Ad Maiora - Ad Maiora!
Diatriba (5:25), Sugo Dance (6:50), Dream (5:03), Eclissi Orientale (6:36), Null Intenso (6:15), Strange (6:55), Menate (10:50), Summertime (5:06), Corolla (8:07), No More War (7:19), Untitled (1:29)
The album is dominated by instrumentals, with only four of the pieces having vocals, with the music rooted in the classic prog style, which is understandable given it is the style of music they grew up listening to. As it is also what I grew up listening to, being of a similar (and probably older) vintage to the band the album has struck a chord with this reviewer. All this is of no real consequence because what Ad Maiora deliver is very good with some of the music being of the standard achieved by much more established and seasoned bands. They reach their peak on Menate, a fine slice of prog indeed with the lovely classical guitar interlude being of particular note. In Carnovali the group has a versatile and interesting guitarist whose playing is somewhat understated but when he delivers a solo he does it with panache - his contributions to Dream and Summertime being good examples. Elsewhere he provides solid support, with tasty rhythm work or chunky power cords as required. Caleca makes good use of a plethora of different keyboard sounds covering everything from harpsichords and piano through some fondly remembered analogue synths right up to the modern digital effects.
Vocalist Callioni has a smooth voice and handles the English lyrics well and given that two of the tracks he sings on, Eclissi Orientale and No More War, were well established instrumentals before he joined the band he has managed to fit the lyrics into the pieces very well. The two songs written since he joined the band shows how well he has integrated into the group as neither Strange nor Summertime displays a dramatic shift in the sound of the band, although as the former is the album's sole ballad and the latter draws heavily on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess perhaps it is too early to judge the impact of adding a vocalist to the established Ad Maiora instrumental unit will have, which can be dramatic as anyone who followed Twelfth Night's career can attest to.
Ad Maiora will find favour with classic prog fans and although they may never be hip and may be accused of sounding somewhat dated what they do they do very well without repeating what has gone before. It is quite ironic that if this album had been recorded in the '70s and been subsequently forgotten about, its "rediscovery" may have had some people claiming it as being a lost classic of Italian prog. However, as it is a contemporary elease it will no doubt be viewed in a totally different light. Whatever, I continue to discover aspects to the album that I hadn't previously heard which will assure that it continues to be played in this household. I am positive that it is not just me to whom this would apply. Check out the YouTube video and if it appeals visit the band's website to hear more and get your own copy of the album!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Anilah - Warrior
Rolling Thunder (03:19), Warrior (11:45), Calling the Others (06:25), Medicine Chant (15:05)
Despite this being promoted as an ambient/progressive metal record, the metal portion of the record only occupies about 10/15% of its 30+ minute running time. Therefore it has more in common with artists like Dead Can Dance, Enya and Enigma, and pretty much nothing with any well-known progressive metal act. Even when the heavy drums and guitars attack, it's not abrasive in any way. This happens in the centrepiece of the record, the 10+ minute self-titled track Warrior. It makes for a modest highlight in this otherwise very meandering, ethereal, and at times somewhat uneventful record.
Not that it's a drag to listen to, far from it actually. Some of the sounds on this record are quite beautiful. The drum and percussion sounds come primarily from a synthetic source, I assume. But they sound sharp and defined, without them coming off as robotic. They give the music a very tribal, forest-y feel. On top of that are some very lush, slowly played synthesizers and – yes – bird sounds, that further enhance the ethereal vibe. And then there are the vocals. Dréa's voice is omnipresent, but mostly these vocals, or should I say chants, are used more as an instrument than that there are some attention-grabbing lyrics or hooks going on. There are loads of effects on the vocals, making the sound of them very high-end and actually not very human at all. The production values are pretty high, and it's apparent that there's gone a great deal of effort and dedication into the creation of this album.
When I was listening to this record I would often drift off, sometimes to the point where I wasn't even paying attention anymore. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, but it comes with the genre of ambient, in a way. It relaxes the senses, and aims for other purposes of listening to music. Here's where Drury's background as a sound therapist comes in. These songs are slow-burning exercises in patience, contemplation and spirituality . It's music that works great while taking a nice, warm bath. Maybe put some candles on as well. It is in this domain where the record truly shines.
What I am missing here, are some good vocal melodies that you can latch on to. Drury does harmonise in a cool way here and there, in a way that somewhat reminds me of what Tool's Maynard James Keenan did on the song 10,000 Days (Wings for Marie). The heavy riffing on the title track actually fits very well, somewhat along the lines of TesseracT, though not as rhythmically complex or refined. Together with the vocals I'm getting a bit of a Lacuna Coil vibe. But even on this highlight, the power is somewhat subdued because of the constant chanting and the somewhat muddy guitar production. Nothing truly stands out, but it definitely doesn't sound bad either.
This isn't the most engaging or challenging record to listen to, but it's pleasant nonetheless. I hear a follow up has already been completed, and I'm hoping that it will expand on the minor metal elements on display here, as well as more focused song writing. But for what it is, it surely has its appeal. Recommended for fans of ambient music, but also for music fans that are looking for something entirely different than the usual progressive rock/metal affair. If you were only going to listen to one track, I'd recommend listening to the aforementioned title track. Follow the YouTube link to watch a video for Warrior, as the visuals really enhance the vibe of the music. Scrolling down Anilah's Tumblr and Facebook pages can also add to the experience with lots of magical, thought-provoking imagery that lures you further into Anilah's spiritual world.
This is a promising start for Anilah, who with this album have made a good first effort in carving out a particular niche with the combination of ethnic ambient music and progressive metal. I'll surely be watching their next move.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Banda Elastica - Aqui, alla y aculla
Suite Regresiva (8:13), Ranulfo (3:15), Insomnio (5:09), Tonada (7:56), A Perpetuidad (4:04), Haciendo El Quehacer Y Otros Tiraders (6:42), Reencuentro F (8:22), Fierabras (3:58), Tiradero Con Dave Barret (6:10), Tiradero Con El Violo (7:00), Tiradero Con Chris Cutler (12:38)
Banda Elastica's last recorded work was released in 2003 and their latest offering is a celebration of the bands ground breaking and genre defying achievements over three decades. Aqui, alla y aculla contains an extensive and carefully compiled collection of live performances taken from different stages in the bands development between the years 1994 - 2008. This thirtieth anniversary release is packaged in an excellent gatefold cardboard sleeve. Also included is an informative and well produced booklet detailing the bands history. The sound quality of the recordings is very good. This impressively compiled collection is a welcome addition to the bands discography and should please many of the bands fans.
In concert Banda Elastica create a sound that often appears to be heavily improvised. The compositions have an organic fluidity. The music frequently seems to the less observant listener to be in a constant state of flux. There is an identifiable structure in the music,but the listener has to regularly search for it's elusive nature. It was only after numerous listens, that I was able to appreciate that there was some order to be found in the intricate arrangements.It remains a challenging listen, but familiarity has diminished and even removed some of the more incomprehensible aspects of the compositions. It was difficult not to be impressed by the quality of the musicianship of the group. The band members have great empathy and provide some stunning interactions. The live performances contained within this celebration are excitingly expressive, and the players show impressive mastery of their respective instruments.
The first six tracks which make up the majority of the release were recorded in New York in 1994. The opener Suite Regresiva is on the face of it a seemingly chaotic piece which utilises numerous complex changes of time and tempo. Initially it gave the impression of a Green Room warm up before a concert performance. On subsequent listens it became apparent that Suite Regresiva is divided into a number of different structured sections. The use of the marimba gives some of the arrangements in Aqui, alla y aculla a passing resemblance to something Frank Zappa may have created. This is particularly the case in the marimba rich Ranulfo. The stop start rhythms of Tonada are also quite Zappa-like in their arrangement, instrumentation and execution. This track also features some strange disembodied vocal effects and some highly effective discordant guitar parts.The beautiful flute led melody of A Perpetuidad is probably the most accessible tune on offer. It would appeal to a wide variety of listeners and is a track that I have frequently returned to.
Reencuentro F and Fierabras were recorded in Norway in 2006. Reencuentro F. Improvisacion is centred around an excellent and fiery flute led improvisation. It is a piece that I thoroughly enjoyed on first hearing and it has continued to impress. Fierbras contains some fine guitar parts that tastefully and melodically embellish the piece. Before long, Fierbras concludes with some dissonance which is resolved with an energetic saxophone flourish. The choice and mixture of instruments used by Banda Elastica, coupled with the avant-garde nature of many of the compositions, may draw some listeners to make comparisions with the work of Henry Cow and in particular their Western Culture album. The remaining pieces were recorded in Queretaro Mexico between 1999 and 2008 and focus on a more improvisational and avant garde approach to performance and composition. Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler guests and is showcased on the final track which is aptly titled Tiradero Con Chris Cutler.
Overall, Banda Elastica create an idiosyncratic sound that is quite unique. It is likely that Aqui, alla y aculla would not appeal to all DPRP readers. However, for those who enjoy music which has no defined boundaries and requires full attention and concentration, then Aqui, alla y aculla may be worth seeking out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Big Big Train - English Electric: Full Power
Disc 1: Make Some Noise (4:23), The First Rebreather (8:31), Uncle Jack (3:49), Swan Hunter (6:20), Seen Better Days (7:37), Edgelands (1:26), Summoned by Bells (9:17), Upton Heath (5:39), A Boy in Darkness (8:03), Hedgerow (8:52)
Disc 2: Judas Unrepentant (7:18), Worked Out (7:31), Winchester from St Giles' Hill (7:16), The Lovers (5:32), Leopards (3:54), Keeper of Abbeys (6:59), The Permanent Way (8:30), East Coast Racer (15:43), Curator of Butterflies (8:44)
Disc 2: Judas Unrepentant (7:18), Worked Out (7:31), Winchester from St Giles' Hill (7:16), The Lovers (5:32), Leopards (3:54), Keeper of Abbeys (6:59), The Permanent Way (8:30), East Coast Racer (15:43), Curator of Butterflies (8:44)
Full Power is a fusion of English Electric Parts 1 and 2 and a great deal more. The two distinct parts both stand out as exceptional collections in their own right, bringing us modern day classics such as East Coast Racer, Curator of Butterflies, and A Boy in Darkness, to name but three - all guaranteed to generate some serious goose-bumps. Following the Electric collections came an EP, Make Some Noise, that introduced four more new songs and together with Parts 1 and 2, now make up Full Power.
Revisiting EE:FP 12 months after its release is like returning to a favourite place, possibly an historic building or natural landscape, which offers up new vistas physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually on every visit. It is somewhere to retreat to but at the same time, somewhere to marvel at the process of artistic creation.
When I reviewed Part 1, I said their music was akin to Alice through the Looking Glass, an invitation to step into a world beyond to explore the landscapes of the past and see how they have shaped our present and possibly our future. But it was not a gentler age as nostalgia would have it: there was darkness, difficulty and sometimes despair in people's everyday lives alongside the wonders of the countryside and the evolving man-made environment.
This is the backdrop for Big Big Train to paint their expansive aural canvasses that bring to life their human characters and the worlds which they inhabit.
Much of it is down to the song writing skills and arrangements of founder members Greg Spawton and Andy Poole, coupled with the multi-faceted talents of songwriter, vocalist and musician David Longdon and supplemented by sound engineer Rob Aubrey's peerless production
Ironically, disc 1 starts with their most uncharacteristic song, the anthemic Make Some Noise, an uplifting rock song about being a teenager and forming your first band during the summer holidays. David Longdon's piping flute and Danny Manners' little flash of Little Richard piano give it a fun, commercial feel. It segues seamlessly into Pt 1's opener, the gorgeous Genesis-esque The First Rebreather, The Tangent's Andy Tillison providing one of the first of many "wow" moments through a haunting Moog solo conjuring up the 70s' spirit but within a totally contemporary setting.
The folkie banjo and violin-led favourite Uncle Jack and Swan Hunter, still sounding melodically like CSN&Y's Our House are followed by one of the newer songs Seen Better Days with its lovely piano motif, that, with a palpable wistfulness, looks back and recalls the shipyards, collieries and foundries in its flawless arrangement. Cosmograf's Robin Armstrong also makes an appearance providing backing vocals.
Manners has a real chance to demonstrate the beauty of his piano-playing in Edgelands before it melts into Summoned by Bells, another highlight of Pt 1 because of its majestic brass section which takes the closing section of the piece into a different realm. Rounding off disc 1 are three of Pt 1's greats, the floating, acoustic Upton Heath, the dark, brooding and tragic A Boy in Darkness and the rousing Hedgerow, now a firm favourite because of its infectious sing-along chorus, birdsong, barking dog and a stunning violin solo from Rachel Hall.
Disc 2 begins with Judas Unrepentent, Longdon's wonderfully Baroque proggy tale of an eminent art forger, another song which has won the hearts of many listeners through its sonic textures, gentle humour and another star turn by Tillison this time, on Hammond organ. The miners' tale Worked Out is followed by a personal favourite, Winchester from St Giles' Hill, the River Itchen rushing through it courtesy of Manner's tinkling piano. The fourth new song, Longdon's The Lovers showcases their emotional romantic side as well as a jazzy groove while Leopards, another romantic offering from Longdon, is memorable for its wonderful waltz-like rhythm.
Keeper of Abbeys, when it first appeared on Pt 2, was the one song which I did not initially "get", but 12 months on, its richness of atmosphere has really come alive, especially through Dave Gregory's European folky flourish on electric sitar. The most special moments for me come on The Permanent Way, so unashamedly nostalgic with its mournful recorder introduction and added "Tillisification" as Tillison comes back with another extraordinarily moving keyboard solo and at his suggestion, a "guest" appearance from Sir John Betjeman, one of English life's most poetic observers.
East Coast Racer remains a most remarkable feat of prog engineering either in this or any previous era. It is a story and a journey without parallel. The story starts with Manners' achingly beautiful piano shattered by the sudden wheels of steel staccato rhythm of the train itself. To this end, Nick D'Virgilio gives a master class in superlative, exciting drumming.
The story is a tribute to the master craftsmen who lovingly constructed Mallard, the record-breaking steam locomotive. The journey is presented through the actual motion and running of the train with Longdon singing: "Church bells call a beat along the track / She burns with the substance of the land," before his voice finally ascends skywards with "She flies." Not for a very long time have two words had such an elevating impact within the context of a song.
Curator of Butterflies is a ballad which I know regularly reduces grown men to tears, such is its ethereal beauty, musically and lyrically, Longdon's voice at its most touching, brimming with emotion and expression.
In making the English Electric collection, Big Big Train have effectively lifted the bar to lofty heights in progressive rock. English Electric Part 1 was my album of the year in 2012 and Part 2 was narrowly pipped as top album last year because at the time, I had a slight issue with its sequencing, but not anymore.
Presented in the most meticulously designed cover complete with a 96 page booklet telling the stories behind the songs and details about all the players, it all adds up to that very rare and precious commodity – perfection.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Ego - Sistema
Captura Idea (3:17), Latte Acido (6:05), Via del Cairo (3:08), Distrazione (5:15), Genio del Male (2:03), Crota (lux) Atrox (3:43), Elettronicsa-mente (3:48), Petit Prince (10:22), bonus track: In Viaggio (5:20)
Ego is a band with a trio lineup and located in Italy, Varese, and was formed in January 2005 and consists of close friends Pier Caramel (keyboards, flute), Daniele Mentasti (bass, trombone) and Sergio Ianella (drums, percussion). This record features as well Massimo Pellino on Guitar in track 8 (the long one) and Simone Ronzoni on trumpet on track 3.
So we have the classic prog-trio keys, drums and bass. No vocals at all. Do we have a new ELP or The Nice here? Calm down and relax - no heart attacks are coming up. My first listening is always a "blind" one. I try to avoid reading any information and just let the music flow. And my very first impression was: this must be a solo album by an enthusiastic keyboarder, who's spending much time in computer-programming. This does not really sound like a band. And maybe it is an older contribution of a Casio competition, I thought. OK, Yamaha would fit as well. Some niceful fingerexcercising, harmonies and melodies that doesn't hurt and all in all a little flat production sound, namely for the keys.
The general sound of Sistema is dominated by the keyboards and more 80s orientated than modern sounding. We have typical synth sound and nice piano interludes - best example for this is the track 9 In Viaggo, which is well done. But even though this track is a track you can like, it is also a track - like the whole record, really - which is not quite a ballad, not quite a rocker, and not something symphonic.
Another example is track 2, Latte Acido. The track starts with some keyboard phrases which could be from a bad Jean-Michel Jarre Album, accompanied by some terrible rhythm and sound. And in between they shortly change to some really nice with heavy keyboards, just to come back with that flat B-Movie sound. That is no crossover, in fact that isn't really anything real.
Via del Cairo comes up with a groovy but slow rhythm, with bell sounding keys and the trumpet coming around the corner. This is a lovely, relaxed tune with a warm melody. In progheads' minds, it would not end after three minutes, it would start then. This could be a cool intro for something great to come, as the simple melody leaves room enough for more. But it ends, a pity.
This one is followed by an ever quieter piece Distrazione, a piano solo which containes as well a beautiful hookline. No prog, could be on every lounge-music CD, or a piano album by Rick Wakeman. Well done and well played.
Elettronicsa-mente, shows pure electronic music, but the tempo is about 45 beats per minute. Just a few chords filling the ears - nothing that tows you away.
After this it is time for the epic 10 minutes track Petit Prince. Surely inspired by the French novel and cartoon series, this track shows a darker mood. Sad and slow in the beginning with trumpets again. The "intro" is followed by the main part and, lo and behold, the track continues after 3:45. But hmmmm, it is not really a development, just another repeat of the main theme. A little elctric guitar is making noise and the middle part shows some dissonances, but not too heavy. At 6:45, the piano takes over for a while and is leading directly into the long ending. There is not enough suspense in this track which too much trusts on it's main theme. There are no surprising breaks and no mood changes or anything else that makes you laugh or cheer.
Ego's Sistema has surely it's moments. But it cannot decide whether it wants to be an electronic record or a rock one or even a prog one, but the later it is surely not in the common sense. We hear some good ideas, but they could be worked out better. You can listen to this record, it doesn't hurt you and maybe two or three tracks end on some of your playlists. I believe, if makes up their mind for one musical direction, the recordings will win at once.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Farpoint - Paint the Dark
Up to You (7:45), Part of Me (4:30), Gone (7:44), Half a World Away (5:17), Who You Are (6:04), Stand (8:18), Vision Quest (12:15), One More Sunset (5:39), Power (2:55)
If I had to label this music, I would call it acoustic prog due to the presence of acoustic guitars and pure harmony vocals. The folk influence is strong throughout the record, almost veering towards groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash and Neil Young. This can be heard even in the opening track Up to You after a brief symphonic prog introduction. However, that isn't the only influence heard on this album - one of the strengths of Farpoint are that they use a variety of different styles on top of the folky acoustic base. Part of Me has some very fine flamenco style spanish guitar combined with beautiful female vocals. Abby Thompson is a sweet vocalist, and a good partner along with Dean Hallal. The combination of female and male vocals, sometimes singing together and sometimes separate, is very strong throughout the record.
In the next several tracks, Farpoint are able to blend the more melodic pop sensibilities with a light symphonic prog touch. Because of their tendency to include symphonic elements in the style of Yes and their Christian leaning lyrics, I am often reminded of Glass Hammer. Farpoint is more sparse in their use of symphonic prog, but it is always present. The album does tend to be a lot more pastoral and light than a lot of modern prog. The song Stand is one of the heavier, more electric tracks on the record, with some passages of crunchy guitars and heavy keyboards. The use of violin at the end is a nice touch and provides a sweet counterpoint to the song's heaviness.
The longest song on the album is perhaps the most interesting- the twelve minute Vision Quest. There are definite influences from Pink Floyd, especially through the guitar playing. There is a strong folk and celtic influence, before the song shifts to an almost country western style, complete with ragtime piano playing. This mixture of styles is a fascinating stew, and is definitely the highlight of the record. Paint the Dark ends with two shorter tracks- the first of which is a beautiful ballad called One More Sunset featuring wonderful violin and flute and the pretty voice of Abby Thompson. The final track is Power, which is a great final statement for who this band is featuring an uplifting message, great vocal harmonies, and their great blend of acoustic folk and symphonic prog.
Paint the Dark is an uplifting album, full of spirituality and positivity. The lyrics, though, never verge into preachy territory. The album has a variety of influences, the strongest being acoustic folk. The proggy elements are light, but are present throughout the album. It is mostly a pastoral, pleasant album without much of an edge. This makes for a fine listen on a clear summer day. It isn't overly complicated music, but I don't think it is supposed to be. So, if you like the lighter side of prog and want a relaxing, enjoyable listen, this is the album for you.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lord Sutch - Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends
Wailing Sounds (2:39), 'Cause I Love You (2:46), Flashing Lights (3:13), Gutty Guitar (2:34), Would You Believe (3:21), Smoke and Fire (2:39), Thumping Beat (3:07), Union Jack Car (3:03), One for You Baby (2:45), L-O-N-D-O-N (2:56), Brightest Light (3:57), Baby, Come Back (2:32)
Actually, I'll give him that. 'Striking' is a fine adjective to describe this brash, brutish and thoroughly British album. Recruiting the best half of Led Zeppelin for the recording of this album, the music is a fine blend of hard rock and... oh, no wait, it's no blend at all. And it ain't fine either!
But hard rock it most assuredly is. The only problem is the era. I've often found that knowing the year of recording and release often makes a serious impact on my judgement of the album, both before and after hearing it. Take, for example, the band Starcastle, whose eponymous debut was released in early 1976. Had it been released ten years earlier, it would now be regarded as an early progressive masterpiece, and well ahead of its time. As it is, the band are regularly lambasted as Yes-clones. In the same way we inspect Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends. Forget about the actual band members for a moment. Had this record been released ten years earlier, I would have seen it as a forward-thinking and progressive album for its time. Had it been released now, I would have been impressed at the nostalgic feel of the album and the way the artist had managed to capture the zeitgeist of half a century ago.
1970 just feels wrong though. In a time when progressive rock was exploding all around, and music was just starting become interesting, Lord Sutch's album sticks out like a sore thumb by adhering resolutely to basics. By this time, The Kinks, The Doors, The Velvet Underground and all the other definite articles had already covered this ground. In 1970, Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends was simply behind the times.
Despite this, it's still a fun album and, as Dome puts it, "it actually has a certain weird and effective charm." With such great talent in the music department, you can expect the wailing sounds, thumping beat and gutty guitar to be played effortlessly. In fact, the fantastic rock n' roll only goes to put the star of the show, Lord Sutch himself, to shame as he is not the best of singers. This, combined with some of the lyrics he wrote for himself, makes for some uneasy listening. "I'm the one for you baby, you just don't want my love," he throatily leers on One for You, Baby. On the other hand, my personal favourite is the sonically intriguing Flashing Lights which feels like it's been recorded underwater. How Jimmy Page ever got that guitar sound I do not know.
Esoteric's artwork reproduction is passable; the four black and white photos on the original LP are included, although some of them are placed in front of others, obscuring the view somewhat. Pedants can decide whether this is what they care about. What I'm more concerned about is the fact that Esoteric, a label once known for quality progressive rock reissues, is getting less and less progressive with each new release. I used to be able to buy Esoteric releases on a whim, expecting something of joy to be found inside, but now, especially with releases like these, I have to reassess just what Esoteric's ambitions are.
As for the album itself, well, I wouldn't recommend it on here, a progressive rock website. I probably wouldn't do it anywhere else either, especially after reading that it was rated the "Worst Album of All Time" in a 1998 BBC Poll. Though there's some great musicianship is to be found, this record ends up being more of a novelty than a musical statement.
Pineapple Thief, The - Magnolia - Duo Review
Simple as That (4:04), Alone at Sea (5:20), Don't Tell Me (3:33), Magnolia (3:47), Seasons Past (4:13), Coming Home (3:07), The One You Left to Die (4:21), Breathe (2:51), From Me (2:34), Sense of Fear (4:30), A Loneliness (3:18), Bond (4:29)
Martin Burn's ReviewI first became aware of The Pineapple Thief when they supported, and in my opinion, hugely outshone, Blackfield at the Assembly Rooms in Leamington Spa a few years ago. After that performance I purchased the compilation 3000 Days and their, at the time, latest effort Someone Here is Missing, and so I became a fan of the band. The follow up to Someone, the relatively mellow All the Wars, with its more acoustic and orchestral demeanour, I found to be slightly less engaging in terms of sound rather than the song writing. So, it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I came to review the band's latest offering Magnolia.
Magnolia turns out to be an album that mixes the more strident aspects of The Pineapple Thief sound, with the acoustic and orchestral leanings of All the Wars. With a production that captures the intensity of the band in a live setting for the guitar driven songs, whilst retaining a delicacy where required on other songs.
Magnolia opens with low key jangly guitars on Simple as That, with Bruce Soord's voice deeper and darker of tone than on previous recordings. This gets interrupted by an outburst of crunching guitars and bass as the song goes into overdrive, with the emphasis on rock guitar and power. Whilst including the catchiness of a hummable melody, the song is both commercial and pleasingly off kilter at the same time; a great opener.
Alone at Sea is propelled by an insistent snare drum, courtesy of new drummer Dan Osborne, and a vocal melody that is sung nicely off the beat. This makes the music as unsettling as the lyric about an individual's isolation. A driven bass line leads into a guitar, and what sounds like a theramin solo, that is short but exquisite. The Pineapple Thief here are channelling their inner metal gods.
Don't Tell Me is the first track that re-introduces the more delicate sound found on All the Wars. It is keyboard led and acoustic in feel, with strings entering as the songs pace increases. It also features a satisfyingly complex vocal arrangement, whose ease on the ear hides the craft behind it. An abrupt ending left me wanting more. In fact, none of the songs on Magnolia outstay their welcome, and have much packed into their mainly brief running times.
More gentle sounds follow with the title track. It leads off with a wordless vocal refrain that is very melodic and eminently hummable, though the track does seem to meander a little. This could just be because it is sandwiched between three strong opening tracks and the terrific ballad that follows it.
The terrific ballad is Seasons Past, with Steve Kitch's piano melody overlaid by, what must be, Bruce soord's most soulful and forlorn vocal. As the song evolves it features a slide guitar solo of sheer delicateness. A ballad as good as, if not better, than Marillion's The Sky Above the Rain, my favourite track of 2012, that closes their Sounds That Can't Be Made album.
Coming Home is a slow building song in a similar way to some of Anathema's optimistic emotional epics, but shorter and with a more downbeat lyric. It has a dark and threatening tone as Soord sings "you're coming home with me" in a chilling way, that indicates he will not take no for an answer. This happens over lightly played strings that push the lyric into a starker contrast. This could be one of Steven Wilson's serial killer songs.
The One You Left to Die is quite magnificent. A mid-tempo song, featuring John Sykes' excellent bass playing, its protagonist sings for redemption for an action that is left creepily unspecified. Soord, here as a guitarist, creates soundscapes that echoes the style of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. Soundscapes that increase the sense of dislocation, especially when allied to off-kilter chordal keyboard chords, that join later in the piece.
Breathe is a short, punchy number. Kicking off with full-on heavy guitars and drums, which stop suddenly as the vocals enter, when they then crash back in, in an almost a punch the air moment, it made my heart leap! This is how the band sounds over in a live setting. This is a great song with a superb use of dynamics.
A change then comes in the form of From Me, a good piano and strings ballad of lost relationships. Then the volume and dynamics punch back in with Sense of Fear. John Sykes' bass dominates, heavy and claustrophobic before opening out as the dynamics of the song change. There is more striking guitar playing on this without any showboating, everything here, as elsewhere on the album, serves the song.
A Loneliness is a quiet and emotionally affecting ballad that rises beautifully from a singer-songwriter style opening to a multi-tracked vocal conclusion.
Magnolia ends with the mid-tempo Bond. It starts with strummed guitar and a rolling snare drum pattern, and then builds up to an orchestral sweep, via a delicate and heartfelt trumpet solo that lifts the whole song to further heights. This is an excellent way to end a superb album.
Overall, I found that only the title track left me fractionally disappointed. The rest of the album is filled with interesting and moving short songs, without any indulgent soloing or showboating; songs that have a sly grandeur that reveals itself with repeated listens.
This is crossover prog at its very best, featuring rock-pop melodies housed within inventive arrangements and production. A bit of exposure would, surely, see The Pineapple Thief cross from the prog sphere into the mainstream. A mainstream that embraces Radiohead's prog experimentaion, or fellow West Contrymen, Muse's prog bombast.
My album of the year, so far.
Alan Weston's ReviewMagnolia, Pineapple Thief's (PTh's) latest album under the Kscope label, features on one CD twelve short songs (second CD not reviewed here), many of which are so catchy probably my mum, sadly no longer with us, would rate this album very highly (she once about choked to death on her chicken soup when I put on King Crimson's Lark's Tongues in Aspic, she never did get what being progressive was about).
There is no doubt Bruce Soord's songs are clever, glossy and have such a slick production shine that many of them are easily mainstream radio playable; that tells us a lot about the direction Bruce Soord is taking the band. Progressive is not a word that would fall from my lips in describing Soord's latest opus. The album is packed full of very nice songs that are easy on the ear and very likeable on first listen. However, there is nothing that really stretches the listener's imagination in the progressive sense. If Magnolia had been PTh's first album and Abducting the Unicorn was their latest, ignoring differences in quality of production, you would probably conclude that there was a definite progressive movement within their music. The latter's Parted Forever would be a case in point – an 18 minute song bordering on being an epic. But alas, no long tracks with Magnolia which even includes two songs under 3 minutes. A falsis principiis proficisci (a pretentious Latin phrase I'm afraid - "to set forth from false principles")?
We are possibly led into a false sense of progressiveness security with the opening two tracks as to how the album might progress: Simple as That and Alone at Sea. Each have their heavy bombastic guitar riff moments, catchy refrains, odd glimpses of a solo, and an overall sonic palette that will possibly have some listeners craving for more. Can't help being reminded of Amplifier in stretches when listening to these two songs – not a bad thing?
Then we descend into the popish underbelly of this album. I defy anyone not to think of Chris Martin (Coldplay) singing the opening of Don't Tell Me. With every subsequent play of this song I grew to dislike it more and more, and with a lot of material on this album (and something Soord has expressed a liking for when interviewed by DPRP) it is awash with sentimental lush orchestration, that it is so often overdone throughout the album that a sweet sticky goo pours from the speakers.
The goo continues with the next three songs, Magnolia, Seasons Past and Coming Home. All have palatable tunes that could quite easily get lodged in one's head (and being a reviewer it has occurred!) and very difficult to shake loose which is probably most songwriters' goal. All songs feature that rich orchestration to the hilt.
The One You Left to Die fairs better and kicks in with a solid guitar riff that is soon followed by the bass and drums. Certainly rocks in places and is varied in its dynamics, featuring some nice electric guitar work. The strings are more restrained here but are certainly lurking and waiting to pounce. A big wall of sound towards the song's end will delight many.
Quickly on the heels of One You Left to Die is the second shortest track on the album, Breathe, which opens with a punchy vengeance, making some amends for the insipidity that has come before. Not a bad song and a pity it's a bit too short (doesn't suffer from over indulgence in the orchestration department) and certainly strains the speaker cones in places! Breathe is followed by the shortest track, From Me, a piano led vocal ballad with some strings thrown in for good measure.
The last three tracks, Sense of Fear, A Loneliness and Bond, feature, to varying degrees, the style and sound of previous tracks. Sense of Fear has its punchy moments and could well have been written & performed by Steve Wilson and/or Porcupine Tree, A Loneliness wouldn't go amiss on any Elbow album, and Bond (minus those damn strings) could, with a slight stretch of the imagination, fit well on Radiohead's OK Computer album.
Anyway, please don't get me wrong after all the negativity I've written about Magnolia – I actually do like this album for what it is. Well crafted short songs with excellent vocals from Soord. He is a very gifted song writer to come up with so many well constructed songs & here's hoping he achieves the commercial success & recognition that I think he and the band are now striving for.
Finally, I'm really torn as to how to score this album. On one shoulder sits the art rock/pop angel telling me this is great stuff and worthy of an 8 out of 10; on the other shoulder I have the progressive spectre wagging his bony finger, informing me that this isn't really progressive at all.
I suppose if DPRP had stood for Dutch Pop Rock Page then this review would have had a reverse slant to it; a commercial radio friendly album that would probably get an 8+ out of 10 from me. However, this site is about progressive rock music and as to the DP(rog)RP-ometer this rates a 5 at best.
Rosa Luxemburg - Chapitre III & Chapitre IV
Les Pilleurs (9:39), Je Ne Suis Plus Seul (3:53), Nuage (1:36), Ilse Se Tiennent La Main (3:33), Babylone (7:31), Raptus (5:28), Marche (4:25), Nous Ne Sommes Plus Seuls (7:11)
Je Ne Suis Plus Seul then follows. Quietly, a bit like a chanson, with a sad and sombre tone it seems, as the lyrics talk of punishment, of tears, clenched fists and of people where all contact seems lost. As soon as the statement "I am no longer alone" is made (the translation for the song title), which the main character expresses as thoughts towards his counterpart in the song, the music turns far darker, stressing the fact that there now must be others who look upon said counterpart in the same way. An unsettling part of the song presents itself yet it ends calmly just short of four minutes. Is the song a metaphor? Is it part of Rosa Luxemburg's life story? That is what was the subject in Chapitre I & Chapitre II, the previous release by this French ensemble. Here, the songs may just be more metaphors than actual references to the life and times of the historical persona that was Rosa Luxemburg.
Not afraid to confront, Rosa Luxemburg was. And that is what the band certainly have in common with their namesake. Do not just expect what might be expected. It's not your painting by numbers prog at all. Be prepared to enjoy a ride and be prepared to just enjoy the flow. Nuage is a guitar piece that brings back all peace and quiet on the album which towards the end almost transcends into the instrumental into that the Morse brothers used before going into The Doorway.
Ils Se Tiennent La Main (live version here) opens like it was played by Dream Theater to transform into a more poppy song with a beautiful guitar part to venture back into more riff based territory. The French avant garde answer to Dream Theater?
Fact is that Minouche, his brother Pipo and Tomas Legon have made themselves an album that dares to explore beyond boundaries written and unwritten alike and that they dare to fully express themselves in French. The boys have succeeded in using their own language to great effect, as for example Babylone goes to show. To these ears it is the French language and the way French words can be emphasized that adds very well to the feel of the song. This song about the state of the world and where we're headed just gains because of the singing in French. A very diverse song where the music at seems to express more hope than the lyrics do.
Raptus is a track reminding of classic (prog) rock from the 70s, where it starts with emphasis on keyboards and the vocals on top. Nice touch! Marche might be compared to fellow countrymen Lazuli with its uptempo and upbeat approach and thematically the songs might even have a match. The album as a whole however differs from Lazuli's latest as it is by far the quirkier of them both.
The trio share duties on vocals arrangements, keyboards, guitars, bass and drums alike and have several guests featured as well of whom Arjen Anthony Lucassen might be the most famous. Ayreon's mastermind gave his blessing to Rosa Luxemburg by guesting on Nous Ne Sommes Plus Seuls.
A second album may not always be the easiest to make. Yet where Chapitre I & Chapitre II, their debut, was not judged favourably by all listeners because of inbalanced experiences, I can only stand impressed by the diversity Pipo, Minouche and Tomas have managed to serve, consistently throughout the album, in this second release. Where, once upon a long ago, French chansons might be the inspiration for organising whole days and festivals, I would vote a definite "Oui!" if a French prog festival was to be held. I'm all for it! Bravo, Rosa Luxemburg!
It is wise to differentiate between Rosa Luxemburg and Rosa-Luxemburg when surfing the net looking for vids by the French band as there is a Catalan band using just about the same name. Quite different music, mind you.
Conclusion: 8,5 out of 10
Salander - Stendec
Pearls upon a Crown (13:12), Book of Lies (11:04), Ever After (6:44), Hypothesis 11/8 (4:16), Situation Disorientation (8:06), Controlled Flight into Terrain (13:46), Zeitgeist (7:49)
There is a lot of anticipation in many of the intros on this album, Pearls upon a Crown begins this recording with nearly three minutes of atomospheric keyboard until the drum machine "track" arrives without a fill or warning, a sweet Knopfler-esque guitar sweeps in and some precessed vocals take us on a type of Welcome to the Machine sort of thing. Next longest is track six Controlled Flight into Terrain has a similar intro before an eyebrow raising country and western strum almost made me reach for the "next" button. Hypothesis 11/8 begins with a keyboard sound reminiscent of Burning Bridges by Japan and my hopes are raised yet again, but a repetitive bass and long drawn out lead notes make me thank the short 4:16 length.
I really liked the previous Crash Course for Dessert by Dave Curnow and Dave Smith but this time around there is something missing (for me that is) which I am trying to put my finger on.
The processing on most of the vocals in unessesary and (yet again) the drum sound is at best a plod and at worst Situation Disorientation like someone attempting access to a wooden shed. When the "drums" actually let rip, especially on REM-ish (well the start anyway) Zeitgeist there seems to be a latency or timing issue. Maybe too much "spirit of the age"? Anyway, it all distracts.
The keyboard sounds are good and enjoyable to hear (the Beatles-like trumpet timbre on Book of Lies is great), the soloing is good, but they are mostly what I could get on my laptop which is how this album comes across in overall feel.
Ever After could be a lost Korgis track which codas out with a big lighters in the air rock anthem, but something niggles over the drum syncopation where some reverb here might have saved it?! Who am I to say, but it just doesn't quite work.
I hope everyone out there realizes that reviews are personal, but when something "home made" is to be highly commended for its sheer achievement, it can't really compete with an album that has been made by a full band with all the bells and whistles (and a drum kit, for example). It's not a bad album at all, but I've listened to it quite a few times to attempt a little more positvity, and now that's it. The good news is that Harry, the studio cat, get's another mention.
Conclusion: 6 out 10