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2012 : VOLUME 12
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Ulver - The Norwegian National Opera
Ulver - The Norwegian National Opera
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:DVD
Record Label:Kscope Music
Catalogue #:kscope509
Year of Release:2012
Time:120:00
Info:Kscope Microsite
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Moon Piece, Eos, Let The Children Go, Little Blue Bird, Rock Massif, For The Love Of God, In The Red, Operator, Funebre, Excerpts of Silence, A Memorable Fancy, Hallways of Always, England, A Cold Kiss, Like Music, Not Saved, The Leg Cutting Piece

Fifteen years ago the idea of Ulver, at that point a primitive black metal band (a style not exactly beloved by the cognoscenti) playing a gig in the grandiose surroundings of the Norwegian National Opera house, would have been laughed out of town. Indeed, until recently the idea of the band playing any kind of gig seemed unlikely given their long retirement from touring. Yet times move on; not only are the current incarnation of the band in a completely different musical space these days (and a shifting one at that, moving between ambient, art-rock, prog, electronica, jazz and spacey pyschedelia with alarming ease) but they have become something of a fixture on both the regular touring circuit and at festivals. Whether by choice or circumstances is a mute point; you expect some of the latter, given that the bottom has fallen out of the recorded music market. That being said, having seen the band play on a number of occasions, I’d have to say they are a unique and at times hypnotic live experience; far from a conventional one, true; I’d liken seeing them live as more akin to a piece of performance art than a standard concert.

This particular concert came after the band’s first shows and subsequent tour; chronologically, it falls about a year after the Shadows Of The Sun release, and a year or so before the latest album, Wars Of The Roses. It’s probably not surprising that this show, given the venue, is clearly aiming to be more than ‘just a gig’. The line between music and art is conspicuously blurred on the introductory piece (The Moon Piece) featuring performance artist Ian Johnston ‘playing’ a character dubbed in the liner notes as ‘Mr Ark Todd’. It’s a creepy sight; to a beautifully melancholic piano backdrop, Johnstone is suspended from a rope; clad in an ornate fur-lined jacket and with a pinoccio-like extended nose, his mouth lies agape whilst treacle-like blood drips from it. The backdrop of a full moon and bestial sounds add to the eeriness of a piece which goes on just a little too long to be entirely comfortable. Certainly, the audience must have been relieved to see ‘Todd’ winched away.

The show proper starts with the sonorous organ of Eos, culled from Shadows Of The Sun, which is possibly the band’s most atmospheric and certainly their warmest and mellowest release. Playing against the calming imagery of buffalo wallowing against the shimmering backdrop of a red sun, the camera alternates between the images on the big screen behind the band, and the band themselves. With most of them stuck behind banks of keyboards and laptops, Ulver aren’t the most exciting band to watch in themselves; unsurprisingly, it’s multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan and the intense, bearded and hated figure of de facto band leader Krystoffer Rygg who get most of the screen time. Sonically, this is superb, although perhaps unsurprising given the venue, the fact that much of the sounds are pre-programmed, and that, as admitted in the DVD liner notes, some post-production trickery was used whereby some of the multi-tracking was added from another gig.

Following the completion of Let The Children Go, there is a pause where we first hear the crowd; in contrast to the smaller, club gigs that I’ve seen the band at, where the reaction was wild cheering, here it’s all polite applause, although given the setting perhaps the restrained audience response could be expected. Next track, Little Blue Bird, is musically more unsettling, played out to a backdrop of flashing sabres of blue light and old footage of female divers. Rygg’s face is superimposed over this backdrop, his hand gestures are revealing and his voice stretched to it’s limits on this vocally demanding but musically sparse number. The mood changes yet again for Rock Massif, with its synthesised horns and militaristic drum beats played over disturbing footage of Nazi atrocities. The images get nastier and play out faster as the song builds to a frenzied crescendo.

For The Love Of God features disconcerting images of children being seemingly forcibly baptised in water. We get the first real sign of a guitar being struck in anger in this strident, dramatic piece, all pomp and ceremony playing over a montage of increasingly bizarre images; O’Sullivan, silhouetted against this, throws rock star shapes as he wrings out a very heavy metal-ish solo. All change, musically, once again for In The Red, where staccato-like classical strings are mixed with dance beats; the visuals are once again striking, including a new born baby, placenta and all, and a row of pretty models seemingly doing the can-can.

The auditorium darkens for Operator, with lights glimmering in time with the call of a phone. As the song proper kicks off, we see a bloodied hand holding the phone. The song has a nightmarish feel to it, with vocalist Rygg sounding on the verge of hysteria at times. The camera cuts between images quickly, as befits the music.

Dark, foreboding clouds fill the screen as Funebre strikes up, A funeral procession marches by to the sound of rolling drums and melancholic piano. Crows fly as their chatter is sonically imitated. As the avant-garde noise of Excerpts Of Silence strikes up, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, naked but for a large feather boa, cavorts around the stage under flickering lights, with a screen-sized eye watching her from the big screen.

Rygg delivers a monologue to an underlying dance beat on A Memorable Fancy, while Dj’s scratch away in the background. The camera cuts frequently on this song, and Rygg is held in close-up a number of times. The pulsating Hallway Of Always, one of Ulver’s signature songs, is up next, a pulsating song which develops around a simple piano motif; the spot lights pulsate with the rhythm of the song, an effect which works well. The audience next get a new track, England, a song which eventually ended up on Wars Of The Roses. A black and white image of a fox hunt in progress plays as a backdrop to the song, presumably chosen as a uniquely English pastime (although I assume the band realise this practice has now been outlawed in the UK!).

The rumbling of trains and shots from film noir’s form the backdrop to the melancholic but uneasy sounds of A Cold Kiss; rather disarmingly, when the song kicks up a gear the keyboard sound reminded me of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away! O’Sullivan gets to do his rock guitarist moves again on this one, the camera filming him in extreme slow motion, an effective device.

Like Music, based around some beautiful piano work and soothing vocals, works well as a prelude to the final ‘song proper’ of the night, Not Saved. Playing to a visual of an endlessly rotating vinyl record, the first section has sparse piano underpinned by the sound of static which gives the piece some tension. When it opens up it’s led by percussion, including Rygg hitting a massive gong. The rather disarming image of a young child looking questioningly at the audience fades as ‘Mr Ark Todd’ is wheeled in for another appearance, this time naked, hunched and balancing precariously on some skeletal legs (The Leg Cutting Piece). It’s a suitably extravagant and unsettling image to close the show on. The concert ends with the band taking a bow to warm applause.

Overall, this is a fine representation of Ulver as a live entity. As stated before, the sound is excellent, and the visual style of an Ulver show is accurately captured. Fans will lap this up, but due to the fact that it covers a wide range of their more recent discography (that is, since they stopped playing primitive black metal and morphed in to a more adventurous and experimental band) makes this a good starting point for the uninitiated.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Gavin Harrison & Ø5ric – The Man Who Sold Himself
Gavin Harrison & Ø5ric – The Man Who Sold Himself
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Kscope Music
Catalogue #:kscope202
Year of Release:2012
Time:41:52
Info:Kscope Microsite
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prize (4:06), Identitas (5:05), The Man Who Sold Himself (3:23), Own (2:49), Body Temple (5:10), 107 (3:24), Wherewithal (4:52), Redemption i - Awake (4:03), Redemption ii - Illusion (6:06), Redemption iii - Way (2:50)

The Steven Wilson work ethic has been taken on with gusto by Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison who seems to pop up everywhere these days, as his polyrhythmic talents are always in demand. Somewhere in between session work for all sorts of people and running his touring drum clinic, Gavin found the time to make The Man Who Sold Himself with occasional collaborator, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ø5ric.

Carrying on the complex but funky groove from the previous two albums Drop (2007) and Circles (2009), the songs are built up from Gavin’s intricate rhythm patterns which are then chopped up, reassembled and handed over to Ø5ric who then composes the music and lyrics over the top. Listening to Gavin explaining how the rhythm track on Identitas came about on YouTube will either have you stroking your chin and nodding in a sage-like fashion if you happen to be Bill Bruford, or if like me you are a mere mortal your reaction will probably be “Huh?” On Own Gavin tells us that he tried to “think of a way to play in 4/4 that doesn’t sound like 4/4” – this is what prog is all about my friends!

Having sat through these erudite and esoteric explanations and been mostly bamboozled it was time to listen to the CD again. Sparking off each other by sending files back and forth over the interweb and both being surprised by what the other has come up with sounds like a great way to work, real “flying along on seat of your pants” stuff. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and this pudding is fashioned from a complex recipe that looks on paper as if it shouldn’t work, but does. Opener Prize being a case in point as it comes charging out of the traps, slowing to what to the untrained ear sounds like a structure-less rhythm, but no doubt involving some highly odd cut up time signatures, all the while being pinned down by Ø5ric’s straight melody sung in the fashion of a higher register late 70s Bowie/Scott Walker hybrid in a discotheque for aliens with three left feet. Not only that, there’s an off-kilter lounge jazz piano solo in the middle! The lyrics are suitably obtuse, juxtaposing the “prize” and the “price” paid to achieve it. This is compelling and very odd and strangely funky all at once, and I like it.

Ø5ric’s main instrument is the extended range bass, but he also contributes guitars, including touch guitar, all of which seamlessly entwine with Gavin’s strange percussive timings. Gavin also laid down some bass and tap guitar when he wasn’t inventing new time signature contortions for Ø5ric to sing along to. Identitas has a distinct tribal vibe, and the vocal melody is partly reminiscent of Scott Walker’s Nite Flights. This song deals with the burgeoning of ego in the forming of identity, as it damn well should. No tales of pixies and warlocks here my friends. The title track has a crazy multi note bass riff over which Ø5ric declaims “WATCH OUT” warning of the song’s anti hero’s descent into the maw of amoral capitalism.

A distinct and welcome change of pace comes with Body Temple, its initially minimalist notes and percussion becoming almost languorous, albeit viewed from a slightly uncomfortable angle, until it suddenly gets LOUD, but all the while maintaining its stately progress, and is an album highlight. More ambiguity is served up in a lyric that for me takes on a different meaning each time I hear it. Suffice to say that our hero only wanted to “Bathe in Light” but got lost along the way. Lyrically this whole work is a rare example of lyric writing not being trite or cringeworthy, but simply giving off an innate intelligence that compliments the music perfectly. 107 bemoans the treadmill existence of us Westerners and has a lovely bubbling touch guitar solo while Gavin crashes about in the middle ground in a no doubt impossible time signature.

The odd music and melody of Wherewithal takes the listener slowly backwards down a low-incline helter-skelter, “sold on the idea of convenience”. We reach ground level after a woozily sinuous ride, and if a piece of music is capable of unsettling the balance systems of the inner ear, then this strange and marvellous fish is it. Something akin to Frippertronics tinkles away in the background to Illusion while above it a deeply funky bass slides around, and Gavin’s drum pattern will have you dancing like Astaire… well, in your head, at least. I do believe this could be Zen Funk for those who more often than not trip over rather than trip the light fantastic.

The concluding Redemption trilogy commences with Awake, an intricately engaging piece of music that even includes a Latin lyric in waltz time, which might roughly translate as supplication to the Angel as mistress, a highbrow touch that makes this listener smile inwardly if not knowingly.

The complexities of intertwining rhythms and sounds, never done to excess for the sake of it, are confident enough to simply “be” and this is what makes for a truly progressive record.

Unpredictable, joyous, intellectual, and of course quite odd, this is not for the conservative prog fan, but you’ve probably already worked that out if you’ve read this far. There can be no question that this album will feature in my Best Of 2012.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Razl - Microscopic
Razl - Microscopic
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:Martian Sheep
Records
Catalogue #:MS-02
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:31
Info:Razl
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Moustache (5:38), The Bearded Woman Meets Fedor The Giant (6:28), Centipede (4:08), Galactic Alignment (4:42), Prog Pug (6:01), The Amazing Story Of Al, The Aardvark (5:37), Zombie Brew (5:10), I’m Not Me (2:11), Locksmith St. (5:36)

WARNING! Highly Infectious Guitar and Beyond Ridden Groove-A-Thon!

That’s certainly a way to lure in some of the more wary purchasers who turn to read the back cover of Microscopic, the second album from Spain’s Razl (AKA Raúl Huelves), and I’m not going to argue with it as that is exactly what you get. Odd, complicated music with the main stress placed on the underused, certainly in the world of prog, word FUN. Couple that with fantastic playing and you get a surprising and delightful album that should keep you smiling for years.

Razl often uses effects to make his guitar sound like an organ, complete with Leslie cabinet, to back up his soloing giving a sense of depth that makes this album unlike anything else I’ve ever heard giving lashings of groove within which the excellent rhythm section can roam at will. Add to this occasional trumpet from Ruben Salvador for that Latin vibe and this is quite some listen – ideal for those particularly weird parties; see Galactic Alignment for evidence.

Moustache is about as funky as you can get and sets up this particularly good instrumental album with some style highlighting the prodigious talents of Razl along the way. Having sidemen of the calibre of bass guru Bryan Beller and drummer Pepe Acebal on board would make almost anything sound good but there is a likeable swagger to Razl’s material that makes for a listen that is, as the sleeve mentions, Highly Infectious. The flip side of this is the brilliantly titled Prog Pug which is light and airy on twinkling chimes, which crops up here and there throughout the album, before stomping guitar injections and brief trips into Zappa and Gentle Giant territory.

The tricksy changes of tempo within tracks as quirky as the intriguingly titled The Bearded Woman Meets Fedor The Giant, all provided with a cheeky wink and a grin, are dashed off with dexterity and precision. The whole has the feel of some freaked out music hall show which is underlined by more odd trumpet input.

Razl’s tone is wonderful throughout and his madcap style is particularly unique. To throw in names such as The Flower Kings to point the direction is probably unhelpful but take out some of their symphonic arrangement and layering and throw in additional off-the-wall weirdness and there is a connection. There are more hints of Gentle Giant in Centipede and the groove-monster that is Zombie Brew. The groove is, in fact, so big that it should have its own area code.

When asked about recording with Razl, Beller said:-

“I really dig Razl’s music. People overuse and misapply the word quirky, but it’s the right word in this case. His tunes are quirky, funky, and fun to listen to. I had fun playing them! Plus he’s a killer guitarist who’s not trying to impress you – he just wants you to groove along with him.”

Amen.

The Amazing Story Of Al, The Aardvark is more exciting and entertaining than you’d think any aardvark related tale could be. It appears that he might have got himself arrested at some point in the tale as ‘70s cop show themes abound and when the guitar turns into a saxophone half way through, well, it just seemed normal. I’m Not Me cycles round and round on a twisty riff and the rhythm brothers do their thing with panache.

Locksmith St. ends the album as it started with a blur of technique that slides out of the speakers on the most groove-tastic vibes of any album I’ve probably ever reviewed. Guest guitarist Will Bernard is on hand to provide backup to Razl whether he needs it or not. There is jazz and technique and supreme effort but not a furrowed-brow in sight. Simply wonderful.

But is it prog? Yes it bloody is!

Razl has set out to entertain rather than dazzle but has achieved completely on both counts. He is a real talent as far as his virtuosity is concerned but is wise enough to realise that a good groove just won’t stop and that is the basis for everything he does. His Latin roots are there without having to be tattooed on his forehead and they become just another facet of a very heady Zombie Brew.

Well worth checking out. If you don’t at least tap your toes to this one best check your pulse – you’re probably dead.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Spock's Beard - The X Tour ~ Live
Spock's Beard - The X Tour ~ Live
Country of Origin:USA
Format:2CD
Record Label:Mascot Records
Catalogue #:MTR 7357 2
Year of Release:2012
Time:CD 1 75:33
CD 2 42:30
Info:Spock's Beard
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1 Edge Of The In-Between (10:51), The Emperor's Clothes (6:15), From The Darkness (17:06), The Quiet House (9:04), The Man Behind The Curtain (8:13), Kamikaze (6:48), Jaws Of Heaven (17:14)

CD 2 Drum Duel (4:25), On A Perfect Day (7:39), Thoughts (7:32), Ryo's Solo (5:20), The Doorway (10:49), June (6:42)

I suppose it was inevitable that given the departure of multi-instrumentalist and singer Nick D'Virgilio from within the Bearded one's fold a live album should be released as a valedictory for the end of another era for the band. Given that some commentators predicted the band would be dead in the water following the jumping ship of erstwhile leader and principal composer Neal Morse, it must have been immensely satisfying for the fans, and indeed the band themselves, that the Spocks not only survived that particular loss but went on to flourish and build on their previous achievements. This is testament to the belief of the other group members and, in particular, the driving force of D'Virgilio who seemed unfazed by assuming a large chunk of the writing responsibilities as well as fronting the band both on and off stage. Of course, it is unfair, and untrue, to say that D'Virgilio is the only reason the group persisted as both Alan Morse and Dave Meros, and to a lesser extent Ryo Okumoto, have increasingly dominated the writing as shown on the critically lauded X album. This live album stems from a concert in California in September 2010, only a matter of weeks after X was given a commercial release, although it had been available for several months to fans who pre-ordered the album. Accompanying the four members of Spocks is tour drummer Jimmy Keegan with the only other musician making an appearance is Stan Ausmus who adds extra guitar on one track.

Unsurprisingly, the whole of the first CD of this two-album set is the entire X album, although played in a slightly different order (Okumoto's piece Kamikaze has been shifted from second to second last in the running order, presumably to provide a better live dynamic). A set list I found on-line shows that the whole of the concert is included with the main set on disc 1 and the encores contained on disc 2. I'll leave you to your own opinions on a concert where the encores are over half the duration of the main set. Given that X had not been on release for all that long and the California gig was the first of the tour (not to mention the first the band had played in over two years), it was a brave move to record this date. It also means the songs don't differ all that dramatically from the studio versions, the only number expanded on being the aforementioned Kamikaze. As such, there should be no need for me to review the album as not much more can be added to the reviews of the studio album provided by DPRP. Needless to say, the music is all well played and free from any errors or glitches, your appreciation of which depending on your level of cynicism!

The choice of encores is somewhat surprising with three of the four songs deriving from the second and third albums from the late 1990s and one track from the eponymous 2006 release. However, the encores start with a Drum Duel which, even without visuals, is succinct enough to maintain the interest without becoming self-indulgent. The percussive battle leads straight into a powerful rendition of On A Perfect Day which has evolved from the studio version and features a nice section of interplay between two acoustic guitars, reminiscent of the sort of thing Gentle Giant used to do in concert. And speaking of the Giant, Thoughts, a track that can only be described as Spock's 'tribute' to that great band, makes an appearance next. As this was this song that first drew my attention to the Beard it is good to hear that it is still being performed live and with such aplomb. A rawer edge to the vocals, which are remarkably well separated (kudos aplenty to Rob Aubrey), do emphasise the live nature of the recording more than the clinically precise instrumentation which seems to have been pushed further back into the mix in the vocal sections. Plus it is great that the band manage to take the song to the edge of falling apart but just manage to hold things together. Ryo's Solo is rather a mixed bag comprised of different pieces on various keyboards. Although it does display Okumoto's proficiency, I found the piece lacking in a central theme to tie everything together, such as the maestro Jon Lord used to provide in his excellent solo spot during his days with Whitesnake in the late seventies and early eighties. It is back to the early years of the band with a nice performance of The Doorway before things are wrapped up with June, a rather surprising choice for a final number given its acoustic nature and rather downbeat atmosphere and lyrics of regret. But the harmonies are spot on and the inevitable crowd participation on supporting vocals make it an interactive experience which no doubt comes across better on the DVD.

All-in-all a pretty solid, if unspectacular, live album. The lack of repetition of tracks between this and the last live album, 2005's Gluttons For Punishment, is good value for fans, although one feels that including a live version of Their Names Escape Me, the additional track on the limited edition pre-ordered version of X, would have been nice and in keeping with the live presentation of the whole album. The artwork and booklet are also on the minimal side with not a lot of thought, or expense, gone into providing an arresting sleeve. I don't doubt this is the last we'll hear from Spock's Beard, and D'Virgilio is bound to keep popping up as his considerable talents extend way beyond the drum stool and microphone, but in the meantime this live album should keep things ticking over.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Mario Cottarelli - Una Strana Commedia
Mario Cottarelli - Una Strana Commedia
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:New LM Records
Catalogue #:NLM 199
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:28
Info:Mario Cottarelli
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Una Strana Commedia (10:24), L'Occhio Del Ciclone (6:39), Corto Circuito (6:26), Bianca Scia (9:25), L'Orgoglio Di Arlecchino (12:26)

What is it about Italians that allows them to get prog so right? Mario Cottarelli, mid-50s and hailing from Cremona has apparently been sitting on a wealth of prog that he wrote in the seventies but has not had the chance to share until now. The results? Well, better late than never, as the old saying goes. Much better.

In fact, this is Cottarelli's second foray into the realms of prog, following his three-piece opus Prodigiosa Macchina. Despite the 21st Century release date and a distinctly computerised sound, it's not hard to place this music in the seventies where it belongs. It beggars belief that a man can sit on such strong compositions for over thirty years, without thinking to publish them. In nearly every way, this is a truly retro prog album, from the 45 minute running time to the early seventies influences.

Speaking of influences, Cottarelli pays homage to some of the best in the business, with allusions to Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull in the opening track. With upbeat verses alternating with quirky instrumentals, this is a thoroughly progressive ride. Despite being in Italian, I found the verses catchy enough to hum along to at times. After several listens, I still haven't worked out the structure to this song, as Cotarelli weaves his themes very tightly.

At other times, Cottarelli displays a darker, more chilling atmosphere reminiscent of Van der Graaf Generator. This can easily be seen on the nine-minute Bianco Scia, which has piercing staccato notes intertwined with classically progressive time signatures.

As for Cottarelli's musicianship, I honestly can't tell what's been programmed by a computer or what's been actually played. Either way it doesn't matter, as the compositions are so strong that they shine through the production as if they had been played by a live band. While Erik Laan previously complained that Cottarelli's vocals sounded 'unnatural' on his last album, I have nothing but praise for his characteristically Italian intonations here. He has a powerful voice which sounds, for the most part, unaided by the computer.

With quirky, retro prog being the name of the game, Cottarelli serves a plateful of ingenious music that has done anything except pass its expiry date. It just goes to show how timeless classic prog really is. Complex intertwining themes, twelve-minute instrumentals; all are still very welcome in progressive music today. If you can stand the slightly 'homemade' production of this album, you will be richly rewarded.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Agitation Free – Shibuya Nights ~ Live In Tokyo
Agitation Free – Shibuya Nights ~ Live In Tokyo
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:EAGFCD1001
Year of Release:2011
Time:73:59
Info:Agitation Free
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: You Play For Us Today (6:12), Sahara City (2:48), In The Silence Of The Morning Sunshine (6:22), Shibuya Nights (6:15), First Communication (6:25), Dialogue And Random (1:22), Ala Tul (6:15), Laila (7:38), Nomands (6:47), A Quiet Walk (6:27), Uhwerk (4:48), Malesch (5:42), Drifting (3:54), Rucksturz (2:57)

In all honesty Germany seem to be able to turn out classic bands that can really deliver. Agitation Free are a band that work in the same musical circles as Tangerine Dream, (their more commercial end), and have a knack of being influential within the genre. Agitation Free are a band with a pedigree although during their thirty five years or so of existence, yes thirty five years, they haven’t what you would call prolific, reinforcing the quality over quantity debate.

Shibuya Nights ~ Live In Tokyo see’s the band delivering instrumentals from their albums, five from Malesch, five from 2 and three new compositions from their 1999 album River Of Return which have all been programmed sequentially, allowing the listener the opportunity to witness how the band has developed.

This intuitive approach is immediate from the word go; from the opening of the album each instrumental surpasses the previous, even on the three newer tracks, confirming the musical prowess of the band. It is an album that is full of looping percussive interactions, sedate and wondrous guitar passages, undulating rhythmic tones, synthetic textures, eastern overtones that build and ooze forth from the speakers; music that constructs panoramic landscapes with their multi layer thematic approach being perfect in all aspects, a masterclass of what Krautrock is all about, calling to mind the halcyon days of yesteryear.

I would like to say thankfully that every note that was played over those three nights were recorded from the Shibuya Nights shows and have been given life, music that has risen from the ashes like a phoenix. I can only suggest that you as an individual sit back and listen to the delectable delights as did the participating audiences from which this album has been culled from. From the opening You Play For Us Today to the show closer Rucksturz you are going to be richly rewarded as this is musical creativity worth listening to.

This is a really good starting point to get familiar with the band which will guarantee the exploration of their studio releases which isn’t a bad thing and I would just like to add that maybe it will also generate more interest in Krautrock for those who aren’t familiar with the genre.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



The Last Daze Of The Underground (VA) ~ Tribute To Delerium Records
The Last Daze Of The Underground (VA) ~ Tribute To Delerium Records
Country of Origin:UK
Format:3CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 32245
Year of Release:2011
Time:Disc 1 78:43
Disc 2 76:55
Disc 3 79:43
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

DISC 1: Porcupine Tree - Radioactive Toy, Praise Space Electric – Electric Sensation, Treatment – Keep Ahead, Electric Orange – Steal No Eggs, Josiah – Gone Like Tomorrow, Kryptashesie – Watching The Sky, Kava Kava – Swivel, Wobble Jaggle Jiggle – Thoughts Of The Sky, The Aardvarks - Girl On A Bike, Jeff Tarlton - Chimera, Moom - What´s A Little Sunshine?, John Fallon – I Can’t Trust You, Surf Sluts – She’s A Mau Mau, Reefus Moons And The Suicidal Flowers – Electric Chair, The Beginning – The Ju Ju Man, The Steppes – Cornucopia, Jeff Tarlton – Ex-Celeration, Suicidal Flowers – Nothing Man

DISC 2: Dead Flowers – Full Fist, Sons Of Selena – Life Is But, Nova Express – Let The Flowers, Nick Riff – Like A Zen Stray, Mandragora – Solstice Song, Boris And His Bolshie Balalaika – Toadstool Soup, Coloured Plank – Black Ferris Wheel, Saddar Bazaar – Peacock Angel, Moom – I Can’t Remember The ‘60’s, Praise Space Electric – Movement, Porcupine Tree – Signify, Josiah – Malpasso, Vex – Heidelberg Speedmaster

DISC 3: Omnia Opera - Regeneration, Electric Orange – Electric Chapter 99, Nine Invisibles – Gondwanaland, Zuvuya – Shaman I Am, Breitband – Der Unterschied, Psychomuzak – The Exstasie, Dead Flowers – The Elephants Eye Was Eerie, Liberation Thru’ Hearing – The Root Verses Of The Six Bardos, Tangle Edge – Yatantah Part 1, Nukli – Spiral Dance, The Spacious Mind – House In The Country

Delerium Records was an obscure record label where independent bands got a chance to release their recordings. Once back in the old days it gave home to one of the most popular progressive – alternative rock bands today in Porcupine Tree and of course Porcupine Tree is present on this tribute to Delerium Records.

The tribute has been released through Esoteric Recordings, an established name amongst fans of music from days gone by. Esoteric has been re-releasing many good albums from the past, as well as tribute albums like this one. The compilation of this album has been done by Esoteric together with Delerium's Richard Allen who also wrote the history of the label for the accompanying booklet.

This triple album gives a great overview of what the underground scene was like at the end of the 1980´s and early 1990´s. The space rock, psychedelic sounds and all the other streams that are to diverse. Each CD is over 70 minutes long and holds the history of one of the finest independent record labels of the psychedelic, space garage rock scene.

Disc 1 holds 18 tracks and opens with what is a Porcupine Tree favourite song Radioactive Toy and of course it was almost inevitable to start out with this. The same first CD sees tracks from Electric Orange, The Aardvarks and Suicidal Flowers to name a few.

Disc 2 holds 13 tracks and opens with Dead Flowers garage rock whilst Nick Riff passes by with his psychedelic stoner which has a resemblance to Stone Roses. Again we see a track by Porcupine Tree and to end this CD we have Vex´s garage rock track Heidelberg Speedmaster.

Disc 3 holds just 11 tracks. Within these 11 tracks we have the psychedelic sounds of Omnia Opera followed by the even more psychedelic sound of Electric Orange with an almost spooky tune called Electric Chapter 99. Also the Dead Flowers have a track listed here. Completing this CD is The Spacious Minds with stoner-garage rock.

Esoteric would not be Esoteric if the complete package was not done in a luxurious way with a cardboard box holding three sleeves with various imprints stating all tracks and artists along with nice little stories on the back. And of course a booklet with everything you need to know first hand about the history of Delerium Records.

All in all I can conclude that this triple album takes some efforts in listening, some tracks are real mindbenders, others you like to hear over and over. This tribute to Delerium records is a magnificent overview of Delerium. If you want to know what Delerium Records was and the kind of music they did distribute then you need to go to store and buy yourselves this compilation - it is worth every penny.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Violette Sounds – Feelin' Inside
Violette Sounds – Feelin' Inside
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2012
Time:56:48
Info:Violette Sounds
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Little Buddhas (04:04), Waltz To Be (3:42), Moon (4:21), It Can Be Easy (2:26), Filmworks III (3:38), Who Cares (3:32), Sun And Rain (4:35), Time (2:59), Filmworks I (1:45), Flyin’ (2:27), Funky Project (4:57), In That World (3:17), Just Like This (3:20), Filmworks II (1:23), View From Space (3:09), Trip To Washnahiva (3:57), Tscha! (2:32), Tibetan Dedication Prayer (00:55)

An eclectic collection of sounds & concepts, Feelin' Inside has been masterfully blended to create a unique and innovative body of work. The driving force behind this two year project, Karl Henneberg has assembled an impressive array of musicians to breathe life into his ideas, most notably Uwe Bottcher (bass/violin), Matthias Vogel (electric guitar), Gero Korner (Hammond organ/electric piano) and Hilde Akam (voice/texts). The songs and styles represent Henneberg’s influences and musical preferences over the years, the end result being 18 tracks of what has been described as "atmospheric/art rock". The tracks themselves, although each totally different in style and concept, bleed into each other effortlessly, and like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, fit together to build a stylish and contemporary suite.

The opening song, Little Buddhas, written back in 1997, has a quirky beat underlined by a rhythmic bass line. It’s certainly an unusual sound and I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely sure about it at first, but the catchy and repetitive chorus has grown on me. As with most of the tracks on the album, the song gradually fades and blends into Waltz To Be which is best described as a combination of sounds, arranged and mixed into one song. Electric violin and a metronomic beat create an atmosphere of calm. When listening to this I felt it would make an excellent movie soundtrack. Once again, the sounds gradually fade into the third track, Moon. This, for me, is one of the best tracks of the album, being tumescent with late 60s/early 70s psychedelic influences. There are three distinct parts to this track, each part complementing the other; the first part featuring Hammond organ and electric guitars, the second slowing things down to a calmer tempo featuring a flute harking back to the gentle style of Barclay James Harvest, then we’re plunged back into the realms of screeching electric guitars, the whole piece being held together beautifully by the steady influence of Bottcher’s bass line.

The first of the jazz-influenced tracks, It Can Be Easy is a short (just under two-and-a-half minutes) but pleasant interlude with strong similarities to the style of the late Johnny Dankworth and leads into Filmworks III, which is a little like Nosound-meets-Middle East, being a blend of snares, cymbals, electric violin and ethereal backing vocals but with a toehold in contemporary jazz ... interesting mix indeed as is the next and unashamedly jazzy track, Who Cares. This track drifts over the senses like a fragrant evening breeze - a perfect soundtrack for one of those ultra-stylish Mykonos beach bars. The sound of rainfall (I initially mistook this for applause) and a clap (sorry) of thunder leads into the seventh track, Sun And Rain, which begins with simple chords on the Hammond organ and builds into a heady and hypnotic psychedelic/jazz mix.

Time, begins with a strong drum beat, being one of the few tracks featuring vocals, and at first, is reminiscent of early Wishbone Ash. It certainly has its roots firmly planted in early Prog and is in complete contrast to the next track, Filmworks I which is pure contemporary jazz. Another short track at 1 minute, 45 seconds, it serves as another neat link to Flyin’, featuring not only a strong baseline rhythm and some pretty spacey keyboards and guitars, but also a definite nod in the direction of Carlos Santana; an eclectic track, to say the least. Track 11, however, does exactly what it says on the tin. At just a smidgen under 5 minutes long, Funky Project is an indulgent exercise in jazz, funk and disco (yes, the D word on a Prog page!). It’s exactly as the title suggests, in fact it wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of Starsky & Hutch, however the final third descends into what sounds like a jam session with everyone playing in different rooms.

In That World is in complete contrast to its predecessor, plunging us into another jazz/fusion mix which develops yet again into a hypnotic rhythm backed with distant, chanting vocals. In fact the second half sounds like a kind of musical mantra. Just Like This follows in much calmer fashion, it’s quiet and atmospheric beginning opening to an evocative piece of guitar work, adeptly summoning images of dark and fragrant smoke-filled underworld dens. An enjoyable track.

Another short and jazzy interlude, Filmworks II leads into the appropriately named, View From Space, featuring some wonderfully “spacey” keyboards underpinned by a deep and steady bass line, and once more blends into the following Trip to Washnahiva. Opening with a sombre piano, followed by an almost menacing mellotron and what, at first, sounds like the drum roll from Rush’s By-Tor & the Snow Dog, this track builds into a crescendo of sound, concluding with a lone electric violin. At just under 4 minutes in length, this would have been a fitting finale to the album. The penultimate track, Tscha! had me stumped. It’s short (again) and quirky but sadly not the strongest choice to round up an otherwise well-thought out collection of tracks. However it certainly lives up to the genre-transcendent nature of the album which draws to a close in spiritual style with Tibetan Dedication Prayer, the inner sleeve describing it as “...for the good of all ... according to Lama Dschampa Rigzin”.

I’m not sure if it’s prog, but it’s definitely art. Henneberg must be delighted with his project and rightly so. He’s managed to pull off some pretty unorthodox ideas and has artfully mixed them together to great effect. It’s not something to be played on Random Selection on an iPod either, as its very structure would be undermined and the point missed entirely. Listen to this with the lights dimmed.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

SUE DOYLE



Neograss - Atlantis
Neograss - Atlantis
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:TMA Music
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2011
Time:65:48
Info:Neograss
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lemuria (10:19), Part I - Prologue (5:02), Part II – Plato’s Account (7:36), Part III – Immortality And Greed (5:34), Part IV – The Wrath Of Zeus (5:10), Part V – Cataclysm (5:10), Atlantis [unedited] (27:38)

Originating from Norway, Neograss have released yet another CD, Atlantis. This is their third outing in equally as many years. Their debut EP, Sea Of Tranquility was reviewed almost two years ago, and convinced me that Neograss were, and still are, a special band.

As their name implies, Neograss' music is a strange blend of traditional Bluegrass and Neoprog. Some aspects of their sound is so attached to Bluegrass that you couldn't call it anything else, especially with the use of banjo, but yet the over all feeling is one of a highly progressive nature.

Atlantis is built up in a peculiar way. Although it appears to be made up of six tracks, in fact the the song Atlantis is presented twice. The first five tracks are a cut-up version of the full 27-minute piece which is track six. Hence, despite the long running time of the CD at 65 minutes, one can still consider it an EP and not a full CD.

Listening to Atlantis brought to mind some resemblances to Manning and like Guy, Neograss like to tell a story along with their music. As the title suggests this is about the fabled, lost world of Atlantis.

The use of banjo (Emil Bekkevolt), double bass (Äsmund Wilter Eriksson), two drummers (Aleksander Kostopoulos & Ole Morteh Indigo Lekang), mellotron (Benjamin Mork) and guitars plus more mellotron (Tore Morten Andreassen); is a weird combination to say the least, but makes for quite terrific and fun sound. I cannot put into words exactly what I hear, but on top of the Bluegrass influence there's also some typical Country & Western as well as Rock'n'Roll, not to mention progressive rock of course! It’s a rare blend, somewhat eclectic, but take note as it's addictive too.

Neograss strikes me as a cross between Manning, Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and The Moody Blues. I don’t know, it's a tough one to describe, best to listen yourself and see if it's something you like. I do like it, it’s a fantastic listen. And yeah I listen to album closer, Atlantis, rather than the edited tracks - the complete song is my favourite track.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Pig Soul – Chorume Da Alma
Pig Soul – Chorume Da Alma
Country of Origin:Brazil
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:33:00
Info:Pig Soul
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Intro [11]3142212[X] (4:20), Chorume Da Alma (5:06), Koentro (3:07), Rãño (3:55), Romanza (4:02), L’Amour (2:24), Wa A Api Vini (1:18), Cocktail (1:27), Epílogo (2:16), Taking Waves (5:04)

First off, this has to be one of the most off-putting CD covers I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m not even a vegetarian! The cover and indeed the title, which translates as “Slurry Of The Soul” may give some clue as to the contrary nature of the music contained therein for this is RIO or avant prog in its most strident form folks, you have been warned.

Right, now I’ve scared everyone off I may as well write a report on Northampton Town vs Plymouth Argyle. I won’t (it was a rather nervy 0-0 by the way); instead I will try to tell you where this is coming from. Pig Soul are a four piece from São Paulo, and on this album you will find guitars, synths, piano, trombone, bass and drums and the occasional frightening vocalisation cooking up what to some may seem to be a cacophonous racket and to others (all two of us) may well be the sort of record to play when you feel the need to punch through a wall.

Giving aggressive avant prog a different twist by adding salsa beats to Zeuhl martial rhythms. Koentro sounds like an approaching army of ten-foot tall aliens bearing many grudges and Rãño contrasts space rock synth washes with more martial guitars and classical piano fills. There’s certainly a hell of lot going on here that’s for sure. The tracks all run into one another so we get the impression of an avant symphony of strange contrasting styles, Romanza going for a lounge jazz from the underworld approach as a Rudolph Sosna Faust Tapes style piano motif duets with barbiturate soaked trombone and languid space swoops from the synth, ending on screaming guitars.

Wa A Api Vini, Cocktail, and Epílogo are essentially the same piece of piano and bass syncopation played at varying levels of intensity, joined at various points by the guitar and with the cymbal-happy drummer bashing the life out of his kit in the louder sections. Just when you can’t take it any more the final track Taking Waves enters, straight out of a São Paulo lounge bar with its piano backed salsa rhythm sashaying along on a sweet trombone melody line, the six note motif repeated on a loop for its entire length.

Although there are some decent ideas here, they are unfortunately stretched a bit thin, and even at a mere thirty three minutes the album, if it qualifies as one, is really a good twenty five minute EP with a bit of filler. I believe the band have made this available for free download so you won’t lose anything except maybe a few synapses if you give it a go. An interesting debut, but I can’t see it being played too much chez moi, unless I want to clear out some guests who have outstayed their welcome.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


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