Reviews in this issue:
- Ulver – Childhood’s End
- Van Der Graaf Generator - Alt (Duo Review)
- Peter Hammill - Consequences
- Hasse Fröberg & The Musical Companion - Powerplay
- Salva - Thirst
- X-Panda – Flight Of Fancy
- Alias Eye - In-Between
- Fuchs – Leaving Home
- Mess - Kusi Eneselt
- Against The Wall – Things Are Not Like They Said
Ulver – Childhood’s End
Tracklist: Bracelets Of Fingers [The Pretty Things] (4:12), Everybody’s Been Burned [Byrds] (3:25), The Trap [Bonniwell’s Music Machine] (2:33), In The Past [Chocolate Watchband] (2:54), Today [Jefferson Airplane] (3:20), Can You Travel In The Dark Alone [Gandalf] (4:02), I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night [Electric Prunes] (2:54), Street Song [13th Floor Elevators] (5:14), 66-5-4-3-2-1 [Troggs] (3:23), Dark Is The Bark [Left Banke] (4:03), Magic Hollow [The Beau Brummels] (3:15), Soon There Will Be Thunder [Common People] (2:27), Velvet Sunsets [Music Emporium] (2:44), Lament Of The Astral Cowboy [Curt Boettcher] (2:14), I Can See The Light [Les Fleur De Lys] (3:14), Where Is Yesterday [United States Of America] (3:58)
That the nigh on uncategorisable Ulver follow up last year’s critically acclaimed and quite brilliant Wars Of The Roses with an album of covers from the 60s psychedelic era is about as unexpected as it is par for the course with these Norwegian mavericks. You might think this is merely a stopgap until the next album of genre-defying oddness is handed down to us mere mortals from the palace of Thor, but apparently this record was three years in the making, so a lot of time and care has gone into assembling this enjoyable collection.
You do not have to be a fan of 60s psych to appreciate this trawl through leader Kristofer Rygg’s parent’s record collection and beyond, as there are some great songs on here regardless of the style. Opener Bracelets Of Fingers by The Pretty Things will probably be familiar and here Ulver coat it with a layer of Gothic fairground sonics. Kristofer has said that searching out obscure psych singles has become “a geeky obsession” and he has included some ultra-obscure choices on here, along with songs from more familiar bands of the era. As well as the more well known The Pretties, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, etc, we get Bonniwell’s Music Machine (nope, me neither), Music Emporium, and Curt Boettcher as examples of the fruits of their scratching around at the back of dusty record shops, or, more likely, internet trawling.
The Bonniwell’s song is a carousel ride through the classic sounds of the time, and indeed Ulver stay largely faithful to the sonics of the 60s, Rygg’s voice and the group’s harmonies could have come right off Carnaby Street or the corner of Haight-Ashbury. Although not sticking to one genre like this album, I find myself recalling Siouxsie & The Banshees’ fine album of esoteric covers, 1987’s Through The Looking Glass, for both these albums show a similar love and devotion to some compelling left-field music.
Probably the most well known song on here is I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night, originally by the Electric Prunes and a big hit in the States, not so much over here. Ulver play this one almost straight, but lending it a kind of Julian Cope vibe, believe it or not. With a song that good it would be difficult to mess it up, and they don’t, no worries! The following song, Street Song by Roky Erickson’s 13th Floor Elevators from their last and most obscure album, 1969’s Bull Of The Woods, was punk rock 8 years early and Ulver’s version remains suitably sludgy and fired up. Marvellous stuff, it’ll get ya jumping up and down. Their version of The Trogg’s 66-5-4-3-2-1 is the most altered from the original, but I’m sure Reg would approve of the Bad Seeds vibe going down.
The band have made a very odd promo video for the Gothic acid-folk of The Beau Brummels’ Magic Hollow (see Info link above) which features… no, go see for yourself!
Right that’s enough track-by-track description. The CD cover features the iconic photo from the Vietnam war of the naked child and her companion running screaming down the road, as if to say “hey this is Ulver, just remember, we are scary”, but I find it a bit of a cheap shot and unnecessary to be honest, and about the only minus point for the album.
If you forget that this is the band that gave us the stunning Wars Of The Roses last year and simply treat this as a record of love and devotion that you can freak out to, then you’ll love it. It also has enough darkness about it, especially the video, to keep fans drooling in anticipation as to what might come next for this very strange band.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Van Der Graaf Generator – Alt
Tracklist: Earlybird (4:01), Extractus (1:39), Sackbutt (1:53), Colossus (6:36), Batty Loop (1:14), Splendid (3:46), Repeat After Me (7:39), Elsewhere (4:19), Here’s One I Made Earlier (5:42), Midnite Or So (3:34), D’Accord (2:28), Mackerel Ate Them (4:50), Tuesday, The Riff (2:47), Dronus (10:37)
Mark Hughes' Review
Back in 2005 when Van Der Graaf Generator fired itself for a return to live performance and recording the DPRP round table review of the reformation album Present was universally lauded, which included praise for the second album of improvisations, a disc that also saw favour on other review sites although not necessarily amongst all fans. It may have been the excitement of having VdGG back that prompted these positive reviews of the instrumental music, I freely admit to have played them relatively infrequently, although that is not to diminish their worth; they are often challenging, some may say uncomfortable, listening and do require a certain amount of effort to be displayed by the listener. Seven years later, the band are back with a second helping of instrumental improvisations created, as Guy Evans remarks in the sleeve notes, "while we weren't really looking".
Cards on table, if you bought Present and hated the second CD then it is a reasonable assumption that you will not find any salvation for the improvised incoherency of Alt. However, if you had a sense of intrigue and fascination and delighted in the fly on the wall insight into the creative process of the legendary band then hold on to your hats! Culled from recordings made between 2006 and 2011, Alt is a somewhat of an advance on Present CD2, the trio having had a chance to get better acquainted with each other again. Having said that, opening track Earlybird is a percussive track with Evans' always interesting drumming backing an early morning song from a bird deep in the heart of Camden. Heavier drums dominate Extractus and Sackbutt, the former having the beginnings of a melody becoming evident and the latter, which from the sound quality is probably one of the earlier recordings, being rather ramshackle. With Colossus things take a new turn with Banton making the most of his fascinating organ (watching Banton perform live is astounding, the man is a genius, not a word I use lightly, with all four limbs permanently active). If this piece had been written by a modern classical composer its praised would be sung from the highest hills for its complexity, its dexterity and its sheer inventiveness, and would no doubt receive standing ovations if it was performed at a promenade concert of modern music. The name of Batty Loop says it all really, looping keyboard line over a wicked drum beat. There is a distinct lack of guitar throughout the album with Hammill focusing mainly on keyboards to complement the organ work of Banton. Presumably this is the way they feel most comfortable in creating new music as is evident from Splendid which possesses some of the classic elements of VdGG of yore.
Hammill sets his keyboard piano with an echo delay for Repeat After Me, which may be where the name is derived. There is a very authentic upright bass floating around in the background and once more Evans is prominent throughout, particularly as the sound becomes more dense and layered. Elsewhere ups the freakiness, the discordant theme of which pass seamlessly into Here's One I Made Earlier which does feature some sonic landscapes created in a somewhat Frippian way using electric guitar. Midnite or So has more of a tune courtesy of Banton's organ, although it is the most un-VdGG sounding piece of the whole album and is rather a pleasant little ditty although the drums are somewhat too loud when Evans, the most impressive of pension-age drummers there is, takes a solo over the top. Ominous film music is the best way to describe D'Accord with a throbbing bass line and meandering lead organ but this gives way to chaos in Mackerel Ate Them with some frantically emphatic and speedy drumming and lots of bizarre noises that probably couldn't be created by any other band than VdGG. Tuesday, The Rift serves as a brief organ laden intro to Dronus over ten minutes based, unsurprisingly, around a drone, of unrelenting avant garde music that will have a lot of modern 'art' groups scratching their heads in awe.
Although Hammill has released a few albums of improvised music, most impressively Spur Of The Moment (1988) in collaboration with Guy Evans and The Appointed Hour (1999) with Roger Eno, Alt is the first such stand alone album to appear under the VdGG name. Obviously this is not a follow-up album to A Grounding In Numbers per se, but is emblematic of the confidence in the band that their second album for the Esoteric label is such a release. A nice addition to the VdGG catalogue whose worthiness will depend on one's willingness to embrace the more experimental oeuvre. Certainly an interesting album and one that probably edges it over the Present improvisation CD.
Roger Trenwith's Review
You know you’re in for something a bit different when the opening track on an album consists of four minutes of recorded birdsong, captured early one morning by drummer Guy Evans, backed by Guy’s cymbals and what sounds like a talking drum. The band have made it clear in the accompanying record label publicity that this is an album of "Instrumental Improvs & Experiments” and as such one should not expect a “normal” VdGG record, whatever that might be.
Guy Evans’ input is writ large throughout this album, which as Peter Hammill explained to me in our DPRP interview he and Guy have a history in the world of musique concrete, Peter with his Sonics series and Guy with his Echo City and the collaboration with Guy on the Spur Of The Moment album, although all of these went beneath my radar I must admit.
You will find snatches of “almost tunes” on here, some of which were considered for Trisector, as well as avant-classical blasts, the final track Dronus being an example as well as the six minutes plus of Colossus which starts with Philip Glass textures and breaks down into jazz caterwauling and the unsettling mauling of pianos while Guy goes off on a tangent of his own. As this music has been gathered together over a number of years one can only assume that the saxes on Colossus are contributed by David Jackson, or maybe it’s Hugh Banton playing tricks on us?
There is a distinctive Deutschrock vibe to some of this too, and apparently Guy is the fountain of knowledge where weird Teutonic rock is concerned. Repeat After Me is reminiscent of Popol Vuh plus added sinuous bass, and Splendid with its funky Hammond and crashing drums sounds like a collision between Vincent Crane and Faust.
Standing out is Midnite Or So featuring Hugh and Peter on organ and piano playing a nice tribute to the Thelonius Monk classic Round Midnight with Guy’s drums very high in the mix adding a primitive tone that somehow make it sound like it was recorded in 1950. Some of the pieces on here have a film noir vibe, and the next track D’Accord is one of them. You can envisage a guy wearing a trilby and a raincoat leaning on a wall in a dimly lit fog-shrouded alley smoking a cigarette in a 50s b&w spy movie. The track Mackerel Ate Them is about the oddest thing on here; it sounds like a tune that’s caught a terminal disease. Tuesday, The Riff has the feel of a section left out of Gog/Magog or indeed any of Hammill’s more avant inclined songs as it stumbles along in the dark under a heavy manners blues beat. It makes me want to hear the rest as it is both faded in and out.
Also mentioned in the label’s description is that ALT can be regarded as a cousin of the improvised second disc of Present but whereas that was all coming from one place and had a distinctly rock backdrop, this sprawling compilation is years’ worth of material that has an atmosphere all of its own that veers from calming to unsettling, sometimes within one track. The one glaring omission from this album is Peter’s wonderful declamatory singing and perhaps that makes it less of a draw for fans of the band. There will be some fans who no doubt will view this album as a disappointment or a stopgap until a “proper” album comes along, but I’m not one of them. While I cannot say it will be played as often as Grounding In Numbers, Pawn Hearts, or even Vital, I have to applaud the band for continuing to plough their own furrow, something that has set VdGG apart from their contemporaries past and present.
The sonic vistas visited here tell us that this band is as creatively wilful as it ever was and it would be interesting to see if they could combine these instrumental experiments with the more structured, and dare I say it, normal songwriting of their recent releases. A brave move indeed.
Peter Hammill - Consequences
Tracklist: Eat My Words, Bite My Tongue (5:30), That Wasn’t What I Said (5:21), Constantly Overheard (4:19), New Pen-Pal (4:08), Close To Me (4:10), All The Tiredness (5:56), Perfect Pose (7:05), Scissors (5:23), Bravest Face (4:45), A Run Of Luck (3:55)
Apparently this may be Peter Hammill’s 30th solo album, and that is certainly a feat in itself made all the more astounding when you consider that he produces lyrics that other writers would die for on each and every album he has made to date, this one being no exception. Even after all this time there is no sign of Peter running out of things to say or engaging ways to say them. In fact communication or more accurately mis-communication is a theme that runs through the first five songs on this album.
Hammill’s voice is in fine fettle throughout and is an instrument in itself, as I’m sure you all know. Accompanying himself with minimalist backing of guitar and/or keyboards, occasional multi-tracked backing vocals, and the odd eerie dark ambience, Hammill conjures a trademark Spartan sonic backdrop to those familiar with his later solo works.
The themes behind the first three songs draw on misinterpretations and twisted semantics resulting in pangs of regret for running away with one’s mouth, regret for words unsaid, and regret for things committed to print or tape. Then things get a bit nasty as New Pen-Pal introduces us to a lady of slightly manic manners who takes fandom a little too far, and on Close To Me Hammill regales us with a cautionary tale straight from bunny-boiler territory. These characters do not have the word “no” in their dictionaries. Another great Hammill character is the bag lady in Scissors who at the slightest sign of insincere sympathy from a possible passing benefactor may well cut their face off with the snippers of the title. With cathartic writing like that it would not surprise me to learn that Peter Hammill never has nightmares!
The second half of the album sees our hero at the end of his tether on All The Tiredness, before we get to the high point and longest song of the album Perfect Pose. Introduced with some dissonant piano chords, the song proper commences in a style that Scott Walker could well have come up with, relating a strange tale of an old male model endlessly seeking out the perfect pose of the title, his photographs belying a sort of Dorian Gray in reverse… possibly! A delightful piece of music, the guitar and piano trade arpeggio moments through the heart of the song, entwining themselves around the dissonant piano chords. A highly emotive and effective piece of music, up there with anything Hammill has come up with in recent years.
One hopes that there is not too much truth in the latter part of a line near the end of the final song Run Of Luck, “that life’s still great though the wick’s burned up”. I suspect that we have not heard anything like the last of Peter Hammill, for which we should all be truly grateful. Long may he continue to throw his dark light on the human condition.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hasse Fröberg & The Musical Companion - Powerplay
Tracklist: My River To Cross (10:13), The World Keeps Turning (4:10), The Final Hour (12:29), Waves (5:10), Venice CA (5:01), Is It Ever Gonna Happen (7:57), White Butterfly (2:30), The Chosen Ones (7:39), Godsong (5:34)
If he ever gives up making music, I genuinely hope that Hasse Fröberg receives an honorary doctorate from the Royal College Of Music in Stockhölm. I say this because I see Mr Fröberg as something of a musical hero and I can hardly believe that the corporate-slick AOR presented on Powerplay has been done by the same man who released last year’s wonderful HFMC debut - FuturePast - or helped to write a track like Life Will Kill You. Now I’ve put that to paper it seems it a bit strong, and it probably is, but I am sorely disappointed by Powerplay. Let me make myself as clear as I can – there is nothing on this album that is not first class except the style of some songs and it feels like HFMC are playing to the cheap seats. The sense of discovery that so marked HFMC as a diamond formed by intense pressure over a long time has been replaced with a highly polished, equally brilliant, but artificial gem. I get a strong sense that HFMC are mining commercial airplay, particularly in the US, rather than excavating the mineral rich seams of their collective musical imaginations as demonstrated on their debut.
Harsh criticism indeed but I offer you Venice CA as my evidence. If Foreigner (or Bryan Adams or Journey) had released this track, I’d have shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yeah, that’s a Foreigner song alright.” However, this one song so blights the album as to make it seem execrable. It highlights the shift to a more commercial, safe sound and casts doubt over the judgement of the whole enterprise. If the original HFMC felt like the future, parts of Powerplay are a regressive step into the ‘80s. The World Keeps Turning jollies along like Kenny Loggins’ Footloose and, whilst it may be a toe-tapper, it lacks Kevin Bacon’s sneakers and a major Hollywood release to support its release. Waves is a velvety-smooth, chocolate mousse of a song, swaying to the light of a thousand raised lighters but it has turned my brain into a cushion. White Butterfly is similarly insubstantial, an acoustic ditty that is as unremarkable as an afternoon shower in the summer.
With the worst of the bad news out the way, I can make a make a general observation. Powerplay places a premium on extended build-ups and breakdowns, and, in doing so, stretches mid-tempo song after mid-tempo song to the five-minute mark and beyond. In so doing, the sequencing of the peaks-and-valleys necessary for maintaining dramatic momentum over the course of an hour-long sprawl is often elegantly drawn. Is It Ever Gonna Happen veers between the strutting and posturing of David Coverdale’s Whitesnake in its verses, the mellow, soul-inflected boogie of The Doobie Brothers in its choruses and the baroque pop-rock of Supertramp in its various bridges and breakdowns, and that’s only some of the ideas jostling for presence in what is a superb track. The first four minutes of The Chosen Ones is like Hall & Oates in their late 80s guise (which is not a bad thing, I must add) before it opens the playing space for a calm, introspective, jazz-lite sequence of three solos. Godsong rounds out the album in anthemic style and if ever there were a tribute to Queen’s vocal harmonies and Freddie Mercury’s gloriously operatic take on rock composition, then this is it.
Now for the good news. Every note of this album is deliciously played. The musicianship is stunningly good with amazing work in particular by Kjell Haraldsson on keys and Anton Lindsjö on lead guitar - every track has a solo moment that is exciting. Hasse is in fine fettle and the band is supported by a fluid, well-oiled and inventive rhythm section in Ola Strandberg and Thomasson (drums and bass respectively). The production and mixing is gorgeous with Tomas Bodin joining his Flower Kings bandmate at the desk. All of these stand-out positives can best be heard on My River To Cross and The Final Hour, the latter being the real highlight of the album.
In summary, Powerplay is an accessible album, mixing traditions with an impressive display of skill and savvy songwriting. Stick it on the barbee at an outdoor party and it’ll go down sweetly like a buttery garlic prawn. Generally speaking, it’s an upbeat piece of work with a rock n’ roll heart which, as we know, will never die. It can grow a bit old and tired though, and this is my main gripe – I find it unchallenging and counter-progressive. The melodies are great – memorable and hooky. The overall sound is beautiful, the playing marvellous, but is this enough? Not for me, I’m afraid. In finding its inspiration in the golden seams of rock history, Powerplay mines deeply but fails to sufficiently evolve either the tried and tested genre tropes that it seeks to explore and, on occasion emulate, nor the fresh, vibrant feel of the debut HFMC album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Salva - Thirst
Tracklist: Exclamation Point (9:14), Primoris Iugum (7:43), Adjustment For All (11:59), Can Of Worms (5:09), Frost (8:02), Losing Battle (3:35), One Week (10:00)
Thirst is Swedish band Salva’s third release, but the first to be reviewed by DPRP, and follows four years after the well-regarded Left To Burn. It is released on the fledgling White Knight Records label, which is the brainchild of Rob Reed (Magenta/Tigermoth Records) and Will Mackie (Hoggwash/Caerllysi Music). The label promises more openness in dealing with artists, and should be one to watch in the future.
Salva consists of Per Malmberg (vocals, guitars, keyboards, accordion, mandolin, and percussion), Johan Lindqvist (Keyboards), Stefan Gavik (Guitars), Lars "Lasse" Bolin (drums and percussion), Fredrik "Figge" Lindqvist (bass).
The album kicks off in a big way with Exclamation Point. A lively burst of staccato guitar chords is backed by choral keys, and prepares the way for some potent, emotional vocals. In the middle we have a change of pace with a lovely instrumental interlude reminiscent of Credo or Grey Lady Down. Then we’re back to full speed ahead with a powerful melodic fuzzy guitar solo. We have a couple more mood changes, with piano and mournful vocals, before another guitar solo returns us to the main theme. This is a formidable opening track that sets out the intent for the rest of the album. Special mention must be made of the accomplished vocal harmonies in the chorus.
If there is one track on this album that effectively showcases most aspects of Salva’s music, then Primoris Lugum is it. In part evocative of a European folk tune, part nursery rhyme, part Dream Theater riffing; in more enlightened times this would have ‘hit single’ written all over it. Well, maybe that’s going too far down the wishful thinking route, but there are hooks and melodies aplenty that will be echoing in your head long after the song has finished. But don’t take my word for it: the band has produced a video for this track, which you can check out from the samples link above.
On Adjustment For All we get a four minute intro, which could stand as a piece on its own, before the vocals kick in. But instead, Salva tie it to a piece that consists of a standard song that is lifted to the heights by a haunting guitar solo. Towards the end keyboards dominate for a while, and there’s a beautifully poignant keyboard solo before the song leaves us with a wonderful screaming guitar, evoking memories of Trevor Rabin.
For Can Of Worms we have a change of vocalist, with Stefan Gavik taking on the duty. A few simple, morose keyboard notes lull us before we’re hit with another heavy staccato guitar riff. The keyboard backdrop to the vocals calls Ayreon to mind, whilst the vocal harmonies on the chorus could be compared to early Pallas. After a synth interlude we’re back to the riffing, before closing what is the heaviest track on the album.
The gentle, atmospheric start of Frost, with subtle guitar and stark piano notes, soon gives way to orchestral strings set against grinding guitar chords. Mid-way through we are treated to a Marillion-like keyboard solo before a more subdued, almost plaintive second half. The track ends on a calm, almost sing-song-like, guitar outro.
The penultimate track, Losing Battle, is a complete change of pace; a piano ballad that wouldn’t be out of place as an Anderson/Wakeman interlude on a Yes album. Keyboard strings join in the latter part of what is quite a moving track.
The closing song One Week is, at over 10 minutes, the longest one on the album, and is a fitting farewell. Apart from a chorus that will be resonating long after the album has finished, the track contains a Hendrixian (have I just made that word up?) guitar solo. All the elements that make up the preceding songs can be found here: mood changes, sweeping keyboards, lush vocal harmonies and impressive bass work.
This is an album that is chock full of catchy melodies, melodic solos, and proficient playing by all concerned. Good, solid song writing and a set of songs that is just screaming to be performed live. Unhesitatingly recommended!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
X-Panda – Flight Of Fancy
Tracklist: Intro (0:49), Black (11:00), Dickybirds (7:01), Flight Of Fancy (7.04), Siren (4:22), Journey Of A Dream (11:06), Keyboard Solo (3:20), Rhythm Department (5:58), Calm Waters (4:17), Crystal Gazing (8:16), Revelation (6:24)
This is a more than interesting debut release from X-Panda. Describing themselves as ‘a progressive metal and fusion band from Estonia’ their music manages to be as unwilling to conform to stereotype as their name!
Is it X-Panda, as in former panda or is it X-Panda, as in getting bigger? If the panda has teeth then it could be an orthodontic expander; a device used by dentists to widen the upper jaw.
But I digress! Founded initially as a one-off project for a competition in 2009, the band ended up winning with a song that appears on this disc called Dickybirds. So Kaarel Tamra (keyboards), Risto Virkhausen (guitars), Tamar Nugis (bass and vocals) and Karl-Juhan Laanesaar (drums) decided to continue.
A year later they went on to win one of the biggest band competitions held in Estonia. In September 2011 came the release of their debut album Flight Of Fancy.
Now I’m all for variety or ‘progession’ across an album but in a similar way to their name, X-Panda seems to have a bit of a musical identity crisis.
Are they an instrumental band or not? Eight of the songs are pure instrumentals. Three are full-on vocal compositions. A strange imbalance.
Are they a jazz rock fusion band, a ProgMetal band, a heavy Neo Prog band or a band that ably mixes the three genres? Three tracks here are mainly Neo Prog, three are mainly ProgMetal, one is pure late night fusion and two mix all three together. A strange imbalance.
The final track, Revelation, is a memorable slab of pure operatic gothic metal with male/female vocals a la Nightwish et al. A really superb song in its own right, but it has absolutely nothing in common with anything else on the album. A strange imbalance.
This confusion is frustrating as this is clearly a very talented band in terms of both its songwriting and playing. In its own right, almost every track is quite compelling.
The opening song, Black mixes operatic ProgMetal, fusion and the avant-garde with Neo Prog vocals and an (over) extended guitar solo in the vein of Marillion/Collage. Siren is a catchy slice of modern progressive heavy rock that reminds me of Argentinian band Sacrum whilst Dickybirds combines metal guitars and synths with some jazz rock fusion and a lovely guitar melody before going a bit odd and quirky. Calm Waters meanwhile is the sort of fusion-tinged ambient music that I’d really enjoy late at night.
If the above chaotic combination of listening experiences is something you seek in an album then buy with confidence. I’m just not sure there are that many people around.
For what it’s worth I’d take the ‘expander’ option and turn X-Panda into two bands; one to produce an album mixing everything together in the vein of Black with vocals, and the other mixing it all together in the vein of Dickybirds or Calm Waters without a singer. From the evidence here, they could produce two bloody good albums next time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Alias Eye - In-Between
Tracklist: Arabesque (6:52), Break What We Know (4:26), In-Between (4:19), Time Machine (5:43), Indentured Pride (3:55), Stars Shall Fall (4:51), All The Rage (3:12), Distant Memories (4:30), Take What’s Mine (4:32), The Blink Of An Eye (5:00)
Maybe just my incorrect impression, but for a band that rocked the DPRP prog pages with some gusto from their onset, this latest offering by Alias Eye, “In-Between” burst onto the scene rather gently. Looking in the archives at DPRP, multiple Round Table Reviews suggest this band came with a great deal of promise and slowly faded out of the limelight. Inactivity (two albums since Different Point Of You in 2003) may be to blame, but it may be that the prog world picked up and changed seats while Alias Eye weren’t looking.
All is not lost, however, this album starts with the song Arabesque with a great sounding piano intro and delicate vocals sang by Philip Griffiths that flies into a grinding guitar riff and melds into a myriad of styles within the metal undercurrent. Alias Eye has prided themselves in using disparate styles to make their music and they seem most at home in the realm of jazz/blues with various ethnic leanings to sprinkle in texture and liven the taste.
The energy remains in stride throughout the next several tunes, mixing material from many arenas and punctuating their choices with a variety of brass instruments, good energy, and the usual easy flair in the voice. Each song is different enough to keep things interesting, but then the ballad comes out Stars Shall Fall and makes a hard left turn. This one shift dropped the average in one fell swoop with a good dose of sappiness and mediocrity.
Redemption comes as soon as the balled ceases to under impress with a lump of funk driven staccato vocals (unusual up to now) that sounds a bit like the Red Hot Chili Peppers but the action slows shortly thereafter with Distant Memories but they don’t go down the sappy road with this one and the song stays interesting with good piano and changes intermingled in the tune. Other points of reference that come to mind vary quite a bit due to the myriad of influences but some come to mind such as SBB, Ark, Camel and Beardfish. I even hear influence form Stevie Ray Vaughan in the voicing of the guitars. Really, when you apply blues and jazz influences to progressive rock while mixing up the instrumentation, the references can be legion.
While the talent here is enjoyable, the modus operandi of Alias Eye does work against them. The themes are a little too diverse despite following a very chromatic approach to their chord progressions. The music feels somewhat like Todd Rundgren meets Genesis meets Jesus Christ Superstar. That may be a stretch for even the prog consuming public.
The album finishes with the familiar varied current pulsing through most of the album pulling together and tying the ends on a decent overall piece or work. It has some catchy hook lines, but they aren’t particularly memorable since their songs don’t follow standard phrasing.
Sound quality is pretty good but does come across as anaemic in places although it does seem to highlight the slick drumming of Ludwig Benedek who leads the style shifts with authority. The singing is not really appealing to me but it didn’t leave me eager to turn it off either. All said this is an interesting release with good prog roots. Even though this album came out with little fanfare (from my perspective) it deserves a listen.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Fuchs – Leaving Home
Tracklist: Long Time Ago (3:13), Summer We Come (6:14), Such A State Of Affairs 1 (2:14), These Golden Fields (3:51), Life's In Balance (4:41), A Harbringer's Requiem (2:38), Forgive Me [Atonement] (7:21), Symphony In Disguise (7:31), Will You Pray For Me (5:24), Such A State Of Affairs 2 (2:29), Don't Think About (5:52), These Golden Fields [Reprise] (1:19), Isn't Someone Coming Back [The Last Days 1] (3:59), Darkness Is Strong [The Last Days 2] (4:25), Crawling Back Into My Dream (5:58), Leaving Home (7:42)
Fuchs is the namesake of Stuttgart teacher, musician and producer Hans-Jurgen (Hansi) Fuchs whose previous claim to DPRP fame is supporting his wife in the Ines Project, responsible for the highly rated albums Flow (1999) and Slipping Into The Unknown (2002). Leaving Home is his first solo recording and given his previous work and the albums subject matter, musically it comes as quite a surprise. The story tells of a German family between 1920 and 1945, beginning with the happy years of young love, interrupted by Hitler’s rise to power and the consequences of the second world war. It’s partly autobigraphical, based on the experiences of Fuchs‘ own grandparents.
Given the musical possibilities of such a concept, I was expecting atmospheric classic prog conveying a variety of moods and tempos. What you get however is 16 songs with an average length of under 5 minutes that owe more to contemporary rock and early 80’s indie pop than they do progressive rock.
Things get off to a less than auspicious start with Long Time Ago, a simple piece of jangly guitar pop-rock. The mood continues with Summer We Come with its chiming guitar bringing a youthful U2 to mind. The stark arrangements and basic production values are a tad disappointing although the compelling vocals are a bonus, sounding not unlike ex. Pallas man Alan Reed. Fuchs also demonstrates a neat line in memorable choral hooks and riffs as These Golden Fields, Will You Pray For Me and Isn't Someone Coming Back testify. The latter in particular is ridiculously catchy making it easily my favourite song on the album although the song’s breezy nature does perhaps undermine the implications of its title.
The early 80’s influences that I mentioned earlier are everywhere with more U2 guitar dynamics during These Golden Fields and A Harbringer's Requiem, the astute pop sensibilities of Talk Talk during Don't Think About, resonant Scott Walker style vocalising in the haunting Darkness Is Strong and the moody Crawling Back Into My Dream that echoes The Smiths in their prime.
Although in short measure, prog does occasionally bubble to the surface as in the Floydian guitar break of Such A State Of Affairs 1 (one of the albums few instrumentals), the stately Life's In Balance (evoking Genesis’ Carpet Crawlers) and the quirky Such A State Of Affairs 2 which sounds like the kind of thing Sweden’s Carptree would conjure up. Forgive Me has a certain Gazpacho edge about it and I especially liked the searing slide guitar work reminiscent of the mighty Chris Fry. The most obvious prog concession however is the title and closing track Leaving Home with an effective if predictable soaring guitar and strings finale that has all the hallmarks of Mostly Autumn’s And When The War Is Over.
Despite the occasional sounds of war (as in the sampled voices and bombing that ends Such A State Of Affairs 2) for me Leaving Home lacks the necessary dramatic impact given the subject matter and is best appreciated as a collection of memorable pop-rock songs with occasional proggy overtones. And as good as those songs are, with that in mind, I find it difficult to fathom just who Fuchs’ intended audience might be.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Mess - Küsi Eneselt
CD 1 ~ Küsi Eneselt: Pilvini (7:27), Valged Hommikud (6:43), Tiik (11:02), Lugu (6:08), Üksi (4:34), Rohelised Leed (9:25), Küsi Eneselt (16:33)
CD 2 ~ Live: Intro (1:36), Pilvini (8:25), Rohelised Leed (10:25), Valged Hommikud (7:14), Tiik (13:25), Pilvini Bolero (3:53)
It seems to have taken this album eight years to fall through the DPRP letterbox, but the music contained within has been waiting far longer to be heard. Mess, or Sven Grünberg's proge-rock group, was an Estonian band that formed in the mid 1970s to play some wacky proge music. Sadly, the Soviet Union weren't so keen on proge, so the band broke up after only three years without recording an album.
However, a few band demos, recorded between '74 and '76, still survive and have been remixed by Mr. Grünberg himself for release here. In fact they were originally released in 1995 under the German Bella Musica label, although reports suggest that this mix is 'rather shaky'. The band also gigged around Estonia, spreading proge-rock to the previously uninitiated. Accordingly, they are remembered as one of the most groundbreaking proge bands to come from Estonia. The only other Estonian proge band I can think of is the dubiously titled X-Panda that popped up last year.
Unfortunately, while I can imagine that Mess sounded groundbreaking in their time, the music, quite ironically, is a bit of a mess itself. The comparison I'd like to draw is with Portuguese band Daymoon, as both bands seem to throw a plethora of great ideas into each song but aren't that skilled at arranging the ideas so that they fit well together. Each song is rather confused, with many shifts of tempo and mood, so that none of the themes are allowed to breathe. Rather often, I'm thrilled by a groove or a musical phrase, but after half a minute it is whisked away rather ungraciously in favour of something completely different. I have no idea how far through a song I am, as it could end at any time. My favourite track on the record has to be the epic title track Küsi Eneselt, for its benign and rather beautiful intro, possibly the longest single 'idea' on the record, which is also repeated at the end of the track.
Coming from a time and a place where bands like Yes and Genesis had probably never been heard of, it's amazing that Mess sound so much like these bands and their contemporaries. The band's music could easily fit in next to English prog music, despite the language naturally. Strangely enough, the less-than-brilliant production - an excusable facet of the music, given that these are demos - reminds me very much of the first incarnation of Todd Rundgren's Utopia.
Apparently, the band were quite the showmen live, as they brought slideshows, sculptures and smoke machines to their shows, to create a multimedia of sight and sound. Unfortunately no live footage exists, but a concert can be heard in the special edition of this album. DPRP were not given a special edition, so I cannot comment on the live disc.
While this band sound like they had some great potential back in the 70s, there's a number of factors that make this album difficult to digest for me. First and foremost, the compositions are too confused, with the best bits passing in the blink of an eye. Secondly, the language barrier is quite an issue here, since the words are apparently 'important' and 'poetic'. The production also makes this album rather harsh on the ears. While this band are incredibly interesting, there is not enough quality material to keep me coming back for more.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Against The Wall – Things Are Not Like They Said
Tracklist: Part I - Overture (1:48), Part II - Would You Be Happy (10:17), The Enemy (5:34), A Few Days Left (2:55), Temporary (5:21), Take Everything (6:52), Lost Inside (4:46), Look Up At The Sky (4:37), Get Up (8:10), Freeze (5:01), Blown Away (4:10), A Dose Of Reason (4:06), Stuck In A Daze (7:03)
Against The Wall is, or is supposed to be, a metal band from New York that released only one album before. The Truth, back in 2008. This spring they brought us the successor by the name of Things Are Not Like They Said. This promising album title turns out to be the truth...
A classic opening of Part I - Would You Be Happy? is written by singer Jakubovic’s dad. Part II - Would You Be Happy?, although a nice song, is a full Neal Morse clone. The Enemy however is a fun track; I can’t put my finger on it exactly but the first few accords keep reminding me of something I know from the past.
The rest is a boring combination of a boy band and Greg Kihn. The closing track Stuck In A Daze is quite alright. Together with the first two real tracks it represents the slightly enjoyable part. But that is not enough. This album is too oldskool and too mellow to be metal and in no way innovative to be prog. In other words: just not interesting.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10