Reviews in this issue:
- Izz – Crush Of Night
- Øresund Space Collective – West, Space And Love
- Dean Watson - Imposing Elements (Duo Review)
- Ter' Azur - Falling Asleep
- Phil Miller In Cahoots – Mind Over Matter
- Astralfish – Far Corners
- Jack O’ The Clock - How Are We Doing And Who Will Tell Us?
- Everwood – Without Saving
- Domain Of Dreams – Domain Of Dreams
- Redrocks - Cosmic Dream [EP]
Izz – Crush Of Night
Tracklist: You've Got A Time (4:09), Words And Miracles (7:17), Solid Ground (6:01), Half The Way (6:07), Crush Of Night: [i] This Reality (13:32), [ii] The Crush Of Night (13:18), Almost Over (4:19)
I'm reviewing from an iTunes purchase, although the physical CD is available from a number of very fine retailers - details are on the band's website. I'll be getting the physical CD but, as you might have gathered, I'm a fan so had to have the album just when I wanted it and these here download things cater to my insatiable desire for immediacy. Intimacy, now that's another thing altogether but I have espoused my love for this band at various times, and at several locations on this 'umble website. It was through the DPRP that I first heard of this band, in fact, over ten years ago.
Everything we've ever reviewed by Izz has received a recommended rating, going back to 1998. Dave Sissons has said, in respect of the 2007 live release Live At Nearfest: “IZZ are one of the best modern American symphonic progressive rock bands to emerge in (relatively) recent years, and should be considered alongside Echolyn, Glass Hammer and Spock's Beard as being at the fore-front of the genre”. And I'm not going to disagree with him
This new record is the second part of a three album series that began with The Darkened Room and features a guest appearance by Gary Green of Gentle Giant on Words And Miracles and The Crush Of Night. Green contributed to the writing, added a few wonderful solos and sang backing vocals on Words And Miracles.
Now, I gave 10 out of 10 to The Darkened Room, considering it back in 2009 a benchmark for American symphonic progressive rock. But in hindsight if there was something that album lacked it was a truly ‘epic' piece. I still stand by the rating, but now we have the eponymous suite, clocking in at 26 minutes and divided into two tracks, This Reality and The Crush Of Night. Lyrically, these songs consider the struggle that surrounds our search for meaning. Musically they encapsulate why this band is, to my mind, one of the very best progressive rock bands I've ever heard. Ever.
I bang on about how such a lot of 'progressive' rock music sounds derivative. Cynically sounding like 'popular' modern bands so as to somehow become popular symbiotically. In fact I saw this in a review the other day: “Sounding like Pineapple Thief and Porcupine Tree this album is well worth a listen”. Now, call me an old fuddy duddy but if you want to listen to some Pineapple Tree then go out and buy some bloody Pineapple Tree. Or Porcupine Theater. Or Dream Pineapple. And, as a musician, if all you can muster are some tunes that sound like said bands then maybe consider a career in a call centre. And also consider that just because some journo who wants to get inside your kecks calls your band the 'next big thing' then you might not in fact be said next best thing. He wants to get inside your kecks, remember. And because he looks like a warmed up turd wearing a hat he has to 'interview' you and take you out for (a lot of) drinks to stand the remotest chance of even some over the jumper action. So the next time you see some piece on a new 'flavour of the month' female fronted prog band remember that it is very likely that the person writing it wants to have intercourse with someone.
I, on the other hand do not. Well, not this exact second anyway. Izz sound like Izz. The vocal harmonies; the contrasting vocal styles of Anmarie Byrnes and Tom Galgano, as well as the latter's fine keyboard work; the use of two drummers (Brian Coralian and Greg Dimiceli) utilising electronic and acoustic drums; Paul Bremner' s wonderfully fluid guitar playing and John Galgano's big bass sound. These all combine seamlessly to create a sound that is unique in modern progressive rock music.
The album is mixed by Grammy nominated engineer John Shyloski and as always with an Izz release the artwork and booklet are of the highest quality.
So, to the tracks.
You've Got A Time.
Don't you know you have the power to make it all equate
Forget about the wonder forget about your fate
Turn it on start again no need to wonder my friend
Trademark vocal harmonies, propelled along by some fine piano work, set the stage for Bremner to let rip with scorching little guitar runs.
Words And Miracles
To talk to me
To let me see
I bet you've lost
The guest player's guitar work takes centre stage, obviously, but hats off to the always impressive rhythm section, who give Green a rock solid bottom end on top of which he can let rip. Synth and meaty Hammond prepare the way for the acoustic mid section before more down and dirty rocking returns to propel the song home.
The sky seems so far away
Bremner's guitar playing will have the hairs on the back of your neck rising up. It's that good. And in the progressive rock dictionary entry for 'how to do male/female vocal harmonies' it says, merely, listen to this.
Half the Way
How could I falter?
How could I fall?
Though I'd remember I would not call
Achingly sad, the song showcases Tom Galgano's fine voice and piano for a large part of its running time. Before he lets rip with a stunning synth solo. Bremner joins him towards the end, with some perfectly anguished guitar playing leaving just the piano to close out the track.
Crush Of Night
I. This Reality
Open the book
All the words
They collide at our sight
Answers revealing more questions
Concealing the light
II. The Crush Of Night
And though it's true
That love can make things clearer
Disguised at night it crushed my mind
This is a biggie. Distilling everything that is good about Izz into twenty-six minutes. I know there are some mighty fine releases to come this year from some big names, and there have already been a few so far but this should be on your track of the year list. Second part of the suite, The Crush Of Night, is the best 13 minutes of music I've heard in quite some time. It's anthemic, symphonic progressive rock music of the very highest order. With the best keyboard playing you'll hear all year. Modern progressive rock music, respectful of the past, and with nods to the classics – Genesis, ELP, Yes and so on – but doing things within the genre that no one else is doing. Six people who gel completely, each person's playing showcasing the work of the others. I honestly believe this record is better than The Darkened Room – it flows (and hangs together) better, and the production really gives the different sounds and textures room to breathe – and as you know I gave that one a 10. Now, giving a 10 causes a great many amongst the prognoscenti to gnash their teeth, and endlessly debate ratings and whatnot. When what they should in fact be doing is getting out more. What to do, what to do?
Just give me a chance to know
Just lend me a hand to help
The ride is long
It's almost over now
And so the album ends in a flurry of rocking guitar. After the wonder of what came before, this song was always going to be somewhat of an anti-climax. And so it is. On any other record it would be a standout track.
As part two of a three-album cycle Crush Of Night continues on from where The Darkened Room left off. Izz continue to set the benchmark for American progressive rock music, against which everything else from the continent must be measured. I recommend it unreservedly. And as such there's only one rating I can give it.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Øresund Space Collective – West, Space And Love
Tracklist: High Rise (7:26), Kafi (For Your Love) (8:11), Spirit Blues (6:48), Repetition (7:37), Sitars In Space (14:30)
The latest piece of aural cosmic debris to reach escape velocity from the seemingly infinite Magellanic Cloud that is Scott Heller's OSC zeros-and-ones archive is West, Space And Love, in which our intrepid space explorers deliver another slab of out-there wizardry but with a difference.
Recorded in Copenhagen in 2009, unlike previous albums this stellar delving is a subtle gossamer thin construct from a trio consisting of two members of Swedish jam-rockers Siena Root and Collective leader Dr Space (Heller) on unobtrusive keyboards and electronics. K G Westman contributes guitars, sitar and bass, while fellow Siena Root member Billy "Love" Forsberg weighs in with acoustic guitar and Eastern flavoured percussion such as tabla, spring drum and darbuka (aka goblet drum). The all-pervading Eastern influence of these instruments and the laid back vibe lends the album a meditative quality that is quite different to the previous full-on sprawling group jams of the Collective's more recent efforts.
This is an album for those late late night introspection sessions and is best revealed in all its subtle glory on the headphones where the delicate textures of Dr Space's synths and electronica weave in and out of the percussion and sitar, the latter often taking on the lead instrument role. Space winds swoosh around the mystic percussion of the slowly lovely High Rise which sounds not unlike Klaus Schulze under Indian influence. Some gorgeous sitar work on Kafi (For Your Love) conjures images of vast orange-tinged sunsets behind elaborately ornate Hindi temples. Utterly lovely.
Dr Space's synth remains restrained and largely in the background throughout allowing the sitar, or, in the case of Spirit Blues, the country-blues acoustic picking and the tabla to take the lead. The exception is Sitars In Space which features an insidious repetitive synth groove that inexorably meanders along going through all manner of phasing and modulation while the sitar and percussion make recurring but fleeting appearances. The song reveals a stately progress that becomes more apparent as one immerses oneself in the hypnotic groove.
More an album of space than in space, and with a distinctive world music feel, West, Space And Love will surprise and delight fans of the band and is also a must for those of you into ambient meditative musics.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dean Watson - Imposing Elements
Tracklist: Past Present (6:46), 16 Feet Below (5:42), Underpass (5:33), Push Too (5:05), Pendulum (6:33), Depth Charge (6:20), Of Age (6:40), New Resolution (8:37)
Gert Hulshof's Review
In 2010 I was lucky enough to discover Dean Watson's debut album, Unsettled; a work in fact that inspired me to write some poetry of my own. Today I'm feeling even more lucky because I have the possibility to review the follow-up! Imposing Elements is a collection of eight pieces, all dealing with things impressive in one way or another. In all ways they are Elements of our lives; to illustrate this the album's opening track tells all.
Past Present represents, in my opinion, our everyday life with a reflection to its past. The giant bass-line underpinning much of the track points this out to us, the pounding drums then ensure that all things from the Past are interwoven in the Present. Along with some very luscious sounding keyboards, synths, mellotron too, it all builds into a sound palette justifiably called Past Present.
We continue with 16 Feet Below (now that struck me as odd because I never heard the phrase "16 feet under" before) the track is what we might call Jazz-fusion-optimum-form. Free style throughout the track with the electric-piano and I think I may hear xylophone, but may well be a sound that Dean has coaxed from the piano. The sounds he creates are simply amazing, very distinctive but also working very well together. I wanted to find out what "16 feet below" could mean. I believe it represents for treasure hunting using GPS. Well the link is made I guess, because the song is an absolute treasure of that there's no doubt!
Next track on the menu is Underpass, a song Dean had exposed as a preamble, a taster for the album a little over a year ago. The musicality in this song is of an extraordinary level. Guitars, keyboards, the inevitable e-piano, drumming: it all fits, you want to listen to an impressive element, sorry Imposing Element it's Underpass.
Dean continues in the fourth track with what I call xylophone, but then again it may well be another instrument. The sound I can very well distinguish is that of the giant bass-line making its return. As in Past Present, the bass drives, no Push Too forward. There is a section where drums and bass are joined by a riffing guitar, later followed by soloing and keyboards all working towards the climax of the song. I cannot get enough of the bass-line in this song not to mention the sound of xylophone (or vibraphone??). An example of great and astounding jazz-rock-fusion. I'm blown away time and time again listening to this.
Going on to Pendulum. We are now treated to a song where a perhaps wider audience can be reached as this song is slightly more symphonic, with a lot of changes and so on. Careful listening reveals many tiny, little details, making it a wonder for the ears. The pace of the song is smooth and yet driving -indeed, imagine a pendulum as it goes back and forth, back and forth, as so with this song. A lighter passage is followed by a more symphonic one and the instrumentation is once again quite awesome.
A Depth Charge is what is used to bombard U-boats and the first thing we hear is an sonar echo as to find out where the charges should land. The song is an absolute depth charge, with the thriving bass, rocking guitar and fine drumming. Just listen to the bass line. Not A difficult one but totally effective.
In Once We Come Of Age, Dean tells us we need to be more rocking, and indeed there are some mean rocking guitars present plus the e-piano to add some sophistication and, oh my, a heavy, heavy bass-line! Half way through the song the guitar tells us the story of how we come of age, drums and bass are fade to the back. It really is amazing how Dean is able to create such stunning alphabet of music.
In the final track, New Resolution, Dean offers us a complete musical smorgasbord of the finest sort. All instruments are offered up and Dean offers bits and pieces on all of them.
As a conclusion I would suggest if you are new to Dean's music then first listen to Underpass, because that is easily the most accessible song on the album. The last one to hear is the final track, New Resolution, but that one is a sheer beauty, if bit more challenging. I could now write a list of superlatives on how great the album is and you have to buy and so on and so forth... Instead I'll do no such thing, rather I'll leave you by recommending the album, it is an amazing work of Art.
Bob Mulvey's Review
As Gert and I offered a Duo Review of Dean Watson's excellent Unsettled debut album a couple of years ago, it seemed only fitting for me to join him on this sophomore release. Not that I needed much persuading mind you because if Imposing Elements came anywhere near the quality of the debut, then I was in for a real treat.
As with the Unsettled the music on Imposing Elements is inspired by fellow Canadian artist, Ron Eady and again this album is a self produced release with Dean taking on all the arranging and instrumentation. Musically we are firmly rooted in the progressive, jazz/rock/fusion genres and the eight instrumental tracks here nicely cross all those boundaries. Possible pointers across the album are Derek Sherinian, Jeff Beck, Pierre Moerlen's Gong, Brand X, Pat Metheny, Bruford, Colosseum II, Mahavishnu Orchestra, to mention just a few - and if all of those names seem a tad on the fusion side for you, then raising the progressive/symphonic elements are the frequent underlying mellotron and choral sounds. Along with the greater use of some very analogue(y) synth sounds.
Imposing Elements feels less urgent than its predecessor and Dean appears to have allowed himself more space within the music. So there is a greater emphasis on groove and feel - to these ears anyway. This said there is a rawer, dare I say it metallic edge to the guitars in several of the tracks. So the soundscape has broadened considerably, an indication that Dean has matured both compositionally/instrumentally - and to hear all of this you don't need to go much further than the album opener. Past Present is nicely restrained, with a haunting quality that is uncomfortable and compelling at the same time. Even when the tempo picks up around the halfway mark, the tension remains, with the keyboards and guitar offering a flurry of trade off solo volleys. The track concludes with dark Gothic choirs dissected by the guitar theme.
Elsewhere across the album we have the stomping Blow By Blow, Wired era Jeff Beck-like 16 Feet Below. Complete with Rhodes piano - the track mutates into those jazzier/darker areas invoking Pierre Moerlen's Gong and Uzbekistan's FromUz respectively. The percussive mallett sounds employed on Underpass and Push Too reiterate the Pierre Moerlen connection. Brand X and the darker edges of Derek Sherinian's work also surface in these two tracks. Initially Jeff Beck surfaces again in the excellent Pendulum which is held nicely together by the "rhythm section". As the track title suggests there's a swing and we move into Keith Jarrett territory before the calming outro solo section. Lyle Mays & Pat Metheny may well have been the inspiration behind the eerie Depth Charge. But folks let me stop here and quickly say - don't let all these notable comparisons deflect away from the fact that this Dean Watson.
Those who were wise enough to follow Gert's and my suggestion to check out Unsettled will perhaps have already taken the plunge with this new album. If not, or if the name Dean Watson is unfamiliar to you, then a quick summation of the music here. Above I've mentioned some fairly heavyweight musicians for guidance and personally I'd say Dean Watson exhibits the chops to be mentioned in the same breath as these guys. This is well written and constructed instrumental music that never disappears up its own importance. Wisely the tracks have been kept around the five to six minute mark allowing Dean enough time to explore the themes and melodies, but short enough to negate unnecessary over indulgence.
Now I could go on here, but you've either moved on to the next review, or if your still with me then I suggest you do yourself a favour and grab a glass of your favourite tipple, set aside an hour of free time and listen to Imposing Elements on Dean's Bandcamp site. Then buy it in whatever lossless format suits you. Good listening...
Ter' Azur - Falling Asleep
Tracklist: Falling Asleep (5:31), Exoplanet (3:31), One In A Million (3:56), Child Of Our Times (3:53), Five Bagger (4:14), Poisoned Waters (3:59), Mass Hypnosis (6:54), Beneath The Molten Sand (7:27), Nuke (4:30), Full Circle (6:08), Wayward Souls (4:18), Weather Report (10:40), Dawn (2:36)
Now, calling an album Falling Asleep is always going to be a risk when you are reaching out into the crowded milieu of new prog artists releasing their debut album. Add to this the fact that Ter' Azur started out as Awake, a successful German, Dream Theater tribute band. If this was all I knew, I would almost certainly be curling up into a cosy foetal position, gently rocking myself into “the innocent sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care”. However, there is more to it than this. What drew me to this album were the drum videos of Stephan Schöpe on the band's website. I do like a good drum video and Stephan's were very good indeed. “Well”, I thought, “this is a band I ought to hear more of”. In fact, the 'Recording Of…' videos on their website were a great taster and if, after reading this review your interest is piqued, I definitely recommend you have a look. Sure, there is the odd smidge of Dream Theateriness in some of the heavier riff moments but Ter' Azur set out to create their own thing when they decided to write their own music. What we actually have here is an interesting, though flawed, combination of many modern prog ideas from the likes of Believe, Riverside, Sylvan, and mid-era Porcupine Tree (Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun). And there's the flaw. It's all a bit generic and they are not breaking any new ground, but Tel' Azur certainly have a sense of style and the beginnings of somewhere they want to go and they are doing it reasonably well as far as my ears can discern. As an opening gambit they've baked a concept cake. Explicated by the cover, which would seem to depict our lovely planet burnt to a cinder, Falling Asleep invites us to reflect on the relationship between man and nature.
If all of this is turning you off, don't discount them just yet and if it's turning you on, prepare yourselves for some gems buried in the centre of this confection. There are some stale or burnt edges to digest and the whole thing can be a little dry and cloying in the mouth, but there are plenty of sweet, perfumed delicacies to moisten and refresh the palate. Employing a bass, drums, guitar and keyboards set-up, the four piece are undoubtedly great players individually and there is a sedate elegance to many of the compositions that speak of a much more mature band than they are. Their inexperience is revealed in the production, which is beautifully crystal clear but a little flat, being either squeezed to the centre of the sound stage with instruments piled in layers or flung obviously and obtrusively to the wings. That aside, I really like Ian Alexander-Griffiths' guitar work. He reminds me a lot of Nick Barrrett in that he plays with melody and emotion particularly well, but can rip out a Petrucci style riff just as easily. Five Bagger is a case in point where we hear the kind of partnership that Richard Wright and David Gilmour had between guitar and keyboards. He also uses a lot of palm-muted picking patterns not unlike Andy Summers which is something of a signature technique in his playing style and helps to characterize their overall sound. Marcel Kohn is the keysman for Ter' Azur and again, his work is engaging and very effective. The rhythm section is excellent. Versatile and melodic bass work from Christopher Streidt is the perfect foil for Schöpe's lovely drum work which is neither too flashy not too restrained. Lyrically, there's a spectrum from cheesy and hackneyed to really quite interesting and intriguing. They speak of a world that is ours and a world that is not; another planet that survivors of a future humanity have migrated to. I like this latter element. I'm all for a bit of Sci Fi in my prog and I would have liked to see this story developed a little more. As it is, it seems to cover only three tunes, Exoplanet, One In A Million and Child Of Our Times. Vocally, one of the best features of the album is the sung harmonies used liberally and very effectively throughout the compositions. Individually, Ian Alexander-Griffiths isn't going to win any prizes as best vocalist, but his voice is a rich and warm baritone, and he can certainly hold a tune. Not unlike Steve Wilson, then.
Contributing to this sense of 'nearly, but not quite' that I'm having, the album doesn't really take off until the middle with Mass Hypnosis and Beneath The Molten Sand. Prior to this, the first six tracks are pleasant enough: short, sweet but unremarkable really; passable rock songs, played well, in a variety of styles from moody ballads like the eponymous opener; dreamy, summery ballads like Child Of Our Times, to dark and atmospheric prog rock-lite in a similar vein to Frost* and Tinyfish (Exoplanet and One In A Million). Mass Hypnosis is the first taste of their heavier approach, the melodic ideas developed over the preceding titles begin to take hold in me, and the album begins to acquire its sonic identity. This is brilliantly developed in Beneath The Molten Sand which combines a host of genres from jazz fusion to prog metal, to bossa nova without ever becoming confused or affected. Haken or Framepictures might be good touchstones here, but this is where I think Ter' Azur come alive as themselves and it is this style that I'd love to see them progress. Nuke sees them replaying the light/heavy/light dynamics of the earlier half of the album and does little to elevate itself above plodding and slightly formulaic prog metal. Full Circle begins grandly and has a link with fellow countrymen, Alias Eye in its blend of melody and power with strong backing vocals and harmonies. By the time Wayward Souls is playing, the defects in the production are beginning to nag. There isn't enough sonic dynamic shift to separate one song from the next. Having said that, the instrumental bridge in this track is a wonderful Deep Purple/Jon Lord, organ driven, funky and joyous stompfest with another great solo moment from Alexander-Griffiths. Weather Report follows along to prick up my ears. This is an excellent song. Not only do they get away with writing a song about Hurricane Katrina very effectively, they also combine the best of everything that they do into these 10 minutes. The musical ideas are varied, the melodies strong, and the playing is top-notch. It ends apocalyptically and the album closes on an optimistic note in the acoustically strummed Dawn.
All in all, Falling Asleep has three very, very good tracks and eight fair to middling ones but with each of these having some great moments and there are some great melodies throughout. It's patchy and, I think, poorly sequenced with the best bits loaded into the middle. The biggest problem is in the production. As I said, it's not bad, but all of the songs sound the same, despite the variety of (very nice) guitar and keyboard voices and tricks. If they can get a better (bigger, more experienced?) producer on board to really exploit some of the interesting musical and songwriting ideas on offer here, then Ter' Azur could really be on to something. (sorry Stephan, just my opinion). For now, if you like any of the bands I've mentioned, and you are searching for something similar, this may be an untouched corner of the prog world you'd like to explore. On a final note, I must applaud the thorough way that Ter' Azur have made their work available with an entertaining and revealing website and Bandcamp as a means to hear their work in full. Try before you buy is so important in these times, I think. As Mark Hughes pointed out recently, new artists have to look for means to promote themselves without the distribution network of labels etc. Bandcamp, if you haven't discovered it yet, is an amazing resource, and if you click on the samples link above, you can listen to the whole album (check out Weather Report, at least!) and then download it in a lossy or lossless format for only 9 Euros.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Phil Miller In Cahoots – Mind Over Matter
Tracklist: Medley – Green And Purple Extract, Hic Haec Hoc, Simple Man (18:48), Contrary Motion (10:17), Pent Up Part 1 (8:30), Pent Up Part 2 (10:44), Focus Pocus (6:07), E.D. Or Ian (10:24), Call Sign (8:52)
Phil Miller should need no introduction to anyone with even a smidgeon of knowledge of the Canterbury prog scene. Mind Over Matter is the 7th studio album going under the Phil Miller In Cahoots banner, and by now it is fairly obvious that they are not attempting to win new fans to their brand of smooth jazz-fusion.
Kicking of with the epic length Medley the band soon hit their funk-lite groove with some nice soloing from all concerned, Green And Purple Extract rollicking along at a fair old lick. Phil gets to lay down a mid-paced melodic solo during the Latin lesson Hic Haec Hoc, and the concluding part sees some good blowing from the saxes and trumpet of Paul Booth and Mark Armstrong before ending on some edgy wah distorted guitaring from Phil. The template has been set.
The fretless bass of Fred Baker lays down the backing for the laid back groove of Contrary Motion and by now anyone not familiar with In Cahoots' style will have a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the album. Pleasant and not too edgy, this is a display of high quality musicianship that never gets flashy, which for a band of this much experience is no less than one would expect. That is not a criticism by the way! The same could be said of the minimalistic if striking artwork of the digi-book cover, where information is at a premium, another sign that attracting new listeners is not high on the agenda.
There's a great sax break on Pent Up Part 1 and the tune feels almost Latin in places. Although the music on this album is a little on the bland side for my tastes that's not to say that there isn't an awful lot going on here, and fans will have more than enough to keep them interested. The Latin feel continues on Pent Up Part 2, Pete Lemer's piano dancing around the beat infectiously, and Mark's trumpet shines. Focus Pocus is written by Pete Lemer and is the only song here not penned by Phil Miller and is a fast-paced intricate piece of jazz ensemble playing, I've no doubt in a suitably obscure time signature.
Subtle use of harmonics and instrumental interplay combined with top-notch ensemble playing and never losing track of the melody is the fulcrum on which this album sits, and it will not disappoint fans of the band. For the folk who are new to this, what you will find here is involving and enjoyable jazz-fusion without any of the wilfully off-kilter moments that some of the edgier exponents of the genre like to throw into the mix.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Astralfish – Far Corners
Tracklist: Far (2:08), Lil Utburd (5:16), Pepper Sky (4:08), Riding The Seasons (3:55), Seven 8 (1:56), Summer Snake (2:59), Song For A New Banana Day (1:45), Pacifica (4:55), The Otter (3:41), Key Rings (3.56), Seeds At Night In A Trickster’s Yard (3:18), Foray (3:42), Cloud Gather (4:04), A Short Thaw (1:40), Treepers (3:23), Near (2:31)
Astralfish is a musical project formed by Bridget Wishart, Hawkwind’s vocalist and performance artist between 1989 and 1991 and Don Falcone, leader of space rock collective Spirits Burning with whom she teamed up in 2003. In the ensuing years, Spirits Burning has featured members of Hawkwind, Gong and other space rock family members.
Falcone also launched his own solo project, Spaceship Eyes which provided music for the film Better Living Through Circuitry. He was also a member of Thessalonians and other ambient projects on the Silent Records label.
But this is the first album which fully features Wishart on EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) which makes it a fascinating showcase for the possibilities this sound sculpting piece of trickery can deliver.
Mastered by well-known ambient recording artist, Robert Rich, Astralfish harnesses the talents of 15 musicians, all of whom have previously worked with Spirits Burning and other bands like Culture Shock, Gong Matrices, Quiet Celebration and YAK.
It starts off with the cosmically driven Far on which Gong’s legendary Daevid Allen appears on gliss guitars and the influences within it lean heavily towards that band.
From there, Lil Utburd takes off with delicious synthy and violin orchestrations from Wishart set against some explosive arpeggio synths, squeals, rattlers and kicks from Falconer. It is probably the defining track of the album with its many moods and textures - and would not sound out of place played within the Ministry of Sound or at an Ibiza festival.
A darker rhythmic storm brews in Pepper Sky with a penetrating synth sound and double basses against solid, echoing drums while a low piano underpins the trance-like melody line of Riding The Seasons before a swell of synths and Cyndee Lee Rule’s violin washes over the soundscape.
Seven 8 gives an all too brief chance to hear Wishart sing in loop of multi-tracked vocals and chorus with a simple drum beat underneath. Hauntingly simple it is too but very effective.
Summer Snake takes the use of the EWI to another musical space with it set to French horn and trumpet while Purjah’s delicious tenor saxophone gives great breadth and soul to the composition.
Song For A New Banana Day gives Falcone a chance to channel sitars, strings and marimbas through his keyboards and Pacifica has the EWI sound set to Uilleann Pipes bringing about a deliciously Celtic ambience.
Falcone provides the percussive leads on The Otter through shifting rhythmic patterns which then moves into a gentle acoustic ending. Key Rings opens up into sassy electronic rhythms, hallmarked by a cool choir-like sound from Wishart’s EWI.
Seeds At Night In A Trickster’s Yard unleashes a huge swirl of ambient sound before it pegs back into a more controlled guitar-led holding pattern. Foray is a delightful array of changing tempos and moods performed on such instruments as Izmir pipsi and with Doug Erickson’ s acoustic guitar giving it a mellow edge.
Cloud Gather takes on an edgier rockier dimension with Steve Palmer’s guitar cutting through the swathes of percussion and fluting synths interspersed with almost jazzy electric piano.
Just a brief walk on the ambient side through A Short Thaw with violin textures interjecting from time to time before Treepers brings together a swathe of orchestral meanderings and Near returns it to its spacey roots first encountered at the very start with Far.
Overall, Far Corners is a delightful way to spend an hour with its shifting moods and spacey patterns ebbing and flowing but never overstaying their welcome. Wishart’s use of the EWI is accomplished and polished, her rapport with Falcone at all times bringing great impetus and energy throughout. The next Astralfish offering can only build and develop on this firm foundation.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Jack O’ The Clock - How Are We Doing And Who Will Tell Us?
Tracklist: Blue Tail Fly (9:06), Schlitzie, Last Of The Aztecs, Lodges An Objection In The Order Of Things (5:40), Shrinking (5:47), Deepwater Horizon Burning (1:13), First Of The Year (9:59), Manifesto (2:38), Back To The Swamp (6:06), Looking In (3:51), Last Of The Blue Bloods (7:45), Search (2:11), Novaya Zemlya (4:17), Ultima Thule (7:14)
Is it noise or is it music? Whatever it is, it runs like hell from the genre police. The very fact that Jordan Glenn is credited with ‘pots and pans’ on the opening track should set the alarm bells ringing. In fact, not alarm bells. No, they’re not shrill enough or scary enough. We have all walked calmly from our places of work when the fire alarm sounds, knowing that we’ll be allowed back in very shortly. It often proves a welcome and humourous break from the drudgery, we even get to mingle with people from other parts of the building that we don’t usually encounter. So, it’s a little unusual, but ultimately it’s safe. What we need for Jack O’ The Clock are air-raid sirens, tsunami warnings and foghorns. We need to flee, screaming in blind panic, to any refuge we can find as the building crumbles around us.
Ok, so maybe I’m overstating it a bit (A bit?! – Ed.), but these are not waters where the faint of heart should tread. Only the boldest of adventurers will find nourishment in this unforgiving landscape. It is a bricolage, the musical equivalent of an eel, as soon as you manage to grab a classification for what you are hearing, it has slipped away and evaded definition. This requires a dogged determination and self-belief on the part of principal composer, Damon Waitkus. There’s a devil-may-care approach to the writing that seems to feel no need to adhere to a conventional harmonic or rhythmic language. The tone colours and voicings of the vast array of instruments and sounds take the dictum that “there is nothing new under the sun,” seriously. For every moment that there is a step in a conventional direction, there are two or three in a bold and unexpected one. He forcefully and deliberately denies us the opportunity to dance, preferring instead to bewilder and disorient us.
There’s something about the compositions that reeks of a very elitist music school: “Here are the rules of composition, it is your job, the illuminati of the Royal College Of Pseudynerd, to utterly destroy that rulebook. Now go, my children, you are pioneers. It is for you to reinvent the sonic universe, for you are above mere men!” Whilst there’s definitely something interesting about music that attempts to skirt all forms of classification, it’s kind of idealistic and ultimately, incredibly dry. The textural experimentation on HAWDAWWTU? is diversity and obscurity for the sake of itself and this makes it restless, unconfined, unintuitive, schizoid and, as a whole, unsatisfying.
Having let the horse bolt, I shall close the stable door. It’s apparently pointless at this stage, having already given you my overall impressions, I could just stop and submit my review in those three paragraphs, but it would be unfair and, more importantly, it would be perversely misleading. Besides, Jack O’ The Clock will probably enjoy the inverse logic that determines I should tell you something of what you can actually expect to hear after appearing to say that I don’t really like it. As you will see, I will grossly contradict myself.
Pick and instrument, any instrument. Whatever you’ve gone for, you are likely to hear it on this album. Jack O’ The Clock are perhaps more of an ensemble than a band who will use just about anything that generates sound to make music. They are undoubtedly extremely talented, more than competent musicians. The use of brasses, woodwinds and strings is innovative and bold throughout the album and on the bizarrely titled Schlitzie… as it jitters in spastic, epileptic fits and starts. Blue Tail Fly begins on Marimbas in 6/8 that evokes Tom Waits, while slivers and flashes, tiny explosions of glitchy and distorted guitar and violin play the lead characters in a piece that becomes gradually more chaotic; ping-ponging monosyllabic, nonsensical voices and staccato patterns in a fidgeting, bristling fizz of tiny hairs and antennae. Jimmy Crack Corn it ain’t! (Blue Tail Fly is another name for the song Jimmy Crack Corn). Somehow, it mimics the random, skittering movement of any Dipteran creature in flight whilst simultaneously placing us sonically into the workings of a fly’s mind, if you can imagine such a thing. I’d like to have had the lyrics printed in the unappealing and brief booklet (of course it’s not about the packaging, it’s about the music) just to try and get a grip on the poetic, abstract language of the words. Waitkus unusual vocal style (think Robert Wyatt) is not very conducive to clarity in the hearing of it.
Shrinking is the first track I would describe as a song, with lovely harmonized vocals shared by Damon Waitkus and Kate McLoughlin. Violin and acoustic guitar provide the musical spine of the piece with interjections from hand gongs, and, once it joins in, a rich, swollen bruise of acoustic bass. I very much like the style they’ve gone for here, it’s a cross-pollination of the bedroom experimentalism of Jim O’Rourke, the Americana of CSNY and Spike Jones.
First Of The Year has a Zappa feel to it: Zappa in his Grand Wazoo/Waka Jawaka days (For Cleetus and His Next Two Hitchhikers springs powerfully to mind). Interwoven phasing patterns between bass, guitar, pianet, violin and bassoon counterpoint a straight 4/4 rhythm, and this is actually a great track with a combination of avant garde rock and a Canterbury vibe, not too many miles away from Hatfield And The North. There are some lovely, lovely moments, including a redolent bassoon melody. Manifesto features a bowed Psaltery, of all things, in a piece that brilliantly bastardizes Eastern European folk traditions before a Country/Bluegrass vibe skips merrily through Back To The Swamp. Looking In is a fairly simple, but still dense, dark piano ‘ballad’ with some brilliant lyrics that I can catch:
Bloom of rust on propane tank/Candidly exposed like a dog’s balls/The fag says that the purpose of this life is to borrow your ass out of debtor’s prison…The antenna says that the purpose of this life is to sharpen an image/And to do that you might have to add some noise.
These non-sequiturs and abstractions reflect the overall structure of the album and the music itself; constantly seeking new spaces in which to express its off-kilter propositions. The rattle and clatter of Last Of The Blue Bloods has something of a skiffle band about it: improvised instruments and resourceful ingenuity on a corner of a small American town somewhere, while an angry husband argues with his family noisily across the street, deaf to the fine violin and flute playing of these peculiar buskers. Novaya Zemlya is an island off the Northern Coast of Russia used as a nuclear testing site during the cold war; the Easternmost point of Europe. The track (of the same title) is a narration of the 600 mile walk undertaken by the anonymous speaker backed by diaphanous choral voices and swelling ambient drones whilst Ultima Thule, the closer is a ditty with glockenspiel and banjo as lead instruments in a piece that reminds me a little of Manning with its nautical, folky themes. Ultima Thule was also used in medieval geographies to denote any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world". I think that says it all.
If you’ve managed to read this far, well done! The album is similarly difficult to get through - it’s too much for one sitting. Nevertheless, let me answer the question posed by the title. I will tell you that I think you’re doing pretty darn well! Make no mistake, this is a difficult piece of work (I think I’ve made that clear) and it is something that only the most avowedly opposed to convention will take to kindly. It’s busy and dense but, when they play it relatively straight, Jack O’ The Clock are captivating. I must be honest, it’s very good. It’s not my usual diet and I don’t think I’m going to be rushing to listen to it again, but it’s as progressive as anyone could possibly hope to be and original as anything I’ve ever heard, but it’s not ‘Prog’. For all of these reasons, I cannot possibly score it, that would be excessively conventional, but if you’re a risk-taker and want something extraordinary, you could do little better than look here.
Everwood – Without Saving
Tracklist: Rain (5:13), Never Trust A Snake (3:39), Desert Sun (5:46), Free (4:53), Experience This (5:16), Can’t Find (4:32), Make Me Famous (4:04), Walls (4:45), Pieces (3:29), My Own Vision (4:04), Insecure (4:18), Quit Without Saving (3:30)
And then there were three- albums, that is, with the release of junior effort Without Saving from Hungarian progsters Everwood. The band has been on deployment since their first gig in 1999, initially christened as Neverwood with the “N” eventually being amputated off the band’s original name.
It’s been a busy ride for the Everwood boys so far, with a label-backed debut album hitting international brick-and-mortars in 2005, a string of concerts shortly thereafter including a historic Hungarian gig opening for Arena at the Sziget Festival in 2006, the enlisting of powerhouse drummer Tamás Szabó in 2005, and the infusion of some new proggy blood with the recruitment of bassist Sandor Kállai and new vocalist Mátyás Haraszti in 2008.
Haraszti along with the groove section of Szabó and Kállai remain with the band to this day. The lineup is rounded out by band founder and keeper of the torch Attila Tänczer on keyboards and additional sampling and veteran member Ferenc Farkas on electric guitar. Its acoustic counterpart is dutifully strummed by Haraszti.
The dozen tracks across the fifty three and a half minute CD pretty much traverse the genre of accessible progressive metal, with not too many excursions into technical or symphonic realms and nary an epic to be heard. And the promo sheet that came with the review copy of the CD unapologetically states that Without Saving is “although not intentionally a concept album, it is a twelve-song trip into the depths of the human soul; a journey from an inevitable end, through the void and into the rebirth of letting go...” Contrary to the mantras often invoked in snack food or pizza advertising, more isn’t necessarily better. So if the prog metal epic-heads are salivating, they may have to get on the horn to Dream Theater for delivery in 30 minutes, or maybe a little less.
Rain opens with minimal keyboards from Tänczer, evoking some Nosound-style ambience. The song then fires off with seismographic bass from Kállai and the band’s overall showmanship here kept humbly in check, save for a well-deserved and fluid keyboard solo from Tänczer.
On Without Saving, the keyboard intro/heavy follow-up section formula here and there is enough to be a tad tiresome, tedious for me in the same way that it was on Poles, the album from Portugal-based project Factory Of Dreams I reviewed for DPRP back in 2008.
On Make Me Famous, Tänczer’s keyboards brilliantly occupy a more justified and prominent place in the tune, as opposed to just serving as an introductory element. And this song is one of many on the album where the phenomenal Szabó demonstrates he can bring much more to the table than simple timekeeping. And faced with an arsenal that sounds at times under produced, he also shows that it’s not the toys you have, but how you play with them.
So with this release Everwood dishes up a serving of creatively cooked prog lite- epic and mostly showmanship free, holding the symphonic sugar. And maybe Everwood prefers it that way. My initial listen of the album at first caused some displeasure, but I quickly warmed up to it as it played.
Lyrics on the album were written, well at that, by Tänczer and/or Haraszti. I like this excerpt, from closing track Quit Without Saving: “How could I have given you something; Something which I never had?/ A piece to the puzzle was missing/ And took its toll in the end”. This exquisite song, referencing some of the lighter stuff of Lisa LaRue 2KX, innocently blushes off a pastoral flair buoyed by the cello and violin of guest musicians Csilla Gáspár and Bence Temesvári, respectively.
This release will appeal mostly to fans of song-based but sonically heavy prog. If you are looking to chill to something ambient, you may need to seek out Musea’s Dreaming imprint.
The CD booklet draws upon influences of mythology and steampunk in the cover art, with lyrics inside and a photo, taken by Orsolya Karancz, of the band on the back page. The CD’s back cover art has a little Carl Glover thing happening. Influences aside, the artwork comes courtesy of Android Jones. Check out his web domicile at www.androidjones.com.
As far as room for improvement goes, the overall presence of a concept on this album is debatable. With the next album the band may wish to formulate a clearer concept, or perhaps continue to leave things open to interpretation.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Domain Of Dreams – Domain Of Dreams
Tracklist: The Dream Of Revenge (9:47), The Dream Of Power (8:18), The Dream Of You (8:38), The Dream Of Victory (7:14), The Dream Of The Past (6:48), The Dream Of The End (7:30), The Dream Of Unity (6:34), The Dream Of Despair (8:45), The Dream Of Dreams (11:16)
I don’t know if I will have dreams so much as a case of machine gun riff-triggered nightmares or post-traumatic stress disorder after my listen to the self titled and third album from Bulgarian prog metal act Domain Of Dreams. The sonic gunpowder on this one is almost like a drug; a snortable, slick, gimmicky effect that lures the listener in like a hunting decoy pulling one (or a few) over the eyes of the benefit of doubt grantors.
Domain Of Dreams has been waging the prog battle since 1987, over which time several lineup changes and a few different band names, among them Solaris, have taken place. The band has played many live gigs over the years, including prominent support slots with W.A.S.P. and Heaven And Hell.
Domain Of Dreams is made up of siblings and original members Plamen Radev on lead guitars, acoustic guitars and orchestrations and Daniel Radev on vocals; longtime stalwart Emil Angelov on bass, Oggi Kiossovsky on drums and back vocals, and Ivan Popov of Bulgarian Music Idol on guitars and back vocals.
As you see in the above tracklist, each of the nine tunes on the almost 75 minute CD all have the word “dream” in its title, part of the concept envisioned by lyricist Ivan Radev.
The band plays a style of relentless, rapid-fire progressive metal, but after listening to the velocity-heavy riff element that quickly becomes overkill on the CD, you might be like, “Just shoot me already.”
It’s not that there’s too much guerrilla-style aggression on this album, but excessive running length notwithstanding there’s not a lot of military strategy changes in the sonic camouflage to divert our listeners’ espionage, and when it is, it’s sharp then fleeting. Like Al-Qaeda in the hills of Pakistan, making Dick Cheney not the only denizen of secret hidden locations.
Cheney, clumsy though he may be with a firearm, could probably lend these guys a few tips about toning down their riffs, from the rhythm of an AK-47 to something more modest and restrained like that of an air rifle.
On The Dream Of The End, the band appears in sonic combat with no one but themselves, the warm slower section briefly evoking Magnification-era Yes and going head to head with a more assertive shuffle. The latter is a groove thankfully and admittedly not over used as it has been by other prog metal bands.
Yes is referenced again on The Dream Of A Dream in a proggy section signalling the Big Generator era. Kiossovsky showcases some versatility in his drumming, which goes from a boogie-woogie jump to that now familiar militant shock and awe.
On The Dream Of Revenge, Plamen’s ominous orchestration overlays some bass programming style elements that could have come from the studio of Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Plamen’s lead guitar sizzles things up like a Steakumm, and Daniel’s vocals are gruff like Peter Hammill, yet keeping things controlled and focused, commanding as a drill sergeant ordering his troops to “save the drama for your mama”. A cannonball groove from Angelov and Kiossovsky ignites some sonic, molten lava flowing a little too close to Plamen’s lead guitar, which takes on an alien scream before relaxing in Floydian softness.
Plamen is diverse in his talents with neither guitar nor orchestrations draining any life from each another. His axe is a well-wielded tool of aural pyrotechnics that could launch fireworks into the sky 365 days a year. His orchestrations carry a responsible confidence, approached with conservatism and not overdone. And they comfortably nestle Kiossovsky’s drums with an insulating sheen, mostly succeeding in keeping them from sounding otherwise under produced.
The CD booklet is modestly done and is mostly track listing and credits, with the only actual art work being a vaguely abstract blue motif on the cover. There are no printed lyrics, which is regrettable, as this is a concept release of sorts and Ivan the scribe’s lyrics certainly deserve a tome of telling in the booklet and not just in the sung vocals or his muse.
This album will appeal mostly to fans of progressive metal and while I was pretty weary to listening to over 74 minutes of machine gun heavy riffs, perhaps there are those in the prog metal community who “get” what this element is about.
Room for improvement? I think I’ve made it clear in this review- I’d like to see the band reconfigure their sound and toss us some curve ball hand grenades, eschewing beats per minute for distance and accuracy.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Redrocks - Cosmic Dream [EP]
Tracklist: Skunk (3:33), Cosmic Dream (5:32), Self-Destroyed Man (6:18), Made Of Sand (5:53), Backdoors (7:24)
Redrocks is a still very much a fledgling band created at the end of 2010 in France by drummer, Jean Prat, and guitarist, Steve Marsala. They added singer and guitarist Leonel Mendes to the line-up and then finally completed it with Guillaume Boudou on bass.
This self-produced EP is the culmination of several months of work and rehearsals in their own Purple Sheep studio near Lyon, all recorded, mixed and mastered by Prat, and for a first time outing, it shows a great deal of promise for such a new band.
Skunk just hits its stride with a huge slab of Rush riffing and bass Mendes offering up some powerful, clear, high vocals – not quite in the Geddy Lee register, but certainly heading in that direction. Beneath in the mix are distorted voices and layer upon layer of solid, scuzzy guitar and a meaty drumming display from Prat.
The title track Cosmic Dream is the real stand-out track, a wonderful spacey work-out with a lovely repetitive keyboards riff providing an atmospheric backdrop on which Mendes’ wistful vocals and some wizard electronic trickery give it a terrific dreamy texture. It ebbs and flows, shifting into different soundscapes and atmospheres. In fact, the whole piece lives up to its name and if they can make more of their compositions move in this particular musical direction, then they could really be on to something.
Self-Destroyed Man starts with a choppy bass and rhythm-led intro expanding into a metally guitar frenzy, which in tandem with the distorted lead vocals, hint at Muse and U2 in influence. Masala’s ambient guitar then takes over for the greater part of the track until its conclusion.
A change of mood again with Made Of Sand which this time has a Porcupine Tree edge to it with a distinct off-beat rhythmic pattern dictating the overall tone. As in keeping with their own biographical notes, this track oozes melancholic angst with minor key vocals and a jarring guitar riff opening up into a repetitive melodic hookline.
Finally, Backdoor provides a solid finale with some more kick-ass bass from Boudou acting as the foundation for more ambient guitars and a searching vocal – all sung in English by the way. It then takes off into a more sonic space with electronics giving it a slightly other worldly quality. Then it reverts back into Rush territory before signing off.
All the other influences from rock and metal are there for all to see in Cosmic Dream and from these, the next step would be for Redrocks to start carving their own musical identity as individually and collectively, they definitely have the talent with which to do it. With other French bands such as Lazuli and Nemo currently creating ripples in the prog rock space, there is no reason why Redrocks will not soon be capable of doing the same.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10