Tracklist:Years Of Breathing (3:18), Empathy And The Crowbar (7:15), Sustained Delusions (4:10), Exile (5:19), Cashflow Prayer Answering Machine (4:33), Singularity (4:13), Life Passing By (21:24), A Clear View (6:35)
This album has been in my review pile for quite a while - longer than I'd hoped, that's for certain - but it is an album that I have really grown to appreciate over many listens and trying to put that into words has taken some time.
Phi, from Austria, are Markus Bratusa (vocals, Guitar, keys), Arthur Darnhofer-Demàr (bass) and Nick Koch (drums, keys, Vibraphone). Having formed in 2006, split and then returned for a period as a quartet, the trio line-up is now back and Years of Breathing is their second album after 2011's For the Love of Ghosts.
Self-produced by the band, Years of Breathing is very impressive to the ear with clarity and definition, the instruments all having their own space. The artwork is also worthy of note making for a nicely presented package.
Starting with the title track, this lovely piano piece is filled with emotion and matched with a thoughtful introductory vocal from Bratusa. Orchestration builds in the background, strings picking out the piano accents, in an introduction that builds to a bluesy David Gilmour guitar solo with a sense of mystery at the end as the rockier tones of Empathy and the Crowbar kick in. An air of menace permeates this one, atmospheric synths and the rhythm section working nicely with the bass immediately interesting, guitar adding colour. With the vocal leading the way this is very melodic stuff with hints of darkness, an indie guitar sound and much variety as the track builds in volume and bleakness into the second half. A tasteful guitar solo morphs into Krimson-esque angularity with an impassioned vocal before calming down for a gentle ending. This really is an excellent track and coupled with the opener makes for an impressive double punch.
Every track on the album is different in feel whilst fitting into the cohesiveness of the album as a whole and Sustained Delusions features jangly guitar with forceful rhythm and a denseness to the sound. The chorus vocal floats over the earthier sounds while the bass again keeps things moving in the quieter moments.
The piano returns for Exile which is more straightforward than what has gone before, Bratusa's vocal displaying a hint of accent. There is power and melody but this is far from being my favourite track here. The use of piano, as in the music of Godsticks, is a secret weapon; clean and natural it cuts through and delivers a purity of sound that the electric instruments cannot. Here, the repetitive yet modulating piano passages keep the listener hooked. A nice guitar solo tops things off as the track builds in stature towards an ending which really delivers.
A Tool-like bass line stalks sinuously through the bizarrely named Cashflow Prayer Answering Machine as the central feature, and very good it is too. The dynamics within the music are well realised and Bratusa's vocal is impressive.
Another interesting pattern of bass and guitar leads into Singularity before a switch to picked lines that is classy and well put together, the drums driving things along as the trio work well as a unit. A bluesy slide guitar solo is a fine addition before everything drops away, returning with a vengeance with for passages with another distinct nod to King Crimson with bass picking to close it up.
Next is the album's epic. An nearly 22 minutes Life Passing By kicks off with stately drums and mournful guitar with almost an early Genesis feel, the grand piano from guest Hans Hausl immediately making its presence felt. Bratusa injects epic passages with a powerful vocal but overall the track ebbs and flows from wall of sound to near silence and various points in between. An uplifting section hints at IQ, particularly in the vocal for which Bratusa changes his style to sound much more like Peter Nicholls. Sax from another guest, Ulrich Krieger, adds flavours of Van der Graaf Generator with its free-form, David Jackson blowing and the track takes great strides towards the avant garde before an epic section of indie guitar leads things back to a familiar path with influences coming from Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. Ultimately everything falls away at around 14 minutes to dissonant piano and atmospherics with doleful/squalling sax which continues for much of the rest of the track until a furious ending. This is strange section that does not fit with the rest of the album and, although it can be seen as something different, to my ears it is not that interesting and goes on far too long meaning that the momentum is lost. If this section was a separate track on the album it would no doubt be the skipper. The playing is fine and if such free-form extemporising appeared elsewhere on the album then all would be well. Life Passing By certainly packs a lot in and most of it is impressive but it would have benefitted from a little judicious editing.
To wrap things up on a high, A Clear View reminds me of Soundgarden (which is no bad thing), possessing the same off-kilter rock sound but with a different vocal approach; a good way to close the album
So, other than five or so minutes in Life Passing By which could have been edited down somewhat, this is a very enjoyable and well put together album that bears repeated listens. Phi are certainly a band to watch and it would be interesting to see if they deliver to this high standard live. Based on the numerous competitions that they appear to have won over the years it is likely that they can. This trio are a tight unit with the chops to make the music work and enough ingenuity to keep it interesting. Recommended.
"So all in all a great album from Phi. I’m taking my rating a point under recommended due to some similarity between some of the songs. Of course, repetition may not be a bad thing for some, who may dig a densely-packed, weighty album with a lot of continuity."
Tracklist:Secret Asian Jam (4:01), Despair Ye Mighty (4:08), How Sad for You (4:06), Playin for Keeps (4:48), Preparing to do Battle With the Devil (7:31)
Chest Rockwell are a band that deserves more attention than they currently enjoy. Despite creditable reviews on DPRP and other progressive music sites, as well as being nominated for an award by an Italian website, they remain relatively obscure. When I suggested that Mortal Universe, the concluding track from their excellent 2009 album Total Victory, should be played on DPRP Radio, my fellow reviewer Andy Read was well impressed. Of course, sections of that particular track pandered to those with a penchant for "prog metal" and that fact perhaps explains why Chest Rockwell remain loved by so few. The fact of the matter is that reviewers and fans, even "progressive" ones, love labels, and it is extremely difficult to pin a label on Chest Rockwell or even provide a signpost to another similar band. They venture into "prog metal" for sure, but much of their material is not in that particular style. I've seen them described as "indie", "alternative rock" and "post rock". It is clear that their approach to music is "progressive", in that they are not knocking out radio fodder. As for "band signposts", in the past I've tentatively mentioned Dream Theater, Riverside, Rush and even The Byrds! I'm going to add Wishbone Ash and an imaginary more-melodious version of Godsticks to that list. Eclectic, as you can see! In my opinion, composition is one of their strongest attributes: they pack their music with a variety of ideas that make the listener focus and pay attention, even when they may have started out inattentively. What happens then is that the increased focus brings the reward of some very fine music making.
Chest Rockwell's latest release, the EP ...Weep and You Weep Alone, is gorgeous and receives a recommendation-level ranking. Four years ago it was with some trepidation that I awarded Total Victory a similar score. I needn't have been so fearful - that album has stood the test of time well and remains a big favourite of mine: I should have awarded it 9 out of 10, not 8. Then, two years ago, I awarded Laugh and the World Laughs With You... only 7 out of 10: the passage of time has again shown to me that I was mean, and I should have perhaps rated it more highly. The point here is that Chest Rockwell's music is one that endures: in contrast, there are albums that I've liked very much when I've listened to them intensively for a review, that I now rarely play.
So, what about ...Weep and You Weep Alone specifically? The first thing to note is that its title follows on from last year's EP, as so: "Laugh and the world laughs with you... weep and you weep alone." Certainly, one can easily - and I have done so - play these two EPs back to back for a rewarding "album" experience. ...Weep is not as heavy as Laugh... but there is sufficient compositional synergy to justify uniting the two. However, even on its own, ...Weep and You Weep Alone is very enjoyable. It marks a progression for the band in that, whereas they have used keyboards for occasional musical colour before, they now announce new member David Cole as part of the band and the keyboards are a consistent - and very pleasing - feature of the soundscape. The palette of keyboard sounds is varied, bringing an extra dimension to the band's music. As usual, the lyrics border on, or definitely are prose poetry and, correspondingly, the singing style sometimes borders on sing-speak. Vocals are one of the most subjective aspects in rock music: for me Josh Hines' timbre and style perfectly suit this music.
Secret Asian Jam's moodful intro doesn't prepare you for the barrage of sound that comes with the sung verse; the music then flips into effective rhythmic sections between verses, showcasing the band's fine rhythmic sensitivities. Despair Ye Mighty sports some tasty guitar lines and its grittiness would make it the favourite of the prog-metallers from this EP. This opening couplet of songs provides the heaviest section of the album, making for a fairly seamless segue from the previous EP, for those that want to join the two into a full album. What Chest Rockwell do, then, is to throw in an abrupt change of pace of mood - still within Despair Ye Mighty. The coda is sweetly melodic and sweetly sung, a little slice of late-night jazz heaven, cleverly setting the scene for the mellower latter half of the EP. The pretty intro to How Sad For You follows on neatly from this new mood-setting before accelerating away to become a pacey rocker. Nevertheless, the mood shift has been made and so the listener readily accepts the slow Playin for Keeps: this is possibly the most romantic of Chest Rockwell's songs to date, even featuring some string work from producer Jon Craig. Gorgeous. Preparing to do Battle With the Devil, the closing number, is my favourite song on this strong EP and will almost certainly be the favoured one of the "progressive" community. Listening for the first time, you will convince yourself it is a good instrumental, then be surprised when the singing kicks in at about six minutes. The intro oozes atmosphere: together with the suggestion from the song's title you can conjure up your own mental images. The crescendo is subtle as the music develops, then we switch from keyboards-led to a guitar-led section and a groovy rhythm. The intensity is racked up once more and we get some tasty guitar before Hines comes in with a short verse of impassioned singing. Goosebumps time, my friends! Then the pressure is released instrumentally. This is a contender for "track of the year", without a doubt!
Now, a couple of words of caution. First, I would be screaming out about this EP from the rooftops if the production sound was better than it is. The CD was recorded in just two days: perhaps this explains the slightly murky sound. It may be that the guys were aiming for a "retro" feel but the sound quality is not as good as the music justifies. The only thing that makes one persevere and listen with the poor sound is the quality of the music itself: with a good sound recording and some promotion this band could be much bigger than they are!
Incidentally, it's about time some enterprising promoter invited them over for some festival shows in Europe - they would go down a storm! Secondly, Chest Rockwell's artwork is not to my taste: if you also dislike it then please ignore it and listen to the music - this is one band you cannot judge by the cover!
"The production and sound is a bit of a problem, because it leaves the listener with the 'demo-feeling; - not always, but often enough. With a better production, a more careful and attentive approach to the vocals which are a bit careless at times, these guys can produce something really really big. Their creativity and ability to transform swarming ideas into concrete and solid pieces of music is impressive."
"Overall, the EP showcases less variety and progressive invention than Total Victory, perhaps because of its limited duration, and so it edges closer to progressive metal, but for any fans who have enjoyed either of the last two albums then Laugh And The World Laughs With You will be a more than worthy addition to your collections."
Tracklist:Windmaster (6:26), Dorian Grey (4:27), The Last Tribe (1:56), Lydia In The Playground (5:20), Unimpossible (7:47), Tarde Demais (3:40), Vintitreis (4:19), Whereisit (5:11), Sand Horses (4:07), Chromaterius (3:42)
Over the past couple of years, Moonjune Records seems to have been on a quest to snap up every progressive trio currently working from all corners of the globe. These bands can now call Moonjune "home": multi-national trios led by Belgian Michel Delville such as Machine Mass Trio and douBt; Tophati Bertiga and Ligro, both Indonesian, and now, from Brazil we have Dialeto, led by the prodigiously talented guitarist Nelson Coelho. The Last Tribe is their first for Moonjune, and their first international release.
The album sampler video shows the band rehearsing together in a studio, but such are the logistics of modern recording techniques that the three musicians ended up recording their parts in three different locations. This technique, often borne of necessity, can sometimes lead to a curiously disengaged sound. Although that is not the case here the tight snare drum sound is always high in the mix and does on occasion get a tad wearisome, but for all that, it is only a minor problem.
This band occasionally put me in mind of an updated version of Canadian power trio Mahogany Rush, and in Nelson's playing you can also hear Pat Metheny, especially on opener Windmaster, and at the other end of the scale there's some Fripp-trickery in the mix too, aided by the touch guitar of Jorge Pascara. For their previous two albums the band deployed the traditional bass guitar, but with Jorge joining the ranks the sound has become more expansive; the canvas is covered in colours of a deeper lustre.
The beginning of Dorian Grey will make any Crimson fan smile, but within a few bars the tune moves away from the homage and anchors itself to a menacingly slow riff that deserves to be played at neighbour-annoying volume.
Just those first two tracks show that this is a band with an envious breadth of playing ability and styles at their disposal, and, by Jorge, they're gonna use it all!
Speaking of Jorge, he gets to show his chops on the touch guitar on many of the songs here, with a combination of fluid bass runs and sweeping orchestrations. My standard high water mark for this strange yet no doubt difficult instrument to master is of course Trey Gunn. While not as all-encompassing and frightening as the former Crim player, Jorge certainly knows his way around this odd instrument.
Highlight of the album for me is Unimpossible, a mini-epic that goes through changes in pace and style with a natural grace, and manages to sound like the product of a much larger ensemble than a trio, even though I suspect there is very little overdubbing. Some lovely melody and counter melody as well as menacing Fripp-like arpeggios lead the tune up a series of winding back alleys into a place where you have to keep your wits about you, one eye looking back over your shoulder. The theme folds in on itself and the players weave in and out of one another with consummate ease.
By the time Nelson returns to the ascending opening theme at the end, his guitar is pleading for mercy. This is a marvellous piece of progressive instrumental rock music that any fan of such things should revel in, and is worth the price of admission on its own.
To get the most out of this album you need to crank it up; when played at a decent volume the reverberating power of this highly adventurous trio blossoms into something else entirely. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on Dialeto, they take a turn for the unexpected. Each and every track offers a twist and a turn you were only half-expecting, if at all. For instance, with closer Chromaterius, you may think “Ah, an exercise in chromatic scales” and you’d be right, partly, until the tune turns into a monster that’s coming for your children. Teasingly far too short at a mere 3:42, it stops abruptly leaving you yelling for more, exactly as a last track on an album should do.
Overall The Last Tribe is a triumph of tight ensemble playing that takes no prisoners, and Nelson’s guitar, while the undoubted star of the show, always allows the other two players room to move. Buy this and turn it up!
Tracklist:Compliments of Sharkey (5:00), Heroes (14:01), The Little Grey Cells (6:11), R.W. (6:24), 2280 (6:35), Regulus (18:11)
A recent interview with Arvild Brøter, aka Pymlico, said: "People say the making of a second album is supposed to be more difficult than your first, he didn't think so.”
Upon hearing Pymlico's second effort I can only say that on the initial listen it did not appear to have been any more difficult for him to come up with the songs and compositions; making an all instrumental album and then doing it like this shows craftsmanship, intellect and passion for music. Overall the record is very entertaining.
After, in my opinion, a stunning debut album Arvild has succeeded once again in delivering a piece of music to a high standard. Great compositions, each with their own setting, mood and evident influences which go from classical to world music and pop. Anything goes as long as it delivers a great listening experience and I can tell you that it really does, instantly from the first note until the last.
Throughout the album, you will probably get an a-Ha erlebnis; many a melody line not only tells you the influence but is spectacularly close to the influencing artist.
Arvild himself not only wrote and produced but he also played drums, percussion, keyboard and some guitar. In recording he has used a great number of assisting musicians.
Sometimes I am really surprised when listening to a new prog album, and in this case it is not in the music but in the instrumentation used. It seems that there are trends to be discovered and for a substantial period I haven't heard that many prog songs making use of brass in the way that Pymlico does on Directions, in this case saxophone. In general brass instruments seem to be being used more frequently than in a long time which is something that strikes me as interesting as if properly made use of it adds a great deal to any song. I like to call it 'complimentary use' as is that of piano and keyboards.
Directions is a well-balanced instrumental album with a good mix of melody and instrumentally extravagant passages. The tracks are a good length although I must admit that I would have cut the last track into at least two but possibly three separate tracks. Just a thought, it remains a wonderful track as it is.
In conclusion need I say more? For all you proggers into instrumental music with a love for the retro this album comes recommended from start to finish. Let's hope album number three will be likewise...
Tracklist:Eradicated Will (8:57), Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes (4:52), Those Howling Wolves (8:08), Lines on a Bust (3:42), Track the Saviours (4:15), The Aftermath (4:14), The Fall of Bliss (21:03)
If you cast your mind back to 2010, you may recall a small-time, large-ambition Greek band Verbal Delirium releasing their first album, So Close and Yet So Far Away, which received praise here at DPRP. This year, the band have released a new album, From the Small Hours of Weakness, but I'm not here to talk about that. I was contacted by the band's ex-guitarist Nikitas Kissonas asking me to take a look at what is essentially his solo album, although he has recorded it under the moniker Methexis, meaning "the spiritual encounter and communion between the worlds of perception and ideas". Pretentious, but in a good way.
If you've heard Verbal Delirium before then it won't surprise you to know that this album is full of well composed tracks showing a lot of musical maturity and restraint and is certainly never flashy. The musical style is that Steven Wilson-esque blend of suspenseful acoustic tracks and symphonic metal, although not too much of the latter. The big twist is that Kissonas plays all the instruments himself, except for the drums performed by Nikos Miras and the piano in Lines on a Bust played by bandmate Jargon. I was stunned; some of the music is very complex, so it is mind-boggling to think that one man put all this together and managed to play it too. Then again, remembering that this is the 40th anniversary of Tubular Bells, I suppose artists can make anything happen in their studios. Still, it's an impressive feat.
The mood is generally rather eerie and suspenseful, much like the music from parent band Verbal Delirium. With repeated listens, I have hit upon my three favourite tracks, each of which, coincidentally, use odd time signatures in quite an effective way. The first is the lilting track Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes, which features processed, and perhaps double-tracked vocals over a 6/4 rhythm, resulting in some infectious cadence. The second is Track the Saviours which is the closest Methexis come to straight metal, with distorted guitars and aggressive vocals. The oddest part of this song is the 5/4 refrain which counts as a sort of chorus. In a pseudo-dissonant tone, Kissonas repeats the phrases "Build a crown" and "Mental dryness" over this refrain; very creepy indeed!
The highlight of the album is, as ever, the title suite, clocking in at 21 minutes. For the first half of the suite, Kissonas keeps the proceedings very atmospheric and intense. It is a slow suite, but the mood is very tangible. Just when you feel the bombastic main theme is about to kick in, Kissonas subverts expectations by playing another quiet verse. Very clever stuff. However, once the cat is out of the bag, the suite seems to meander. Indeed, the interlude seems to lose some of the energy of the piece, and the chorus in the second part isn't quite as effective. The final four minutes provide an interesting closing. The piece doesn't go out with a bang; rather, Kissonas chooses to wind down with a tasteful guitar solo before fading into the sound of a crowd shouting.
For such an obscure artist, Methexis packs quite a punch. This album has atmosphere in spades, and is perfect for background or foreground listening. While the entire album is freely available for streaming from Bandcamp, it is certainly worth purchasing the physical album itself, to see the lavish booklet full of beautiful and interesting oil paintings by Dimitra Papadimitriou, a couple of which decorate this review. This is not an album to miss!
Tracklist:Nucleus (7:13), Inside the Flood (6:44), Ductus (6:48), Tell the End (6:02), Welcome Change (7:09), Waves (6:39), The Man Within (6:36), Breaker (8:16)
From Germany, Long Distance Calling have produced an album with a particularly nice take on post-rock, a follow up to their DPRP recommended self-titled third album from 2011. There has been an addition to the line-up for The Flood Inside with Martin Fischer joining on vocals, the rest of the band remaining intact as David Jordan (guitar), Janosch Rathmer (drums), Jan Hoffmann (bass) and Florian Füntmann (guitar). This is the first LDC album to have a set vocalist with Fischer featuring on four of the eight tracks here and what an impression he makes; a rich and emotive voice that adds greatly.
An insistent drum pattern to start, guitars weaving nicely, opening instrumental Nucleus is a good scene setter that holds the attention through variety - even incorporating a reggae influenced riff and bluesy guitar solo - before upping the ante and cranking up the guitars for a harder, distorted edge that works very nicely. There is a repetitive nature to the cyclical guitar which works well and overall this opener deals out a nice line in melodic guitar rock incorporating a number of influences into a well realised whole that sets up the rest of the album. I heard hints of Pink Floyd and Camel amongst the harder influences but the variety is key to the track's success.
All of the songs fit into the 6 to 8 minute category and make good use of their length. The title track sees Martin Fischer's vocals appear for the first time on a metallic number that moves through phases that retain a solid direction and keep things interesting.
Of the other vocal tracks, the pace is slowed for the groovy thump of Tell the End, the guitars echoing and circling around each other to good effect with an excellent stadium sized chorus. The electronic ambience of Welcome Change develops as the rhythm kicks in with good bass and interesting guitar lines. When the high register vocal arrives it brings hints of A-Ha in the verse before a lengthy instrumental section. A Hawkwid pulse takes over on The Man Within with a grungy vocal, the guitars again working well together as the track rocks to a close.
The bulk of the album is still predominantly instrumental and, despite the quality of the vocal, this is the key focus. A spoken word intro and keys open Ductus which then floats along on a steady beat with guitar and keys swirling around until things drop back to an insistent drum beat and an almost world music feel of chiming guitars before the intensity increases as the guitars build. Towards the end the track actually reminds me a little of Egypt (The Chains Are On) from Dio's The Last In Line album.
Waves sees electronic ambience and a spoken word description of sound waves from an educational film of years gone by. An early '70s Floyd feel takes over with bluesy slide guitar, things getting heavier towards the end. The longest track, Breaker, is last. Slow and heavy to start the track takes a leisurely pace, building slowly, in true post-rock style, to an epic climax before ebbing away.
This is interesting and accessible modern prog that utilises a hard edge bordering on prog metal but has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve. Born out of post-rock there is much more to hear from Long Distance Calling who have been very shrewd in altering their sound and taking on Fischer as a focal point for at least some of the material. The instrumentals are strong and varied but the vocals help keep things from getting samey.
The Flood Inside is well worth having a listen to and this is a band that could go from strength to strength after this. They can write and play quality music with precision and aren't afraid to learn and change. What more can you ask for?
Tracklist:The Patient Fisher (8:07), Wildflower (21:08), Time River (4:59), Labour Day (13:25), Frost Glows (2:56), Waiting for the Ferry, part 1 & 2 (24:43)
In 2010 I discovered for myself a new band from Norway, Morild, with their debut album, Time To Rest, a stunning double album. Now three years later and Morild release their second album, a single album this time. When asked to review it I didn't hesitate for a moment and was excited and thrilled but also anxious to listen to the album.
Were they to surprise me again with a fantastic album? I was keen to find out.
Once I received the album I started to listen and first track The Patient Fisher instantly reassured me. This is a retro-ish Prog folk, Tull-ish or Manning-like (vocal lines with a firm accent) song like the ones I liked so much on the debut album. One could even call it 'sailor's prog' if you liked; of course it is not a Shanty but has a similar feel. I like the harmony in the song as well as the mood but this is not everybody's cup of tea.
Next track up, Wildflower, is a long one and Morild already showcased on their debut album that longer tracks are what they like. After all, it is prog right!
In Wildflower we once again hear the folkish, music of the sea sound. Long musical passages mixed with vocal parts, lyrics of birds in the wild to make sure you do not forget that what you are listening to is a Folk-progstravaganza; great music with which to relax and think of nature in all its shapes and forms. This brings us to track three, Time River, a piano dominated piece, easy going with a pretty little melody and strings taken from keyboards. The great piano by, I think, the newest member of the band Mari Haug Lund who also takes care of the flute parts on the album.
Peaceful and quiet, Time River ends as it began.
Next is Ukulele played by Odd Roar Backen, he and Nils Larsen take care of most of the writing and composing of the songs. The Folkish prog comes around the corner once more during Labour Day, alas further into the song it starts to become slightly more rocking, leaning towards neo-prog. Long musical pieces with guitar and keyboards dominate the track.
Frost Glows brings another intermezzo, with loads of piano, some bass and harmony vocals. We can now sit straight and listen to the master suite on the album, divided into two parts clocking in at almost 25 minutes the Waiting for the ferry can begin. Mari Haug Lund's flute, nice relaxing music, compositionally strong and, yes, the folkish sound is present again. Lovely and consistent throughout the entire album, except for during the piano pieces.
Some remarks must be made though about the overall sound as the production is lacking in power; the passion is there, that is for sure, but on the whole I miss power in the sound.
Making up for this a little we do get a booklet not often seen anymore with nice drawings, texts etc., and the artwork is perfect.
This leaves me to consider whether Morild have satisfied my expectations. Hmm, that's somewhat difficult to say, I can tell you. In a way they have by delivering a very consistent album, but on the other hand I had really hoped for more.
I enjoyed the album and am sure that lots of readers will also; think Renaissance, Solstice, Manning and the like and Morild may appeal to you.
Tracklist:Modern World (6:36), Life Was Good (4:26), Moving On (3:41), Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down (8:22), Fifty Five (3:55), Queen and Country (4:58), Daydreams of the Big Stage (4:59), Amsterdam (3:04), Silent Fifty Million (3:34), Living Laid Back (5:26)
Mother Black Cap, a British band, has released three CDs of original music (along with one CD of covers): In the Comfort of Your Own Home (2006); The English Way (2009) (recommended by DPRP as a good example of English progressive rock); and now Energy (2013). The five-member band - a vocalist supported by keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums - touts itself as playing progressive music in the style of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Focus and Pendragon.
Given the billing, I expected to hear music that sounded like, well, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Focus, and Pendragon. But, on Energy, there is little - short of some retro-sounding keyboards - that falls into the territory of those bands. Rather, Energy is a CD of mostly straight-forward rock with a light, jam-band-like breeziness and, occasionally, a Frank Zappa-like whimsy. Once I recovered from the surprise and accepted the music for what it was rather than for what it was not, I found it to be a mixed bag.
A quickly noticeable deficit on Energy is that, as was noted on DPRP regarding The English Way, the production is cloudy: the instrumentation (although not the vocals) sounds distant and muffled. Although this might have marginally worked as an occasional sound effect for individual instruments, here the chronic sound-blurring impairs the projection of the music rather than adds distinctiveness. The drums sound particularly stilted - and the new drummer's inclination to overplay does not help.
The songs send the listener in many different directions. The opener, Modern World, has some progressive moments near its end, but, on the whole, it's more of a traditional rock song. Life Was Good is an interesting piece: for the most part, it's guitar-driven straight-ahead rock, perhaps influenced by The Beatles but with a more free-flowing, Phish-like style. It's catchy, too, and, after my first listen, I hit the repeat button. Its successor, Moving On, is, again, fairly traditional rock, but it's not very pleasing: it has a repetitive beat created by drums and guitar chords and the lyrics are trite, although there's a slightly progressive interlude. Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down begins with 90 seconds of zany sounds, including laughter and horns, and later provides a forceful, keyboard-driven passage a la Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Tarkus. Despite the solid instrumental segment, the song - like the CD as a whole - seems to lack an identity. The next tune, Fifty Five, comments on middle age; the song nicely layers guitar licks and keyboards. Queen and Country is the catchiest, and perhaps the strongest, of the tunes. The melody offers a real "hook", the guitar playing is tasty, and the vocals meet the difficult demands of the song. Next up is Daydreams of the Big Stage, an Irish tune. Its looping theme is initially played by acoustic instruments and is abruptly adopted by a raucous guitar and, later yet, an organ. The tune is rough-edged and repetitive, but fans of Irish music might find the instrumentation creative (or heretical). Amsterdam, the shortest song, is a somewhat catchy, even arguably poppy, tune with solid vocals. The band shifts gears with the honky-tonk, country-music-tinged Silent Fifty Million. The vocal drawls are in keeping with the genre, and the supporting vocals add a nice, full touch. But, here too, the beat is a bit repetitive. The first few seconds of the closer, Living Laid Back, centre around a guitar lead that - momentarily - evokes Steve Howe, but the song quickly shifts to a traditional-rock format that briefly brings to mind Steely Dan. The tune features the strongest vocal performance on the CD and further stands out by virtue of a vigorous, vintage-sounding keyboard solo and a satisfying guitar solo. It's a winner.
In the end, this album is indeed eclectic. The band seems to be deliberately defying characterization, and they certainly meet that goal. But the sound quality is weak, and the lack of a consistent genre creates unsettling shifts and, ultimately, a sense that more depth and less range would have taken the CD to the next level. On the whole, though, there is probably something, though never something fabulous, for almost everyone here.