REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Spiral - The Traveler
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2012|
Tracklist: The Red Giant Stirs (15:41), An Epiphany Near Vega 9 (9:42), The Caves of Anamnesis (19:20), R.I.P. Rip (12:16)
Last year, Spiral released their third album The Capital In Ruins, an album which I was impressed by due to it's minimalist structures, and very raw feel. Now the American space rockers bring us the sequel to this album, and given the theme of the album, the term space is used quite literally here.
What was quite a solid plot in the first chapter has now grown into a far looser concept. From what I can make out, Rip unexplainedly manages to launch away from the planet while the Sun explodes, thus becoming 'The Traveler' (ooh the English blood in me boils at the spelling of this word). However, the music is very much the same; that sense of garagey spaceyness pervades this album, if you'll forgive the psuedo-oxymoron. In fact the single significant difference I can find is that the boys try their hand at 6/4 in the final track R.I.P. Rip. This is the sort of music to listen to if you just want to lose yourself for a while. With instrumentals and solos lasting ten minutes and longer, there's lots of room to chill/rock out to. As you might have guessed though, this is a very different sort of prog to that of others featured on this page.
On this album, the best track is also the first. The Red Giant Stirs grabs your attention on the first listen, with some very heavy chugging riffs. The song structure is also quite sublime, with the gargantuan instrumental dominating the entire piece. Right in the middle of the song, the music cuts out, and it takes five minutes with an organ to bring us back to the beginning of the piece (cf. Eloy's Atlantis' Agony). A brilliant and memorable start to the album.
You have to be in the right sort of mood to listen to an album like this, a relaxed and patient mood, and you will be rewarded richly. While I'm rather suprised about the plot twist, this album nevertheless feels like the logical follow-up to The Capital In Ruins. Now we'll just have to be patient to hear the final chapter.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Geysir – Urworte [EP]
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Prolog (3:25), Dämon (4:13), Das Zufällige (7:03), Liebe (4:01), Nötigung (2:27), Hoffnung (2:37), Epilog (2:56)
Every so often I need to take a break from ProgMetal Land and go off on a little weekend break of
prog rock self-discovery. This winter I took a small handful of the sort of CDs that would not normally find their way into the palm of my hands, to a remote Mongolian yurt and opened my ears to receive the sounds of a new awakening.
My Moses Moment came from the most unlikely of the pieces of silver I took with me. Geysir was founded in 2009 by five musicians from the Cologne and Bern areas of Germany. The quintet announced their arrival on the progressive scene in 2010 with a
self-titled, four-track EP which received a warm DPRP recommended rating.
The band has been described as ‘eclectic prog’. Well the definition of being eclectic is ‘to not follow any one system, but select and use what are considered the best elements of all systems’. Geysir are the German magpies of progressive rock. With Urworte they have brought the most unlikely of musical debris, but with skill, imagination and dedication have created a musical nest in which I would be happy to sit forever – or at least until dinner time.
The seven musical refrains range from powerful and explosive to calm and almost fragile. There is a wonderfully refreshing improvisational feel to some sections. Lyrically the band makes very effective use of famous poets; Goethe (Urworte and Orphisch) and Mary Shelley (quotes from Frankenstein). There is a theme about creation and life as a circle which ties everything together.
Jenny Thiele has a deliciously delicate voice that has the ability to throw you sideways on the more powerful moments. The contribution by violinist Frank Brempel is mesmerizing. The drumming, bass and guitar work deserves three separate listens alone. The unconventional structure and composition of the various musical elements keeps you guessing and on edge. The frequent change from ethereal to schizophrenic just seems perfectly normal. The fact that it is all sung in German – a language of which I can only count to twelve and ask for directions to the nearest toilet – matters not a jot.
This is not really a debut album, but neither is it an EP. In terms of its playing time it is actually spot-on because on returning to civilisation, Urworte has left me babbling for more. More highly recommended than an intake of breath.
PS: I you still need convincing or are worried whether you need to be in a Mongolian yurt to appreciate this disc, head over to the band’s website when you can listen to all the songs. Then try the YouTube link above to see the band in live action with wonderful rendition of Das Zufällige. If you are still unconvinced then I’ll give you a shout the next time I’m heading to Damascus.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
The Grand Astoria – Caesar Enters The Palace Of Doom [Single]
Tracklist: Caesar Enters The Palace Of Doom (4:40), Enigma Satanica (5:59)
The Grand Astoria is a psychedelic, heavy Stoner band that hail from St. Petersburg. Kamille Sharapodinov and co have hit gold again this with release. Back in 2010 I reviewed their
II album, an album I was highly impressed with, awarding it 7.5 out of 10. Now I know it is hard to try and get a feel of a band from just two songs on a 7” single, back in the day though that was the only way, but in all honesty, that is exactly what The Grand Astoria have achieved.
In just over ten minutes or so the band has managed to really dig deep and deliver something special that has pushed all the right buttons. We are presented with two songs that have been executed with military precision that displays their creative prowess.
For those in the know I am going to stick my neck out and say that if you loved any of their previous three albums then this really is a release that you are going to get off on and for those of you who are not, well this really is a perfect way to introduce yourself. I can assure you that after hearing these pieces you will not be disappointed and you will become a convert.
The whole release is just filled with raw power and energy, which includes some absolutely stunning musical compositional passages that are both rhythmic and dynamic. Sharapodinov and Igor Suvorov really tear up their guitars utilising every note they play with maximum effect, whether it is effect laden or just presented in its pure energetic form, especially on the instrumental B side Enigma Satanica, the longer and more progressive track, which for me is a real highlight in their career as it takes reference from the best parts of Mars Volta and Mastodon, inflecting it with some tones that calls to mind early ELP and King Crimson. It isn’t often that bands like this come along but when they do, they are certainly worth seeking out, sitting up and listening too and that is the very reason why you should buy this
The various musicians involved have stepped up, creating a perfect soundstage offering a tsunami of sonic euphoria which has been complimented by a rather excellent production job, capturing the band in a heavier and more menacing mood. This is a release that is worth investing in, that will open up a new world of music.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Cross – Wake Up Call
Tracklist: Human Resolution (9:02), Remembrance (1:10), Falling Beyond (11:08), Racing Spirits (4:33), Waking Up (17:28) Bonus: Now (10:02)
If I’ve got my sums right then this is the 10th studio release from Cross, a band that have never quite made it to the forefront of Swedish progressive rock. That’s despite being around since the late 80’s when founding member and namesake Hansi Cross decided to form his own band. A lot of water (and band members) has passed under the bridge since then with Cross (guitars, keyboards, vocals) joined by Lollo Andersson (basses) and Tomas Hjort (drums, percussion) as the nucleus of the current line-up. They are complimented by an assortment of ‘guest’ musicians, most notably keyboardist Mats Bender and Jock Millgardh who provides lead vocals, a task he shares with Cross.
Things get off to a promising start with Human Resolution which boasts some fat and weighty power chords overlaid with melodic guitar lines. Add to that a panoramic keys sound, lush Steve Hackett style harmonies and a memorable chorus and it’s so far so good. The good news continues with the instrumental Remembrance with its rippling acoustic guitar which could have easily been lifted from one of Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces collections. At a little more than a minute however it works better as an intro to Falling Beyond rather than succeeding as a track in its own right.
The aforementioned Falling Beyond hits the ground running with a strident keys arrangement overlaid with Cross’ gritty guitar work. Andersson’s moody bass pattern heralds a pleasing choral melody although the lead voice (Cross’ I think) strains to keep pace, distracting from the song’s overall impact.
Cross is responsible for the majority of the compositions on the album although the instrumental Racing Spirits is not one of his strongest with a bombastic Yes style statacco intro that lapses into a succession of clichéd musical crescendos. And whilst his production is clear and bright in true neo-prog fashion it’s perhaps a little too refined resulting in the heavier guitar parts lacking any real power. Hjort’s drumming on the other hand is delivered with military precision.
As far as prog epics go the near 18 minute Waking Up certainly ticks all the right boxes. Like a good story it has a beginning, middle and an end, something that many bands often fail to accomplish, despite their best intensions. It features an ELPish fanfare introduction, lively but melodic instrumental sections driven by guitar, synth and violin (courtesy of guest Hannah Sundkvist) and a strong, central song that blossoms into a stirring chorale finale. Without doubt the most convincing of the original pieces on the album.
Following a respectful 30 seconds of silence, the bonus track reveals itself in the shape of Now, a new version of one of Cross’ contributions to the excellent 2003 self-titled Spektrum album. It’s a good version of a great song although I did miss Lizette von Panajott’s infectious vocals which made the original so special. The highlight however is the lengthy instrumental coda which wears its Genesis credentials firmly on its sleeve complete with twirly Tony Banks style synth soloing, weeping Hackett flavoured guitar and mellotron washes to conclude. Whether it was intended or not this is Cross’ homage to Firth Of Fifth, I can almost visualise Peter Gabriel leaving the stage before returning for the closing lines.
Before concluding I should give a mention to the disappointing artwork. Despite the glossy digipack, the graphics are poorly realised and as a result straining to decipher the words is akin to peering through green fog. Musically however this is a very accomplished release and even the ring of neo-prog familiarity cannot distract from its many strengths, particularly Hansi Cross’ instrumental contributions. Had the sound (especially the guitars) more edge and the vocals been stronger then a DPRP recommendation would have been on the cards. As it stands it’s still a very enjoyable album that should appeal in particular to fans of Genesis circa their classic Selling England By The Pound to Wind And Wuthering period.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - All Out Of Peaches
Tracklist: All Out Of Peaches (3:46), Ruby (1:21), Paparazzi (5:14), Memo 9 (7:22), Cajun In Spurs (3:00), Straight To The Top (4:26), Five Up Front (3:30), Minion (7:14), The Blaze (2:42), Ragabilly (4:23), At Cross Purposes (6:04)
With a name such as theirs, it would be easy to imagine The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra as hailing from Texas or Oklahoma. However, the four-piece composed of Dan Neale (guitar), Lisi Wright (fiddle), John Wright (bass) and Mark O'Day (drums) is based in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, where all of the band members enjoy a solid reputation as gifted and versatile musicians. The band, who - quirkily yet quite accurately - define their music as "Newgrass Art-Rock", have been around since the mid-2000s, releasing their debut album, Lookin' For A Little Strange, in November 2009. Their sophomore effort, All Out Of Peaches, followed in the spring of 2011.
While listening to All Out Of Peaches for the first time, the comparison with Dixie Dregs - the cult instrumental outfit that successfully pioneered the merger between jazz-rock and traditional American musical modes like country and bluegrass - will inevitably surface in the listener's mind, especially when Lisi Wright's fiddle kicks in at the beginning of the title-track. Like the Dregs and another outstanding, bluegrass-influenced band such as Bela Fleck And The Flecktones, The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra revolve around an extremely talented guitarist, though leaving keyboards out of the equation, and giving a more prominent role to John Wright's stunning bass work. While prog fans who are not particularly keen on the sprightly, dance-like rhythms typical of bluegrass might dismiss the band outright (and that in spite of the genre's undeniable complexity), The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra have much more to offer than just a collection of ambitious takes on traditional hillbilly music.
The band's compositional approach clearly reflects the individual members' varied background. The lively fiddle strains that introduce the title-track are offset by some meaty guitar riff and a steady, pneumatic bass line that adds some welcome depth to the sound. In a sharp change of pace, it is followed by the classical-sounding violin solo interlude Ruby, and then by a laid-back, almost subdued version of Lady Gaga's Paparazzi, enhanced by a particularly noteworthy bass solo in the middle. The strongest country/bluegrass imprint can be found in the short, upbeat Cajun In Spurs, with Dan Neale's guitar taking on a banjo-like twang, and the even shorter, violin-led gallop that is The Blaze (a revisitation of the traditional piece Fire In The Mountain). On the other hand, closing track At Cross Purposes marries a pounding bass line that brings to mind Les Claypool's assertive style with flowing violin and a sharp-toned guitar solo that takes a more melodic turn towards the end; while the stately Ragabilly will conjure echoes of Mahavishnu Orchestra's effortless instrumental interplay.
Even though the overall level is constantly high, the album's two longest tracks (both around the 7-minute mark) stand out. Memo 9 starts as a choppy mid-tempo with very prominent bass and violin, and some sharp guitar riffs adding some bite; then violin and guitar engage in a sort of slo-mo jam, driving towards a climax powered by Mark O'Day's imperious drumming. Similarly, Minion's rarefied, vaguely ominous tone develops into a loose but entrancing pace, with the three main instruments interacting seamlessly. Five Up Front treads a jazzier path, with a decidedly more electric bent embodied by Neale's expressive, atmospheric guitar and John Wright's powerful, almost booming bass; while the lovely acoustic guitar work in Straight To The Top (written by renowned fingerstyle guitarist Preston Reed) will bring to mind Steve Howe's flamenco-influenced pieces like Clap.
Clocking in at a healthy 47 minutes, All Out Of Peaches (whose slightly disturbing cover of a man with his face replaced by a peach kernel references Magritte's famous painting The Son Of Man) is a fine album by a very accomplished band that will not fail to appeal to lovers of eclectic instrumental progressive rock. Even if it lacks that indefinable quality that would award it a recommended rating, it packs excellent musicianship, a genuinely entertaining allure, and enough variety to satisfy the more demanding listeners. A solid second release, though not yet a career-defining one, from a band that shows a lot of potential for future greatness.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Anyone’s Daughter Mit Heinz Rudolf Kunze – Calw Live
Tracklist CD1: Ansage I (0:19), Swedish Nights (4:48), Between The Rooms (5:55), Buchstaben (2:16), Piktor’s Verwandlungen (36:17)
Tracklist CD2: Ansage 2 (0:59), Nina (3:44), Danger World (6:11), I’ll Never Walk That Road Again (5:37), Helios (3:45), Wheel Of Fortune (5:59), Moria (5:59), Imagine (7:32)
Anyone’s Daughter is a band with it’s roots in the Seventies, originating in Germany at the end of a decade when punk was the musical stream in the whole of Europe. Not so for Anyone’Daughter who have always enlightened the musical world with eclectic progressive rock music. Starting out in the English language, the band changed over to their German native tongue, instantly limiting their audience.
In 1981 Anyone’s Daughter released one of their most prestigious projects with Piktor’s Verwandlungen or as later translated to English - "Piktor’s Metamorphosis", inspired by a book written by Herman Hesse. At a time when punk was so incredibly huge that it seemed no other genre of band would be able to gaini a true career and eventually after a long struggle Anyone’s Daughter gave up and disbanded in 1989. In 2000, however, the band had new life blown into it and as of then all their recordings were done in the English language.
Come 2002, the city of Calw where Herman Hesse was born wanted to hold a celebration of the 125th birthday of Mr Hesse. Anyone’s Daughter were asked to give acte de presence and perform Piktor’s Verwandlungen in full, in a live concert. The band gladly accepted, also part of the list of people to celebrate was German poet Heinz Harald Kunze. In turn he was asked to do the narration to Piktor’s Verwandlungen, telling the story lines. The setting grew to a full blown concert on the town square of Calw. The concert was recorded but yet it took until 2011 to release this wonderful concert of one of the finest progressive rock bands of Germany.
Anyone that knows the original Piktor’s Verwandlungen is in for a real treat here as the music is performed magnificently, a little overproduced now, but still excellent. As is the performance of Heinz Harald Kunze.
The album is a 2CD package with Piktor’s Verwandlungen as the biggest part of the first CD. The second disk is full of other material once released with a very special end of a concert where Mr Kunze performs together with Anyone's Daughter. Included is the great John Lennon song Imagine performed using both English and German lyrics.
Fans of the Anyone’s Daughter everywhere will like this live album it gives the real live performance of Piktor’s Verwandlungen as said one of their finest works.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Pierre Moerlen’s Gong – Downwind
Tracklist: Aeroplane (2:42), Crosscurrents (6:13), Downwind (12:34), Jin-Go-Lo-Ba (3:27), What You Know (3:44), Emotions (4:46), Xtasea (6:40)
Pierre Moerlen’s Gong – Time Is The Key
Tracklist: And Na Greine (6:09), Earthrise (2:25), Supermarket (3:36), Faerie Steps (5:32), An American In England (2:55), The Organ Grinder (3:56), Sugar Street (2:22), The Bender (3:16), Arabesque Intro/Arabesque (5:17), Esnuria Two (5:34), Time Is The Key (2:29)
I was originally introduced to Pierre Moerlen’s Gong by a drummer friend of mine back in 1980, not long after Downwind was released. I bought the two albums under consideration here on Compact Audio Cassette (a what now?- Ed) and played them until the magnetic tape either tangled in the rickety transport mechanism of a cheap cassette player or stretched to the extent that it merely went ‘Wrrowww Wrawwrrww Wrooo’ when you tried to play it. After CDs were invented and appeared in shops, I ordered a copy of Time Is The Key and paid what I remember as the sum of 3000 Guineas for this shiny piece of plastic and I didn’t even have a CD player! I had to go round to my rich friend’s houses to play it, having bankrupted myself on the disk itself – I loved it that much. I lost it somewhere in the ‘90s. I was delighted then to have the chance to hear Ben Wiseman’s remasters from Esoteric and relive those old, smoky (hem-hem) memories.
Pierre Moerlen had been staffing the drum stool and hitting things for Gong since Angel’s Egg (1973). Following the departure of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth from the classic formation in 1974, Steve Hillage briefly became the de facto leader until Moerlen gathered a group of like-minded musicians around the Gong name to continue the project beyond 1976 (after Shamal was recorded) and Didier Malherbe (the last remaining original member), also left. These first excursions of the re-modelled Moerlen Gong (passingly known as Gong Expresso to avoid confusion) released Gazuese! And Expresso II. In 1978, the name changed to Pierre Moerlen’s Gong and in early 1979, the first album with that moniker, Downwind, was released.
With his brother, Benoit on mallet percussion and Hansford Rowe on bass, Ross Record on guitar and Pierre himself playing keyboards, drums and percussion the band had its spine. A cast of guest musicians including, Mike Oldfield, Terry Oldfield, Steve Winwood, Didier Malherbe making a prodigal return, and ex-Rolling Stones guitarist, Mick Taylor provided the limbs, flesh, blood and vital organs – principally on the title track.
One of the features of Downwind are Pierre’s vocals on Aeroplane, What You Know and Jin-Go-Lo-Ba. This is not necessarily a good thing, his voice is weak and uninspiring though Aeroplane itself is a pleasant enough track sounding like it was ripped straight from Tommy Bolin’s Teaser. Jin-Go-Lo-Ba was made famous in 1960 by Babatunde Olatunji’s Drums Of Passion and subsequently covered by Santana on their debut album. Here it is given a lively, energetic reprisal with less of a distinctly ‘latin’ feel, playing more like a conventional rock song but with rich percussive distractions running through its core like candy-pink lettering. If we ignore Pierre’s vocals in What You Know then it’s a fairly engaging pop-rock crossover number, but when we listen to them we can only hear Phil Oakey and The Human League, also coincidentally, signed to Virgin Records.
Leaving aside these three slightly dubious offerings, the rest of the album is a treat. Crosscurrents is as playful a piece of jazz fusion you are likely to hear anywhere. There’s definitely a hint at a ‘poppy’ vibe in the production to try and keep the whole thing accessible but it recovers credibility as ‘jazz’ to glorious effect with a wonderfully off-kilter 7/4 measure that’s almost impossible to count. It’s like someone running with a bucket but trying not to spill a drop; it keeps trying to correct itself; adjusting and readjusting over and over to the syncopations established between drums, bass and vibraphone. The interplay between the instruments is superb as the ‘currents’ of the title cross and intersect with dizzying variety, yet it remains entirely coherent and melodic. Supplemented with a lovely, coruscating electric violin solo from Didier Lockwood (Magma and ZAO) and superlative, mind-boggling bass work from Hansford Rowe this track sets the precedent for what to expect from Downwind at its best.
The title track highlights Mike Oldfield’s distinctive guitar as a feature but the star of the show is the drumming and percussion. Cascading ostinato tumble persistently over one another in a torrent of pulses from beginning to end. Moerlen’s kit is given a thorough work out as if he were undergoing some sort of MOT for his drum heads, testing their tolerances and his own technique. Timpani root the beat and Steve Winwood finds a descant melody to whistle quietly over the tumult. The musicality is absorbing and the fascination only heightened by Malherbe’s muted woodwinds and tetchy, aggravated saxophone outbursts. Emotions and Xtasea share a connection with one another, as perhaps their titles might imply. They are both exquisite, fragile compositions and have the same airy quality that characterises all of the instrumentals here; unceasing as the wind in all of its Beaumont scales, but here we bask in percussive kisses blown on vibraphones; cloudwatching through the delicate bowed melodies of Lockwood’s elegiac violin.
For all of the many wonderful things to be said about Downwind, it’s frustratingly inconsistent. With hindsight, it’s possible to see that it doesn’t quite follow through on its own possibilities. It would take Time Is The Key for this to be remedied.
Time Is The Key
Any album that starts with four tracks in 5/4 is a winner in my book. I love 5/4. It’s always playful and it has a lilt and swing to it that just skews it out of the ordinary 3s and 4s that we’re used to hearing. Holst’s Mars, Bringer Of War from The Planets is written in 5s, as is Lalo Schifrin’s theme for Mission Impossible, so it can also be devastatingly dramatic. We get all of this swaying cadence and impressive intonation in the opening 17½ minutes of Time Is The Key. The four tracks could be a suite, such is the seamless flow of one into another. And Na Greine combines swing and histrionics to great effect with glockenspiels, marimbas and vibes spilling out a delightful trickling, melodic pattern that repeats and repeats, accented by bombastic timpani and underscored by Joe Kirby’s throbbing acoustic bass. The brief Earthrise features tuned gongs carrying a fractured melody over Peter Lemer’s gnawing keyboard line while the darbourka (one of those mushroom shaped drums that rests on the thigh and tucks under the elbow with the drumhead facing outwards to be played with both free hands) trots out a sprightly hopscotch pattern. Supermarket is stupidly infectious and joyous with marimba and vibraphone providing wonderfully fluid lead melodies to accompany the hot and choppy pulse of Lemer’s Rhodes piano and Bon Lozaga’s guitar bobbing like Dave Brubeck’s Take Five on steroids. Faerie Steps translates this into a tune from a chiming playroom mobile; a jewellery box ballerina rotating to an increasingly antic and rapturous theme. This one is as divine as it is merry.
What is apparent as these four tracks unfold is the very minimalist aesthetic that Moerlen and his band are operating under. There are strong echoes of Steve Reich and his famous phasing patterns combined with the sense of theatre that Philip Glass brings to similarly stripped down compositional styles. Wrap this up in Jazz Fusion clingfilm (available at all major retailers – Ed.) and you have a fresh take on the earlier work of the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Chick Corea’s Elektric Band.
The ‘second suite’, such as it is, showcases Hansford Rowe on bass and Bon Lozaga on guitar while the various mallet percussion takes a backseat. It’s very different from the first half of the album, much groovier and perhaps a little more rock oriented, but its musical idea is essentially Saturday Night Fever on stilts. A Disco Carnival, if you will. The Organ Grinder in particular has a popping funk bassline straight from the canon of Stanley Clarke. Not that it’s been absent but Pierre Moerlen’s standard drumkit becomes more of a feature (and boy, can he play!) as we get glitterballed under the sparkling Moog and guitar solos emerging from the disco frenzy. The Bender uses similar funk motifs but treat them a whole lot more seriously. This is a darker, slick and oily number, definitely one for the open-shirted, hairy-chested guys in stripy flares to strut and leer to. It ‘vogues’ with musical mannerisms and modish chic, for example the wonderful Moog solo that musically personifies Salvador Dali curling his moustache. These caprices are amplified in the brilliant Arabesque Intro/Arabesque; a slinky belly dance; a scatty, and slightly mad guitar solo from no less a figure than Alan Holdsworth making a guest appearance (as he had on Gazeuse! and Expresso II); intensely clever drumming that not only keeps time and drive but adds character, quirk and eccentricity. Into Esnuria Two and the jazz-disco-circus is in full swing, this time conducted and led by Hansford Rowe on synth before the high-dive, trapeze tension is captured then released in a kind of twirling rope-act on marimba. Fantastic. Time Is The Key sees us jauntily back out of the doors we came in by and out into the reality of the night with smiles beaming on our faces and talk of what a great time we’ve had.
These two albums are a great insight into the evolution of genre (progressive jazz fusion) and a band (Gong). If you’ve not heard them then I strongly recommend Time Is The Key as a way in, perhaps to try Downwind later if you like the style. On a personal note, I’m extremely grateful to have these wonderful remasters to savour at my leisure once again. Ben Wiseman has done a brilliant job of cleaning up and emphasising the variety of wonders on these two releases as Esoteric continue to provide us all with these 30 - 40 year old masterpieces that sound as fresh and relelvant now as they ever did.
Downwind: 7 out of 10
Time Is The Key: 9 out of 10
Sleepin Pillow – Superman’s Blues
|Country of Origin:||Greece|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Holy Monster (6:28, Silicone (5:46), Superman's Blues (3:28), An Idiot's Point Of View (6:07), Pathetic (6:37), Dope (6:35), Home (2:32), Anakrousis (5:35), A Big Circle (2:27), Masterpiece (4:57), Simple Words Of Truth (3:04), Superman Singing The Blues (5:19)
A belated review here of an album released in 2010 by Greek psychedelic proggers Sleepin Pillow (sic). This was their second album, and Superman's Blues is a big stride forward from the Greek nascent acid rockers of the charming but obviously influenced Apples On An Orange Tree from 2008, taking as it did its sound from Barrett era Pink Floyd, 13th Floor Elevators, early Cure and first wave English indie. Here they become a fully rounded group of their own making, taking those earlier influences and moulding them into their own complete sensory assault.
Darker and more mysterious than AOAOT, Superman's Blues is by turns brooding, triumphant, threatening, cynical and dreamy, taking the listener on a voyage through Sleepin Pillow's now own brand of progressive psychedelia.
The Superman of the title track is probably more Nietzsche's than Clark Kent's judging by the cynicism on display, "go and buy go and die, a million dollars in the sea"...boy he has got dem blues and bad! An Idiot's Point Of View is a highlight and might have been what mid period Porcupine Tree would have sounded like if they had let their psychedelic influences win over their love of metal. Some groovy synth work leads into understated riffage creating just the right amount of tension. An existentialist's trip through world weariness and paranoia, lines like "fear and hate products of propaganda, I was born and raised a child of mind control" say it all. Exuding a sparse beauty, the music and lyrics combine perfectly on such as Pathetic - "I forgive you, though I know you won't forgive me, I can recall what I gave you was pathetic", and I don't think he's talking about an unwanted Christmas present! This song and its companions combine to produce a melancholic but never morose piece of work that has an easy confidence and continuity within its grooves....do CDs have grooves?...who cares.
The instrumentation has progressed well from the first album, and now displays touches of electronica, in places feeling like a sort of Here Come The Warm Jets for the twenty first century, Anakrousis being a prime example, waltzing aliens would cut a rug to it. Things get further skewed on A Big Circle where a robotic voice reads off a list of seemingly unconnected lines over a backing consisting of Morse Code over a classical quartet. Very odd and great fun for the slightly deranged!
Masterpiece contains the great line "she comes in reverb", and, maybe fittingly the final song Superman Singing The Blues is an instrumental.
A modern psychedelic triumph that is no longer a slave to its influences and a big stride forward from their first album, one wonders where they go from here. Me for one, I can't wait to find out.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Kevin Martinelli – Che Guevara Practices Telekinesis By The Dodge
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Mar (8:02), Yaw (10:24), Obstacle (6:07), Col (7:42), Arc (7:18), Tor (7:00), Yamunotri (8:32)
Written between 2009 and early 2011 American instrumentalist Kevin Martinelli terms this record ‘Project Two’. As Kevin himself explains, on his website:
"These are efforts of mine to produce music that can go in any direction I want and challenge myself as a musician and composer. This will be probably be the most musically complex and sonically adventurous of my music. Anything can happen. Projects tend to be purposeful collections of music done at a certain point in time."
It’s an instrumental album, with ‘found’ vocals and is best placed in the ‘ambient’ category. But it’s very tuneful in places. Regular readers of this site will know I don’t get down to dirges but this is well worthy of attention. If you liked Andy Tillison’s recent solo effort Murk then I’m guessing you’ll dig this too.
I admit to liking it quite a lot. Kevin plays, sequences and manipulates everything, and is patently a talented guy. He did a lot of the booklet photography, layout, design and photo-shopping himself, too.
Mar is angular, discordant and percussive, latterly with guitar riffage and cinematic moments; Yaw is incessant, rocking and driven, think Fripp meets Emerson in an Ikea for meatballs; Obstacle is repetitive, industrial and jarring, weaving found vocalisations and pastoral moments around more Crimsonesque riffage; Col is dreamy, meditative and orchestral, Eastern sounding and multi-layered; Arc is acoustic, insistent and strident, a soundtrack to a film not yet made; Tor is electronic, explorative and noodling, with a return to unhinged Frippery; Yamunotri sees a return to grooving Eastern mysticism by way of some found chanting/prayer. Yet again Kevin evokes a myriad movie soundtracks and there’s even a brief Close Encounters thing going on towards the end.
Your sonic touchstones, then, are going to be Emersonian and Crimsonesque in nature. It’s not an easy listen, and no-one is going to walk down the aisle to it but it isn’t unlistenable in fact I’d go so far to say that it’s very good, and I’m sure I’ll return to it from time to time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Red Bazar - Differential Being
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Paragon (7:19), Refraction (7:02), Inspirations (5:58), Is It For Real? (10:17), Coupe De Grace (9:03), Miasma Of The North (6:14), The Illusionist (7:56)
A couple of years ago I reviewed the debut album by UK instrumental trio Red Bazar. Although seemingly having not progressed (no pun intended) up the musical ladder of fame and fortune, the group are still together, still gigging and have released a sophomore album under the title of Differential Being. If you want to know the relevance of the title, take a closer look at the album artwork!
Much of what I wrote relating to the debut album can be applied to this latest release, but you shouldn't imply from such a statement that this album is simply retreading over the same domain, more that Red Bazar have their own style and sound and have built upon the strength of the Connections album. The immediate difference is that Differential Being is not entirely instrumental, but more of that in a moment. The album as a whole sits solidly within the progressive rock idiom, blending different passages and atmospheres without any hesitation in changing keys or instrument, which by the nature of the line-up mainly involves different guitars or guitar sounds. The best example of this is the closing track The Illusionist which, in my opinion, is one of the stronger instrumental pieces of last year. The trio seem to be a lot tighter as a unit giving each other plenty of space when necessary but performing in unison and harmony the rest of the time. My initial impression was that there were fewer keyboards on the new album but they are on there, albeit not always having the same prominence as on Paragon which has plenty of them: from the opening keyboard riff, brief piano solos and numerous sound effects that overlay the chugging and soloing guitars. An impressive start with all three musicians making significant contributions; I'm intrigued as to how they arrange it for live performances, if indeed they do.
Several tracks hit the mark, as on Miasma Of The North which, in a tale of three halves (eh?), mashes together some frantic riffing and guitar soloing bookending a more introspective section. Coupe De Grace brings out the anthemic style, even if the initial keyboard sound is a bit annoying, but, fortunately, it doesn't last too long and the whole piece has a great ending. The oddity, as it were, is Is It For Real? which features bassist Mick Wilson on vocals. I don't know what has prompted this move away from the instrumental, but sadly I don't think it works all that well. This is a shame as there is some great music contained in the track. True, over half of the piece is instrumental but the addition of, quite frankly, rather poor vocals and dodgy lyrics do no favours. Perhaps if we ask nicely they will edit the song to exclude the vocals (Sorry Mick!).
On the whole, Red Bazar have produced an album that builds on the promise of their debut and provides fifty minutes of entertaining and varied prog instrumental music. It is an album that benefits from repeated listening as with everything fitting together so well the nuances of the music are not always immediately obvious.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Human Abstract – Digital Veil
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Elegiac (2:12), Complex Terms (5:11), Digital Veil (3:30), Faust (5:56), Antebellum (7:29), Holographic Sight (4:28), Horizon To Zenith (4:20), Patterns (3:43)
With an uncertain future the Los Angeles based metal band The Human Abstract’s latest album, Digital Veil, is both menacing and technically proficient. This shred fest features original guitarist A.J. Minette and the growling vocals of replacement singer Travis Richter (replacing Nathan Ells).
Delving in quickly reveals prog delicacies such as intricate time signature shifts and technical prowess that continue to impress throughout the entire experience. The high action barely relents and when it does it is a welcome respite. During the song Complex Terms they combine a very nice Baroque sounding segment into some normal vocals that really drew me in.
The guttural vocals traditionally are a tough sell outside the rough death metal crowd but we can forgive some indecipherable grunts and snorts here from time to time when the talent warrants it. That said, talent alone wouldn’t get the disc back in the player when the normal sounding vocals that dot the tracks intermittently are not quite there and sound like they belong in a demo tape and not a finished product.
I went back and sampled some older material from the 2006 release, Nocturne, (prior to the recent personnel changes) and found it more raw and seemingly with a bit more soul. I am not particularly fond of these aggressive screamo vocals because it gets tiresome quickly. Opeth has been able to pull it off, but that is a rare exception indeed.
By way of comparison, this music reminds me of another growly band, Between The Buried And Me (BTBAM), with the swift changes within each song and a preternaturally brutal delivery.
It is hard not to be in awe at the ability of this band to make this kind of technical statement. I did, however, become a bit too overwhelmed to the point of distraction with the tri-tone arparggiations outside of the key. After a while the guitars sounded like those annoying incessant slot machines during a losing streak.
I could really see these artists putting together something a lot less growly and place some emphasis on showing off their talent in-between some catchy melodies with drumming that has more than one speed and a little volume adjustment to add flavour. This much in-your-face action begins to run itself into a blur, and after two successive listens I was no longer interested in even parsing out the good stuff and was ready to just put it away. After 36 minutes, the short album length actually turned out to be a plus. Considering their namesake is derived from a William Blake poem, their impulse for creativity should beg for more depth!
For what it is, fans of this niche should be pleased. Personally, I just can’t get into it beyond the occasional cursory glance. Digital Veil deserves credit for being filled with so much ability and talent - albeit packed much too tightly for my tastes.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Altair - La Esencia Del Tiempo
Tracklist: Estrella En El Camino (7:12), Eddy’s Prelude (5:51), Nuevo Horizonte (4:01), Summer’s Triangle (4:06), Visiones (6:59), Tiempos Dificiles (8:51), Oración Del Ermintaño (2:45), El Bosque Encantado [live] (11:26), Plácido Paseo [live] (8:54)
Not be be confused with the Italian prog metal band of the same name, Altair is a collaboration between Spanish musicians, drummer Alfredo Arcusa who does most of the composing and keyboard player, Isabel Muniente. According to the liner notes on this “Best of” compilation, Arcusa first encountered Muniente when she performed a piano improvisation at the school which he was attending. He told her about his musical project in which she expressed an interest and the rest as they say is history.
Between them, they have made three CDs since 1990 – the eponymously named album which came out that year, Fantasías Y Danzas in 1999 and 3 in 2006, which was recorded live in concert. In between recording with Altair, Arcusa has played with Nosferatu and Amarok.
Billing themselves as “a Spanish symphonic progressive rock legend” may be overegging the pudding somewhat in terms of the impact of their music which has three words stamped right across it – Emerson Lake and Palmer.
It is a strange brew indeed as a result of this because it goes from being brilliant to totally mundane in places – and also being an instrumental album does focus the mind on just hearing the keyboards and drums being played in various permutations.
The tracks have been arranged in chronological order as there seems to be a natural order of growth from them originally sounding like an ELP tribute band, which is the case on the first three or four.
Angelic synthy strains introduce the opener Estrella En El Camino before it opens up into a strong piano-led, meticulously articulated piece with Arcusa’s drums perhaps a little over-zealous in their execution. From there, it explodes into a slightly clanky staccato passage before returning back to the original melody (which is probably where it should have lingered as it is good enough to be developed and built upon).
No hanging around for Eddy’s Prelude with its tinkling synths and throaty bassline before paring right back into a simple, solid, shimmering piano arrangement, reminiscent of Take A Pebble on ELP 1.
Nuevo Horizonte takes the prize for the most blatant ELP imitation and screams Abaddon’s Bolero from the off, but somehow, it works and if one track makes you smile for its sheer effrontery, then this is it.
Arcusa comes hurtling in at the start of Summer’s Triangle, a great jazz-fusion mash-up which gallops along spectacularly and probably the one time on the album that his drums really add to the mix rather than sound over the top.
Following on, Visiones takes the listener in to realms of film music with a very strong Vangelis vibe over a slow, haunting piano and synth before it starts building instrumentally.
Most of the album’s more interesting ideas can be found in Tiempos Dificiles which does cover a lot of ground musically in nearly nine minutes with lots of changes of pace and mood after an overlong introduction, lush string effects and piping keyboards.
And following on from that is Oración Del Ermintaño, a short spacey keyboards-driven piece which would not sound out of place on a Vangelis album.
On the two final tracks which are live, they are joined by Albert Guitart on bass and Emilio Ruiz on keyboards. El Bosque Encantado begins with fluid meditative keyboards before suddenly taking off into a jazzy idiom that really does benefit from having a bassline to underpin it all before it ebbs back into the synthy swirls.
Plácido Paseo starts with a slightly jazzy discordant flourish which somehow morphs into the most interminably long drum solo, Arcusa adopting every trick in the Carl Palmer percussion canon, but not delivering the goods quite as well.
For their efforts, Altair has picked up an endorsement from Bill Bruford on the album notes saying “Your music is very skilled and reminds me of UK and King Crimson.”
It is a very strange hybrid of music which delights and infuriates in equal measure, and somehow that only adds to the overall effect.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Robert Lloyd – Home Truths
Tracklist: I’m Glad (1:16), Sailed Away (4:30), According To Plan (3:49), What Did You Notice (5:57), Melt The Ice (3:34), Storyteller (3:30), Where Did You Go (3:11), You’ll See (4:03), And On Returning (4:16), Keep Your Receipt (3:47), The Delicate Persuasion (3:01), Come Home For Tea (5:37), (That Our Paths Dared To Meet) (1:32)
Robert Lloyd is a young musician who has a recording entitled Home Truths and he has kindly provided to DPRP a CDR copy of the album for review.
Lloyd, just twenty years of age at the time DPRP received the CDR in November 2011, has banged out over 60 original tunes since the age of sixteen. He’s gigged around the Lancaster and Stockport areas in his homeland of the UK and in addition has done some charity events and live radio broadcast appearances. And apparently he’s going to Disney World, baby, after cleaning up the competition with several winning entries in the online monthly Mystonic songwriting competition.
So Lloyd has assembled in Home Truths a collection of thirteen mostly acoustic based tracks. On the album Lloyd handles guitars and vocals, music and lyric writing, and arrangements (all credited to his real name Robert Davies). His younger brother, seventeen-year old Alun Davies, plays bass and alongside his elder bro handles arrangements. Alun has been playing bass guitar since the age of thirteen and is an understudy of Bass Day UK organizer Stevie Williams.
The DIY feel of the CDR’s packaging had me expecting something of demo quality, but I ended up being quite impressed with Lloyd’s craft. It’s not prog in the pure sense, but nonetheless there are some catchy tracks here.
Alun lays down a carefree bass solo on According To Plan, which features a lot of tempo changes and some multi-tracked acoustic and electric guitar from Lloyd.
Song structure as well takes the form of cascading waterfalls of sound on What Did You Notice, which serves up a lot of Lloyd’s thick acoustic and electric guitar.
The tactic of multi-tracked acoustic and electric guitars to me is not always justified, and I feel for example that And On Returning, with its bouncy bass from Alun and playful rollick, is a tune strong enough without the electric guitar tracking.
There are a couple of other uncredited instruments on the album, namely keyboards and a drumming element, the former of which shows up analog style on the cleverly titled Keep Your Receipt.
Commonalities on Home Truths include The Beatles, Julian Cope, David Bowie and Love And Rockets. In addition, the singer-songwriter approach of the music fortified by a hooky muscle evokes The Sundays, with songs that are both tight and warm and would find themselves equally at home on an Ipod or in a coffeehouse.
The two brothers are quite talented musicians, and the music on Home Truths carries with it a weighty sense of composition and melody, along with the crisp vocal delivery from Lloyd.
The CDR came modestly packaged in a plastic envelope and a glossy folding card with a black and white photo of Lloyd on the front. Credits, track listing, web addresses, contact information and a black and white photo of both brothers adorn the back. The front cover photo is different from the one I saw when I looked at Home Truths on Amazon (as shown above).
This album will most likely appeal to fans of accessible, singer-songwriter based music. If you’re seeking Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, this isn’t it.
If you want to check this album out, you can download it from Amazon or Itunes. If you’re a technological simpleton or otherwise not into downloading, spend a little bit more dough on Amazon and they’ll burn a CDR of it for you.
An area of opportunity I see for Lloyd with future endeavors is to recruit a keyboard player and drummer. That said, this young man has a great career ahead of him. Bravo, Mr. Lloyd.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Been Obscene – Night O’ Mine
Tracklist: Endless Scheme (6:56), Snake Charmer (7:39), Cut The Rope (3:22), Apathy (3:49), Night O’ Mine (5:17), The Run (6:21), Memories In Salvation (4:48), Alone (18:10)
Been Obscene has released their difficult second album which by all accounts is gloomier and more mystical than their 2010 debut The Magic Table Dance. I can only take them at their word on that. Night O’ Mine is an album that has kind of confused me in a sense, as it takes a mature and fresh stance in its approach to the genre, almost with a commercial sensibility, but at times it does seem to lack direction but has restraint in abundance. Don’t get me wrong Night O’ Mine does have its moments which at times are highly rewarding, but that is where things go slightly a rye and what I mean by this is that, although this isn’t a bad album, it does lack consistency.
I am all for mixing things up and trying differing approaches; it’s just that sometimes it doesn’t always work. To be able to pull off hypnotic Stoner Rock with pop elements, which can be seen as a contradiction in terms, you have to, in my eyes, have some rather special material, which isn’t always the case here. Psychedelic post rock this may be? But in my opinion the structures offered just don’t really add up to a strong foundation, which is a crying shame really. Maybe I am missing the point, but in all honesty I don’t think I am.
I guess if you take into account the following statements, you may be able to assimilate what I am saying. The band doesn’t present the usual jarring tones that one associates with this genre although there is at times some rather impressive fuzz and flange inflected guitar work present. As a band they don’t take an age to warm up and / or settle in with their music which has allowed them in some aspects to be more focused and song orientated. It would appear that Been Obscene like to work within the confines of structure as opposed to jamming things out, which I guess can be seen as either a good or bad thing depending on whether you are a purist. I guess though the real plus is that Been Obscene hasn’t become just another generic band plying a formulaic approach.
From the album opener Endless Scheme I was somewhat surprised, looking forward to hearing more, but the euphoria didn’t last as the musical structures played out as they seemed to be trying to be something they weren’t. Throughout the album at times the sound can become slightly washy in the more sedate pieces and at others particularly on the harder approaches the music just doesn’t explode from the speakers.
The reverb laden guitar work of Snake Charmer makes for an interesting proposition as does the sleazy inflected Cut The Ropes and the post rock approach of The Run which is how the album pans out really, some really good musical segments that are engaging, but as I say the approach isn’t consistent throughout.
I’m not too sure what the idea behind the hidden piece at the end of Alone was about, which is definitely not worth wasting your time sitting around waiting for as it doesn’t really add or serve any real purpose. I got the feeling as if it was some sort of in joke?
As a point of reference Been Obscene call to mine an earthier sounding Kyuss or Nebula, Masters of Reality and to some degree Q.O.T.S.A which I guess the band will be pleased with. It’s now your turn to make your mind up about this album.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10