements over the whole suite, but is laid down in the glorious whimsy of Treebird where a clavinet, vibes and various guitar voices tinker with the melodic structure. These dynamics are developed in the stately Melody Of The Air - Expositio which expands from its haunting verses into a wildly syncopated and energetic finale before The Campfire Ghost Song rounds out the suite. This third part is a truly excellent piece of music that jostles along in an impossible-to-count compound time before settling into an eccentric verse complete with ‘gypsy’ hand-clapping before Treebird is reprised in its chorus. Sensational songwriting and brilliant playing underlined by a great guitar solo from Wabe Wieringa to close.
Death’s Contraption plays as ominously as it perhaps sounds. Dripping with menace and bristling with suspense, Woodcutter’s Vile comes stomping out of the gate on Guus van Mierlo’s bass with a hitherto unheard vigour. Its marching verses contrast delightfully with its lilting choruses where Maartje Dekker’s feather-lite harmonies bring unity and diversity to Luchies’ vocal. The gloriously textured and diverse Melody Of The Air – Explicatio flutters and sighs towards the end in Wabe’s wonderfully expressive ‘wha-wah’ guitar melodies. With its joyous, uplifting, spine-tingling finale, this is spectacularly adroit songwriting and as good a piece of progressive music as I have heard. Ever. Without wishing to make it sound in any way inferior, The Breach is challenging and psychopathically restless. It gestures madly and leaps wildly from section to section with a host of twists, turns, and musical jacks-in-the-box that jump out at you from nightmare spaces. Earlier melodies are interwoven and reprised and this is easily the heaviest and most eccentric track on offer here.
This complexity finds its echo in the third suite, Dreams:Revelation where Hitodama’s Return displays an involved blend of whimsy and funk-fusion that defies adequate description, contrasting with the simple purity and classicism of the final, instrumental version of Melody Of The Air – Recapitulatio. Finally, the title track is a pastoral delicacy with a sort of minimalist approach as acoustic guitars pick interlocking patterns to a simple vocal arrangement.
Browsing what other reviewers have been saying about it, A Dying Man’s Hymn is dividing opinion. Some seem to find it indulgent and inconsistent others are raving at its ambitious complexity. I can see it’s not perfect, I still find the last two tracks of the third suite slightly weak in the light of everything else, but maybe it will grow on me because I haven’t yet (after three months) confidently mapped the terrain of the whole thing. As others have suggested elsewhere, it is a bit too long and some of the songs do indeed tread water in places, and no, it’s not easy to grasp at times, such is the bewildering array of ideas - but why shouldn’t a band throw everything at their own work, kitchen sink and all? And yes, Luchies attempts some intense singing that actually doesn’t suit him too well - but I don’t care - there is no doubt in my mind, this album is already firmly ensconced in my end of year top ten and may well be around in my thoughts at the end of the decade. What I really don’t get are those detractors who are saying that there is nothing new about this music. For me, Sky Architect are developing into one of the most exciting modern prog acts around and this work envelops and endures. From the artful development of the compositions as a whole to its sonic coherence as a concept album, it deeply rewards deep, close listening and warrants an insistent ‘shush’ to anyone talking while it is playing. Now, Shush! I’m listening to it again.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Memories Of Machines – Warm Winter
|Country of Origin:||UK/Italy|
|Record Label:||Mascot Records|
|Catalogue #:||MTR 7338 2|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: New Memories Of Machines (1:31), Before We Fall (5:12), Beautiful Songs You Should Know (4:59), Warm Winter (5:34), Lucky You, Lucky Me (4:17). Change Me Once Again (5:56), Something In Our Lives (4:11), Lost And Found In The Digital World (5:14), Schoolyard Ghosts (5:32), At The Centre Of It All (7:26)
Memories Of Machines is a collaboration between Nosound mastermind Giancarlo Erra and No-Man vocalist Tim Bowness. The first time the two started the idea of doing something together dates from 2005 and in late 2010 the ideas were brought to life, finally. Contributions via the internet or in the studio by members of Nosound and the likes of Peter Hammill (VDGG, guitar), Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Colin Edwin & Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Julianne Regan (All About Eve), Jim Matheos (OSI/Fates Warning) and Ricard Huxflux Nettermalm (Paatos). This debut album has been mixed by Steven Wilson so any art rock fan who is familiar with the music of Nosound and No-Man knows exactly what this album is all about: gorgeous melodies, sensual vocals and an intimate atmosphere.
After an orchestral overture with mainly keyboards, some distant guitar and Tim Bowness’ vocals, we hear the first real song in the atmosphere of No-Man interpreting Nights In White Satin by the Moody Blues and using the harmonies from the Eagles. Though subtle, both drumming and bass playing is really tasteful and refined. The next track has bit of a relaxed ‘Floydian’ atmosphere although the cello makes a difference. The title track could have been a ballad on one of the China Crisis albums, slow relaxed and dreamy, but foremost beautiful. The guitar solo is excellent and well within the confinements of this type of music. Lucky Me, Lucky You is a nice atmospheric pop song with somewhat dreary, echoing orchestrations giving it a bit of chill out feeling. Again the guitar solo is extremely tasteful and right to the point, a very pleasant ‘extra’ dimension.
The dreaming, floating, indulging yourself in these heavenly sounds, continues in Change Me Once Again, followed by yet another great track: Something In Our Lives. An unexpected opening by piano is the basis of the melody and the subtle orchestrations make this track almost ‘New Age’. As in the previous track there’s delightful guitar playing, this time by Jim Matheos among others. Modern psychedelic music it is in a song with a muffled trumpet sound: Lost And Found In A Digital World. Schoolyard Ghosts is a track featuring both clean, echoing and sliding guitars. In the second half of the song nice keyboard playing, some subtle drumming and a saxophone. If Pink Floyd would have gone on with Syd Barrett and Syd would not have gone ‘astray’ this might be how they could have sounded. Again the cello, played by Marianne de Chastelaine, contributes to the melancholy in this final track called At The Centre Of It All.
Art and prog-rock fans who like Nosound and/or No-Man can order this album without any hesitation. If you like dreamy music with a psychedelic touch, this album must be in your collection. Not an abundance of variation but if you like this kind of music it’s sheer joy in spite of the melancholy: if every winter could be as nice and ‘warm’ as this one, I’d like to have more of those!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Flaming Row – Elinoire
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Catalogue #:||TW 1020|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Elinoire’s Theme (1.35), Initiation Fugato (2:04), Overture (3:05), First Day (4:09), Nightingale’s Chirp (4:01), Do You Like Country Grandpa? (2:38), Lea’s Delivery (7:54), Elinoire (5:54), Rage Of Despair (5:52), Adam’s Theme (4:23), Neglected Garden (3:01), Time Mirror (5:47), Watershed (1:53), Review (5:24), Unearth The Truth (6:05), Father’s Theme (0:29), Farewell (2:30), A Place To Revive Your Soul (13:28)
Flaming Row has to be one of the most intriguing prog projects ever undertaken. There is no other word for this than a project as it comprises a stellar international cast brought together in 2008 by German musician Martin Schnella (Steel Protector, Cast in Silence). His vision was to create a concept album featuring many different musicians, especially male and female singers. Such was the scale of his vision that he was able to cast his net wide enough to include Billy Sherwood (Circa, Yoso and formerly Yes), Gary Wehrkamp and Brendt Allman from Shadow Gallery and Jimmy Keegan, touring drummer and backing singer for Spock's Beard.
And as a result, the music is a wide sweep across all prog’s palette of genres ranging from powerful ballads to prog metal and mainstream rock, to such a degree that this is a fully blown prog rock opera and very good it is too.
A storyline needed to be created so Schnella enlisted the help of his friend Kiri Gelle, also from Steel Protector, to come up with a storyline which would accommodate the ever-growing cast of musicians, especially singers, who would be making a contribution to the project.
The grand total in the dramatis personae comes to a staggering 30 musicians and 15 singers. The core band comprises: Martin Schnella [composer & lyricist, guitars, bass, keyboards, vocals], Kiri Geile [lyricist, vocals], Marek Arnold [piano, keyboards], Niklas Kahl [drums] and Kai Kleinewig [additional bass guitars]. The guest musicians are: Gary Wehrkamp, Brendt Allman, Andreas Schock, Ali Neander, Jost Schlüter, Verena Klauke, Gerrit Schwerthelm, Chrissy Müller, Rick Fischer, Jim Roberti, Stephan Wegner, Anja Hampe.
And the voices comprise: Lars Begerow, Michaela Auer, Jessica Schmalle, Sascha Habich, Denis Brosowski, Gary Wehrkamp, Brendt Allman, Billy Sherwood, Jimmy Keegan, Michael Lowin, Kim Spillner, Kiri Geile, Martin Schnella, Anne Trautmann, Sandra Thielemann and Markus Funke.
To accommodate all these wonderful performers, the storyline relates to a young British couple who have a daughter, Elinoire, but the mother dies in childbirth. Wracked with grief, the father never overcomes the death of his wife and lays the blame with his newly arrived daughter with whom he cannot forge a loving relationship. So he leaves it to his father, Elinoire’s grand-father to look after her. In the meantime, the truth about the mother’s previous life comes out narrated by the singers acting as either emotions such as Love and Rage, or as a fixed points such as Time, Death and Liberty.
The end result is one of the most fascinating and satisfying albums of the year, chock full of great melody, imagination and stunning harmonies.
With a total of 18 tracks, there is much to applaud within it such as the crisp production that showcases the fluid playing of so many of the participants. Schnella himself is an accomplished player, doubling up on banjo for the delightful acoustically led instrumental, Do You Like Country, Grandpa? That contrasts with the out and out death metal Rage Of Despair with heavy duty guitars and a real rock opera feel to it. Kim Spillner makes his mark with his growl of a voice as Rage, but all the voices especially Kiri as Destiny and Jessica as Elinoire are stunning. In fact on the eponymous track, Jessica sets up a beautiful duo with flautist Verena Klauke for one of the most sublime moments of the entire album.
Because there is so much happening in the music, the band has actually produced the most thorough accompanying sleeve-notes score which pinpoints every singer and every instrument soloist on each track along with the lyrics.
Though the storyline may be a little bit clichéd, the overall effect of Elinoire is simply stunning. It has so much to commend it in terms of the quality of the musicianship and vocals, along with the painstaking care and attention that has so obviously gone into making this such a different and compelling addition to the prog canon this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Samurai Of Prog - Undercover
Tracklist: Before The Lamia (2:08), The Lamia (7:20), Starship Trooper (10:25), World Of Adventures (9:44), Assassing (7:04), Gravitá 981 (2:24), Jerusalem (2:44), Dogs (11:47), The Promise (8:07) Bonus Tracks (Electroshock - A Tribute):
Stranger (3:51) (Resistor) Blood Sacrifice (4:50) (Costa & Mariotti), Asylum (4:05) (Roz Vitalis), Prisoner Of The World (2:55) (Contrarian)
Some of you may be familiar with the name Samurai Of Prog as various combinations of musicians have gathered together under that name and appeared on various tribute albums released on the Musea label. The one constant throughout is bassist Marco Bernard, a native born Italian who emigrated to Finland (his mother is Finnish) in 1987 who, as editor of Colossus magazine, is the brain behind the often excellent thematical CDs released in collaboration with Musea. Indeed, the name of the group stems from Bernard's nickname. The success of these ventures have resulted in a full CD from TSOP and although Bernard remains the main driving force of the group, which continues to benefit from the talents of some high profile guests, he has created a proper band by the recruitment of Mist Season's drummer Kimmo Pörsti and the multifaceted talents (vocalist/violinist/flautist/guitarist) of solo artist and member of Resistor, Steve Unruh.
Although now a trio rather than just Bernard and friends, the focus, on this album at least, is still on cover versions of some well known, and some not so well known, progressive rock songs. Having said that, the track kicking off the album is actually an original composition, but not by TSOP. As an introduction to The Lamia, one of the highlights amongst many on Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, David Myers (The Musical Box) has composed a delightful solo piano piece loosely based on the chord structures of the main piece and appropriately called Before The Lamia. The actual cover version features guests Myers, Roine Stolt (who surely needs no introduction) and Stefano Vicarelli on electric keyboards. The rendition of the song is true to the original with Unruh giving a fine vocal performance as well as adding nice flute work behind Stolt's guitar solo. If you are going to cover Yes then why not choose a classic? Starship Trooper is the chosen number with Glasshammer's Jon Davison taking on the lead vocals as his voice is more in the range of Jon Anderson (or was it because the two singers share the same first name?!) Again, the cover doesn't stray too far from the original on the initial parts (Life Seeker and Disillusion) but the final part (Wurm) adds a bit of keyboard improvisation courtesy of Richard Marichal and some guitar parts by Ákos Bogáti-Bokor (Yesterdays) that you're never likely to hear played by Steve Howe. Good that the guests were given the room to add something new to the piece.
I am not too familiar with the original Flower Kings recording of World Of Adventures although I do know that it wasn't an instrumental as performed by TSOP (give or take the odd chorus vocal embellishment). With a very jazzy beginning it also sounds quite far removed from the normal Flower Kings oeuvre. Things are progged up a bit after a couple of minutes and I found the whole piece rather an interesting amalgamation of styles with the added sax and violin contributions providing that little bit extra. Great bass solo as well from Jonas Reingold. Not so pleasing to my ears was the cover of Marillion's Assassing. Maybe it is because I am not a great fan of Fugazi, but just as likely to be the decision that Unruh should do a Fish impression and use similar phrasing as on the original. Sorry Mr Unruh, but not convincing, I would have much preferred it if the band had rearranged the song somewhat so it could be sung in Unruh's more natural style. Still, at least it's not Punch And Judy. Another instrumental next, and a piece of music I am totally unfamiliar with, Gravitá 981 by Arti & Mestieri (whom I confess never having heard of). Quite a jaunty number with Unruh's violin having a prominent role and blending nicely with Risto Salmi's sax. Eduardo Garcia Salueña takes the lead on a rather pointless rendition of Jerusalem which just replicates the ELP cover of this quintessentially English hymn (and unofficial English national anthem!)
A big surprise was the inclusion of Pink Floyd's Dogs, but also a happy surprise as TSOP generate a very decent version. Opting not to cover the entire 17 minute track, the version here takes the first half of the song and adds a new instrumental section to the end. Jon Davison and Unruh share the vocals and the two blend very well together. Stolt once again provides the guitar solo with Guy LeBlanc keeping things together on the keyboards. However, it is the new section that steals it for me, maintaining the original feel but with a slightly re-arranged chord sequence, the musicians have added their own interpretation of the song. Unruh adds acoustic guitar, Michael Manring some hyperbass and Salmi some energetic sax and it all sounds rather glorious. The album ends with the only other totally original composition, The Promise written by Pörsti for The Decameron, the ambitious setting to music of the 100 Boccaccio novellas, the first part of which was recently released (and including a different version of this track). All I can say is that if the rest of the 99 musical adaptations are anything like this one then the entire set will be a worthy investment. With a whole host of musicians involved, this track has the lot: baroque and medieval musical influences, melancholy violins, soothing flutes, fretless bass, Chapman stick, bowed harps, even a lute! Certainly the best instrumental I've heard all year.
To complete the collection there are four cover versions of songs written by Electroshock the band that Bernard was a member of in the 1970s. First up we have Unruh's prog band Resistor with Stranger. A quite straight forward rock song with a certain pop sensibility to it. A nice arrangement of a reasonable song. Italians Alfio Costa & Guglielmo Mariotti tackle the acoustic ballad Blood Sacrifice, which is very well recorded but perhaps a bit overblown for my tastes. Roz Vitalis, a Russian combo that I am totally unfamiliar with give us my favourite of the Electroshock tracks with Asylum. A most unusual recording (which is probably what attracts me to it) that is certainly different. Finally, another group I know very little about, Contrarian from the USA. Prisoner Of The World provides an upbeat finale to the album with some prominent drumming accompanying an energetic and heavy number with a couple of nice guitar solos thrown in for good measure.
So what to make of the album as a whole? Well I suppose that all depends on one's opinion of cover versions. Although personally not an enormous fan, I tend to avoid tribute albums when possible, The Samurai Of Prog have produced a (mostly) enjoyable album. It helps that the selection of material derives from a variety of groups and not a single artist. The best bits are undoubtedly the ones where the band, and guests, stamp their own influence on the songs rather than deliver a straight forward copy. The CD is certainly good value and there is enough high quality music to be free from any concerns over the standard. However, I think for the band to continue as a distinct entity they need to generate more of their own identity by writing their own material, producing unique versions of the songs they cover, choosing more obscure bands to cover, or, preferably, all three. But it's certainly a promising start.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
The Tea Club - Rabbit
Tracklist: Simon Magus (6:23), Diamondized (6:33), The Night I Killed Steve Shelley (9:07), Royal Oil Can (5:15), Out of the Oceans (7:17), He is Like a Spider (6:20), Nuclear Density Gauge (7:21), Tumbleweeds (4:09), Astro (11:30)
In 2008, The Tea Club's debut album sparked a lot of interest in this youthful band, formed in 2003 in the New Jersey town of Deptford by brothers Patrick and Daniel McGowan and drummer Kyle Minnick. A completely self-produced effort, albeit put together with painstaking care and attention, General Winter's Secret Museum brimmed with freshness and originality, features that have become increasingly rare in this age of manufactured, overly derivative music. Spearheading a new generation of "crossover" progressive rock bands, fuelled by the raw energy of post-punk and indie/alternative rock, but always keeping melody at the forefront of their songwriting, The Tea Club reinterpreted the old rock warhorse of the power trio in thoroughly contemporary terms, though with enough quirkiness and complexity to intrigue the old-school set.
Not surprisingly, the release of Rabbit, the band's sophomore effort, was eagerly awaited among the followers of modern prog. Their location, right in the middle of the US Northeast's prog hotbed, has offered them relatively frequent opportunities to perform live, and thus gain a loyal following - though without the hype attached to other bands of recent formation. However, compared to the gutsy immediacy of its predecessor, Rabbit is clearly a more ambitious project, as shown by its longer running time and the presence of a song clocking in at over 11 minutes, fulfilling the role of the almost obligatory epic. With the basic trio configuration augmented by bassist Becky Osenenko and the unobtrusive but constant presence of the keyboards (provided by Tom Brislin, whose collaborations include prog legends such as Yes and Renaissance), the album sees The Tea Club move towards the atmospheric territories explored by many "post-prog" outfits, and away from their debut's dynamic, hard-hitting approach.
One of the chief influences that could be detected (though never overwhelmingly) on General Winter's Secret Museum - The Mars Volta - also surfaces on Rabbit, though in a rather toned-down manner that echoes the generally low-key mood of the Volta's latest studio album, Octahedron. The impression, compounded by the McGowan brothers' high-pitched vocals, is however tempered by The Tea Club's subtler, more melodic approach, based on gradual build-up and loud-quiet dynamics. Indeed, the first two
numbers, Simon Magus and Diamondized, are both sophisticated, multilayered songs - the former with a more dramatic edge, the latter relying on atmosphere rather than power. Rabbit's slower, at times almost languid pacing contrasts with General Winter's... fierce urgency, its reflective mood perfectly in line with the subdued, haunting textures of created by the likes of Radiohead or The Pineapple Thief, or even Porcupine Tree
when they do not try to sound like a metal band. The 9-minute The Night I Killed Steve Shelley (dedicated to the drummer of cult alt-rock band Sonic Youth, and one the album's undisputed highlights) alternates moments of almost meditative calm with bursts of intensity driven by powerful bass chords, eerie keyboard effects and high-energy riffing, merging the two main strains of the band's inspiration.
Faithful to their new direction, The Tea Club also throw a couple of slow-burners into the mix - namely the mesmerizing Royal Oil Can, with its solemn drumming and muted, tinkling guitars, and the gentle, percussion-less Tumbleweeds, reminiscent of Radiohead circa OK Computer. The 11-minute closing
track Astro, though undeniably ambitious, does not succeed as completely as The Night I Killed Steve Shelley, whose stop-start movement it tries to recreate; the instrumental section (featuring one of the rare guitar solos on the album), as well as the assertive keyboard touches and commanding vocals, add interest to a song that would have benefited from some editing. On the other hand, the powerful Nuclear Density Gauge, a mellow yet brooding Mars Volta-influenced number, spiced by jagged drum patterns, sleek bass lines and haunting vocal exchanges, displays the band's skill at composing music that possesses energy and subtlety in equal measure.
Although I have to admit that, the first time around, Rabbit did not grip me in the same way as General Winter's Secret Museum had, the turning point for me came with The Tea Club's performance at the 2011 edition of ProgDay, a year after the album's release. The music that had sounded somewhat flat on CD, so unlike the heady mixture of urgency and sophistication that made its predecessor such a compelling effort, really came alive on stage, demonstrating the maturity acquired by the band in the past three years. True, Rabbit is made more of subtle nuances than sharp contrasts of light and shade, and sometimes the songs seem to cry for an injection of some of the energy and variety featured on General Winter's... However, the band's songwriting has achieved a level of sophistication that bodes very well for the future, and their new configuration as a six-piece (with a third guitarist, Jim Berger, plus bassist Charles Batdorf and drummer Joe Rizzolo, while Becky Osenenko is now in charge of the keyboards) will surely encourage them to create even more complex arrangements for their compositions. Particularly recommended to fans of bands like The Pineapple Thief, The Dear Hunter and Oceansize, Rabbit, while not always as effective as one might have expected, is a finely-crafted effort from a band overflowing with enthusiasm and ideas. With its striking cover artwork (courtesy of Kendra DeSimone, Dan McGowan's longtime girlfriend) depicting the titular rabbit in gorgeous hues of blue and green, and a very thorough booklet decorated by the brothers McGowan's own quirky drawings and including the intelligent, through-provoking lyrics, it offers a complete musical and visual package in true prog tradition.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Various Artists - CPR Volume 4
Tracklist: Visual Cliff - Exposed (3:39), Eric Parker - Thy Life (5:03), Gene Crout - Pax Americana (4:59), Iona - Let Your Glory Fall [CPR mix] (7:12), Farpoint - Calling Out (4:55), Pursuit - Judah (8:15), Kinetic Element - See The Children (9:57), KDB3 - Crisis Of Faith (5:57), Supernal Endgame - Still Believe (10:30), Syzygy - Dialectic (16:33)
How to review a compilation? As just that: merely a selection of unrelated samples? Or as a collection somehow forming a whole? The question presents itself because the first three CPR compilations also had the feel of something like an integral album. Not so for CPR Volume 4. The entries on the CD are too different to make for an even-handed representation of what’s on offer in the CPR scene. But that’s not to say the new offerings are lacking in quality. Far from it.
CPR is a vehicle of a subgenre of sorts in progressive rock circles, namely a movement of bands and artists with a Christian background. Think Neal Morse, Glass Hammer, Unitopia, Salem Hill, Ajalon, Proto-Kaw, Salem Hill, or Ten Point Ten, as featured on earlier CPR discs. Producers of the CPR compilation series are Randy George (Ajalon and Neal Morse) and Gene Crout (America Gomorrah). The idea is to expand knowledge of progressive rock into the Christian community and to infuse the progressive rock community with Christian themes. The one more explicitly so than the other, to be sure.
CPR 4 again showcases a number of progressive rock bands and artists, known and unknown, on their spiritual journey. It opens with a taste of ‘hard prog’ from guitarist Rob Perez’ band Visual Cliff. The song Exposed features one of the finest vocals in progressive rock today (if you ask me) by Orphan Project’s Shane Lankford. The crunchy riffs and straightforward structure make for a decent tune. Eric Parker’s track Thy Life is much mellower with it’s eerie piano, voice and cello opening bars. Parker worked with Glass Hammer but is now a recording artist in his own right. His track quietly explores some folky and classical hints, contrasting with the next song on the compilation, which is another sample of ‘hard prog’. Gene Crout continues the style developed in America Gomorrah in this track called Pax Americana. He shows great prowess on lead guitar on this piece that seems to be part of a larger, epic work in prog metal. Swept to the other end of the continuum once again we float into the atmospheric musical sceneries of Iona. A special mix of a track from their latest album shows what fine musicians and composers they are. Let Your Glory Fall is a mature example of their tender fusion of folk and prog, ending in a grandiose coda around an excellent guitar solo by maestro Dave Bainbridge.
Farpoint is the first band on this compilation to make a first appearance. There contribution Calling Out sound less seasoned compared to the first four on the CD. It’s a verse-chorus rock tune with a fine guitar solo in between. As far as progressive rock standards go it could have been more interesting. Personally, I was excited to see Pursuit turning in new work. Their debut CD Quest – and this song, Judah, as well – has something of an Under The Sun quality to them. The musicianship is top-notch and in your face, the composition deliciously complex to the point of the inaccessible, Andrew Zuehlke’s characteristic vocals rasp away – all in all it’s an acquired taste perhaps, but a very distinct and rewarding journey. Kenetic Element is the second newcomer in the CPR series. With See The Children they clearly offer a piece of progressive rock in the traditional sense of the word. Apart from the vocal harmonies it has ‘old school’ written all over it. It doesn’t grab me though. The intro is very reminiscent of Steve Hackett but a little flatter; with a jazzy middle section and an early-IQ ending it clocks in around 10 minutes. KDB3 is Doug Bower and friends (formerly of Ad Astra) who bring a two part song called Crisis Of Faith. It slowly and softly builds up like something from Glass Hammer’s Chronometree, then shifts to a rocking part picking up the opening theme. Yet it needs more work to make an entire album interesting.
Supernal Endgame is a relative newcomer on the c-prog front but they boast years of experience in rock music and it shows. It’s a very tasteful blend of musical styles rolled into an prog rollercoaster. Some might compare the proggy tropes in Still Believe to early Spock’s Beard and Hackett-era Genesis, but the most fitting reference is probably Unitopia: fresh, tight, up-beat, and adventurous. It takes 10 minutes of excellent musicianship to deliver the goods. A worthy close to this disc together with Syzygy’s epic Dialectic. First as Witsend, later as Syzygy, Carl Baldassare and cohorts wrote excellent prog from the word ‘go’. This track is from their last CD is also the longest on the compilation: over 16 well-crafted minutes. It’s one of those pieces that take you around the Progiverse in various movements, with a keyboard and guitar nod here and there to old Yes and Genesis, but clearly a composition with an identity of its own.
Last but not least the artwork should be mentioned: a nice fantasy world suggesting spiritual journey by Ken Westphal. Conclusion: Christian Progressive Rock is very much alive as witnessed by a newcomers mature bands alike. Especially hardprog and the Genesis blood type seem to win the day. The production quality of most bands is high. All in all, then, I’d say CPR 4 is a decent collection of progressive rock music, even if as an album in itself it lacks real highlights and balance. But it does what it sets out to do: it refers you to more material of those bands that you may want to check out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Johnny Unicorn – Thinking Hard To Overcome Nervousness
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Break Out! (9:09), I Can't Believe It's Christmas (2:27), Aware Of The Bear (9:53), The Earth, The Moon (11:04), Muffin Mitten (1:35), A Letter From The Patriarchy (2:12), Bullcrap (4:44), White Man Red Hand (4:26), Fields Of Wheat (2:01), Meat On The Table (8:52), The Final American Dream (5:11), Don't Wait (17:12)
First up, this is the official blurb for the record:
"This double-length album uses a mixture of comedy and jarring juxtapositions of musical styles as a way to reveal, through sound, the frailty of human existence, the folly of infatuation disguised as love, the terrible price of humanity's quest for domination, and the freedom of letting go."
It is Johnny’s fifth album and I favourably reviewed the last one, Sweet Edith Manton.
It came highly recommended, in fact. As does this latest one although, as we are warned in the blurb above, this new one sees some ‘comedy’ elements that not everyone’s going to get. Or like even. The song Bullcrap is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, let’s put it that way but is one of the more ‘entertaining’ songs he plays live (Aware Of The Bear is another) which go down well with the audience that he wanted to commit to record during a hectic recording schedule. He’s recently finished Snowtorch, with Phideaux, and has a couple of other projects in the pipeline.
His music’s been variously described as sounding like, inter alia, Talking Heads, Dave Matthews Band, Primus, Phish, Phil Collins, The Beatles and Faith No More. But perhaps the biggest influence, especially in the vocal department is They Might Be Giants.
This is what self-confessed TMBG fan Johnny has to say about the album:
There are twelve songs, divided into four parts. Part one is to make you smile. Part two is to make you embarrassed. Part three is to make you angry. And part four is to make you reconsider your recent purchasing decision. You are not obligated to listen to all 78 minutes and 51 seconds of this album in one sitting. You are allowed to take breaks in between each part. But you must listen to the entirety of each of the parts – uninterrupted – if you truly want to have the full music experience.
Phideaux Xavier is one of many guest musicians, but don’t let that fool you. It’s not as truly ‘progressive’ as Sweet Edith Manton, in fact it’s way more eclectic, showcasing many of Johnny’s quirkier tunes but it still comes highly recommended as an example of an insanely talented musician and songwriter making music for the joy of it. For the wonder.
Break Out kicks things off, a simple electro tune, with guitar and – later - more urgent sax should I guess be filed in the ‘comedy’ folder, concerning as it does man’s eternal fight against acne, and how the media and medical profession pray on our deepest fears concerning how we look. “You write a cheque for half your bank account, he writes a prescription for some soap”. And how, just when we want to impress someone, we ‘break out’. There is, towards the end, a proggy keyboard interlude and a wonderful accordion break and a surging instrumental section, and a symphonic coda back into the electro beat chorus. Before some 80s synthesiser pop and a segue into the amazingly cheesy, but wonderful nevertheless I Can’t Believe It’s Christmas. Just as it sounds, we are in 1970s Christmas single territory, think Wizzard, Mud and Showaddywaddy and you won’t go far wrong. Put it this way, I’m going to be playing it come Christmas time.
Aware Of The Bear has more whimsical lyrics, and a jokey delivery, but is redeemed by a fantastic sing along chorus complete with banjo pickin’. It’s a favourite at Johnny’s shows and sounds as though it’s been recorded live, as there are claps, whoops, hollers and cries of ‘nice’ from the four person ‘audience members’ credited in the booklet. There’s a burp too. Yes, I know, but I did say it was eclectic. It’s nigh on ten minutes long, and morphs at the four minute mark into an amazing instrumental that gives way to an audience participation section Freddie Mercury would have been proud of, and a noodly improv section on the geetar and keys that gives way to VDGG/Crimson instrumental thuggery with tortured sax and what not. Whether it works on record I’ll leave you to decide.
The Earth, The Moon is next and is quite simply a beautiful, haunting song, with glockenspiel, piano and accordion and a symphonic, cinematic guitar interlude. Male and female vocals are perfectly tempered and the lyrics will have you reaching for the hankies. The album’s worth it for this song alone. And yes, I realise I am a big softie.
It is so hard, it's unimportant: the distance
(It is all because of our time together)
Will you see me when we return from heaven?
(We will see, in time, what our fates will bring)
How many missions must I complete before you love me?
And how, on Earth, can I compete for your affection?
Those strange positions that we explored forever haunt me
We found each other. You can't ignore cosmic connection
I have seen the Earth and the Moon together
I have seen the Earth and the Moon together
I have seen the Earth and the Moon together
I have seen love
Muffin Mitten is a comedy song about the orgasm. A Letter From The Patriarchy continues the clever-funny lyrical theme as does, not surprisingly Bullcrap.
White Man Red Hand will appeal to the acoustic Neil Young fans amongst you.
Fields Of Wheat is an acoustic tune again with a serious message.
Another nine-minute ‘epic’ is up next, Meat On The Table, again acoustic, again with smart, meaningful lyrics. There’s some gorgeously languid saxophone, and female backing vocals.
The Final American Dream uses some wonderfully evocative lyrically imagery and is a truly ‘progressive tune’. Gentle Giant, and VDGG are my primary musical touchstones here and Johnny turns in a great vocal performance.
And that leaves us with the 17 minute long album end piece, Don’t Wait. It’s everything you’d hope it would be. Johnny’s Genesis and Floyd influences really get to play here. It’s a sprawling American tale, and is one for all you Kansas fans (you know who you are). And it’s got the gentleness of the classic Canterbury bands, together with their lyrically savvy and dreamy saxophone. It’s easily one of my tracks of the year. Without question. And it’s got female vocals. But really, really good ones. And not ones who only get written about ‘cos they’ve slept with the reviewer. Or whom the reviewer hopes will sleep with them.
The album can be streamed, downloaded, or a physical CD purchased, here.
Listen to the tunes, and decide if you like it yourself, and at a cost of 5 dollars for a download and 10 dollars for a CD you can skip the comedy tunes you’re not fond of.
As I, personally, love the album, warts an’ all, my natural reaction is to go ahead with a DPRP recommendation of 8 or higher. But I know not all of you will like it, and I don’t think many of you will like it all. But you know, there’s enough going on here, at double CD length, that any other artist could quite easily have fashioned a killer 40-50 minute album from the material on offer. So here we go (I await email flaming and cyber stalking in due course). Excellent. Recommended to all.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Borealis – Fall From Grace
|Country of Origin:||Canada|
|Record Label:||Lion Music|
|Catalogue #:||LMC 301|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Finest Hour (4:02), Words I Failed To Say (5:15), Fall From Grace (5:40), Where We Started (5:18), Breaking The Curse (4:55), Regeneration (5:46), Watch The World Collapse (4:04), Take You Over (3:22), Forgotten Forever (5:14)
Did you ever come across a band called Magnitude Nine. Signed to the InsideOut label in the late 90s, to my ears they managed to produce some of the best melodic prog metal albums ever created. Lead by guitarist Rob Johnson and vocalist Corey Brown they sadly never got the attention they deserved before going their separate ways following the release of their third album in 2005. Anyway if like me you’ve been searching for successors to the Magnitude Nine legacy then I think I’ve found a contender.
Hailing from Canada, Borealis independently released their debut album entitled World Of Silence in 2008. It gained positive reviews, albeit in relatively limited sections of the underground media. Thanks to some good internet promotion the band is now starting to build a reputation as a hot newcomer. Their appearance at the ProgPower USA showcase in 2010 was well received and they’ve just landed a support slot on the US tour with metal legends Saxon.
The nine tracks on offer here are not going to win any prizes for originality. It’s all been done before but rarely this well.
Again and again there's something here that reminds me of a heavier Magnitude Nine, especially the band’s more melodic final album Decoding The Soul. Singer Matt Marinelli is from the top drawer, something he kept hidden from the band whilst he was its guitarist and they started off with a female opera singer! The riffing and phrasing also owes more than a passing nod to Evergrey when the Swedish Kings of Morose Metal are in their lighter moments. Melody oozes from every verse, every chorus, every guitar and keyboard riff.
Highlights are the clever mixture of crunch and hooks to be found within the opening pair of Finest Hour and Words I Failed To Say. If the band could write a whole album of the same quality as
Where We Started then one would have a classic in one’s hands.
I’d suggest next time around the band needs to mix it up a little bit more. Some heavier and lighter moments within individual songs and across the album as a whole would have improved my score. The double-bass drumming adds to the heaviness of the album but is a little over-used. I prefer drummers that create a wider variety of groove. By the last few songs I do find the music is getting a bit samey.
Borealis is not yet the finished article but as a starter Fall From Grace is an essential listen for all fans of melodic ProgPower Metal especially those who devour top class vocalists.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Delirium - Il Viaggio Continua: La Storia 1970-2010
|Country of Origin:||Italy|
|Record Label:||Black Widow|
|Year of Release:||2010|
DVD: Intro/Verso Il Naufragio, Movimento I [Egoismo], Favola O Storia Del Lago Di Kriss, Villaggio, Culto Disarmonico, Gioia, Disordine, Risentimento, Jethro Tull Medley , Preludio (Paura), Dio Del Silenzio, Dopo Il Vento, L'Acquario Delle Stelle, Dolce Acqua, La Battaglia Degli Eterni Piani, Jesahel, With A Little Help From My Friends Bonus
Tracks: (Amateur live footage): King's Road, Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi Del Tempo Fuga 1. Extras: Original video footage of Delirium's TV appearances in 1971-75. Photo Gallery. Backstage + Interviews
CD: Intro/Verso Il Naufragio (5:36), Movimento I (Egoismo) (5:16), Favola O Storia Del Lago Di Kriss [Libertà] (6:27), Villaggio (8:04), Culto Disarmonico (5:48), Gioia, Disordine, Risentimento (5:56), Preludio [Paura] (4:15), Dio Del Silenzio (5:41), Dopo Il Vento (9:20), L'Acquario Delle Stelle (4:20), Dolce Acqua [Speranza] (5:23), La Battaglia degli Eterni Piani (8:01), Jesahel (5:07)
This is yet another review that has a strong personal significance for me, as Genoa-based quintet Delirium's debut album, Dolce Acqua (released in 1971) was my first progressive rock album, bought when I was not yet in my teens. Together with their fellow Genoese New Trolls and the "holy trinity" of PFM, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme, Delirium were my gateway into a genre that was destined to remain a constant in my life as a music lover.
Delirium are not as well-known to prog fans as the "big three", or even other Italian bands whose cult status mostly rests on having released a single album before dropping off the radar. Even in their native Italy, their biggest claim to fame is the presence of renowned singer-songwriter Ivano Fossati in the band's early line-up, including Dolce Acqua and their chart-topping single Jesahel, released after the band's successful appearance at the 1972 edition of the Sanremo Festival. Moreover, the tag of "Italian Jethro Tull" stuck on to them early in their career because of their prominent use of the flute probably did more harm than good, labelling them as a derivative act rather than one with original ideas of its own. When Fossati left to pursue a solo career, and was replaced by English-born Martin Frederick Grice (whose powerful, bluesy voice is almost a dead ringer for Fossati's), Delirium took a definitely more experimental approach, with Grice's saxophone adding an aggressive note - somewhat reminiscent of Van Der Graaf Generator - to the band's largely acoustic sound. Unfortunately, neither of their following albums (Lo Scemo E Il Villaggio and Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi Del Tempo), in spite of their excellent quality, attracted enough attention to prevent the band from folding in 1975. However, in 2003, following the trend set by other historic Italian prog bands, Delirium got back together as a live act, with Grice, keyboardist Ettore Vigo and drummer Pino Di Santo (both founding members of the band), as well as guitarist/vocalist Roberto Solinas and bassist Fabio Chighini. The release of a live album, Vibrazioni Notturne (2007) was followed in 2009 by their first studio album in almost 35 years, the stunning Il Nome Del Vento.
The DVD/CD package that comprises Il Viaggio Continua: La Storia 1970-2010 (subtitled One Night in Genoa) captures Delirium on the stage of the Teatro Politeama in their home town, opening for Le Orme on the evening of 13 February 2008. While the DVD also includes some brief interviews with the band members, as well as a photo gallery showing Delirium's various incarnations throughout the years, the music is the main event: not just the complete footage of the concert, but also two bonus tracks recorded in different moments of the band's career after their 2003 reunion, and 7 recordings from the archives of RAI, the Italian broadcasting company, including the band's legendary performance of Jesahel at the Sanremo Festival. A couple of songs are accompanied by video clips - namely the naively folksy ballad Favola O Storia Del Lago Di Kriss (whose spoken introduction is, in my view, one of the rare weak moments on the DVD) and the airy, sophisticated L'Acquario Delle Stelle (one of the 3 songs that would later appear on Il Nome Del Vento).
Although, in technical terms, the quality of the footage may not be on a par with more expensive productions, it does a wonderful job of conveying the warm, engaging atmosphere of the evening. Delirium connect with the audience as if with a group of old friends, and the affectionate banter between the band members communicates the sheer pleasure of performing together. Grice, Di Santo and Vigo, all well in their 60's, are in phenomenal shape, putting a lot of much younger musicians to shame; while the two relative newcomers, Solinas and Chighini, have seamlessly integrated into the framework of the band, contributing their own individual touch. In particular, the presence of Solinas has brought a welcome injection of pure rock energy into the band's sound - as witnessed by his superbly expressive guitar solos in Gioia, Disordine, Risentimento and La Battaglia Degli Eterni Piani. His gritty, bluesy voice, often bringing Gregg Allman to mind, goes against the grain of the traditional Italian prog singing style, influenced by such typically Italian genres as opera and canzone, and - as he proudly states in the interview - really comes into his own in the homage to Joe Cocker's ground-breaking re-visitation of The Beatles' With A Little Help from My Friends that closes the concert. The expansive setlist (somewhat abridged on the CD version, where most of the band's interaction with the audience has also been edited), which offers a retrospective of Delirium's three Seventies albums, as well as three new songs, also includes other covers of prog classics. Van Der Graaf Generator's iconic Theme One (originally written by famed Beatles producer George Martin), strategically placed in the middle of the gorgeous instrumental Verso Il Naufragio, appears right at the beginning of the concert; the band also poke gentle fun at their reputation as the Italian answer to Jethro Tull with a medley of Bouree and Living In The Past.
As their set list amply demonstrates, Delirium have always been a very eclectic band, veering away from the keyboard-heavy, symphonic prog template adopted by many Italian outfits, and spicing their acoustic folk roots with intriguing touches of jazz and blues. Their songs run the gamut from the mellow, haunting Dolce Acqua to the intensely dramatic La Battaglia Degli Eterni Piani, from the celebration of odd time signatures that is Culto Disarmonico to the thoughtful Dopo Il Vento. The discreet presence of a string quartet adds a layer of wistful lushness to the already high melodic quotient of the compositions. Moreover, though the vocal aspect of Italian prog can sometimes be an acquired taste on account of the characteristics previously mentioned, Delirium's vocals are nothing short of flawless - Solinas' gruff tones complemented by Grice's deeper ones and Di Santo's cleaner, smoother contributions. On the other hand, the archival material will provide a trip down memory lane for those who, like myself, remember those times with fondness and nostalgia - but will also point out the difference between the naive, enthusiastic outfit that recorded Dolce Acqua and enjoyed national fame with the hippie singalong anthem Jesahel, and the strikingly accomplished band performing on the stage of the Teatro Politeama. While their earliest material may sound a bit dated, today's Delirium can hold their own against most prog bands, Italian or otherwise.
The interviews section (complete with English subtitles) is introduced by fellow Genoese Riccardo Storti, one of the finest Italian prog writers and researchers, who in his brief but exhaustive presentation emphasizes an often-overlooked aspect of Delirium's music - their affinity for jazz and jazz-rock, which, at the time of Dolce Acqua's release, led to comparisons with the likes of Colosseum and Blood Sweat & Tears. While the five members project an appealingly down-to-earth image, (with a special mention for Martin Grice's infectious smile, twinkling blue eyes and charming English accent), they take their music very seriously, and visibly enjoy playing in front of an audience.
A thoroughly satisfying compendium of a career that, while relatively short in terms of output, has always privileged quality and broad-mindedness, Il Viaggio Continua is highly recommended to fans of the original Italian progressive rock scene, as well as those who follow its more recent developments. Delirium's professionalism and expertise, coupled with a genuine passion for music and an endearingly humble attitude, should be commended, and bring the band the international recognition than they highly deserve. Hopefully this classy package will put them on the radar of the prog community outside the bounds of their native Italy.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Geysir - Geysir [EP]
|Country of Origin:||Netherlands/|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Wortlos (5:24), Reflexion (4:40), Gründe (3:01), Grossstadt (5:19)
Dutch/German outfit Geysir released an EP of their works, showing what one can expect when attending their concerts. The band consists of Jenny Thiele on piano & vocals; Frank Brempel on violin; Thomas Mühlhoff on guitar; Immanuel Schulte-Ontrop on bass and Benni Koch on drums.
Wortlos the first of the four tracks sung in German and favourably introduces singer Jenny Thiele, who has a soprano like voice. Hearing the lyrics in German to me gives an extra dimension to the song which flies in with a screaming effect and eventually blows away with a squealing violin, but in between we are treated with a mixture of post-rock and psychedelic music with nice touches of melancholy.
Reflexion starts calmly enough but soon takes on a very melodramatic phase, gradually developing into a post rock song, with haunting vocals and very nice interaction between the piano and violin. Lyrics once again are in the German language.
Gründe has Jenny Thiele reading poetry, leading us through the song. High on emotion, great violin playing by Frank Brempel on top of what I would call a post-rock melody line. An exceptional song.
This brings us to Grossstadt and here Geysir show what they can achieve musically. They make a very big statement and are a band to keep an eye on. Grossstadt - soprano voice on top of violin kicks off the song and as it develops into a very nice progressive rock tune. With absolutely amazing violin play.
All in all I suggest this first release is a good one, very refreshing and as mentioned earlier, a band to keep an eye on in the future.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Govea - Danza Urbana
|Country of Origin:||Mexico|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Danza Urbana (6:19), Continuum (3:39), Claroscuro (7:44), Convergentes (6:48), Falsa Dicotomía (5:03), Intersecciones (4:02), Concertino [Arrangement of the First Movement of Concertino for Organ and Orchestra by Miguel Bernal Jiménez] (6:59)
Keyboardist Salvador Govea has incorporated the assistance of bassist Luis Arturo Guerrero and drummer/percussionist Victor Baldovinos to present to the world his eclectic world of music. It is a music style that incorporates jazz, blues, fusion and elements of classical. David Sanchez and Jorge Velasco offer up guitar on Danza Urban and Concertino retrospectively, which I might add are the two outstanding tracks, tonally adding depth and atmosphere.
Salvador has been heavily influenced by ELP taking on board a similar approach to Keith Emerson. The accompanying musicians more than adeptly match his fascinating keyboard dalliances perfectly adding the building blocks to his strong structures.
Throughout there is quirkiness and there is no doubt as to who is the alpha musician with the keyboard being the prominent instrument. In saying that, it must be noted that the contributing musicians do at times get a stage to be heard too, musical conversations that are just as rewarding. The clean and precise production more than highlights this allowing each note played to be perfectly heard.
The listener is challenged throughout as the meter changes, to decipher what is being offered. At times the influences are noticeable and on other occasions they are very subtle, which for me is the beauty of the seven instrumentals on offer.
Absorbing and dynamic music is always a bonus for the listener and Govea hits the bullseye, keeping everything fresh for the word go. The more you listen to the album, the deeper you get drawn into his world.
At times the music sounds simplistic and retro, but that is the cleverness of his compositional skill, that element of familiarity yet still retaining uniqueness and originality. The album can definitely be broke down into two halves though, with the second half being the stronger element on offer.
Whatever instrumental you listen to on this album, there is always fascination and intrigue even on the less stated approaches. Dynamics and melody were definitely at the forefront of Govea’s mind.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
TR3 - From Space And Beyond
CD 1: Do You Wanna (3:47), I Must Be Going Insane (7:02), Kabbalah (5:47), Non-Violent Approach (5:58), See You In Your Dreams (3:52), The Wind Just Blew the Door Wide Open (5:26), Cave Man (4:50), Victory Express (3:31), Matte Kudasai (4:47), Mercury Direct (5:04), Uncover The Reason (5:03), Industrial Complex (4:49)
CD 2: Whole Lotta Love (8:26), Indoctrinate (6:55), Get Up [I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine] (7:23), Test Of Time (5:19), Meaning To Tell You (8:57), Burning Season (5:05), Belly Of The Beast (6:35), Face Off (4:40), Hocus Pocus (4:26), How Many More Times (7:09)
The current TR3 (Tim Reynolds Trio) line-up is Tim Reynolds (guitar & vocals), Mick Vaughan (bass & vocals) and Dan Martier (drums & vocals) and From Space And Beyond is the band's first live registration captured at three separate concerts during 2009. Although originally formed in the mid 80s, TR3 are likely to be an unknown quantity to many DPRP readers, unless you've come across band leader Tim Reynolds as the guitarist with impressive Dave Matthews Band.
TR3 however are not a recognizable offshoot of DMB, but a band in their own right and with their own sound. A sound that combines the power trio format from the late 60s, early 70s and certainly Cream came to mind on more than one occasion. Perhaps because of the jazzy infusions into the music, or the vocal melodies, I'm not quite sure. Then if we add some funk rock into the equation we're moving in a different direction once again. So what we end up with is a band that have culled influences from across many genres, many decades of music and fused them into a cohesive sound that is raw, tight and at times quite intricate.
Is it prog? Well initially, other than the two prog covers, King Crimson's Matte Kudasai and Focus' Hocus Pocus I would have said no. But the more I listened to album the more the "progginess" reared its head. This said folks - this ain't no mellotron drenched extravaganza in 11/8. No, it's raw and it's rocky and what I found was, that the great rhythm section of Mick Vaughan and Dan Martier, whose open punctuation and liberal use of space, were what gave the music that proggier edge. Kabbalah for instance combines that 70s power trio format with a distinctly modern feel. Something that is evident across both discs.
What else can you expect? Along with the aforementioned KC and Focus covers we have a couple of Led Zeppelin tracks and one from James Brown. Then DMB saxophonist Jeff Coffin appears on the cod funk Indoctrinate. Then again the band are also not afraid to move in more metallic circles (Face Off for example) where the incisive rhythm section form a strong backbone for Tim Reynolds' more fluid playing. Diverse or what? Did I mention reggae? Now I'm not really a blues man however Test Of Time certainly shone through. So on the surface it may well seem disjointed, but the band are seasoned musicians and they manage to make these disparate influences gel. Finally there's a strong sense of
camaraderie and fun evident on both discs and that again makes the music work between band and audience...
Other musical pointers that surfaced, periodically, whilst listening to From Space And Beyond were: Jimi Hendrix, Grand Funk Railroad, Wild Cherry, King's X, Bob Marley, The Police and DMB...
What else can I tell you. This album contains little, if anything, in the way of Space Rock! King Crimson's Matte Kudasai doesn't drift to far from the original, Focus' Hocus Pocus, complete with yodelling, works quite nicely. The recording and production are good especially for a live recording.
The numerical conclusion is a tricky one - had a been writing for a different site it may well have gained and extra point or more. So folks if you are in need of some progressively influenced funk/rock, that has a foot in each of the jazz and blues camps, then look no further!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
The Winter Tree – The Winter Tree
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2011|
|Info:||The Winter Tree|
Tracklist: Voices From A Lost Age (1:53), Babylon (4:38), Guardian Angel (4:36), Fading Shadows (0:41), In May (3:34), Now That You’ve Flown (4:41), A Twilight In Middle March (3:22), The Other (3:42), The Three Hills (2:26), Stranger (3:48), The Adventures Of Prince Caspian [I. Under A Narnian Sea II. To The End Of The World! III. Voyage Of The Dawn Treader] (6:53)
If you think the only good things to come out of Vermont are maple syrup, the band Phish, micro-brewed beers, teddy bears, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, think again. Vermont-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Laitres, in the guise of his former Magus project, put out four full-length releases, an electronica flavoured EP entitled Highway 375, and a hybrid remix/compilation/studio release between 1995 and 2002. He then capped off Magus’ musical history with the 2005 reissue of the EP, seeing it paired on one album together with Traveller, the sophomore Magus full-length from 1997, and rounded out with a couple of bonus live tracks from 2000.
Time goes on, things change, and Laitres has retired the Magus moniker for a new project name. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The Winter Tree. Named after a tune by one of Laitres’ favourite bands, Renaissance, and perhaps evoking the local hue, so to speak, of the many evergreens that perpetually and lushly colour the landscape of Laitres’ home state, his new project takes life in the form of its eponymous debut release. In addition to Laitres on lead vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion and programming; the new project also includes Mark Bond on electric guitars, lead vocals and all harmony vocals; and his spouse Deb Bond on keyboards. For Ms. Bond, The Winter Tree is a homecoming of sorts. In the early days of Magus and under her maiden name of Debbie Moore at the time, she played a few shows in a live configuration of the project after their debut full-length. She then joined them in the studio for the recording of Traveller.
The style of music on the debut from The Winter Tree is mostly accessible, song based music with a few layers of paint from the electronica palette. The album contains three instrumentals, four songs with original music and lyrics by Laitres, and four other tracks adapted to music by Laitres from poems by Ralph Hodgson, William Henry Davies, Francis Ledwidge, and J.C. Squire.
The Winter Tree’s debut breezes competently through its eleven tracks in just over 40 minutes, eschewing the epic work Magus occasionally dabbled in during its time in favour of tight, taut tracks. There’s only one track on the album over five minutes in length, the three-part instrumental The Adventures Of Prince Caspian. As it is not mentioned anywhere in CD booklet, this track’s synthesizer, organ, and perky string elements are of the ostensible courtesy of Laitres. The track starts off with a careful pace, before it picks up in intensity with those organ and snaky, analog style synth ingredients casting a sonic fire as heated as the Tiki torches at a Bomboras show back in the day. The other two instrumentals are forgettable at best due to their relative brevity, only serving as short transitional interludes and not much else.
The first vocal track on the album, Babylon, sees the vocals of Laitres getting off to a shaky start, before Mark Bond comes to the rescue with his strong singing in the middle section. The tune also offers up some Eastern percussion elements and carefree acoustic guitar from Laitres, with a bit of trailing Chicago shuffle style programming at the end.
A Twilight In Middle March sees the acoustic guitar of Laitres taking on a mournful hue, with the overall emotion brushed in thick strokes via sweeping string elements from Deb Bond. With Laitres’ vocals finding their footing on this song, Irish war poet Ledwidge, if he were alive today, would be proud to see the deployment of his poem in a music setting.
The sense of electronica elements across the album recalls German project Mind Movie and to a lesser extent French duo Urihani. So if you dig either of those two commonalities or any other song-based, contemporary sounding stuff, you may take a shine to The Winter Tree. If it’s vintage prog epics you seek, you’d better stick with Transatlantic.
The top notch digi-pack packaging of the CD belies the DIY content that lurks within, featuring a winter forest scene with brilliant purple and lavender colours, almost like Roger Dean meets Currier and Ives. On the digi-pack inside front cover is a track listing and credits. The 12 page booklet contains the original lyrics, and for those purveyors of poetry and thankfully for Laitres, the text of the four poems is included as well, apparently free from any copyright hassles.
For the next Winter Tree release, I would suggest that Laitres put more time into his music composition and song writing, as a bit of the original lyric tracks on the Winter Tree debut sound less than inspired. It would also be cool to see The Winter Tree visit some vast, epic territory.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Low Budget Orchestra – Innerstellar
|Country of Origin:||Finland|
|Record Label:||Low Budget|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Dance Of The Pleiades (5:38), From Mars To The Stars (5:08), Empty Vessels Of Infinity (4:32), Stellar Override (8:18), Black Hole Of Your Soul (5:21), Turn Away Into The Sun (5:44), Stronger (6:02), I Saw The Flames Of Orion (6:41)
With track titles like these you may be expecting a space rock album, full of trippy voyages to the outer limits of auditory sensory perception, but you’d be wide of the mark. What one man band Mikko Muranen has come up with on this, his third album as Low Budget Orchestra is a journey through progressive instrumental rock, with a leaning toward the more traditional end of rock instrumentation, with a slight metal flavouring.
Thunderous metal tinged chords and clean sounding guitar soloing dominate proceedings on some tracks, particularly on tracks such as Empty Vessels Of Infinity and Black Hole Of Your Soul, while others go for a more melodic feel, Stellar Override fitting that bill, the riffs being a bit more understated. Turn Away Into The Sun takes a break from the metalisms and although not in his style, is the sort of melody Dave Gilmour might have come up with on Living On An Island.
Close to veering near flash for the sake of it, but mostly pulling back before becoming too overblown or descending into the dreaded “shredding” territory, one cannot fault the construction of the music on the album, although it can seem a little bland in places. I have found that even after a few plays I cannot really remember a riff or a tune to the extent that I might find myself humming it on the way to work.
It is difficult to say whether or not this truly qualifies as “progressive”, such is the controversy associated with the label, but rival site Prog Archives have probably got it right when they file it under “Neo Prog”. The overall sound puts me in mind of the more melodic end of Joe Satriani and his like.
Mikko is obviously a very talented multi-instrumentalist and composer, and, according to the accompanying press release also composes “symphonic and ambient noise” as Mutantum, a concept that sounds like it would be much more to my liking!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Azazello - Transformation
|Country of Origin:||Russia|
|Catalogue #:||MALS 375|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: The Spark Of Life (2:08), The Moon (5:46), Clock Face (8:17), Enchantress (5:51), To Win (8:58), Melancholy (2:17), A Sand Grain (5:56), Phoenix (4:46), Light Of The Lonely Eyes (6:13), Transformation (3:40)
Azazello's latest album 'Преображение' (or Transformation in English) is the sixth album by the Russian group, which consists of Alexander Kulak, Vladimir Kulak, Vladimir Demakov and Vladislav Chala. The album is naturally sung in Russian, making understanding of the album impossible to English listeners (like myself). For this reason, I can only remark on the experience of listening to this album.
The music on this album is your standard mix of metal combined with some prog influences. I hear strong Uriah Heep influences on Enchantress, and Phoenix seems to play out rather like Dream Theater's Hollow Years. Sadly, besides the Russian lyrics, there's nothing very unique about this album. Everything you hear here on this disc can be heard somewhere else, and would probably sound better. Nevertheless, Azazello have definitely released something with artistic merit.
Perhaps the main fault with this album lies in the mixing. When I think of prog rock, I think of very fine music, like Firth Of Fifth and Heart Of The Sunrise. In my opinion, none of the tracks on this album are 'fine'. The mixing, though not awful, just doesn't seem quite right. Often the instruments will sound like they aren't being played together, or one instrument will sound much louder than another. This doesn't ruin the album, but seriously hinders my enjoyment.
When listening to Italian progressive music, I've found that I don't need to understand the lyrics in order to enjoy the music. After listening to this album, I can say that the same does not hold for Russian music. I can't even tell if this is a concept album or not! Whilst being technically competent, the band do not impress me with their musical style. In summary, this is an album that's not very pleasant on the ears, and is really for fans only.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10