Reviews in this issue:
- Kaipa - Vittjar (Duo Review)
- Dün - Eros (Duo Review)
- Pendragon – Kowtow
- Mark Green - Fantasy Bridge
- Thank You Scientist – Maps Of Non-Existent Places
- Hopewell – Another Music [EP]
- Beyond The Epilogue - BtE [EP]
- Montresor - Daybreak
Kaipa - Vittjar
Tracklist: First Distraction (3:03), Lightblue And Green (12:02), Our Silent Ballroom Band (22:11), Vittjar (3:49), Treasure-House (7:35), A Universe Of Tinyness (7:25), A Crowned Hillsides (10:34), Second Distraction (2:21)
Jez Rowden's Review
Kaipa have now been around for over 40 years – if you discount the two decade long period of inactivity through the 1980s and ‘90s. Keyboardist and founder Hans Lundin re-awakened the band in 2002 with the help of another member of the original band, Roine Stolt, and their first releases in 20 years, Notes From The Past, updated the sound for a new audience while retaining many of the elements that fans of their earlier work love. That said the “new” band has, from the start, had its own distinctive style that is removed from the work of the original formation and could have set to work under a different name. No matter though as the reputation of the original group has been expanded and built on with a succession of quite excellent albums since the turn of the millennium which has not abated since the withdrawal of Stolt after the third reformation release, Mindrevolutions.
Vittjar is album number 6 of the second bout of activity and the standards are still incredibly high, a feat that should make all of those involved rightly proud, particularly Lundin who writes all the material. The consistency in output is probably partly due to the fact that, with the exception of Stolt being replaced by Scar Symmetry guitarist Per Nilsson, the line-up for all six of the albums has been the same with Lundin joined by the stellar cast of Morgan Ågren (drums), Jonas Reingold (bass) and joint vocalists Patrik Lundström and Aleena Gibson who have gelled into a formidable unit. Regular guest appearances from Fredrik Lindqvist of Ritual (recorders & whistles) and Elin Rubinsztein (vioin) who have appeared on the last few albums add much to the sound, Rubinsztein particularly influential, and the overall feel continues from the preceding releases. As much as I was originally drawn to Kaipa via the involvement of Roine Stolt I have not missed his presence and Nilsson fills his flip-flops particularly well, bringing with him an additional metal edge that is used sparingly to good effect. He deserves considerable recognition for his breathtaking playing, managing to conform to Stolt’s style where required but blasting off into other territories when the music dictates it.
The music is still tinged with Swedish folk traditions and shot through with an uplifting sense of wide-eyed positivity that is brought home in the delivery of the powerful vocalists – you can actually hear them smiling their way through the lyrics! That is not to say that there is not grit in the music and with the likes of Reingold and Ågren on team you know that the rhythm section is going to be something special and so it is, the pair work incredibly well together like the super-talented professionals they are. Lundin flavours the stew, his intricate music and sound choices remaining true to the nature of the reformed band and making them sound like no one else.
The album is built around three lengthy set pieces, a couple of shorter tracks and the brief title track that benefits from the choice to sing it in Swedish, the whole bookended by a pair of instrumental Distractions that successfully distil the band’s agenda and pull the whole together at the end. The traditional folk influences come through from the off with the delightful instrumental First Distraction which also features elements of Genesis and metal-edged guitar which continue into the early stages of the mighty Lightblue And Green which moves through a number of delightful twists and turns that sometimes leave the listener breathless. Lundin is at the heart with his wonderful melodies while Reingold and Ågren nail it down, Nilsson given full rein to unleash some wonderful phrases and solos. There is heaviness to be sure but it is kept in check and doesn’t immerse the sound which has a lightness of touch. Lindqvist and Rubinsztein make their first appearances and acoustic guitar adds to the feel of nature, Lundström’s powerful vocal driving the piece along. The lyrical nature of the song is not lost in the majestic instrumental passages which are absolutely flawless and as the last flourish of Lightblue... fades the massive shape of Our Silent Ballroom Band slides into view with Aleena singing a melodic folk-edged tune with pipes that abruptly moves into an ethereal key soaked section, Lundström emerging with some trademark soloing from Lundin. Nilsson picks up the tempo but melodic restraint is the order of the day. One of Lundin’s triumphs is that he manages to keep melody at the heart of what Kaipa do, a simple fact that is often lost on musicians wanting to flex their muscles. No one in Kaipa needs to underline their individual ability and as a result the band come across as a unit working for the good of the music. The piece evolves beautifully through a number of changes including some neat jazz and Scandinavian folk phrases which are seamlessly interwoven with past sections returning for reinterpretation, this huge piece in no way outstays its welcome, the extended coda simply topping off the beauty of what has gone before. Kaipa’s trademark guitar sound is central at all times with Nilsson pulling out some wonderful soloing and special mention to Reingold and his absolutely breathtaking talent while the lyrics are typical Kaipa – bizarre, steeped in nature, quirky, ethereal, bonkers – and work so well.
So, how do you follow that? This is how: the title track is as near perfect a mix of prog and folk as you can get with lots of fiddle and muscular rhythms topped off with harpsichord and stately baroque chord sequences, Lundström delivering the quick-fire Swedish lyrics with dexterity and temerity as if his very life depended on it – he deserves a medal for not choking on his own tongue! Not a traditionally beautiful language but I love the sound of sung Swedish and wish they’d use it a bit more often as it underlines the heart of what Kaipa are all about. This is wonderful; to the point and a superb counterpoint to Our Silent Ballroom Band; a complete triumph.
Treasure House has an almost reggae rhythm but is completely Kaipa, the melody and Lundin’s keys sweeping it along with an almost childlike mid-section and Yes harmony vocals. Because of the wonders that have gone before this track almost seems throw away in comparison. It isn’t and grows in statue with repeated listens. All the performances are top notch with special mention to Reingold again who lights up any project he is part of.
A Universe Of Tinyness is again typically odd but completely engaging, the violin again making a strong contribution. Aleena is commanding while the band do their thing with wild abandon. A change of tack with strings and keys on a rising theme with Ågren playing some stunning rhythms before the track launches into a high energy finale, Nilsson and Rubinzstein dueting beautifully.
The final extended work, The Crowned Hillsides, is all violins before being rocked up with a wonderful melody from Nilsson and thundering rhythms powering it along. There are jazz fusion elements and a stripped down middle section with fragile vocals that builds back to a maelstrom of melodic instrumental dexterity that blasts out energy. And so the whole thing is brought full circle with the wonderful Second Distraction, a jazzier and much heavier companion piece to the opening track that makes for a spectacular way to finish.
Vittjar, as with most of Kaipa’s recent work, is wildly over the top in many ways but it all works in such a breathtakingly individual way that this can be forgiven and in fact cherished. There is some simply jaw-dropping stuff on this album from all concerned and the writing throughout is superb. This is a very special group that we are lucky to be able to still enjoy thanks to the hard work and talent of Lundin and his cohorts and I think this is the best release they have ever produced. There is no real criticism to be made but the uninitiated may find elements of the vocal delivery a little grating. This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with it, on the contrary, they are both excellent, it is just that some are certain to find the style a little annoying. Personally, I really like it and it is right at the heart of what Kaipa do. If you can’t get past that you may as well give up on them but in doing so you certainly going to miss out on something special.
Vittjar is right up there with and probably exceeds anything that the band has released in either of its incarnations and fans will no doubt be thrilled with the results. I haven’t been disappointed by Lundin’s recent efforts and look forward to more of his high symphonic prog drenched in folk music and positivity in the future, the man is a treasure. There really is nothing that I would change about Kaipa. They’re nuts but the immense talent seeps out in every note and this is an album to savour.
I love this album.
Basil Francis' Review
Vittjar is the eleventh studio album by the longstanding symphonic band Kaipa, and the sixth since their reunion in 2002. Despite Roine Stolt's departure in 2005, the band continue to exhibit a sound very similar to The Flower Kings, Transatlantic and other Stolt projects. As far as Swedish prog bands go, Kaipa are at the lighter side of the spectrum, but their creativity is not to be underestimated.
The band is very talented, both in terms of technical ability and song writing. Take Lightblue And Green for example, a beautiful track which experiments with many musical ideas, and contains more than its fair share of virtuoso solos. The delightful chorus is the icing on the cake! Very excessive, and incredibly indulgent, this track represents a lot about what it is to be progressive.
On the other hand, Kaipa can sometimes get carried away. The twenty-two minute showpiece Our Silent Ballroom Band is certainly something to behold, with many twists and turns in its musical fabric. However, it is quite far from being the next Close To The Edge or Supper's Ready. For one thing, it really doesn't feel that epic, just very long. The instrumentals that link one section to the next don't reach any higher than the instrumentals on any of the other tracks. It doesn't end with a bang either, but rather leads out at a rather slow pace, a bit of an anti-climax. Still, the middle of the track is very good if you want to rock out to some rich, complex prog.
Perhaps the best realised track of the album is one of the shortest, the classically inspired Vittjar, sung in Kaipa's native tongue. The violin riff is somewhat catchy, and the wonderfully sung Swedish lyrics give it a sense of native authenticity. I'd quite like to hear more Swedish prog sung in Swedish!
This quickly leads into Treasure-House, which appears to be influenced by reggae of all genres. I have to say, even for Kaipa, this comes off as immensely cheesy. The opening verse sections get a little repetitive, but after two minutes, the wait is paid off with one of the nicest choruses you'll ever hear. An interesting track certainly.
However, behind all this well choreographed prog, there is a little niggling itch. Everything on the album is just too damn happy! I don't know about you, dear reader, but I like a little emotional variation in my music, and this cheesy optimism is a little more than I can take. I get the same problem with Transatlantic sometimes; why does everything have to be so happy? On top of this, the lyrics can get a little fey, especially with A Universe Of Tinyness, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
Nevertheless, I'll give credit where credit's due. The songs may not be revolutionary, but Vittjar is a very solid album full of interesting musical ideas and squeaky clean production. For a band that is nearing its 40th anniversary, this album is a very strong sign indeed. It isn't particularly deep, but maybe it doesn't need to be.
Dün - Eros
Tracklist: L’épice (9:30), Arrakis (9:40), Bitonio (7:15), Eros (10:28) Bonus Tracks: Arrakis (5:44), Bitonio (10:24), Arrakis (5:12), Eros (7:16), Acoustic Fremen (6:26)
Roger Trenwith's Review
Dün were a short-lived French band from Nantes whose fame during their three years of existence from 1978 to 1981 never stretched much beyond their immediate locality, and as such their one self-released album has become something of a lost jewel in the esoteric world of RIO and avant-prog.
Morphing from an earlier version of the band called Kan-Daar who apparently used to play Mahavishnu Orchestra covers, that statement alone showing their chops, the two main men behind the group were drummer Laurent Bertaud and flautist Pascal Vandenbulcke who took their love of fellow countrymen Magma, mixed it with several Henry Cowisms and a smattering of the more left-field end of Canterbury, Egg springing to mind in places, added a soupçon of Gentle Giant at their most wilful, and, hey-presto, the delightful noise that was Dün was born. Their name and that of a couple of the song titles, as you may have surmised, are down to the influence of sci-fi author Frank Herbert, massively popular at the time. They went on to play support for Magma and almost got invited into the then nascent RIO co-operative, but missed out, as the liner notes would have it “due to neglect and laziness”!
Regarded by the cognoscenti as a lost zeuhl classic, Eros is a work of contrapuntal complexity that while showing drummer Laurent’s love of Magma, particularly in the brief cacophonous drum barrage at the end of Arrakis, never gets lost trying to emulate the wilful French band’s heady and unique template. To my mind the album inclines more towards avant-prog than zeuhl, particularly as it lacks the operatic tendencies of Magma and some of their offshoots, being for the most part entirely instrumental, save for the very occasional surreal vocalisation, kept down in the mix.
Recorded in 1981 at a Swiss studio recommended to them by Univers Zero, who had recorded two albums there, one of which being the seminal Heresie, the band laid down the four songs of the original album, which along with the bonus tracks on offer here are given the usual due care and sympathetic attention by the remixmaster of choice for the avant scene, Udi Koomran.
On the aforementioned Arrakis a simple but effective repeated piano motif is embellished in equal measure by Pascal’s flute and the sometimes spiky guitar of Jean Geeraerts. The beat then ratchets up a gear or two as the song canters along like an out-of-control pony and trap, ending with the drum barrage mentioned earlier which is short and odd enough with its treated sounds to maintain interest.
The highlight of the album proper for me has always been the title track, and the new mix lends it a clarity that only adds to its strange magnificence. Univers Zero-like dark ambience introduces the song, but it’s not long before we are off on a psychedelic helter-skelter ride that enhanced by the new sound quality reveals hitherto unknown pleasures. A minimalistic modern symphony plays out before us as the flute and percussion dance round each other as playful Muses should. The intricacy of these sounds is where the remix really shines, when slowly the pace increases as the whole band join in around another unwinding, and at first glance, deceptively simple theme. Each instrument has its own distinct part in the complex arrangement, with only the keyboards of Bruno Sabathe being allowed the freedom to extrapolate. The shouted word “Eros” is repeated a few times and by now the band members are vying with each other to rise to the top of the tight arrangement, but always retaining their discipline, another indicator of the very high quality of the musicianship involved. Utterly wonderful stuff for the fan of the esoteric, I’d say!
The bonus tracks are earlier and sometimes quite different versions of some of songs from the main album, with the exception of Acoustic Fremen, a number that the band used to play mid-set as an acoustic break in proceedings. The most interesting of the bonuses for me, perhaps unsurprisingly, is another version of Eros that features sax player Philippe Portejoie who left before the main album recording sessions. His work lends the band a not unexpected more jazz-rock style, and in places it evens puts me in mind of Soft Machine.
Credit must be given to Alain Lebon whose long-running cottage industry label Soleil Zeuhl dug up this dusty but wonderful obscurity for our delectation. Those of us who have bought the album have been given a free download compilation of other feisty offerings from the label, most of which sound like they require more investigation. With the traditional record industry dying, perhaps deservedly, the progressive or indeed any other music world needs folk like Alain to keep it alive for the rest of us. All he needs now is your support, and no, I’m not being sponsored! For those of you into the superior sound and packaging of ye olde vinyl, this album is also available for your delectation in a limited run of 300 in that very format.
I think you’ve got the gist by now, and it will not surprise you to learn that I recommend this great album to any lover of RIO and avant-prog, and indeed to anyone who likes their music to be a tad interesting. Music you can dance to in your head, indeed!
Basil Francis' Review
Ah good, it seems that Roger has dealt with the story behind the music, leaving me to discuss the music itself. I encourage you to read his review if you want to understand where this music has come from. All I have to say about the music's origin is 'Better late than never!' This music sounds like it comes from 1971, not 1981, so it seems as if Dün cottoned on to the whole progressive movement a decade too late, which may have been a leading factor in their demise.
Eros is really quite an extraordinary album, filled with densely orchestrated, angular instrumentals that seek to tear your brain apart with their complexity. The closest album I can find for comparison is Gryphon's Red Queen To Gryphon Three, which also consisted of four complex medium length instrumentals. Also like Gryphon, Dün will have the ability to clear your house party of guests in seconds. However, as its artwork suggests, Eros is a far more melancholic album, and there's nary a happy note to be heard. All manner of instruments are used, from flutes to xylophones, as well as the standard drums-guitar-bass-keyboards. This instrumental ability, along with their penchant for playing complex music for the sake of being complex results in Dün not sounding unlike Gentle Giant.
L'épice begins the album, and is bizarrely most consistent track on the album; consistent in that the level of frantic jerking and twisting stays roughly the same throughout. Rather satisfyingly, the track includes a few recurring themes in its winding structure. A good introduction to the album, this track sets the tone for the rest.
While L'épice was content to be odd and jerky all the way through, it takes Arrakis a few minutes to really get going. The slow crescendo on piano and flute eventually gives way to a breakneck rocky instrumental. This in turn leads into a rhythmic drum solo, aptly performed by Laurent Bertaud, before a very proggy finish.
At a mere seven minutes, Bitonio is the baby of the bunch, but is no less wonderfully complex than its siblings. At times bombastic, at times subdued, this track retains an almost spooky air. The best bit of this track has to be the vocal grunts towards the end.
Eros has a similar structure to Arrakis, slow at the beginning, but building up to a frenzied finish. In fact, we start the track with some free-time noodling, before entering a jagged proggy section that ensures listeners won't turn off too early. Soon after, we reach the crescendo section that lasts about four minutes, with interesting musical ideas played over the theme. Afterwards, the listener is rocketed into another breakneck section with some of the most sci-fi keyboard sounds out there. Another jerky progressive section ends the piece, and we finish the album proper.
To compliment the delightful tracklist, four insightful demos and an acoustic studio out-take are included, making for enjoyable and informative listening. This album is an overlooked gem on the face of progressive rock and this great sounding reissue gives this album another chance to obtain the respect it deserves. For all fans of gritty, technical, mind-blowing prog, I say buy this immediately!
Pendragon – Kowtow
Tracklist: Saved By You (3:58), The Mask (4:01), Time For A Change (3:56), I Walk The Rope (4:47), 2 AM (4:14), Total Recall (7:00), The Haunting (10:40), Solid Heart (4:20), Kowtow (8:56) Bonus Tracks: The Millstream Sessions: Time For A Change (3:56), The Mask (3:51), I Walk The Rope (4:28)
Still going strong in 2012, it’s easy to forget that Pendragon have been releasing music since the early 80’s when along with their peers Marillion, Pallas, Twelfth Night and IQ they were major players in the neo-prog movement. Originally released in 1988, Kowtow was their second album and could be best described as the work of a band in transition searching for a compromise between artistic credibility and commercial viability. It was also the first to feature the line-up that would remain stable for 20 years - Nick Barrett (vocals, guitars), Pete Gee (bass), Fudge Smith (drums) and Clive Nolan (keyboards).
Kowtow is often dismissed (by critics and fans alike) as a blatant attempt to garner the band mainstream acceptance. It was their first release on Barrett’s newly formed Toff records and consisted mainly of demos that had been previously rejected by EMI plus a couple of new songs. Although I was admittedly a late comer to the album, picking up on it after The Masquerade Overture, I found it to be much better than expected given the initial reviews. The songs, typically all penned by Barrett (with occasional input from Gee) balance catchy melodies with a desire to stretch musical horizons. With Nolan on-board the fluid guitar/synth partnership that would blossom on later albums was certainly in reach.
The opening song Saved By You bursts from the speakers with such enthusiasm it’s hard not to be caught up in its infectious optimism. In addition to the memorable chorus and guitar hook there is a cheeky reference to Sweet’s 70’s glam rock gem Block Buster. Yes, it’s most definitely on the poppy side but if you’re prepared to go with it then you’ll almost certainly find a good deal to enjoy in the rest of the album.
That said, the trio of songs that immediately follow are the least satisfying and probably the ones that most divided opinions. A compelling guitar riff reminiscent of A Flock Of Seagulls is the only truly memorable aspect of The Mask whilst Time For A Change is the most obvious attempt to leap on the 70’s pop bandwagon with its Fairlight style synth crashes and a relentless dance rhythm that would be more familiar to fans of Michael Jackson and Prince. The laidback I Walk The Rope on the other hand borders on MOR with its silky smooth keyboards and sax break courtesy of guest Julian Siegal. Saxophone continues to dominate the melancholic and appropriately titled 2 AM before the song develops with a particularly emotive vocal performance from Barrett (compensating for the lack of guitar).
Things take an upturn (and the tracks become conspicuously longer) with Total Recall, a song that was resurrected for the 2008 DVD Concerto Maximo. It opens with restrained but engaging piano and guitar, blossoming into an up-tempo but equally engaging vocal section before playing out with a lengthy piano coda. The Haunting is often cited as the best track the album has to offer although its 10 plus minute length may play a part in this. Whilst the vocals convey drama and tension and the soaring guitar lines and symphonic keys are certainly effective, for me it’s a hint of better things to come on albums like The Masquerade Overture and Not Of This World.
The ridiculously catchy and energetic Solid Heart is a return to the flavour of the opening song Saved By You leaving the title song Kowtow to close proceedings. The lively, syncopated vocal sections with their anti-war sentiments and the uplifting neo-prog instrumental interludes make this for me the albums best track. It’s certainly a worthy attempt to encompass the best of both worlds, combining the bands commercial sensibilities with their more ambitious prog-rock aspirations.
The three bonus tracks recorded at the Millstream Studios, Cheltenham in 1986 prior to the arrival of Nolan and Smith are little more than a curiosity for fans. The original versions of Time For A Change, Mask and I Walk The Rope are very close to the finished article although the monotonous, programmed drums are an annoyance rather than an asset. Best avoided unless you have a desperate desire to experience Barrett and Gee doing their best to emulate A-ha and Go West. Better in my opinion is the shiny new black artwork and matching slip case that Madfish have brought to this reissue.
I’m not entirely sure how much re-mastering has been involved here but sound-wise this new edition of Kowtow is certainly a step-up from my old CD version. And whilst it’s a long way short of the best of Pendragon, Kowtow is for me a credible part of the bands history. Songs like Saved By You and Solid Heart demonstrate Barrett’s flair for writing catchy tunes whilst Total Recall, The Haunting and Kowtow are a precursor of the Pink Floyd/Genesis influences that would appear more prominently on the Pendragon albums of the 90’s.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Mark Green - Fantasy Bridge
Tracklist: Fantasy Bridge (3:41), Children Of A Forgotten Sun (13:58), Dawn (3:47); Don’t Give Up On Love (8:05), Endless Ocean (4:31), Autumn Rain (4:19), Quiscience (2:55), Together On The Shores Of Time (6:04), Ode To Joy (4:48), A Day By The Sea (10:52)
Mark is a keyboard wizard, singer and songwriter who has finally made this, his debut album after some recent trials and tribulations, namely his recent recovery from cancer. In the mid-70s, he was with vocal harmony group Flame and he was later keyboards player with the Mike Radcliffe Band. He then joined Spirit Level on keyboards in the 80s and then in the 90s, he decided to concentrate on his own studio project from where the ideas for Fantasy Bridge began.
The material from then remained dormant until he underwent successful treatment for cancer three years ago, which prompted him to resurrect the project and it took him another two years to put it all together before releasing it this year.
It is a veritable cornucopia of fascinating and sometimes surprising compositions of varying length and styles that all tip their hats to his main influences from the 70s. The title track kicks off the collection and immediately, there are shades of Genesis, mainly through the Hackettesque guitar of Steinar Gregertson which blends beautifully with Green’s understated synth.
Children Of A Forgotten Sun is the longest track which that floats along wistfully with some dreamy vocal harmonies and chunky Hammond organ underpinning some deft guitar from Nick Crosby while Paul Fuller’s drumming drives it along at a considerable pace as the song twists and turns through some keyboard trickery from Green.
A lush instrumental groove marks Dawn as a particularly satisfying piece, full of charged atmosphere from a swirling synth which does have echoes of Tangerine Dream. Don’t Give Up On Love is probably the most puzzling piece because suddenly from starting as a strong, proggy keyboard-led piece, it suddenly changes tack completely and becomes a pop song. It almost sounds like something from 70s Fleetwood Mac with Green’s voice recalling Lindsey Buckingham while the melody line itself has shades of Starship’s We Built This City. It then takes off into a deeper keyboards realm before returning to the sung section.
Back to some wonderful instrumental work on Endless Ocean, with Green’s piano strong, masterful and confident with slightly jazzy overtones before the synth comes in to add further texture to the haunting melody. Autumn Rain is incredibly reminiscent of 70s Renaissance both in style and content with Green’s voice sounding very much like that of Jon Camp from the band.
The surprise of the package is Quiescience, a short instrumental, on which the fruity sax of Wim Koopman dominates over keyboards and drums, while Together On The Shores Of Time just does not quite have the wow factor of some of the other tracks, though there are some shimmering synths worked into the body of the song.
Beethoven’s Ode To Joy is a surprising inclusion but has Green at full tilt on Hammond organ and a range of other keyboards while his wife Sue plays her part on electric violin. It has shades of ELP in its style through Adam Chinn’s rumbling bass and Emerson-like flourishes throughout.
Rounding off is the synthy moody A Day By The Sea, which sounds like a paean to their home, the English seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare. There is almost a Squackett feel to this song and the lyrics almost pay homage at one point to Simon and Garfunkel. It has a tremendous sweetness which verges on the folkie as well as a rocky edge – very apt for a song about the shoreline.
Fantasy Bridge is an album made with a great deal of care and conviction. There are some delightful moments where Green demonstrates his credentials both as a master of the keyboards and the creator of some lilting melodies. Perhaps the one material criticism is the CD cover complete with airship which does put one rather much to mind of the Transatlantic covers, but then again, Green do cite the superproggers as an influence.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Thank You Scientist – Maps Of Non-Existent Places
Tracklist: Prelude (1:11), A Salesman's Guide To Non-Existence (5:03), Feed the Horses (6:27), Blood On the Radio (9:22), Absentee (5:59), Suspicious Waveforms (6:32), Carnival (6:32), Concrete Swan Dive (5:48), In the Company of Worms (5:47), My Famed Disappearing Act (5:44)
A 14-armed musical ensemble from New Jersey, Thank You Scientist released its debut five-track EP, The Perils Of Time Travel, in January 2011. This is its debut album. A fantastic slab of precociously heavy progressive music it is too.
The band's outrageous use of sax, trumpet, horn, violin and viola among the more traditional band instrumentation is really what sets the Scientists out from the norm. Their obvious energy, passion and sheer joy in playing has created an hour of music which scores top marks for freshness and creativity. It is the type of album that will enthral you listen after listen.
Maps Of Non-Existent Places is a pretty essential purchase for those who enjoy a melodic hybrid of the complexity of classic prog, the atmosphere of modern prog, the energy of an alt-pop band, the arrangements of a jazz fusion outfit, the groove of a jazzy funk combo and the occasional moments of ProgMetal heaviness.
This may all sound somewhat random but the combination of the smooth, refrained, melodic vocals of Sal Marrano and a compositional aptitude that is rarely found on a debut album manages to bring the organised chaos into some semblance of digestible normality.
Where I do struggle at times is where the band has simply let its enthusiasm get the better of it. There is only so much that a set of ears can take in at the same time, and at times there is just too much going on. The problem I think, is that where a big brass or string section has been utilised by bands before, it has been chiefly to add colour, depth and occasional detail to the sound. Here, on most tracks the sax, trumpet and violin are all main instruments in addition to the guitar, bass, vocals and drums. Each plays an equal role in laying down rhythms or taking the solo spotlight. Thus for much of this album there are six instruments all doing their thing at the same time. On tracks such as Carnival and Blood On The Radio I find the resulting sound is too intense. Elsewhere the tangle of instrumentation creates too much of a web for the singers melody to break through.
I appreciate what the band is trying to achieve but I think a little restraint, by sometimes using some of the instruments just for impact and detail would be more effective. The lighter. jazzy Absentee is a welcome pause for breath.
However this is still a great debut with some wonderful ideas to explore – the fiddle-picking opening to In The Company Of Worms is wonderful. The production is great, the song titles are fun, as is the artwork and I bet they’re an absolute blast on a live stage.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Hopewell – Another Music [EP]
Tracklist: Needle In The Camel’s Eye (3:23), The King & The Canary (4:04), This Is This (6:17), Over The Mountain [Tarbox Version] (5:08), The Six Knowables (5:07)
Brooklyn indie-psych band Hopewell have been going quite a few years now and in that time have released a couple of albums and toured all over the place, most notably appearing at All Tomorrow’s Parties hosted by My Bloody Valentine and The Flaming Lips.
Being described in the press release as a bridge between the old guard of indie-psych (MBV, Mercury Rev) and newer bands such as the rather splendid (my description!) Sereena Maneesh was enough to rouse my curiosity, along with the fact that this EP is on Tee Pee Records, home to the grungily wonderful Ancestors.
This project was originally intended as a collection of covers with none other than Mercury Rev’s somewhat scary original vocalist David Baker behind the mic; but for reasons unknown, although indie’s very own Syd Barrett turned up for the sessions, he then declined to take any further part. Back to the drawing board and Hopewell came up trumps when they invited Mark Gardener of shoegaze rulers Ride to sing lead on the opening track, Brian Eno’s splendidly whacky Needle In The Camel’s Eye. A fine job of it he does to, and following that was always going to be a tough call. The rest of the EP is, as far as I can ascertain, self-penned and not unsurprisingly falls short of the storming opening track, which is largely faithful to the skewed avant-pop of the original, with a blistering guitar freak out at the end. “Another Music” indeed, but does this kitchen offer anything different from the original?
The rest of the EP is still more than decent though, and The King & The Canary is a bit of a retro 60s psych classic; imagine Beck fronting Barrett era Floyd – nice! The comparison to My Bloody Valentine is most apparent on the sci-fi drone-rock of The Six Knowables and Over The Mountain is the product of sessions at Tarbox studios, home to The Flaming Lips and MGMT, and it does indeed have a big Lips streak running through it.
There is nothing particularly ground-breaking here, and I suppose it’s not really “prog”, but that might indeed be a good thing. At least they make a refreshing change from bands that recycle endless AOR clichés. Joyous and triumphal, you’d have to be pretty cloth-eared not to at least tap your toe to the indie-psych-pop racket that is Hopewell.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Beyond The Epilogue - BtE [EP]
Tracklist: Unconquered (5:24), All This Time (5:16), Discretion Of Evil (6:10), Unconquered [Instrumental] (5:24), All This Time [Instrumental] (5:16), Discretion Of Evil [Instrumental] (6:10) Bonus Tracks: Unconquered - The Magic Puppet Remix (04:34) Unconquered - The Magic Puppet Remix [Instrumental] (4:34)
The creative brain behind Beyond The Epilogue is Brian Skeel, who signed for nearly all the instruments, most of the vocals and all compositions of this EP, bringing an interesting mix of progmetal and electronic music. BtE:EP is the acronym Skeel uses for the 8 tracks on his first product, which apparently has taken him a long time to finalize as he suggests on his website when thanking one his friends for dealing with his “terrible demo’s for years”. In spite of the eight tracks, it’s really an EP as it contains only three complete songs, three instrumental versions of these songs and an electronic remix, which again has an instrumental version.
In spite of the mentioned “terrible demo’s”, already at a first listening turn it’s clear that it’s Skeel is no amateur whatsoever. I couldn’t find a lot of information on this guy on his website nor elsewhere on the net, but it seems he must have had musical experience in bands or perhaps even as a DJ.I find the EP at least very promising. The three main compositions sound like a cross over between progmetal acts such as Ayreon and Dream Theater on the one hand and electronic (poppy) bands like Propaganda and even Frankie Goes To Hollywood on the other side. Please don’t turn away now, these influences are used in a good way! Also Frost* comes to mind.
The three tracks are all solid and energetic. But my favorite is Discretion Of Evil. Nothing wrong with Skeels somewhat raw voice, but this one is sung very tastefully by Savannah Freeman and this gives the track a very Ayreon-like atmosphere. In this song, I also like the instrumental part which starts with a keyboard sequence taken over by heavy guitar riffs. This really tastes like more.
However, I find the four instrumental versions of the songs totally redundant as they don’t add anything to the originals and you just miss the melodies. But the bonus Unconquered: The Magic Puppet Remix at the end is quite interesting as it is probably the most innovative track on the EP.
As far as I know, progressive rock has been the genre “par excellence” to experiment with mixing different musical styles, but blurring the lines between rock and electronic and dance oriented music has generally not been very popular within the prog community. Remember for example the very critical reactions to Trevor Rabin’s remixes of Yes’ Owner Of A Lonely Heart in 1984 or the very much neglected efforts by Marillion to make remixes of their work. Even Porcupine Tree’s early flirtations with rhythmic and dance music did not bring them much further and they quickly bended over to more metal oriented experiments as soon as they found out people appreciated their music a lot more when they did.
So I am not sure if the regular prog scene can appreciate the crossover with dance and electronic music. In any case, I like the innovative approach a lot. Such experiments demand that if you do it, you should go all the way and Skeel is doing just that. It seems to be a piece of cake for him doing all kinds of convincing modern keyboards and production tricks in this “progmetalesque dance remix”. I hope that in any future releases Skeel will not limit this kind of innovative touch to the extra´s on an EP but will integrate it in his mainstream style.
Beyond The Epilogue is definitely one to keep a close eye on. The EP is freely downloadable on the website so convince yourself.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Montresor - Daybreak
Tracklist: Daybreak (2:38), Helios/Flight To The Moon (9:43), Bertrand Russell (7:11), Medusa (5:45), Longing (3:16), ...To The Cosmos (6:06), Samuel Beckett (8:54)
From down under comes Montresor, a genuine post rock band, consisting of Cameron Piko - guitars, Anthony Bergantino – guitars, Daniel Mathanson – bass guitar and Nick Trajanovski – drums.
As soon as the first note is played one finds him, or herself, in the world of post rock. The album begins with a nice bass line in the typical style of post rock. Without changing anything to the bassline the bass is joined by a riffing guitar, not much later a second guitar. All building towards a climax never to be reached as in 2:38 minutes the track ends in sudden death.
The second track appears to be jumping in, no proper introduction notes, the sound is big from the start. The band continue with this soundscape until the 1:30 minute mark is reached, from that point onwards the music gets more exciting as the song is more and more developing. Slow bits with nice melody lines, followed by fast moving pieces and vice versa. Whereas some of the more peaceful bits breathe tranquillity, the heavier pieces of music tend to lift you into higher spheres, so as to speak. All beautifully crafted with not a dull moment.
Betrand Russell, track number three, is a bit different from the first two tracks, balancing on the edges of post rock/psychedelic rock. At times the song tends to be a little cliché, however this is not even disturbing. The song is very well structured, has a number of changes in tempo and tenure. Also a nice section with the bass and a guitar playing the same piece alongside, on top of that a guitar soloing and thus building the song further and further towards the grand finale.
The next song is Medusa an almost danceable track, appearing very cheerful and uplifting, but nothing is what it seems in this song. It is a journey from cheerful and uplifting, to dark and moody and then again on the fast track. Tempo changes all the time but never losing the structure.
Longing again is a track similar to the title track Daybreak. This time it is the guitar that does the better part of the work. The song never builds to its full strength, ending before it has begun really. The guitar play nevertheless is great and of a high standard.
Without doing any injustice to the last two tracks I’d like to say that it is always difficult making an all instrumental album. The trap of playing the same thing again is constantly watching from the sideline and ready to step in once the error of repeat is revealed.
This is the debut album of Montresor is not a spectacular, nor is it very dull and boring. It is a good debut album with enough room for improvement. The skills are present, now raise it.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10