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2011 : VOLUME 56
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


RanestRane - Shining
RanestRane - Shining
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:2CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 58:42
CD 2 59:27
Info:RanestRane
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Viaggio (2:46), Il Colloquio (7:14), La Neve Coprir? Tutte Le Piane Aride (1:55), L'Overlook (2:50), Mr. Halloran (7:50), Colazione (2:11), Il Labirinto (7:43), Qualcosa In Questo Posto Cambier? (4:04), Danny e Jake (4:31), Incubo (5:13), Cambiamento Definitivo (6:34), "237" (5:52)

CD 2: La Neve Copre Ormai Tutte Le Piane Aride (5:43), La Festa Dell ‘Overlook (8:57), Il Tempo ? Labile (4:41), Il Mattino Ha L'oro In Bocca (5:08), "Fammi Uscire" (4:49), L'intervento Di Grady (3:53), Redrum (6:53), Ora Nessun Nemico Passer? (5:05), In Fuga Nel Labirinto (3:10), Vittima Di Se Stesso (4:40), Oltre Tutto (6:30)

Listening to music and watching movies, you can’t ask for much more as a pastime... Incorporate the two together and you have a bit of a double whammy especially when one has been designed as an addition to enhance the interaction.

Ok I have just been blown away by the power of the new RanestRane double CD set Shining which is in essence a cineconcerto for one of the most recognised movies of Kubrick’s film career. Although this approach is not unique, their last album tackled Herzog's Nosferatu, (something that I need to purchase having listened to this). It is an approach that the likes of Goblin, Tangerine Dream, Nichelodeon and Faust have used in the past, although RanestRane’s approach is more melodic and accessible.

The subject matter of The Shining is well known and the band captures the innocence, isolation, violence and the sliding, spiralling madness to perfection especially on the pivotal realisation moment of 237.

Just looking at the presentation of the album Shining you can tell that the ethos of the band is attention to detail. The production and sound is impeccable with the contributing band members Riccardo Romano (keyboards, Harmonium, moog, programming), Daniele Pomo (voice, vocals, drums, percussions, trumpet and additional programming), Maurizio Meo (bass, electric double bass) and Massimo Pomo (electric guitars, acoustic guitars and classical guitars) being resolute.

Daniele Pomo’s rich vocal approach is Hogarth-esque, expressive with the band creating some vague Marillion tones throughout. Their musical approach is not the usual background affair, more fourth dimensional as they manipulate their varying approaches as the moods and pace change. In doing so the presentation becomes exciting, an impeccable, powerful, dynamic and tension inducing progressive rock soundtrack that soared as it worked its way through each scene succinctly capturing the moment and atmosphere perfectly. Each individual track marks each scene with importance from the opening sequence of the family driving up to the Overlook to the final scenes of Nicholson sitting there frozen to death having become a victim of himself. Lyrically too the band cleverly manipulate metaphors to really heighten the emotion of the piece, rhetorical figures of speech that just work on so many different levels. When the album is played as a stand alone identity, the atmospherics still work, even though it’s all in Italian but in saying that the ultimate way to play this is together as one.

Having been in the fortunate position of being able to both watch the movie via a projector and listen to the album being played through a hi-fi system at the same time really enhanced the whole experience ten fold. This really is the way to participate with this extravaganza. Even having to stop the movie to change the disc wasn’t distracting.

The original brief electronic score that accompanies Kubrick’s movie including a major theme based on Beriloz’ interpretation of Dies Irae has been eloquently bettered by RanestRane’s creation. This really is Italian symphonic rock at its best. All we can hope for now is a professionally shot DVD of the band live and some shows?

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Knight Area – Nine Paths
Knight Area – Nine Paths
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Laser's Edge
Catalogue #:LE-1061
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:47
Info:Knight Area
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Eversince You Killed Me (10:02), Summerland (7:26), Please Come Home (5:24), Clueless (4:18), The River (7:45), Pride And Joy (2:46), The Balance (6:24), Wakerun (8:05), Angel's Call (9:37)

Brendan Bowen’s Review

In the progressive rock arena, it is expected that a band will “progress” with each offering. Knight Area has embodied this trait by progressing notably with each release and Nine Paths is no exception. For this review group, Round Table Review status indicates a certain amount of anticipation and for this album it was justified.

At first strike into Nine Paths I was a bit underwhelmed and admittedly I have not been a big fan of their work thus far. The album begins with an overdone sort of familiarity to it but soon a palpable commitment to the listener is delivered that removes all doubt that Knight Area have indeed taken it up a notch. They artfully combine non-complex pop based passages of verse and chorus with sudden shifts of deep multi-melodic prog bridges and interludes indicating delivery of a complete package.

The most obvious and immediate upgrade from their last studio album, Realm Of Shadows, is the quality of the production and the use of sub-harmonics to thicken the sound. This style of music is well suited to an overproduced recording since it is theatrical in nature and lends to a larger than life atmosphere.

Nine Paths is replete with the prog elements that made this band among the anticipated and appear to be well on their way to becoming a standard bearer. You will recognize the 7/8 signatures that present a familiar Rush feel and Koopman’s bass picking and melodic note choice more than adequately flaunts the Chris Squire (Yes) influence complete with the old Rickenbacker sound. Most dominant are Gerben’s keyboards but never did I feel like they wore out their welcome.

I went back to Knight Area’s older work, The Sun Also Rises and Under A New Sign> and I left with a renewed appreciation. I haven’t been an ardent listener largely due to a single complaint: the vocals and lyrics tended toward sounding a bit too maudlin even to the extent that I think the more pop-based songs could have fit back in the sappy ‘80s. In Nine Paths I can say that all previous detracting elements have been put to rest. Smit’s vocals are outstanding and the storyline delivery is masterful.

We have witnessed a leap forward in this album that resembles the recent strides shown by Pendragon with Pure or Pallas with XXV. If you aren’t familiar with this band, think Redemption meets Steve Thorne. Where Knight Area needs to improve to keep up with these bands, however, is the rhythm section. The bass and drums while technically proficient do not establish a solid pocket to create a groove during the jams. With the bass sitting right on top of the beat (almost rushing) it feels hurried. Neil Peart (Rush) rides the top of the beat as well but Geddy is able to pull it back slightly to make a comfortable groove.

The album closed out on a rather slow number but I didn’t reach for the cue forward button. My final impression is we have an entertaining album here and that is as good a metric in this business as any. There is plenty of room to improve and the likes of IQ still lead the pack and set a high standard for the rest. I expect Knight Area will deliver next time as well and I will be there with anticipation.

Geoff Feakes’ Review

My first brush with Knight Area came in 2006 when they featured on the live Prog-Résiste Convention 2005 DVD I reviewed at the time. Quidam, Focus and Riverside amongst others appeared on the same bill but for me Knight Area stole the show which is no minor feat. Nine Paths is the band’s fourth studio album with its predecessors The Sun Also Rises (2004), Under A New Sign (2007) and Realm Of Shadows (2009) all receiving DPRP recommendations. Their most recent release a live album Rising Signs From The Shadows appeared in 2010.

The current line-up of Pieter van Hoorn (drums), Gerben Klazinga (keyboards), Gijs Koopman (bass), Mark Smit (vocals) and Mark Vermeule (guitars) continue their brand of atmospheric neo-prog with album opener Eversince You Killed Me being for me one of the best songs ever produced by the band. A soaring fanfare ushers in an infectious guitar/synth hook that’s far more uplifting than the song’s chilling title would suggest. A poignant vocal interlude with tasteful Floydian guitar glides smoothly into an exhilarating orchestral keys section and a stunning guitar solo that brings Steve Rothery circa Misplaced Childhood to mind.

Summerland is very dramatic, almost prog metal in tone, revealing the limitations in Smit’s singing although he proves to be more effective during the mellow piano interlude. Vermeule impresses with a showy display of guitar shredding whilst Klazinga succeeds in making a Moog sound positively muscular. A change of mood and tempo for Please Come Home, a rather limp ballad that sees Smit dueting with guest vocalist Charlotte Wessels who is also responsible for the cloying lyrics. A particularly fine, extended guitar solo fails to lift it above the ordinary. Clueless is more on the mark with an urgent guitar and piano intro leading into the gutsy song proper with an especially catchy chorus.

With the exception of the opening song, the cinematic The River is undoubtedly the album’s highlight leading off with another blissful instrumental intro. The mellow vocal that follows finds Smit’s voice pitched a little higher than usual but it’s the compelling instrumental bridge that proves to be the song’s main asset with a spirited synth solo and particularly fine rhythm support from Koopman and van Hoorn recalling Genesis in full flight circa Selling England By The Pound. Another highpoint is the relatively short but lively instrumental Pride And Joy with a galloping bass and piano rhythm underpinning the showy synth and guitar solos that bring Camel too mind.

The Balance is a bit of a curio sounding quite unlike anything else on the album. It’s a dark, slow burning song with programmed drums adding a sinister vibe. The tension is broken by a monumental barrage of keys with synth and bass solos respectively adding an extra dimension. With Wakerun we are firmly back in familiar neo-prog territory with another slice of rich synth and guitar interplay propelling the song along at a busy but melodic rate. The mid-section is an intoxicating concoction of massed drums and acoustic guitar which builds dramatically to the powerful and concluding song section. Smit’s voice is on particularly fine form here.

With keyboardist Klazinga responsible for the majority of the compositions, Angel's Call was penned by Smit and it makes for a particularly convincing closer. Haunting piano and mellotron strings complement the sensitive vocal lending an air of anticipation as the song develops into a relaxed tempo reminiscent of current Marillion. The song builds powerfully in stop-start fashion with the benefit of a short but moody synth break and a lengthier but equally moody guitar solo.

With one or two exceptions Nine Paths is another triumph for Knight Area with the stunning Eversince You Killed Me and The River easily compensating for the disappointing Please Come Home. The former in particular is reminiscent of Marillion, Pendragon and IQ at their classic best. In between the songs are diverse and tuneful with a variety of inventive guitar and synth exchanges to keep prog aficionados satisfied.

Conclusions:

BRENDAN BOWEN 8 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES 8 out of 10



Yesterdays - Colours Caffč
Yesterdays - Colours Caffč
Country of Origin:Hungary
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:52:27
Info:Yesterdays
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Játék (4:18), Forog A Tánc (5:16), Némafilm Szvit: I. Éjszaka (6:41), II. Némafilm (9:30), III. Mélyrepülés (4:05), Tükör (1:44), Bábu (4:36), Flautoccata (1:32), Megpihensz (2:27), Prelúdium Egy Esőhöz (1:54), Zápor (6:42) ...followed by an annoying 125 seconds of silence before revealing the 'hidden' track... Kérdés (2:30)

Although it has been three years since Holdfénykert, the debut album by Hungarian band Yesterdays, was reissued by the Musea label, the band haven't been idle. In fact, Colours Caffč, their sophomore release, was actually ready at the end of 2010 but lack of a distribution deal meant that the album was only released in Japan. Finally available in the rest of the world, the new album follows the template of the first album which received a favourable review by DPRP. Only three musicians remain from the first release, Bogáti-Bokor Ákos (guitars, keys, vocals), Csergó Domokos (drums) and Enyedi Zsolt (keyboards) who are joined by Horváth Linda (lead vocals), Kolumbán Zoltán (bass) and Kecskeméti Gábor (flutes) as well as a large supporting cast of other musicians. Recording of tracks for the next album have begun already with the line-up remaining consistent with the exception of drummer Domokos who recently left the band, the drum stool now being occupied by Szücs József.

Although much has been made of the group's, and particularly Ákos', admiration for Yes, the influence is not so evident in these new recordings. Instead, the band are forging their own identity, with all of the material sung in their native tongue. The light and airiness of Holdfénykert is maintained with Linda's vocals and harmonies being a sonic pleasure. The overall vibe of the album is relentlessly joyous and, even though it can be difficult to fully appreciate songs sung in a foreign tongue, the music is very uplifting. Yesterdays have been unfortunate enough to have had both their albums released just as the nights are drawing in and the thermometers are heading ever downwards, when in fact they are more ideally suited to languid evenings watching the sun go down whilst sipping on one's favourite beverage. Of course, that doesn't mean Colours Caffč is not suitable for winter nights, indeed it may just be the antidote for winter blues!

Replete with melody, the album contains plenty of keyboards flourishes that will delight many a prog fan. Although not an out-and-out progressive album, songs such as Forog A Tánc and the three-part Némafilm Szvit have roots penetrating into prog stratas whilst avoiding any over-indulgences that tend to be used as ammunition by prog-haters. Even the nine and a half minute Némafilm floats by effortlessly and the different sections are seamlessly segued by delightful flute passages and melody rich interludes. Gábor's flute playing is utilised quite extensively throughout, particularly on the short tracks Tükör, a song that can only be described as gloriously happy, and the instrumental Flautoccata which is more ominous, lending an air of mystery to proceedings. The other sub two-minute instrumental, Prelúdium Egy Esőhöz, replaces the flute for trumpet which resonates well with a crystal clear guitar that is either an acoustic sounding like and electric or vice versa! As on the debut, Ákos largely concentrates on the acoustic guitar although he occasionally plugs in. He is no slouch as an electric six-string slinger either, as the slow burning Zápor proves. Again, the melody shines through leaving the listener contented and delighted.

I personally hate the whole idea of 'hidden tracks' which are not hidden but just force the listener to endure minutes of silence before they can be heard. Why the group decided to include such a track is beyond me although I have to say I am rather glad they did. Kérdés is a beautiful flute, acoustic guitar and vocal piece that has a more melancholic air than the rest of the album. Despite this more subdued ambience, Linda's voice is perfect and could drive many a man to fall in love with her - the lure of the siren!

Colours Caffč is a fine, fine album and one that become more enjoyable with every listen. It is unfortunate that a lot of people will be put off by the Hungarian vocals although, despite not having a clue what the songs represented (I found that quite enticing, but the terminally curious can download an English translation of the album lyrics from the band's website), the unfamiliar cadence of the lyrical construction added to the richness of the music. I fully appreciate that others may find the album a bit too easy and would prefer more sturm und drang. However, there is much here to delight and I would recommend the album if not to everyone then those who have a more sentimental side. I should imagine that with polling season very nearly upon us, Yesterdays may well feature as having released one of my top releases of the year, which has to be saying something.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Oxcart – Beekeeper Constellation
Oxcart – Beekeeper Constellation
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:49:01
Info:Oxcart
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Drawbridge (1:58), Delusions (6:19), The Light (5:19), Zenith (2:28), Ember (2:30), Fire (5:49), Possum (4:25), Nationalism Anthem (6:56), The Beekeeper (5:21), Speakeasy (9:15)

It just so happens that I have recently returned from Portland, Oregon, where I spent time with a young up and coming ambient alt/prog band by the name of Ant And The Eagle, catching quite a few rehearsals and a storming show that will be the subject of a review elsewhere on this site in the not too distant future.

Oxcart are from Portland too but I had to return to Bradford, Yorkshire to discover them. My carbon footprint is, I grant you, pretty huge on this score.

The band comprises Jason Baker, on guitar and vocals, Eric Welder on bass, Matt Jones on keys, guitar and vocals; and Alex Feletar on drums and this is the third record they have released since 2005’s Sasquatch? They released Equation in 2008.

There’s more than a hint of Pink Floyd to the sound, which shouldn’t come as a surprise once you realise that members of the band also play in the Portland Pink Floyd tribute band Pigs On The Wing. Check out the soaring, Gilmour-esque solo on Possum, for instance. Oh, and the vocals in places are very reminiscent of Roger Waters. And the introduction to Nationalism Anthem wouldn’t be out of place on The Wall.

Elsewhere, other sonic touchstones that I can discern include Tool, Rush, Queens Of The Stone Age and Muse.

There’s a concept to this new one, which I’ll let the band tell you about:

"A young beekeeper finds himself thrust into the angry maw of an unforgiving war and returns a changed man, haunted by visions and ghosts of those he loves. Unable to reconnect, he takes solace only in the company of his bees and a vision of himself projected unto the stars..."

Once you get past the Eddie Izzardness of it all – “I’m covered in beeees” – you’ll find a lot to like. I was hooked from the instrumental opener – a strident, audacious, cinematic yet slightly tongue in cheek (perhaps the Spinal Tap influence the band cite on their website?) theme that, at only two minutes long, will I’m sure be an absolutely fantastic live segue into the Matt Bellamy/Justin Hawkins tinged vocal histrionics of Rush-like Delusions.

There’s a live, classic rock analogue rawness to the sound, courtesy of a top-notch production job by David Lindenbaum and for an independent release it’s mightily impressive.

In addition, it was mastered by Justin Phelps, whose credits include work with The Mars Volta, Cake, The Dead Kennedys and Mr. Bungle, amongst others. It’s independently released and is initially available worldwide through iTunes (RIP Steve Jobs) and in digital and physical form through CDBaby. It’s very good stuff, which I think most people will like, especially those who like their music challenging (in a good way) and their soundscapes mainly Floydian.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Autumn – Cold Comfort
Autumn – Cold Comfort
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Metal Blade
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:49:58
Info:Autumn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Scarecrow (5:15), Cold Comfort (5:36), Black Stars In A Blue Sky (4:43), Retrospect (5:00), Alloy (7:18), End Of Sorrow (4:35), Naeon (4:46), Truth Be Told [Exhale] (5:56), The Venamoured (6:28)

Sitting well-outside of the usual box containing music from female fronted rock/metal bands, Dutch sextet Autumn has steadily built their profile and reputation over four solidly impressive albums. Their last two releases, My New Time and Altitude, featured two very different singers and have remained regular features on my play list. The two occasions that I’ve seen them play live, have also left a good impression.

Having come this far into their career, the band recognized they faced a risk of becoming slightly predictable with their deeply-layered, groove-orientated, mid-paced approach. Cold Comfort sees the band striking out for a slightly different sound. Their roots remain heavily entrenched within a guitar-orientated rock sub-soil but the branches have been stretched out into more progressive and retro skylines. The band call it a more 'vintage' ethos. The guitars and drums are deeper and dirtier, the sound much less polished, quite harsh. On the whole I’m unconvinced.

The opening track where the guitar riff forms the chorus is a slow grower but effectively so. Black Stars In A Blue Sky is the second single boosted by a fantastic groove and melody with some cleverly effective keyboard touches. The title track is more intense and reminds a me a bit of Coldplay. The odd proggy-guitar-and-synth combination halfway through Truth Be Told works well.

This is the first album where singer Marjan Welman has been fully involved in the song writing and it is her vocal finesse that is the highlight of the album for me. None more so than on the album’s longest and most progressive song, Alloy, where the warmth, and seeming ease of her emotive delivery stops me in my tracks every time. She is equally at ease on the up-tempo material such as the opening single Naeon with its burst of electronica lending a slightly 80s vibe.

Retrospect is too one-dimensional, the low-slung, grungy guitars which draw-out the closing track doesn't work for me. Neither does the American countryesque approach taken on End Of Sorrow. Too much like Dolly Parton for my ears. I just don't connect with the cold dirtness of the guitars or the raw drum sound.

Overall, Cold Comfort is a diverse yet concise album with a lot of detail to explore in each song. Parts are simply stunning. The majority is enjoyable. Quite a few elements just do not hit the mark for me. My respect for the band trying something different. Hopefully they can take the elements which do work and blend them with more familiar Autumn trademarks next time.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Can - Tago Mago
Can - Tago Mago
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:2CD
Record Label:Spoon Records
Catalogue #:40SPOON6/7
Year of Release:1971/2011
Time:CD 1 73:27
CD 2 47:49
Info:Can
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Tago Mago: Paperhouse (7:29), Mushroom (4:04), Oh Yeah (7:22), Halleluwah (18:33), Aumgn (17:37), Peking O (11:38), Bring Me Coffee Or Tea (6:47)

CD 2: Live 1972: Mushroom (8:43), Spoon (29:56), Halleluwah (9:12)

James: Hey there Basil, what's up?

Basil: Nothing much, just writing a review.

J: Oh cool! What of?

B: Can's classic 1971 album Tago Mago. Wanna hear some?

J: Sure! What do you recommend?

B: I'm just going to stick Halleluwah on. It's absolutely my favourite track on the record, by a country mile. As you can hear, it just consists of one fantastic drum beat all the way through - well, almost - with the other band members improvisationally grooving alongside. All manner of psychedelic effects are spontaneously tried and tested in between bouts of singing from the band's Japanese singer Damo Suzuki. This goes on for 18˝ minutes, and the effect is absolutely mind-blowing.

J: Wow yeah, did the singer just say he was searching for his brother?

B: Yes, although I'm quite sure the lyrics aren't supposed to make sense.

J: I see. By the way, I've just noticed you're writing your review in the form of a conversation. What's up with that?

B: Haha, well you see, I did this for a number of reasons. Despite wanting to write something eye-catching and different, I wanted to be able to include some literary flourishes in my review. I also wanted to reflect the experimental theme of Can's album, by pushing a few boundaries myself. Progressive rock is about thinking outside the box, and if readers can get their heads around this album, then I'm sure they will enjoy reading a very different review.

J: Are you not afraid this will come off as pretentious?

B: No not really, by including this disclaimer right here, I think I've managed to get around that somewhat, although I guess I could be seen as throwing more fuel on the fire.

J: Man, this Halleluwah is really getting me moving. Are the other tracks on the album like this?

B: Heavens no! On one level I find this dissappointing, as I would happily listen to four sides of Halleluwah any day, but this would have jeopardised Can's ability to show just how experimental and creative they are.

J: Oh right. By the way, you've misspelled 'disappointing'.

B: Ah cheers. The album, when it was originally released in 1971, came as a double LP. Side 1 was devoted to three shorter tracks, Paperhouse, Mushroom, and Oh Yeah, which run into each other, and form something of a suite. Paperhouse is the closest the album comes to having a properly composed song. In a very uncharacteristic way, there are several different tempo changes throughout this song, and quite a few lyrics too. However, the rhythm and the bluesy guitar throughout this track make listening utterly sensational. The drumming on this track is a thing of sheer majesty.

J: Can we put that on?

B: Absolutely. After Paperhouse, Mushroom is the shortest song on the album at just 4 minutes. In the context of the original album, it seems a bit of a throwaway track, but the 9 minute version on the live disc in this reissue boosts its significance on the album. The lyrics are very simple, and the track as a whole is quite repetitive, but just like Halleluwah, the overall effect is really quite satisfying.

J: You're really selling this album to me. I've been eyeing up the tracklist and I quite like the sound of Aumgn.

B: Yes, with a length of 17 minutes, you'd expect Aumgn to sound a lot like Halleluwah, but this could not be further from the truth. Whilst Halleluwah is an incredibly funky track, perfect for rocking out to, Aumgn is one of the most dissonant pieces you will ever hear - save perhaps Yes' The Ancient. What was Jon thinking?

J: Huh?

B: I digress. Simply put, Aumgn is very avant-garde. Gone is the funk and rhythm that made the first two sides so brilliant. Throughout the course of this track, the listener is subjected to a cacophony of eclectic sounds and effects that would put Tangerine Dream to shame. Like other tracks of its kind, Aumgn is characteristically spooky. The title refers to the lone word that is repeatedly spoken through a voice modulator towards the centre of the song.

J: Oh right. Sounds pretty interesting, like The Beatles' Revolution 9 perhaps.

B: Well not really, because Revolution 9 was made up of a series of tapes spliced together, whereas I get the feeling that the band managed to record parts of this in the studio. But the effect the track has on you is quite similar, yes.

J: What do you think about it?

B: In all honesty, after the wonders of Halleluwah I was all ready for another rhythmic adventure, and felt a little let down by this track. I simply don't have that much time for tracks like this, and if I had to choose between putting on Halleluwah or Aumgn, it would be a no-brainer.

J: Yeah I totally get that. I always skip Revolution 9 on my iPod.

B: Have you ever actually listened to it the whole way through?

J: Well no. Should I?

B: Of course! You haven't heard the 'Watusi' line. It's hilarious.

J: I'll bear that in mind. Anyway, what of the final side of this album?

B: I absolutely recommend Peking O. Like Aumgn, this is another avant-garde track, but this one actually has some bite.

J: Explain?

B: There actually appears to be some kind of structure to this track. The first 2 minutes consist of Damo crying some lyrics, with an eerie keyboard sound in the background. After this, things get rhythmic, with an electrified drumming sound. After some chants of 'Mama gonna eat, Papa gonna eat', things get utterly crazy. The rhythm goes haywire, and a series of short sharp sounds make for very creepy listening. Damo starts to shout in a nonsensical manner, and it begins to sound like someone is machine-gunning a lunatic who is simultaneously being gassed. Not pleasant imagery at all! After this segment, the interesting part of the song is over, and the remaining 3 minutes are devoted to the band through an echoey filter.

J: Sounds absolutely hilarious. Can I just see the CD?

B: Sure thing.

J: Wow, impressive packaging!

B: I absolutely love what they've done with it. Rather than reissue this album in the standard jewel case, they've gone that extra mile and produced something a fan would really enjoy. In this case, they've actually looked at the original fold out designs of the UK LP cover, and tried to emulate that as far as possible.

J: It's beautiful!

B: Inside the fold out case, you see a booklet with liner notes by various people, including the original 1972 notes by Duncan Fallowell, and by the same person again in 2011. It's incredible to read the critic reminiscing about his time spent with the band whilst they were recording this album. Also, the booklet contains a few, but sadly not all photos from the original vinyl release.

J: ...and this has to be the weirdest CD packaging I've ever seen.

B: That, my friend, is a gatefold sleeve. A miniature one anyway. The record label has painstakingly created packaging that emulates the look and feel of the original album at a quarter of the size. And what an album cover!

J: I've just noticed this second CD. I probably don't have time to listen to it right now, but what's that like?

B: As it says on the cover, the second disc contains live material from 1972. Included are two tracks from Tago Mago, namely an elongated Mushroom, and a condensed version of Halleluwah. Also included is an epic, half-hour version of Spoon, a track from the band's subsequent album Ege Bamyası. I'm pretty sure this version contains some other tracks, and is something of a medley. Overall, I really like this addition to the album, as it gives listeners who have never seen the band live, such as myself, a chance to hear a wholly different side of Can. Also, there can be no harm in including another version of Halleluwah!

J: How do the band sound live?

B: Extremely different to in the studio. Mushroom gets a complete change, and I don't even think we hear the word 'mushroom' in this version of the song. Halleluwah is somewhat similar, but the band play the track on a more subdued and subtle level. Understandably some of the effects are missing too. Still, this bonus CD makes me very jealous of people who have seen Can, as they seem to be quite astonishing live.

J: Baz, I should really go, I'm really glad you introduced me to this album though, I'm definitely thinking of getting this.

B: Sure thing, I'm just so happy I got it myself! Tago Mago is such a mind-blowing album. More than on any other record I've heard, Can mix experimentalism and entertainment in a wonderfully unique way. Among all the other krautrock bands, Can definitely appear to be the coolest. You'd definitely not think they were German, given just how cool they are! This double album is immensely satisfying, and the live bonus disc is the icing on the cake. Among other things, I recommend this album just for Halleluwah, as I can't think of another track that's just so perfect to chill out to. Presented in a luxurious form at an affordable price, this is one of my favourite discoveries of the year, and for those who are familiar with the album already this could be one of your rediscoveries!

J: Who are you talking to Baz?

B: I don't know, but I think I'll put some of that in my review though.

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Moraine - Metamorphic Rock: Live At NEARfest 2010
Moraine - Metamorphic Rock: Live At NEARfest 2010
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:MoonJune Records
Catalogue #:MJR040
Year of Release:2011
Time:68:42
Info:Moraine
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Irreducible Complexity (3:39), Manifest Density (3:45), Save The Yuppie Breeding Grounds (4:02), Disillusioned Avatar/Dub Interlude/Ephebus Amoebus (10:25), Disoriental Suite (11:46): a. Bagua, b. Kan Hai De Re Zi, c. Views From Chicheng Precipice, Kuru (4:31), The Okanogan Lobe (7:36), Uncle Tang's Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (3:44), Blues For A Bruised Planet (4:35), Waylaid (5:31), Middlebräu (9:09)

For several decades, the city of Seattle (best known as the cradle of the grunge movement, as well as the coffee capital of the US) has been the home of globe-trotting guitarist and composer Dennis Rea, originally from upstate New York, but now a full-fledged member of the Pacific Northwest artistic community. Throughout the years of his activity as a musician, Rea has released an impressive number of albums of a high level of quality, but has never gained the recognition he amply deserves. However, three recent releases - Moraine's debut album, Manifest Density, in 2009, followed in 2010 by Rea's first solo album proper, View From Chicheng Precipice, and Iron Kim Style's self-titled debut - have contributed to making Rea more of a household name for fans of cutting-edge progressive rock.

Formed in the mid-2000s, Moraine began as a chamber-rock duo, consisting of Rea and cellist Ruth Davidson, then turned into a full-fledged band with the addition of bassist Kevin Millard, violinist Alicia Allen (now DeJoie) and drummer Jay Jaskot. Manifest Density was recorded with this lineup, which, by the time of the band's NEARfest appearance, had already changed. When both Jaskot (who also appears on the Iron Kim Style album) and Davidson moved away from Seattle, they were replaced by saxophonist James DeJoie (Alicia Allen's husband), and drummer Stephen Cavit (also an award-winning composer of movie and TV scores). The decision to replace the distinctive voice of the cello with a baritone saxophone determined a shift in the band's sound, lending their music a more angular, dynamic quality reminiscent of King Crimson or Henry Cow rather than Univers Zéro.

When Moraine were included in the lineup of the 2010 edition of NEARfest, their brilliant set gained them quite a few new fans, even if the "avant-garde" tag attached to them on the festival's press material (coupled with the always awkward Sunday morning slot) kept some of the more conservative attendees away. For the majority of the band members (with the exception of veteran Rea), it was the first contact with the "mainstream" prog scene, in spite of their extensive musical experience. In these times of grossly overrated, cookie-cutter acts, Moraine's riveting, intensely individual jazz-rock-meets-chamber-prog approach, spiced with heady helpings of traditional Far Eastern music, set them apart as the most genuinely progressive band on the bill.

One year later, that career-defining performance has been captured on CD as Moraine's second album, whose title, Metamorphic Rock, just like the band's name emphasizes mainman Dennis Rea's passion for geology and mountaineering (a moraine is an accumulation of glacial debris found in many mountain ranges) - as well as the changes undergone by the band since the release of Manifest Density. Running between 3 and almost 12 minutes, the 11 tracks featured on Metamorphic Rock highlight Moraine's unique dynamics and distinctive, broad-ranging compositional approach. Though Dennis Rea gets most of the songwriting credit, the band is very much of a collaborative effort in which each member brings his or her own personal imprint. By virtue of their different musical backgrounds, Moraine thrive on freedom of improvisation, and are much less prone to reproducing their compositions verbatim when on stage. Only half of the tracks appear on Manifest Density, and the new material (with one notable exception) shows the decidedly rock turn taken by the band after their lineup change.

The 3-minute opener Irreducible Complexity, written by James DeJoie, effectively sums up the 'new' Moraine, emphasizing the role of the saxophone both as foundation - together with Stephen Cavit's understated but subtly propulsive drumming and Kevin Millard's versatile 8-string bass - ans as a protagonist, in combination with Alicia DeJoie's soaring, flowing violin and Rea's hauntingly clear guitar. One of the most prominent features of Moraine's music is the use of a recurring leitmotiv device, generally introduced right from the beginning of a song, which renders it more memorable as well as more cohesive. This use can be observed in both older material like Manifest Density, with its catchy guitar-sax-violin riff, and the angular Kuru, and newer compositions like the majestic The Okanogan Lobe, and the forceful, somewhat chaotic Waylaid. More chaos (albeit of the controlled variety) is dished out in the suitably strident Uncle Tang's Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari; while the 10-minute medley of Disillusioned Avatar/Dub Interlude/ Ephebus Amoebus, gives voice to all of Moraine's different souls: from the violin-driven opening - a masterpiece of atmosphere-building with its melancholy tone and loose, rarefied texture - to the leisurely reggae saunter of the Dub Interlude, finally climaxing with an effects-drenched, free-jazz workout.

The longest track on the album at almost 12 minutes, the amusingly-titled Disoriental Suite (based on Dennis Rea's outstanding solo album Views From Chicheng Precipice), introduces Moraine's meditative side, opening with a gentle, lilting melody enhanced by James DeJoie's flute, and culminating with a sparser, violin-led section. While East-meets-West endeavours can be plagued by more than a whiff of cheesiness, this is no mere attempt at exoticism for its own sake, but is rooted in rigorous exploration and genuine interest in different musical modes than ours. On the other hand, the sombre mood of Blues For A Bruised Planet - Moraine's intimate take on a traditional blues ballad - conveyed by the mournful voice of the sax and reinforced by violin and guitar, stems from Dennis Rea's deep concern with the sorry state of the global environment. The album is then wrapped up by the magnificent Middlebräu, its upbeat, funky intro followed by a short, snappy drum solo, and then by a breathtakingly beautiful, slow-motion coda in which the synergy between guitar and violin reaches unparalleled heights.

Though edited of Rea's engagingly witty stage banter, Metamorphic Rock - mixed by legendary Pacific Northwest engineer Steve Fisk - can boast of stellar sound quality, spotlighting each performance in brilliant detail. With a healthy dose of humour to temper the intensity of their musical offer, Moraine are one of those rare bands that have managed to develop their own individual sound, making the most of each member's background and inclinations. While the album will probably not encounter the taste of the average symphonic prog devotee (particularly on account of the absence of both vocals and keyboards), it is otherwise warmly recommended to all open-minded prog fans, especially those who privilege instrumental music.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers – Under The Influence
The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers – Under The Influence
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:Ryanetics 9-1028
Year of Release:2011
Time:66:03
Info:The Flyin’
Ryan Brothers
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Ascension (1:27), Full Throttle (4:30), Chupacabra (3:37), Grooveyard Dawg (5:13), Miranda (4:36), After Hours (4:49), Loco Motive (4:05), Rubik’s Groove (4:34), El Morado (5:16), Henhouse Shuffle (5:51), Clockwork (5:56), When We Left Earth (5:04), Adore ::Trinity:: (11:05)

Are you down with the whole twin guitar situation? If you are, you might like Under The Influence, the seventh and latest release from The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers.

Jimmy and Johnny Ryan have been playing music together for over forty years and have existed as The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers since 1996, with previous bands they were in including Westfall, Axis, Nutcracker, Freeze and The Ryan Brothers Band. The ensuing years since ’96 have seen a slew of Grammy nominations for The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers, the winning of a Telly award for soundtrack work, a rising fan base, inclusion on a few prominent compilation releases, and among other endeavors a rare appearance with their great musical inspirations, Wishbone Ash. The sonic tattoo of their sound is the aforementioned twin guitar element, also known as harmony lead guitar, with many sojourns into Southern rock territory.

On the aptly named Under The Influence, Jimmy Ryan plays electric guitar, lap steel and effects; Johnny Ryan plays electric and acoustic guitar and effects, William Kopecky (Par Lindh Project, Snarling Adjective Convention, Kopecky, Saw, Michael Angelo Batio, Haiku Funeral, Far Corner, Truth Squad, Lunar Fugue and Yeti Rain) on fretless bass, and late musical colleague Johnny Mrozek plays drums and percussion on a dozen of the CD’s thirteen tracks, with original late seventies era Ryan Brothers Band drummer Dan Van Schindel stepping in for drum duties on one track. The tunes on the CD were written, arranged and produced by the Flyin’ Ryan Brothers. And quite capably, I might add.

Whilst harmony guitar flavoured Southern style rock is the major element of the CD’s music, other styles get in on the action as well. On Chupacabra, Mrozek’s frenetic jazzy groove juxtaposes with a totally different Eastern guitar melody and some trailing effects add yet another variety at the end of the track.

To check out the twin guitar element, listen to Clockwork, where the dual guitars bring a sense of encompassing vision to the music, like a knowing pair of omniscient eyes. This track is a mid-tempo, relaxed number with carefully placed yet versatile drumming from Van Schindel.

Ethnic, smoothly minimal percussion from Mrozek fires things up on Adore ::Trinity::, which also showcases some fretless bass from Kopecky evoking Jah Wobble and lush acoustic guitar from Johnny Ryan. After a bit of silence, the ::Trinity:: section of the song sees a deployment to a melancholy bluesy rollick drawing upon Aerosmith and On An Island-era David Gilmour as pointers.

Another rollick in melancholy fashion shows up on El Morado, along with some Joe Satriani commonalities, determined fretless bass from Kopecky, and a lone guitar solo which here demonstrates the ability for one guitar to sizzle as much as two can.

The lead guitar dynamics are further explored on Henhouse Shuffle, which offers up the two guitars playing, but in completely different melodies as opposed to harmony style. The sound of a rooster’s “cock-a-doodle-doo” gives way to a bit of country silliness evoking The Reverend Horton Heat followed by the comical clucking of chickens. This bit of silliness aside, it would be great to see The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers explore the country elements along with some rockabilly with future releases.

The music on Under The Influence is well-produced, and while it clearly shows the sound of a group of fun-loving musicians playing what they want with no constraints, they do tap into the Southern rock of Molly Hatchet and the AOR of Kansas yet remaining virtuosos in their own collective rights.

This music, then, will appeal mostly to fans of Southern style rock and harmony lead guitar. Whilst it is not prog per se, and as a narrow genre it may not appeal to everyone, there are enough twists and turns on the sixty-six minute CD to spark the interest of some prog purveyors.

The CD is packaged in a glossy gatefold and in addition to credits has a list of their many influences, including among others Bela Fleck and Boston, and a tribute to Mrozek.

As far as other room for improvement goes, some may say that the all-instrumental band could use a vocalist, but I say to leave well enough alone in this regard as the sound of The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers is busy and effective enough without the need for singer.

So if you want some sizzling sonic spice, check out the latest release from The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers. Hotter than a plate of jalapeńo cheddar grits!

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Mandrake Project – Transitions
Mandrake Project – Transitions
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:GlassVille Records
Catalogue #:AP-1104
Year of Release:2011
Time:51:13
Info:Mandrake Project
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Transitions (3:48), We Are You (3:23), In Love (3:13), Black Bag (3:43), Dry In The Quarter (3:47), Temptress (4:02), The Old Is New (5:12), Diabolique (4:31), Wide Open (4:49), Given Away (3:30), Sang For Min Fru (3:48), Providence (5:19), Rain (2:20)

GlassVille Records is a new record label that brought us the excellent new album from Paatos earlier this year. Other bands with GlassVille are Riverside, Sun Domingo and... Mandrake Project. Who? Well, I freely admit that I had never heard of this American band before, however they seem to have been around for more than nine years and have released two (2 !!) albums already: 2006’s A Favour To The Muse and 2009’s A Miraculous Container. Those first two albums were complete instrumental affairs. I haven’t heard them (yet) but according to their own website their debut album:

“dabbled heavy in experimentation rhythms and repetitive textures whilst A Miraculous Container delved deep into sonics, big melodies and huge dynamics. The overall approach to the music was softer and more patient.”

The music has a cinematic quality and a couple of songs were used in documentaries.

And now for their third offering Transitions this seven piece instrumental band were joined by John Schisler on vocals. Hence the title of the album. The instrumental music had to be transformed to let the vocals in. I can’t make a comparison to the earlier material for the obvious reasons I stated above, but what I can say is that Transitions is a very strong album. If you are a lover of modern progressive rock with lots of indie touches you are really going to enjoy Mandrake Project. Because these guys, and I’m going to mention them all now: Kirk Salopek - guitars. John Schisler - vocals. David Chapman Jamison - drums. Rick Nelson - violin, viola, cello. Ryan Meals - guitars, Anthony Pecora - bass, Denny Karl - piano, organ, synth, Benjamin Zerbe - percussion, Mallets, know how to write good tunes which excel in melody, depth and a lot of atmosphere.

There are certainly traces to be heard of the modern prog bands like Anathema, Aereogramme, Gazpacho and Porcupine Tree. But also a band like Elbow (who also have their progressive moments) comes to mind when listening to this beautiful album. As you can see it’s an eight piece band but the musicianship is very restrained and with attention to detail. It rarely gets very loud and the pace of the tracks is, most of the time, slow. However We Are You is an up tempo track with a Hammond organ upfront in the mix whereas the instrumental Diabolique is a bit more exuberant with its Eastern feel and gypsy style. But overall the album is dominated by the sound of the one man string section Rick Nelson and the gentle and very strong voice of John Schisler. The rest of the band contribute by colouring the songs where necessary.

There are two guitar players in the band but they play in service of the songs. There is some pedal steel or slide guitar to be heard which, in unison with the tranquil atmosphere, give the songs a slight Pink Floyd feel (The Old Is New and Wide Open). Percussionist Benjamin Zerbe colours the many open spaces the music has with all sorts of subtle sounds. But the main man on this album for me is Rick Nelson who, with his violin and cello playing, is a major part of the sound of Mandrake Project. His orchestrations enter and leave the tracks like the wind (I’m starting to get all poetic here, sorry) and the spacious way they are recorded reminded me very much of This Mortal Coil. This project, a collaboration of all the bands that were signed to the prestigious 4AD label, resulted in three beautiful albums in the eighties and early nineties (and two hit singles; Song To The Siren sung by Elisabeth Frasier from the Cocteau Twins and You And Your Sister sung by Kim Deal and Tanya Donnely from the Pixies, Throwing Muses and the Breeders). The strings on those albums and the way they were recorded sound a lot like those on Transitions. Highlights of Transitions for me are the last four songs where all the things that make this such a wonderful album come together.

As you probably noticed I am really impressed by this band. I will certainly check out their earlier music. There is only one drawback and that is the fact that this album is more an indie rock album with progressive tendencies than a progressive rock album. However I am certain that fans of modern progressive rock band like the ones mentioned in this review will really like the wonderful cinematic world of Mandrake Project.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Pocket Orchestra – Phoenix
Pocket Orchestra – Phoenix
Country of Origin:USA
Format:2CD
Record Label:Altr0ck
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:ALT023
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 79:02
CD 2 79:21
Info:Altr0ck Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: The Pocket Orchestra Tape 1983 – Imam Rialdi (6:24), R. V. (7:04), Regiments (14:59), Letter (13:53) – The Knebnagäuje Tape 1978-1979 – Blueing (7:10), White Organ Meats (7:03), Grandma Coming Down The Hall With A Hatchet (5:32), Bagon (16:52)

CD 2: Live 1980-84 – Annex (5:56), Bagon/Wandering Aimlessly (14:48), Blirt (4:05), Blueing (12:01), Letters (19:12), Parade (5:23), Regiments [Parts 1, 2 and 3] (11:32), Corn Fed (5:37), Sound Check Bonus (0:43)

Pocket Orchestra are a revered name in avant-prog circles, a short lived band originally based in the Phoenix AZ area, hence the double meaning of this album. The first CD is a reissue of demo tapes the band made under their original name of Knebnagäuje, and the second a hitherto unheard compilation of live recordings.

The studio album compiles two demos, the first four tracks are The Pocket Orchestra Tape, made in 1983, and the last four tracks are The Knebnagäuje Tape, compiled between 1978 and 1979. This was originally released in CD form in 2005, now long sold out. Of the two parts, the Pocket Orchestra section is the more accomplished, and dare I say it accessible, as the early improvisational mania displayed on The Knebnagäuje Tape is tempered by more of a semblance of structure.

The only way to describe some of the earlier explorations, such as Blueing and Grandma Coming Down The Hall With A Hatchet, is with a wry smile and the words “insanity set to music.” Not the kind of thing to play after a hard day at the day job, I can tell you, but interesting nonetheless from a purely intellectual perspective. If you can imagine the more obtuse end of the Gentle Giant spectrum played at 300 miles an hour, that’s what Blueing seems to be, although by the final section it slows to a swinging rhythm. With track titles as bonkers as White Organ Meats and as raging as Grandma Coming Down The Hall With A Hatchet one would expect the songs to live up to their names, and, yes indeedy, they do!

White Organ Meats puts me in mind of what Captain Beefheart might have forced his Magic Band to play on Trout Mask Replica had they come into existence in the late 70s rather than the late 60s. Definitely crazed, the song ends with what sounds like a small army of marching ants stomping along. Grandma… is off its trolley in a playful beginning featuring the music played in a circus when the clowns appear, and continues on its crazy inaccessible way for five and half minutes.

When they mange to get past the cacophony that occasionally results out of a technique named “cobatone” where each musician is encouraged to play as fast and as loud and seemingly as randomly as possible, and actually jam around a structure, a furious but accessible noise is created, and tracks like Bagon, R. V., Regiments and Letters demonstrate this perfectly, Bagon displaying some fine Canterbury influence, put through a mangle, and it even features a short drum solo. When was the last time you heard a studio album with one of those? R.V. ends on a fearsome guitar blast from Tim Parr and Letters even sounds whimsical to begin with, although not for long as Tim soon gets to drop in splurges of ultra-fast picking, the song taking off over a basic riff before becoming becalmed and staying largely in an unexpected laid back groove throughout, sometimes recalling Hatfield And The North, and ending on a short but mad guitar solo, it’s the best song on the album. It’s actually almost nice!

Joining Tim we have Tim Lyons on bass, Bob Stearman on drums, Bill Johnson on cello, Craig Bork on keys and Joe Halajian on reeds, but unfortunately the two Tims and Bob Stearman are no longer with us. On the aforementioned Regiments they cook up a tasty slice of angular and unpredictable ensemble playing that has a structure that at times seems to defy all logic, but strangely it works. All the usual RIO and avant influences can be felt, ranging from Samla Mamas Manna through Univers Zero and Henry Cow, the “cobatone” excursions giving the band their own twist to the grey matter quick-step.

The live CD was sourced from various tapes that have been cleaned up for this release, and has much more rough and ready quality as you would expect, and the jamming side of the band sometimes takes precedence, the track title Wandering Aimlessly unfortunately summing it up in places. As a result it’s harder to get into for the Pocket Orchestra novice that is yours truly, but the live versions of Letters and Regiments in particular are worth checking out. There are numerous songs on this CD that do not appear on the studio CD making it a must for fans of Pocket Orchestra and the RIO/avant genre in general.

Another brave release from Italy’s true progressive label AltrOck, but best not use it as stocking filler, you might scare the children!

Conclusion – Studio album 7 out of 10, Live album 5 out of 10...

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Proto-Kaw - Forth
Proto-Kaw - Forth
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Numavox
Catalogue #:0016
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:26
Info:Proto-Kaw
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Daylight (4:31), Pilgrim’s Wake (5:29), Pollex (5:20), Cold and Clear (5:50), Lay Down (5:35), Greek Structure Sunbeam (5:33), On The Air (Again) (6:41), One To Follow (4:22), Sleeping Giant (5:24), Things We Are Breaking (5:19), Utopian Dream (7:29)

For years, people have argued about the advantages and disadvantages of the CD format over the vinyl format: artwork, sound quality etc. One feature of CDs that makes them very different to vinyls is that they can hold 80 minutes of music, encouraging artists to write more material for their albums. This can be a disadvantage, especially when the artist doesn't write very good material for their albums in the first place. Such is the case of Proto-Kaw.

Proto-Kaw - comprising of Kerry Livgren, Lynn Meredith, John Bolton, Dan Wright, Jake Livgren, Craig Kew and Mike Patrum - is the band that existed prior to the ever-popular Kansas. The name 'Proto-Kaw' combines the Greek prefix meaning 'before' with the Native American word for 'Kansas'. After Livgren released a compilation of tapes chronicling this early version of Kansas entitled Proto-Kaw: Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973, the old band decided to reform and begin releasing new material. Forth is the band's third studio album, following 2004's Before Became After and 2006's The Wait Of Glory.

Those hoping for a taste of early Kansas music will be bitterly disappointed. The music here is strictly mediocre AOR, with barely a hint of prog. What's more, there's an excruciating 61 minutes of music to sit through divided into eleven mind-numbing songs. Most of the songs are roughly 5' minutes in length, meaning that they are all padded out and take far more of your time than they should. Each song seems incredibly lame, uninspired and unoriginal, with a tired composition style used in each case. My favourite on this album is the loungey Greek Structure Sunbeam, though I can't imagine why I'd listen to it again.

This is the sound of a band that are scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas. It's disappointing to know that five years between albums cannot yield this group anything fresh and original. Unless you enjoy listening to lame, cheesy AOR, I suggest you stay well away from this one.

Conclusion: 2.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Fuzz Manta - Opus II
Fuzz Manta - Opus II
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:37
Info:Fuzz Manta
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Motumann (4:27), Man With No Face (4:51), Quiet Monday (4:45), Lithia’s Box (8:37), Turn Around (3:44), White And More (3:57), Corrosion (3:35), Let Me Walk (11:23)

Ian Butler wrote of Fuzz Manta’s 2009 release Smokerings, “It’s not as creative as Zeppelin, heavy as Sabbath or as bluesy as SRV, but it’s all there,” giving the album 6.5 out of 10.

Those references are still there as are Heart (Quiet Monday) , Deep Purple (Man With No Face), Kyuss (Lithia’s Box)and AC/DC (Corrosion)amongst others but on repeated listening and scratching under the surface there is so much more on offer.

2011’s Opus II their sophomore album sees the band ply their trade which features elements of classic, psychedelic, space and bluesy rock. As an album it definitely buries itself deeply in the 70’s, saturated with plenty of fuzz. The music is powerful but the standout feature is definitely Lene Kjaer Hvillum’ vocal inflections that call to mind Grace Slick and to some degree Nancy Wilson. The addition of female vocals does create a different atmosphere which is what makes these songs work better.

As each track plays out the contributors are allowed to shine through as they jam out the numbers, melodic, catchy, powerful hooks, crunching chords that solidly bounce around the room having been excellently produced. This isn’t a band that are short of ideas, even those glorious Hammond tones work to perfection when incorporated with the rest of the instrumentation, which for me makes it a winning formula. There is just wave after wave of sonic assault that is very comforting and familiar.

We see the passionate and to some degree ballad Quiet Monday, sitting perfectly next to the heavier Lithia’s Box and the metal approached White And More and the stunning standout psychedelic Jam rock album closer Let Me Walk which is worth the admission price on its own. As the album opens with the powerful bass crunching Motumann it closes with no less fluidity with the stunning Let Me Walk.

Whilst not essentially a prog album per se, it does take you back to the days when music had clout. If you like this genre or approach then this is definitely worth investigating as there is something for everyone here! This is not a band pretending to be something they aren’t they certainly have a belief and passion for the approach. Play Loud and enjoy.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE


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