REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Ossicles - Mantelpiece
Tracklist: Dewer's Hollow (3:48), Luna's Light (5:12), 1400 (5:40), Moral Grey (4:43), Watersoul II (5:40), Barren Earth (9:14), Slur (5:35), Torn Pages (6:55), Silky Elm (27:54), Miracle Worker (4:35)
|Country of Origin:||Norway|
|Record Label:||No Weather Records|
|Year of Release:||2012|
Not wanting to generalise too much but Norwegian Prog is challenging, often dark and, frequently, technically brilliant. From the virtuoso, harmonic shred of Magic Pie and the intense, eerie, often bleak woodland of Nordagust to the quirky, diverse musical adventures from Wobbler, the country produces bands that really do focus on their own style, which sets it apart from anything else around the globe.
Adding to the country's unique output is another band that matches all the aforementioned bands on many levels, not least for its incredible amount of talent and breadth of vision.
Mantelpiece is the debut album by cousins, Sondre Veland and Bastian Veland who call themselves Ossicles. Self-described as an 'observation', the album was released quietly at the end of 2012 after many years in the making, indeed some pieces of the music here were being formed when Sondre and Bastian were in their teens with the intention of developing it before their 20th birthday.
Yet, as long as this album has taken to gestate and form, its two creators are still very young and this fact makes their first effort all the more impressive, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by some very influential people in Prog:
"I cannot believe that such young guys can make music like they do. You have to listen to it!"
With this kind of ringing endorsement (Mike Portnoy also wanted them to appear on the 'Progressive Nation at Sea' Cruise) it's of some surprise then that the release didn't make more headway in 2013.
Musically this album sits proudly enough in the Prog camp but in truth this is too narrow a margin to define it. Heavily impregnated with a combination of jazz, ambience and World music, the sound is unashamedly experimental and challenging. The combination of elements may, on paper, sound like a tough ask, however much of what is on offer is rich and likeable from the off.
Bastian's voice - frequently supported with a delicious range of vocal harmonies - is particularly warming and feels gentle. Sometimes this is so effective, like on Torn Pages, that listening has the ability to produce a hair-raising effect. The track itself is one of the standout moments on the album and would be easily strong enough to sit on anything by Mr Wilson.
The music is split over two disks and at first this looks a little needless and an undoubtedly costly decision as the total playing time of the songs would fit neatly onto one disc. It's only at the midpoint of disc two, perhaps at the start of the 28 minute epic Silky Elm, that the reasons become clearer. Much of disc one has a harder edge and in reverse, disc two has a softer more atmospheric tone.
This logic underlines the maturity of this album and the thought that went into its design. This is not to say that the spiky jazz components from disc one are absent on disc two, in the last third of Silky Elm a dark King Crimson-influenced tirade takes you by surprise and lifts this monster out of its lengthy laid-back progression. In the true sense of the word Epic, this track manages to take you on a journey before bowing out in the most beautiful of ways, first with an incredible flurry of flute, tabla and Nepalese voice, the frenetic pace of which is at times almost hypnotic, and yet somehow it gives way to another haunting harmonic passage.
Lyrically there is a loose abstract feel to the words with the emphasis more on developing the mood and emotion than using a narrative form. Luna's Light on the first disc may contradict this and feels closer to a biographical story in its creepy insight into someone who classifies himself as 'strange'. Whatever the reality of the song's meaning it has a strong filmic quality that is juxtaposed with a catchy chorus.
The unsettling mood is also present in the following song, the pacey 1400, which feels maladjusted and unstable and again proves to be a real foot tapper.
"I started to dream but I still smell the gas that I left on on purpose."
Two thirds through CD 1 and the catchy hooks continue in the song that comes closest to qualifying as the single from the album. Watersoul II successfully blends an in-your-face jazz backbeat that feels a little Muse like with a chorus that has strong shades of post-britpop/'90s art rock, particularly Mansun and Shed Seven.
The only element that lets the album down slightly is the rather flat production in places, in particular the weak drums. Pointing this out is almost pedantic as it's only a slight criticism, the majority of the mastering works okay for most of the record. Given the ambitious nature of the production and the scope of sound it really doesn't seem fair to focus on it. The fact that this is a self-financed project, that will no doubt lose money, shows what a labour of love and devotion this work really is.
Another element that exemplifies the high standard of the release is the beautiful packaging that accompanies the music. A fold out 2 disc digipak adorned in close up images of insects and creatures that feels slightly intimidating but mystifying gives the overall impression of something really special.
Quite how a release of this quality and sophistication has remained so hidden is a mystery in itself. If you are the kind of music lover that gets a kick from finding something unknown then this is something to check out, it's certain to amaze you.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Freedom To Glide - Rain
Tracklist: Rain (part 1) (5:45), Anywhere Else But Here (4:19), Path Of Reason (4:34), Riders On A Wave (5:07), Price Of Freedom (6:40), LU2 (1:59), Rain (part 2) (6:05), Angels and Stones (3:10), Wind and Gales - Rain (part 3) (5:23), When The Whistle Blows (8:21), Trying To Grow Young (0:34), Rain (part 4) (3:01), Home Again (3:36), One Hundred and Twenty (2:08), Not A Broken Man (2:57)
|Country of Origin:||U.K.|
|Year of Release:||2013|
|Info:||Freedon To Glide|
Rain is the culmination of three years of work by the U.K. pairing of Pete Riley and Andy Nixon. Both are members of a Pink Floyd tribute band called Dark Side of the Wall. However they also wanted a vehicle to explore their own musical pathways.
Freedom To Glide is their chosen model. The outfit first emerged in 2012 when the duo issued the Rain EP, a 3-track taster release. Later that year, another taster appeared in the form of The Wait, a six-track mini album featuring two tracks set to appear on Rain plus four other songs.
After all that pre-amble, the band's debut album emerged in late 2013. Rain is a wonderfully evocative and thoughtfully presented concept disc dealing with the loss of war:
"So my brothers fell like rain
Every rain drop bears a name"
First impressions and the importance of packaging are things that I feel are too often ignored by artists. Sad as it these are increasingly important in a crowded market place where customers have to be persuaded as to the benefits of paying more for the hard product (CD as opposed to a quick (illegal?) download).
The music of Freedom To Glide is beautifully presented. The cover is one of the most eye catching I've seen. It also beautifully and creatively expands on the central theme of loss. Look closely at the raindrops to see the faces of lost 'brothers'.
That attention to detail is a hallmark that runs throughout the whole "Rain" experience. Go to their website to read the touching story behind the album. Again, it's an extra element which at little cost has added valuable depth, impact and value to my listening experience.
Musically it is a mixture of Pink Floyd and The Eagles with Celtic influences, beguiling guitar work, perfectly pitched vocal lines and thought-provoking lyrics.
Rain is very much a traditional concept album with recurring musical themes and a clear storyline. As such it is best enjoyed in its entirety. However within, there are many, many individual moments to savour and several standout tracks.
None more so than on the opening number, which does what all the best opening numbers do: grabs the listener's attention and emotions. Already, two of the ingredients that make this album such a success are in full evidence. The stunning lead guitar passage from Andy is no less impressive for its similarities in tone and execution to Dave Gilmour. The vocals are clear, simple, yet full of melody and emotion. There is quite a lot of acoustic guitar and piano across the disc which offers a perfect contrast to the more intense sections.
The combination of moods works no better than on one of the longest tracks, When The Whistle Blows. Again the lyrics are the perfect fit for the musical backdrop. The guitar and vocals are again exquisite.
I don't have to be picky, but perhaps an explanation as to why this doesn't get a full 10 out of 10 would be helpful. I feel the album is a little too long and loses its flow a bit with too many shorter interludes at the end. The spoken sections are definitely too low in the mix and hard to decipher. The main Rain theme is perhaps used a little too extensively a little too often. The lyrics do circle around the same point once or twice too often for me.
There is however a clarity and crispness to the production which suits the music to a tee. Pete (keyboards, backing vocals, sound effects) and Andy (lead vocal, guitar, fretless bass, keyboards, drums and drum programming) provide most of the musical input. The only extra help comes from a trumpeter, female backing singer and the Elation Community Voices Choir.
Dealing with such a weighty concept has been sympathetically carried out through some powerful lyrics. The fact that part of Rain consists of the reminiscences of Pete's grandfather, Corporal Robert Wilson, makes this album a very emotional journey for the duo.
With this year being the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, a concept dealing with the futility of war is a very timely subject.
To conclude: Rain is as impressive an album package as you will ever hold. It is also as impressive a debut album as you will ever hear. A beguiling piece of musical and artistic expression.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Gabriel Construct - Interior City
Tracklist: Arrival In A Distant Land (6:51), Ranting Prophet (4:50), Fear Of Humanity (8:01), My Alien Father (4:46), Retreat Underground (2:38), Subway Dwellers (5:32), Defense Highway (10:48), Inner Sanctum (7:33), Languishing In Lower Chakras (11:09), Curing Somatization (10:25)
The boundaries of prog. We meet them and find that we either like or dislike what we hear. Yet the borders may appear as broad as they can be. Sometimes, ladies and gents, the borders can hold so much territory hidden within them that we can only determine what we hear to be prog, yet the music might just as easily go beyond these boundaries.
Why this introduction, you might wonder? Well, after giving Interior City several spins I realise that Gabriel Lucas Riccio takes you out to the plains, mountains, seas, anything that could be some sort of landmark on the boundaries and heads off to yet another one, yet another one and still stays within the realms of prog, if, mind you, we agree to continue to use this tag.
An album difficult to classify; an album difficult even to get into yet holding so much beauty when you get there that it is absolutely worthwhile taking the time with it. If you like your music á la Asia, latter day Genesis, Moody Blues then be on your way. This is not for you. No, it takes the more adventurous mind to get into this record. Think Pain Of Salvation, Tool, Devin Townsend and perhaps Ulver as more suitable references. You might even catch some King Crimson in there. Gabriel himself also mentions the French composer Messiaen and the American composer George Crumb as influences on this album. The various piano parts show more than just fondness of avant-garde music and boy, it succeeds in doing so very well.
Interior City is a concept album that deals with the way an individual struggles to find himself at ease with being alive and, added to that, trying to deal with being part of modern day society. The initial response, sinking into negativism, paranoia and what have you, lead him to his Interior City. It is in the confrontation of his negativism and fears, part of him, that he ultimately realizes he is dealing with his own inner thoughts. Taking that on gives him the chance to ultimately break free and fully be out there, being part of life and society as it is. That all calls for music that dares to take us on a journey and here is a record that achieves this.
Where Arrival In A Distant Land as a title might lead us way back to the Seventies and thoughts of Tolkien might be in place, there is nothing here to remind us of Orcs or any other creature from the dark. Yet darkness is what lies behind the piano intro and we fully realize that once Gabriel gets to the "And I can't get out!" part of the track. Hysteria, angst? Welcome on board. There we go, our journey has started. Gabriel being vocalist, playing keys, rainstick and woodblock and the captain on this flight, his crew being Travis Orbin on drums, Tom Murphy on bass (Periphery both), David Stivelman on guitars (Debbie Does Dallas), Soren Larson on saxophone, Sophia Uddin on violin and Garrett Davis providing additional laughs.
Ranting Prophet starts off anything but ranting yet within the first minute the song takes off and we get into a maelstrom of sonic extravaganza. Thoughts of the illustrious King Crimson, The Cure even (The Top era) and Tool all mingle and once more we hear "You cannot escape this!" as drums, guitars and violin all race themselves toward the end of the song.
The next song opens with the cheery sentence of "I'm afraid of humans". Stay on board, don't leave for Gabriel has composed an album full of music that dares you to listen. My Alien Father again is different and remains calm throughout, ever spacey and moody as it deals with aliens and taking people away from their lives on earth as we think we know it.
What must be said, is that the vocals may need some getting used to as Gabriel uses multi-layering and they sometimes get so distorted, compared to some of the solo vocals on the albums, that I assume the effect is put there on purpose. Once used to it, you can get the full grasp of how Gabriel handles his vocals, as another instrument on this album.
There is not a single bad track on this album. There is a lot of variety and, once Gabriel and his music take you on, this Interior City is a wonderful city to dwell. Whether it is the opening track that captures you, the tales of the aliens in My Alien Father, the soundscapes in Languishing In Lower Chakras, Gabriel proves himself to be an amazing composer on this debut, as young as he is. That is what shows throughout the album. Recommended, yet not for the faint of heart.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Traumhaus - Das Geheimnis
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Record Label:||Progressive Promotion|
|Year of Release:||2013|
Tracklist: Das Geheimnis Teil 1 (The Secret Part 1) (4:29), Das Vermächtnis (The Legacy) (27:12), Wohin der Wind Dich Trägt (Wherever the Wind Carries You) (6:24), Frei (Free) (5:45), Das Geheimnis Teil 2 (The Secret Part 2) (12:37)
German band Traumhaus has released music slowly but steadily over the past decade. The band's third full-length CD, Das Geheimnis, veers towards the forceful, heavier side of progressive rock. References might include The Watch and IQ. Keyboards (mostly synthesizer) are the main driver, and they are often juxtaposed with stiff guitar riffs and the occasional guitar solo. There are instrumental and vocal hooks, too. The drumming (by Jimmy Keegan from Spock's Beard) is powerful and often prominent.
The CD also features a moderate amount of singing. Although the lyrics are in German, comparisons between singer Alexander Weyland and Peter Gabriel are difficult to avoid. The richness and tone of the vocals match, although the instrumental aspect of the music here is edgier than that of Genesis.
Most of the tunes are stellar. The opener, Das Geheimnis Teil 1, has a slightly ominous undertone that is darker than the rest of the CD, but the intricacy of the playing is impressive. The almost half-hour epic, Das Vermächtnis, winds and weaves but still maintains direction and accessibility. Next up is the slower-tempo Wohin der Wind Dich Trägt, which incorporates suspense along with tasty and very satisfying guitar work. Least interesting is Frei, which is marred by repetitive and rough guitar riffs. The finale, Das Geheimnis Teil 2, features not only the consistently excellent keyboards but also soaring guitar leads and notably skilful drumming.
The lyrics, which are translated to English in the liner notes, are cryptic. But much of the words appear to address mental machinations focused on understanding what might be either beneath or beyond the surface.
In the end, Das Geheimnis is recommended without hesitation. The compositions are complex and carefully composed, and the playing and production are first-rate. Fans of the slightly heavier side of symphonic prog will, in particular, find this CD much to their liking.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Zip Tang - Das Reboot
|Country of Origin:||U.S.A.|
|Catalogue #:||8 84501 90977 8|
|Year of Release:||2013|
Tracklist: Grain Of Sand (5:25), Atmosphaerae (7:08), Butterfly Tattoos (7:27), Massive Hole (1:34), Stop Feeling (7:14), 10,000 Nachos (4:22), Thorazine Drip (4:47), Little Tiny Fishes (2:37), Three More Days (2:40), Stop Feeling (Reprise) (0:54), Animal (2:35), I'm Still Here (5:00)
Das Reboot is the fourth album from Chicago's Zip Tang and sees the quartet with an unchanged line-up of Fred Fuller (drums), Perry Merritt (guitars and vocals), Marcus Padgett (keyboards, sax and vocals) and Rick Wolfe (bass and vocals). Coming over three years after the intelligent and entertaining Feed Our Heads it is good to hear that the group have continued the trend of the previous three albums by delivering a varied mixture of compositions that largely defy comparisons.
Opener Grain Of Sand sets out the stall with all the instruments the group master contributing to a tasty amalgamation replete with solos. Add a superior vocal melody and lots of backing vocals and things are off to a flying start. Things are taken down a notch with the appropriately titled Atmospharae, where the rhythm section provide a constant back beat allowing the guitars and keys to lay the, well, atmosphere on thick. A great arrangement with some very interesting sounds. The ending in particular is quite menacing and completely original. Butterfly Tattoos has a simple electric piano line repeating throughout with Wolfe's bass taking the lead to provide a constant rhythm that drives things along nicely. There is plenty of space for Merritt to weave in and out with his guitar and Padgett to explore his synth's palette of sounds. These guys really know how to structure original material, largely defying or warping traditional song structures. Massive Hole, the only instrumental on the album, is more of a linking piece, performed solely by Merritt on a precisely played acoustic guitar with his own synth contributions added to the background.
Stop Feeling perfectly blends acoustic and electric sections together like a fine mesh; hats off to Fuller for some excellent drumming that is very listenable but never intrudes or distracts from the song. The vocals are probably the best so far being more natural than on some of the other songs were various electronic manipulations have been applied, such as on the intro to 10,000 Nachos. Although 'normal service' is soon resumed unfolding a biting attack on the Facebook generation with some marvellously funny lyrics. The opening guitar riff of Thorazine Drip reminds me of a song by Gillan (Message In A Bottle I think, no not The Police number!) but apart from that the two songs shares no similarities, in particular the sax solo. The spirit of Zappa infuses through the (pun alert...) Frankly quite bizarre Little Tiny Fishes. Probably best considered as a brave experiment that doesn't really add much to the album and is more of an in joke then anything. Three More Days is a more regular type of song, at least as regular as Zip Tang go! With a keyboard line that is vaguely in the school of Gentle Giant the number is an out and out rocker whose attack is tempered by the brief acoustic reprise of Stop Feeling which provides a link into the rather vicious Animal. Things are 'officially' brought to a conclusion with I'm Still Here, another of those typically involved numbers with another big nod to Fuller for his drumming contributions. A mid song a capella section is somewhat of a surprise but makes the resumption of the band in full flight very impactful. Although I'm Still Here is the last credited track on the album, the CD actually finishes with a 90 seconds of synth noodling that winds things down and brings things to a close.
As with their other albums, Das Reboot is an interesting and enjoyable album that pays rewards for repeated listening. I have had the CD for a while now and although when I first played it I was a bit dubious that it didn't match up to the previous releases I am happy to say that it is now possibly my favourite of the four. This would indicate to me that the group are still improving and generating fresh ideas and you can't say fairer than that.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Zip Tang CD Reviews:-
|"...manages to be diverse without being disjointed and progressive without being derivative. I'd recommend this album to anyone who is in need of getting some fresh air into their musical lungs."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
|"Zip Tang have lived up to their early promise by releasing a sophomore album that is every bit as good as the debut."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
|Feed Your Heads|
|"Zip Tang continue to provide high quality musical entertainment of intelligent modern progressive rock that spans the gamut of the genre."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
Various - Family Snapshot: A Tribute to Genesis Solo Careers - Peter Gabriel
Tracklist: Gandalf's Project - Solsbury Hill (4:20), Coral Caves - Here Comes The Flood (06:41), Maurizio Di Tollo - Mother Of Violence (3:17), Quarkspace - Exposure (5:39), Goad - Biko (5:20), TNR - Lay Your Hands On Me (6:17), Alessandro Serri - Wallflower (6:23), Tommy Eriksson - Red Rain (3:41), Pierpaolo Bibbo (featuring Silvia Ciudino & Fabio Orecchoni) - Don't Give Up (5:51), Pistac - Blood Of Eden (7:15), Graziano Romani - Secret World (6:01), Randone - Father, Son (4:26), Periplo - Sky Blue (6:27)
This is the first album of tributes by various Italian artists dedicated to the solo careers of Genesis, starting with the songs of Peter Gabriel. Tribute and cover albums can be a hard sell and have to be of a high quality but even then some people will still bypass them as you can always listen to the originals. I understand this but sometimes a different take on a song can be very rewarding, which is the case with a number of the songs on this album. Most of the tracks are high quality and also most of the titles on this album will be familiar to anyone who really appreciates good music and lyrics.
The front cover of the booklet is a cross between Peter Gabriel's 2nd and latest albums so fits well within the theme. The inside is quite informative with an introduction from Mario Giammetti, director and founder of the Genesis magazine Dusk. The album has 14 tracks all played by different people and I'm not going to run through all the tracks but there are some real highlights that must be mentioned. Here Comes The Flood by Coral Caves (admittedly one of my favourite Gabriel songs) is a beautiful rendition, laid back with sweet flutes and acoustics and sung without the power in the chorus which works so well. The music that plays out the end of the song is so Genesis. Mother of Violence by Maurizio Di Tollo features catchy keys, percussion and guitars with perfect vocals; all is sweetly and gently done. Exposure by Quarkspace includes lots of electronic sounds and a great beat that really hits the right spot. Wallflower by Alessandro Serri features the Genesis piano intro and outro from Firth of Fifth played by Fabio Serri (who is also responsible for the synths and drum programming) giving an interesting edge to the number. The wonderful voice of Graziano Romani (very similar to the late Richie Havens) makes Secret World into a great track and the album ends with the excellent Sky Blue by Periplo, another track with excellent vocals, good use of violins, various percussion and other instruments put together to give it a world music feel making a fitting end to a good album.
The rest of the tracks all have their moments in different ways and there's only one track that I couldn't get on with, Goad's version of Biko, as it has been speeded up and I really struggled with the vocals.
All an all I enjoyed the album and it has made me want to listen to the originals again. I wonder which Genesis member will be tackled next and what material will be chosen, I for one will look out for it as if you like tributes or cover albums then this should be one to enjoy.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kristoffer Gildenlöw - Rust
Tracklist: Callout (6:22), Believe (4:36), Desire (4:16), Follow Me Down (4:32), Overwinter (4:36), Längtan (2:23), Heroes (5:12), Save My Soul (5:21), Rust (7:37), Story Ends (5:54), Living Soil (4:20)
Kristoffer Gildenlöw is a name that many in the progressive community will recognise and know. Since parting with his brother, Daniel and Pain of Salvation after six wonderful albums in 2006, he has become a widely travelled session musician based in The Netherlands.
He has recorded and toured with artists such as Neal Morse, Lana Lane, For All We Know, The Shadow Theory and Epysode. However, the only album for which I would really directly associate him with was Dial. A project with his partner Liselotte Hegt which sadly only produced the one disc, Synchronized in 2007.
During this eight-year period it has often been reported that Kristoffer Gildenlöw has been working on a solo album. Well that work has finally been completed. Rust is his debut solo album and it clearly seeks to let us see a completely different side of his musical life.
Rust takes us on a sentimental journey through memories and dreams. Although he has been keen to stress that this is not a concept album, there is a clear theme dealing with youth, growing old, death and finding peace in life.
Unusually Rust was initially released as a limited edition with only 500 copies on high quality, coloured vinyl plus exclusive artwork including a deluxe sleeve, gatefold cover and an eight-page book.
The CD version that came out some time later, hasn't got the exclusive package design, but contains two extra tracks.
The opener clearly sets out where Gildenlöw's solo career is concentrating. Callout is an intense, melancholic kind of progressive music for the soul. I'm reluctant to use the term "progressive rock" as little on this album rocks.
On this record Gildenlöw is supported by a range of former band mates, most notably Paul Coenradie and Ruud Jolie from Within Temptation, Maiden United and For All We Know and keyboardist Fredrik Hermansson (Pain Of Salvation).
The instrumentation, whilst undoubtedly ticking the progressive boxes, is very much a scene-setter allowing room for the vocal moods and lyrics. And the opening track pretty much establishes the pattern which continues throughout this album.
Vocally Kristoffer doesn't utilise the range and gymnastic abilities of his brother. He stays mostly in a low to mid range. However in terms of emotion, he is, if anything, more intense than Daniel.
There are some similarities on Rust to the more acoustic, calmer moments of Remedy Lane-era Pain of Salvation, especially in the wonderful, multi-layered vocal harmonies and some of the defining rhythms. However, this album sits very clearly in a personal space that is Kristoffer Gildenlöw.
Rust is an honest and thoughtful piece of music which needs to be listened to as a whole work. It will appeal to those who enjoy a more emotional, minimalistic and atmospheric style of progressive music with vocals taking the main limelight.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Gunnelpumpers - Montana Fix
Tracklist: Bolander (2:46), Naghra (4:27), Floobah (1:43), d'bass'd (3:01), Hip Hip Beret (3:28), Smokeblossom (7:31), Bottley Functions (1:22), Drunken Alley (5:47), Buffalo Jump (2:43), Sparkleboat (2:17). Aurelius The Cinderbiter (6:24), Montana Fix (10:29), Bassacaglia (2:10), Puzzle Dust (2:47), Zaftundzwanzig (2:37), Stwing Feowy (3:52), Mundus (6:49), Earthing (6:49), Ouroboros (2:51)
|Country of Origin:||U.S.A.|
|Record Label:||Spiritflake Music|
|Year of Release:||2013|
Chicago-based collective Gunnelpumpers' fourth studio album, Montana Fix, was expected for the the end of 2012, a few months after their third effort, Tritonium; however, the release was pushed back to the summer of 2013. In the meantime, the band - formed in 2002, and currently consisting of a core of seven instrumentalists led by founding members Douglas Johnson (double bass) and Randy Farr (percussion), plus additional guests artists - have kept up a lively concert schedule in the Chicago area, witnessed by the numerous recordings available online from their website.
Unlike many modern prog bands, who (especially in the U.S.) have been forced by circumstances to concentrate on recording rather than performing live, Gunnelpumpers' official albums (all released on their own label Spiritflake Records) reflect the band's calling as a quintessentially live outfit. Indeed, most of Montana Fix was recorded live in the studio, with minimal use of overdubs in order to preserve the music's spacious, improvisational feel.
Some of the tracks on this rather massive endeavour - such as Bottley Functions, entirely performed by a sextet of empty beer bottles - show a genuinely experimental attitude that is also very entertaining, and must be even more so if experienced in a live setting The whole album, however, may come across as rather unidimensional - though there are some peaks of excellence that make for very rewarding listening.
Interestingly, in spite of its title (Douglas Johnson's tribute to his native "Big Sky Country") and striking cover artwork, representing an infrared photo of Montana's iconic buffalo, the album sounds strongly influenced by Eastern music rather than by the music of the American West; in particular, percussionist Doug Brush wields a fascinating array of ethnic percussion instruments (like the Thai rain drum at the centre of the haunting Earthing) that add a warm, organic tone to the often chaotic fabric of the music, and explains the "tribadelic" tag that Gunnelpumpers apply to their own musical output. The history of some of the track names as detailed on the band's website also makes for intriguing reading.
While Tritonium was a short album that included only three long tracks, Montana Fix is one of the longest single CDs I have ever reviewed, clocking in at a handful of seconds under 80 minutes, and comprising a whopping 19 tracks - all rather short, with the sole exception of the 10-minute title-track, an eerie, cinematic tour de force imbued with a mounting sense of tension. Although a lot of the album's material is too free-form to resonate with the "mainstream" prog listener, and its very rambling nature may make concentration difficult, at times the music possesses a truly riveting quality - as in the case of exotic-sounding opener Bolander and the haunting, Eastern-tinged Smokeblossom. Very much of a love-or-hate proposition, Buffalo Jump, with its steady tribal drumbeat and eerily echoing electric guitar, sounds like something out of King Crimson's Bruford-Wetton era. With no less than three bassists (Johnson, Matthew Golombisky and Michael Hovnanian) on board, the emphasis given to the instrument - both in its electric and acoustic, upright form - should not surprise, with bass-only extravaganzas such as Hip Hip Beret and the amusingly titled Bassacaglia and Stwing Feowy.
As I pointed out in my review of Tritonium, while Gunnelpumpers are an extremely accomplished group of musicians with an eclectic, adventurous outlook and an obvious love of their craft, their music may be somewhat hard to swallow for traditional-minded prog fans. On the other hand, the exploration of the wide range of possibilities offered by their respective instruments can be deeply fascinating (or frustrating, depending on perspective). Double-bassists in particular will be intrigued by this "textbook" on how to use the cumbersome instrument in a number of creative ways. However, Montana Fix is definitely too long (occasionally smacking of self-indulgence), and listening to it in one go can be taxing for most people's attention span - especially as, after a while, the tracks tend to sound alike. In any case, the consistently excellent musicianship and the presence of some genuinely riveting moments make the album a worthwhile proposition for open-minded listeners; in particular, fans of eclectic instrumental music with a strong world-music component will find a lot to appreciate in Montana Fix.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Gunnelpumpers CD Reviews:-
|"Even though Tritonium is a very interesting effort, full of constantly excellent instrumental work with some genuinely riveting moments, its appeal to "mainstream" prog fans is rather limited."|
(Raffaella Berry, 7/10)
Jeremy & Progressor - Searching For The Son
Tracklist: Searching For The Son (8:00), Future Flight (7:44), Blind Man's Dream (6:53), Distant Light (10:27), Wings Of The Wind (11:16), Messiah Will Come (7:08), Had Enough (4:34), Way To Zion (6:01), The Mirror (6:29), On A Cherub (5:22), Sonic Dances (4:05)
The incredibly prolific Jeremy Morris has released over 50 albums since 1977 covering everything from power pop, prog, acoustic instrumentals, pop rock, space rock, Beatles covers and religious music, frequently combining elements of these on each release. Such is the case on this latest album (although I use the term 'latest' somewhat reservedly as no doubt by the time this review is published a couple of newer Jeremy-associated albums will have hit the streets) Searching For The Son, a progressive album with religious themed lyrics.
This is the second collaboration with Progressor (aka Vitaly Menshikov), the first being The Pearl Of Great Price back in 2005. Both artists, as well as guests Jon Dawson and the more famous John "Rabbit" Bundrick, contribute guitars, bass, drums and keyboards with Menshikov's X Religion bandmates Albert Khalmurzayev and Valery Vorobjob adding extra keyboards and drums, respectively, to three of the songs. Finally Bill Morris blows trumpet and sax on a couple of numbers. Despite this list of collaborative musicians, Morris still manages to steal the show by performing three of the songs all by himself and providing all the lyrics and vocal melodies. As if to prevent his collaborator from being completely overshadowed, Menshikov also has a solo piece, an old number recorded back in 1993! (although, to be fair, it is listed on the CD as a bonus track)
With writing so much material and, as with this one, many of Jeremy's CDs not exactly skimping on running time, there are bound to be questions as to if quality control can be maintained. Inevitably there are bound to be a few clunkers every now and again with a couple on this album that don't really cut the mustard. Had Enough is rather demoish, Way To Zion relies too much on some naff synth sounds and Messiah Will Come tries too hard to be symphonic, has a rather flat drum sound and arrangement (which is strange as it is one of the songs featuring a 'proper' drummer) and pretty bland lyrics (even ignoring the religious nature). Ironically, the latter two tracks are the only two on the album that are co-compositions between Morris and Menshikov. But most of the other material edges towards the more positive end of the spectrum with the title track in particular being a particularly fine number, bringing a poppier prog sound into the mix. Future Flight uses a multitude of keyboard sounds to enhance the sonic aspects of the number with the overall result having a bit of a Hawkwind vibe, although of a rather more laid-back nature. One wonders if the opening synth riff on The Blind Man's Dream was contributed by Bundrick as there is a similarity with The Who's You Better You Bet on which he played. Nice guitar work on this number which, along with Future Flight and Wings Of The Wind were joint compositions by Morris, Bundrick and Dawson. Speaking of Wings..., the number packs a few punches and has some worthwhile ideas but could perhaps benefit from a tad of editing. However, Distant Light works very well and along with the title track are the two strongest songs on the album and, for those interested, were both written by Menshikov.
One shouldn't use that last statement to imply that I am suggesting Morris is the lesser partner as he more than holds his own with his own compositions The Mirror and particularly On A Cherub which would have been immeasurably better as an instrumental as the four lines of vocal are somewhat trite and don't sit easily with the phased and backwards guitars that populate the rest of the rather fine track. The Sonic Dances bonus cut is, due to its age, of a slightly lower fidelity and is a slightly different style to the rest of the album. But is a nice enough instrumental piece with a definite nod to, presumably, traditional folk music of Uzbekistan. Would have been nice if they could have re-recorded it to fit the style of the rest of the album, but that is perhaps me being pedantic.
All-in-all this second collaboration between these two accomplished musicians and their fine cast of supporting characters is a nice enough album but really lacks a killer punch. The running time is also a bit of a distraction, cutting out some of the lesser tracks and maybe applying some judicial editing to remove some of the excess on the longer pieces would have made this a more succinct and punchier album. But worthy enough for what it is.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Jeremy & Progressor CD Reviews:-
|The Pearl Of Great Price|
|"...as much as I genuinely enjoy this album, I'm pretty sure I'd have enjoyed it more (and more often!) had it been half an hour shorter."|
(Gerald Wandio, 8/10)