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ISSUE 2014-70
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Reviews in this issue:

EP
Anchors of Ascension - HotDamn! Pass the Pepper Can!
Anchors of Ascension - HotDamn! Pass the Pepper Can! (EP)
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: N/A
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 15:57
Info: Anchors of Ascension
Samples: Anchors of Ascension website
Track List:
Hotdamn! (1:43), Shuck n Jive (4:04), Stuart's Song (2:37), Black Sunday (4:22), Requiem (3:11)
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Anchors of Ascension are a bass and drum duo, consisting of Willi Jaam on bass and bass pedals, with Casey McBride on drums, percussion, sampler and organ. They are supplemented by two special guests: George Turner on cello and Margot Monti on didgeridoo and contra alto clarinet.

Fashionable as it is to be a percussion and guitar duo in the blues-rock tradition, such as The White Stripes (drums and guitar) and the British duo Royal Blood (drums and bass), this is the first I have come across to play something more interesting and purely instrumental.

Anchors of Ascension have a fiercely independent sound, using their instruments to create songs that are neither blues nor jazz-driven. They evoke the feel and the emotion of both of these genres, whilst producing adventurous and complex rock music. The precise drumming underpins a bass guitar sound that growls, moans, slides and wah-wahs in inventive ways, that are fresh and interesting. As it is a very short disc, I will do a track by track review.

It opens with Hotdamn!, a fast-paced piece of boogie, that is short, almost over before it has begun. It has a punchy tunefulness, with nice changes of tone.

Shuck n Jive comes on like a rapid bass guitar take on the opening of Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It then quickly morphs into an energetic and varied number, with hot and passionate playing. The bass effects are superb and never outstay their welcome.

Stuart's Song is dedicated to the memory of Big Country's Stuart Adamson. Introduced by a military march, snare drum figure, that is soon joined by the Celtic-infused, drone-like melody of the bass. Melodic and touching, it is a lovely tribute without being a pastiche.

Black Sunday begins with a didgeridoo drone that is joined by rolling drums and crescendos of bass. These are then overlain with long squalling bass lines. Who knew a bass guitar could sound so, well, wonderfully weird?

Requiem is a change of pace and style, slower and with an almost post-rock feel to it. An ocean wave-like crashing of cymbals and distorted, expertly controlled feedback bass, wash through this one. The bass playing here, reminds me of Hendrix's live rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. All in all then, a terrific EP of instrumentals that feature playing of the highest standard. If you want to hear something a bit different and adventurous, that will not outstay its welcome, then look no further.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Alex Carpani - Four Destinies
Alex Carpani - Four Destinies
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Festival Music
Catalogue #: 201403
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:34
Info: Alex Carpani
Track List:
The Silk Road (13:00), Time Spiral (13:32), Sky and Sea (14:04), The Infinite Room (14:18)
Alex Carpani is a Swiss born, Italian-based keyboard wizard whose career spans some 30 albums and a lot of musical ground. Four Destinies is a 2014 release that offers a fascinating trip back to prog's early 70s origins.

Carpani plays an impressive array of keyboards (piano, Hammond organ, Mellotron, Moog orchestrations) with both flawless technique and taste. His backing band consists of Ettore Salati (electric, acoustic, double neck and 12 string guitars, bouzouki and Balalaika), GB Giorgi (five-string electric bass), Alessandro DiCaprio (drums) and Joe Sal (additional vocals). They provide Carpani with impressive support, but David Jackson's presence here is the icing on the cake. David is a prog legend from his days with Van Der Graaf Generator and his array of saxophones and flutes do much to add colors and a bit of edginess to Carpani's ambitious, musical vision.

The album's opening track, The Silk Road clocks in at 13 minutes and establishes a blueprint for what is to follow. Carpani's Hammond organ merges with Jackson's sax and some tasteful guitar to create a slightly Indian feel. Salati's guitar recalls Steve Hackett at times (no bad thing) but it lingers a bit more to the background than Steve might do.

Carpani solos on piano and organ while Jackson contributes a coolly-reflective flute passage. The music twists and turns sinuously, recalling the early days of Genesis. Obviously there is a lot to explore here. The only drawback thus far, is the lead vocal which is rather ordinary and doesn't add too much to the music. Otherwise, The Silk Road is an impressive, musical tour-de-force that culminates in Mellotronic glory.

Time Spiral clocks in at 13:32 and opens with a drum roll and a crisp piano and sax pattern. Guitar and synth solos suggest a slightly jazzy feel. David Jackson's playing shines here, adding a bit of fire to a track that recalls Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. To me, this is prog as it is meant to be played. The band is crisp and the music is full of subtlety and surprises. Sky and Sea stretches to a lengthy 14:04 timing. It opens with flute, piano and acoustic, finger-style guitar. Alex Carpani's understated vocal, steers the music from introspection to something a bit heavier. Carpani uses his battery of keyboards to full effect while Alessandro Di Caprio provides a bit of percussive urgency. Carpani is an impressive technician but he and the band never seem to overplay. They get the best out of their arrangements. The Infinite Room closes out the album on a high note. At 14:18 it is the album's longest track and it doesn't fall into excess. The musicians here are veterans and they keep things humming, with Jackson's flute and sax matched against Carpani's sparse, yet pretty piano chords. Gradually, the players are swept up in a wash of synthesised strings. The track has a majestic feel to it and everyone is allowed a bit of solo space.

To me, The Infinite Space is a summation of what has preceded it. Carpani, Jackson and co have created a Prog classic that deserves to be heard. It is a thinking person's music, in an era that often substitutes technical flash, for substance.

In summation, this is a slice of early 70s style, classic prog that has been neatly updated for the times. It is beautifully written, constructed and performed and apart from a vocal or two, it is nearly perfect. In conclusion, Four Destinies is an album to be savoured.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Closure in Moscow - Pink Lemonade
Closure in Moscow - Pink Lemonade
Country of Origin: Australia
Format: CD
Record Label: Sabretusk
Catalogue #: SABRE001
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 60:37
Info: Closure in Moscow
Samples: Closure in Moscow website
Track List:
The Fool (1:33), Pink Lemonade (8:14), Neoprene Byzantine (3:54), Seeds of Gold (3:41), That Brahmatron Song (9:30), Dinosaur Boss Battle (6:20), Mauerbauertraurigkeit (7:25), Church Of The Technochrist (6:46), Beckon Fire (4:02), Happy Days (5:38), ?? (3:29)
Closure in Moscow (C.I.M.) is an Australian band from Melbourne. Pink Lemonade is their second full album and follows First Temple (2009). The band members are Mansur Zennelli (guitars, vocals, erhu and percussion), Michael Barrett (guitars, vocals, percussion and programming), Salvatore Aidone (drums, percussion and programming), Duncan Miller (bass, double bass, vocals and percussion) and Christopher de Cinque (vocals, drums and percussion).

My experience with Australian bands is that they often have a weird sense of humour. C.I.M. are no exception! Just have a look at the artwork in the CD-booklet and listen to the lyrics of all the distinctive song titles. On their official website you can read another example of the slightly bizarre way they look at our world.

_"We are here to combat the insidious narcissism that is slowly but surely pervading our collective subconscious, here to crop-dust apathy with the sexy flavor of the all-new Diet Agent Orange™. We are here to compel you to dance your ass off in a trance of bliss, all the while morphing your reality tunnel in such a way that your perspective just might change on some shit..."

Looking at the instruments played by the band members you would expect a percussion and guitar-driven album - and that is more or less the case. There are a few moments where this band reminds me of Muse and those are the scarce, good moments that I enjoyed but in general this album will never again be played on my stereo.

Maybe The Mars Volta is a band that springs to mind listening to C.I.M. and I don't like them either. The real low for me is the final track which is in Japanese. In my humble opinion this is not an album that will appeal to most DPRP readers. However tastes differ, so maybe you should check it out for yourself if there is anything sounding worthy of your approval.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Luna Kiss - Conjure and Sin
Luna Kiss - Conjure and Sin
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 22:15
Info: Luna Kiss
Samples: Luna Kiss website
Track List:
Tribulations (7:22), Conjure And Sin (5:07), Desperate Youth And Lonely Bones (3:56), LHC (1:28), The Distance (4:20)
Luna Kiss is a four-piece alternative rock band from Coventry in the midlands of the UK. Formed in 2009, the band consists of singer/guitarist Wil, guitarist Chris, bassist Ross and drummer James. They draw their influences from across the musical spectrum, merging progressive, alternative and mainstream elements.

Following the release of debut album Echoes Of Sound in 2011, the band turned to crowdfunding to finance a trilogy of EPs, the first of which, Conjure & Sin was recently released.

On the evidence of the five tracks on offer here, the band is more aligned to the sounds of alternative rock acts than anything more overtly progressive. Personally, I really only found the last track, The Distance, to be really in keeping with my musical tastes. The slowest track on the EP, an angular and faintly dissonant ballad, the song shows originality and a degree of promise culminating in a melodic guitar solo with nice backing from the other band members, even if the drums are somewhat pedestrian. It is also the only song to feature keyboards.

As for the other numbers, opener Tribulations has a nice lead guitar sound and a decent chorus but I found the lead vocals somewhat too angry sounding. Again, there are some novel ideas in the arrangements, whilst the chops and changes keep the interest piqued, particularly on the trumpet solo.

The title track is an alternative pop song but doesn't really seem to get anywhere; the inclusion of a reggaeish section midway through is just rather confusing. The drumming on Desperate Youth and Lonely Bones occasionally seems at odds with the rest of the instrumentation, although when the music comes together there are some nice moments.

LHC is not so much a song as an interlude with a throbbing bass keyboard riff (think of a bastardised version of Pink Floyd's On The Run) and weird voice sound effects. It serves only as an intro to The Distance.

Overall, not really my sort of thing, with a certain amount of immaturity in the writing and arranging. But hey, everyone has to start somewhere. I'm sure they have a place in the musical spectrum but I doubt if they will find a tremendous amount of support from the prog purists.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Bjørn Riis - Lullabies in a Car Crash
Bjørn Riis - Lullabies in a Car Crash
Country of Origin: Norway
Format: CD
Record Label: Karisma Records
Catalogue #: Kar085
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 51:27
Info: Bjørn Riis
Samples: Karisma Records on Soundcloud
Track List:
A New Day (4:16), Stay Calm (10:09), Disappear (6:27), Out of Reach (10:01), The Chase (7:08), Lullaby in a Car Crash (13:26)
Bjørn Riis is lead guitarist and one of the founding members and main songwriter of the highly successful Norwegian band Airbag. After the release of that band's third studio album The Greatest Show On Earth (review here), Riis saw an opportunity to take some time off from his duties with Airbag to record his first solo album.

On Lullabies In A Car Crash, fans of Pink Floyd and Airbag are treated to finger-licking solos on guitar by Riis. The album contains lyrics dealing with fear of abandonment, alienation and loss. He is accompanied by two of his Airbag comrades, so the feel of Airbag is never far away.

Henrik Fossum plays drums and Asle Tostrup provides the loops and effects. Riis plays all other instruments and is in charge of the vocal department. His voice sounds quite similar to Tostrup, who is the lead vocalist on the Airbag albums.

So is there any difference to the latest Airbag release? No, not really but on this solo album Riis doesn't hide his great admiration for Pink Floyd and especially David Gilmour. There's no holding back as he treats us to long, melodic soloing in Gilmouresque-style that dominates this album.

Only interesting for guitar lovers? Surprisingly enough the keyboards are also very prominent on this album and even sound like a complete orchestra on the track Disappear.

After a mellow start with the opening track, the album takes off and makes a safe landing with the stunning closing track Lullaby in a Car Crash. More than 13 minutes of pure magic. In The Chase Riis turns up the volume button and produces some quite powerful riffs that remind me of Steven Wilson but at other moments, the music is like a river, slowly meandering through the landscape.

The only reason this album isn't rated higher is that I think we've heard most of it all before on the Airbag albums. Riis is a brilliant guitar player and has succeeded in making an album that in my opinion is slightly better than the latest Airbag release. For sure this is a must-have for fans of Airbag and Pink Floyd/David Gilmour.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Duo Review
Steve Rothery - The Ghosts of Pripyat
Steve Rothery - The Ghosts of Pripyat
Country of Origin: UK
Format: Download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release:
Time:
Info: Steve Rothery
Samples: Steve Rothery on Bandcamp
Track List:
The Ghosts Of Pripyat (5.32); Summer's End (8.47); Yesterday's Hero (7.21); White Pass (7.52); Old Man Of The Sea (11.42); Morpheus (7.55); Kendris (6.09).
Alison Henderson's Review
Remarkably, despite his long and illustrious career with Marillion, Ghosts .. is Rothery's debut solo album. His only other side-project has been Wishing Tree with singer Hannah Stobart, which resulted in two albums.

Despite earlier intentions to make an album when Marillion was recording Brave, it was only Rothery's rehearsals with his band last year, prior to his appearance at the annual Plovdiv Guitar Festival in Bulgaria, that sparked the idea of this album and which was subsequently financed by crowdfunding.

The band he has assembled for this album are Dave Foster (Mr So & So), drummer Leon Parr (Mosque) and bassist Yatim Halimi (Panic Room); three ideal musical companions who are totally simpatico with the Rothery style and how to enhance it even further by giving it a steady platform.

The Ghosts of Pripyat (Pripyat being the town where the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear reactor was located) is totally instrumental and therefore is in perfect contrast to Marillion's prolific output with both Messrs Fish and Hogarth in the vocal booth.

Being a wordless album gives everyone a chance to fully appreciate the extraordinary abilities that Rothery demonstrates throughout Ghosts... Each of the seven tracks provides aural landscapes in which you can lose yourself and marvel at the magnificence of his playing.

There is no show-boating or axe-man posturing here. It is simply a master musician at the top of his game, relaxing and enjoying himself.

Every track also highlights a particular facet of his playing. Most are longish expositions, combining acoustic and electrical elements in a satisfying way, but at certain junctures the Rothery bluesman comes to the surface.

Central to all the tracks is The Old Man Of The Sea that has two other notable Steves joining the party. Crashing waves and whale song start the beautiful, aquatic journey through sound and time. Steven Wilson steps up to the plate to deliver a peerless guitar solo and Steve Hackett adds those lyrical flourishes that are his musical calling card. This is prog heaven for anyone who likes the wonders of the electric guitar to do all of the talking.

Hackett puts in another appearance on Morpheus which rises from a slow and steady start into the realms of sublimity, but always showing such restraint and control. Not one of the gazillions of notes is wasted here. The two Steves combine towards the end and it is blissful to hear them in such empathy with each other's playing.

Only the last track, Kendris, is a nod towards Rothery's more commercial style, with a big, chunky riff breaking through and running the show.

This is an album which should find its way into every aspiring guitar player's collection. It is not so much the content but the style and grace of the album which is so compelling. Rothery's place in the prog pantheon is already guaranteed and this solo showcase only rubber-stamps that further.

Eric Perry's Review
Steve Rothery needs no introductions does he? Surely he is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation and has been a major force in Marillion's international, multi-million selling success.

Yet, as lofty a height he occupies in the world of progressive rock, and rock in general, it does come as somewhat of a surprise that in a career spanning 35 years or more, Rothery has only just released his first full solo album. With the exception of his two Wishing Tree ventures, his output has been concentrated on his work with Marillion..

Announcing in late November 2013 his intention to release The Ghosts of Pripyat, the enthusiasm for this project was evident in the crowd funding success which massively exceeded its target in a matter of days. Such was the desire for a new showing by many fans.

Assembling a band initially for an appearance at the Plovdiv International Guitar Festival in Bulgaria, plus studio guests Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett, the album has all the hallmarks of a nailed-on classic, and for the most part this is without doubt a true account of it.

The album as a whole is every bit of what you would expect in sound and composition from Rothery. Fans of his Marillion work will be easily drawn-in by his trademark style which is packed like concentrated juice into the 55 minutes offered here. Seven lengthy tracks signify a more progressive nature to this album, and also of a format that Rothery uses consistently throughout; the slow building, layering formula that climaxes in the last third.

It sounds like this is an album then to make out to? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But there is an energy and drive to the material that stands out more distinctively than much of the Marillion work of late. Indeed, after a couple of listens, the question of input into the Marillion sound does surface. Without doubt the quieter, melodic passages laced with delay, reverb and soaring guitar soloing are here in abundance.

The opener, Morpheus, feels very familiar and captures that essence which is known so well. But as the album progresses, there is a feeling that somehow Rothery's heavier tendencies are muted within the Marillion songwriting process, and without going too far into that point, it does feel like their material has lost out because of it. As the album progresses, the gutsier and more muscular playing surfaces, peaking with Summers End, a hard rocking 70s standout track, full of layered, screaming guitars and shred. Behind it all is a low-down dirty riff that loops effortlessly behind the showmanship. Skillfully the album captures both the looseness of an almost live concert jam and the precision and refinement of the studio.

Another highlight from the release is the epic Old Man of the Sea, which moves through a variety of textures exquisitely. Beginning with the most gentle of starts, an atmospheric, delayed guitar floats over the sound of the sea and the song of the old man, the majestic sound of a whale. Adding a little spice is a shanty-like accordion which melts away into sonic reverb that is so typically Rothery. Completing the package is another trademark sound, in the form of the clean blues Rothery also plays in such an accomplished manner.

Surprisingly (again) there is little said about just how talented a blues player Rothery is. He is easily as good as his peers who have a greater presence in the public eye. What makes Old Man of the Sea so good is that all of these things, as well as some easily overlooked keys, provide a solid base for Rothery to shine.

Despite everything that works on this album there is a little niggle here and there in the choice of theme versus composition. The Ghosts of Pripyat title track, is puzzling in its design and feels strangely at odds to the rather somber aspects of the abandoned city theme. Opening with a beautifully-delicate acoustic segment, there is a promise of a journey that Rothery wants to take us on which is rather unfulfilled as the track gets in gear.

A Google of Pripyat will immediately burden the viewer with images of an eerie, overgrown city, frozen in time, a modern-day Marie Celeste. Rather than evoke this mood through his aforementioned atmospherics, the track instead cranks up into a meaty, grunge rocker with exotic, slightly eastern-sounding soloing. Nothing that says 'disaster' or 'desolation' or even 'Soviet Union'. That said, regardless of this disconnection, there is a solid slice of tasty rock here which doesn't disappoint.

White Pass with its Tolkien-esque sounding title does successfully combine the imagery of rugged, snowy mountains in its chiming, melancholic tones and Yesterday's Hero has a spirited ascending quality as it gallops to a pacey conclusion. All told, there are many tracks here that have a vibe that matches their ambiguous-sounding titles.

Given that it has taken so long for Rothery to release an album of solo material, there is a high expectation that comes with it. Happily the results do not disappoint and this album delivers on every aspect of what is so impressive about this quiet, unassuming guitar great.

This album pulses with an edgy, pounding heart and is less contained and reserved that any of the later work from Marillion, much to its advantage. Guitar instrumental albums can sometimes be tough to enjoy over repeated listens but Ghosts .. has bucket-loads of atmosphere and style that will continue to live on like the best of his Marillion work.
Alison Henderson: 8 out of 10 Eric Perry: 8 out of 10

Roger Ruskin Spear - Electric Shocks / Unusual
Roger Ruskin Spear - Electric Shocks
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC 2463
Year of Release: 2014/1972
Time: 48:47
Info: Esoteric Recordings
Track List:
All By Yourself In The Moonlight (5:25),I'm A Fly (2:55), Mattress Man (5:15), Blue Baboon (Or I Know A Rhino)(5:10), The Liberty Laughing Song(4:00), Doctor Rock (4:05), Patrick Moore (4:35),Make Yourself A Happiness Pie (3:25),Living Doll (2:10), Trouser Freak (2:52), Trouser Freak (3:02), Release Me (2:53), Drop Out (2:05)
Roger Ruskin Spear - Unusual
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC 2464
Year of Release: 2014/1973
Time: 34:24
Info: Esoteric Recordings
Track List:
Pinball Wizard (3:30), On Her Doorstep Last Night (2:19),Trouble With My Trousers (4:07), Shove-Off Shostakovich (2:48), I Love to Bumpity Bump (on a Bumpy Road With You) (2:37), When Yuba Plays the Rumba on a Tuba Down in Cuba (3:02), Frank the Ripper (2:49), Morecambe and Wise (3:28), Heartbreak Hotel (4:08), My Goodness (Or the Revolutionary New Concrete Mixer Show) (2:52), Unusual (2:44)
In the grand tradition of British eccentricity where 1960s radio show The Goons would talk of exploding puddings and Monty Python nailed a Norwegian Blue to its perch, there was The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a group of silly men writing playfully quaint songs about shirts and tents. When this lot originally disbanded in 1970, after making four albums, the personnel were still contracted to Liberty Records, so they all tried their hands at the solo market.

Roger Ruskin Spear was the multi-intrumentalist who provided mostly saxophone, but was also the gadget man who built onstage robots, played the "Leg Theremin" and added a pickup to a trouser press.

Whilst fellow ex-Bonzo member Vivian Stanshall secured his place in rock history by being the master of ceremonies at the end of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Neil Innes would eventually become a "Rutle", Roger would make two solo records. He'd convinced the label that he was worthy, by releasing an extended-play single called The Rebel Trouser EP .

These four tracks (which include a parody of Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me, is to found at the end of Electric Shocks, the first of these re-mastered CDs. A year later, second offerings were provided by Unusual, a totally apt title for its contents.

Players include Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, B.J Cole, the whole of The Flamin' Groovies on the slightly creepy Matress Man and ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks. On drums we have Melody Maker journalist Chris Welch, who not too far into the future would write a damning review of Jethro Tull's A Passion Play for being too odd... Ahem.

The music is a mixture of 1920s English tea dance jazz, evoking images of spats and slick-backed hair, with sound effect-strewn lampoons of vaudeville ditties (All by Yourself in the Moonlight and Make Yourself a Happiness Pie) and bonkers, psychedelic sax-heavy pop (Doctor Rock). The country-tinged I'm A Fly has jazz violin and a gazoo break, all driven by some nifty spoon playing.

Patrick Moore has a Joe Meek nod to Telstar and original album-ender is the most bizarre cover of Cliff Richard's Living Doll that you'll ever hear. The Mothers of Invention would have been fans.

Both CDs have been remastered to perfection by Ben Wiseman at Audio Archiving. There are a lot of multi track bird songs, racing cars, ships horns, sirens and "voices off" that must have been murder to mix on the original four-track recordings.

By Unusual, nothing much had changed in the style of "music". A kookie bass sax dominated version of The Who's Pinball Wizard, with wood block percussion and a tenor sax solo morphs perfectly into On Her Doorstep Last Night. With the noise of winnying horses and Wurzels-style west country lead vocals, it's the soundtrack to a lunatic asylum.

The presence of the Maggie Stredder Singers (a.k.a. The Ladybirds) gives this second CD a slicker production, especially on Trouble with my Trousers where they impersonate the Andrew's Sisters chorusing: "I want my trousers" which, of course, ends with a submarine sonar effect! After a pre-punk punk attitude on Shove-Off Shostakovich ,it's back for an afternoon cup of tea in the dancehall with the alliteration heavy I Love to Bumpity Bump (on a Bumpy Road With You) and When Yuba Plays the Rumba on a Tuba Down in Cuba both taken from the 1920s again.

Frank The Ripper is a three-minute radio comedy which even has a moogy type solo at the end. More madness ensues with Morecombe and Wise and the penultimate instrumental track My Goodness (Or the Revolutionary New Concrete Mixer Show). This not only sounds quite ahead of it's time, with Mr Spears' experimentation in the rhythm noises, but could be a lost Stackridge number. Before that, though, is a cover of Elvis's HeartBreak Hotel with A.L. Newman sharing the lyric with a newscaster (!). Finally, the animal section of the sound FX library gets a good seeing-to on closing track, Unusual.

The term "acquired taste" comes to mind here. If you liked the Bonzo doggies, you'll love these two curios of English whimsy. There is of course nothing prog rock or anything that can be given a sub-genre other than maybe could be filed under "buffoonery".

The nearest to these two CDs that I have come across lately is the reissue of Neil's Heavy Concept Album which I thought harked back to the halcyon days of the comedy records that used to grace the British pop charts such Benny Hill's Fastest Milkman, Bernard Cribbin's Right Said Fred and The Goodies' Funky Gibbon.

Whether I can recommend Roger Ruskin Spear on a progressive music website is debatable, but recommend it I do. Just the thought that someone who just doesn't "get" this humour and stares at the speakers in disbelief is something I'm not prepared to miss out on.

So, in conclusion and quoting from the sleeve notes to Trouser Press , this is "another chance to catch the contagious new dance craze that hasn't quite swept the country yet'. Quite.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Sea Vine - Sea Vine
Sea Vine - Sea Vine
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: Lynx Music
Catalogue #: LM85
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 29:56
Info: Sea Vine on Bandcamp
Samples: Sea Vine at Bandcamp
Track List:
Clouds (13:59), Circus (Or Kissing Through The Gasmasks) (5:29), Raindrop (3:16), Going Anywhere (3:27), Swiatlocienie (3:48)
Sea Vine is an art rock band from Poland founded in 2012. This is their debut album and is a first taster of what this band are all about. The main member of the band is Michal Cywinski who plays all the keyboards, along with most of the guitar and drums. His keyboards dominate this album, and are most certainly the main feature. There are also some female vocals throughout from Milena Szymanska. But, since these vocals are somewhat sparse, this almost feels like it could be a Cywinski solo album.

He clearly takes his influences from all the progressive rock greats like Tony Banks, Rick Wakeman and Rick Wright. The sound is very vintage with the use of a lot of sounds and effects from the 70s of prog. This makes for a very interesting nostalgic experience when listening to the album.

The album begins with an epic of sorts; the near 14-minute Clouds. The opening sounds very much like classic Pink Floyd of the Dark Side of the Moon era. It is all keyboard soundscapes and psychedelic moog, amongst the solid drumming. It is a promising start as the music continues to build in a satisfying way. The song continues in this same vein, with addition of some female vocals in the middle. There are some interesting sections and interesting playing of piano and keyboards.

This is perhaps the highlight of the album but I do feel that sometimes it can drag on a bit in sections where things are repeated and there isn't much in the way of variety. In spots, the piano playing can be a little sloppy. This track could have benefited from a little bit of polishing and maybe adding some variety or cutting out bits of the track. But, overall it is an interesting piece that shows promise for this band.

Circus (Or Kissing Through The Gasmasks) has a very electronica sound to it, with almost a bit of funkiness too. The second half is where I can hear the circus music influence, before a section kicks-in with female vocals that is more ethereal in quality.

Milena has a pleasant tone to her voice, but I do feel she has a tendency to sometimes sound a bit sharp and flat, as she struggles with certain sections. But, these are minor instances, and she usually sounds fine.

Raindrop is a very pretty solo piano piece played amongst the sound of rain. Going Anywhere shows a more jazz fusion influence with some great playing on fender rhodes. It is another pleasant instrumental, even if it does wander a bit.

the final track, Swiatoclenie, is an interesting note to end on, returning to the very Pink Floyd-influenced sound of the opening track. The last minute and a half is probably the most interesting as there is the inclusion of a guitar, which is very rare on this album. It adds a much needed element to the music and ends things on a light and fun note.

Sea Vine has created an album that gives some glimpses of what the band is capable of, but doesn't quite put it together in a satisfying way. There are definitely some rough edges around the music, and sections that could have used more polish. Cywinski is a great keyboard player with lots of interesting ideas, but I feel this album is a little immature at the moment, and that the band will improve greatly with age.

I love the Pink Floyd influence along with sections that have funk and jazz elements. There are clearly some flashes of brilliance, but the music tends to wander and repeat too much. There isn't enough variety of style and instrumentation for me. A promising start and hopefully the second album can build upon this foundation and really showcase what this band is capable of.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Soen - Tellurian
Soen - Tellurian
Country of Origin: Sweden/USA
Format: CD/2lp/download
Record Label: Spinefarm Records
Catalogue #: SPINE793329
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 52:49
Info: Soen
Track List:
Komenco (0:37), Tabula Rasa (5:24), Kuraman (5:25), The Words (6:18), Pluton (7:27), Koniskas (4:59), Ennui (5:21), Void 8:30), The Other's Fall (8:42)
Soen's sophomore album, Tellurian, is a big step ahead and sees the band progressing greatly. Where Cognitive was a firmly-woven tapestry of rhythmical deliciousness with great riffing, much in the vein of Tool, this new effort is more mature and more focused on song structures. It thus gives more room for its ingredients to shine.

These two albums remind me of different views of a child's room. Cognitive would be the room just after the kid left it. All the toys are lying around, but it's hard to reach any of them because you either have a hard time walking through all the mess, or you're afraid the mess will become bigger once you touch it.

Tellurian is the same room, but cleaned up, with everything in its place, ready to be picked up and enjoyed at ease.

This way, Tellurian celebrates the band's main aspects much better. The great metal riffing can break loose without caring for the rest, and one has a hard time not to bang one's head. Martin Lopez has his own parts to drum the hell out of the multiple maths of time, and the moody, melancholic parts open wide to bring in Joel Ekelöf's great melodies and harmonics to their full glory.

It would be a heavy understatement to call Tellurian 'an Opeth album without the growls'. However calling it an album in the vein of Tool does not do it justice either.

After the many complaints previously about the band being too much like Tool and Karnivool, it seems Lopez has decided to focus on dynamic song structures and in keeping the band's main influences separated. The outcome is a very dynamic album, with its songs being very dynamic too. Each song has its own range, from heavy to moody and they are greatly melting into one another.

The album opener is a short percussion piece, followed by Tabula Rasa, a song in the style of Tool. But then there are songs like Kuraman and Ennui that start with a heavy metal punch like Opeth, only to evolve into a rhythmic passage à la Karnivool. They then quieten for the vocal part, with clean guitars and lots of sonic space, to give Ekelöf's great, sorrowful and melancholic melodies all the glory they need. These parts remind me of Dead Soul Tribe, as it has so much of that band's beauty.

The Words has a latest-era Rush feel in one part and a quiet part, where Ekelöf sounds a lot like Adrian Belew and, supported by cello and mellotron, creates a sound reminiscent of King Crimson. In the great finale, The Other's Fall, Joakim Platbardzis delivers Opeth-like, death metal outbursts with riffs in the style of Leprous.

The main players in Soen are of course drums and vocals and so it happens that we have a progressive metal album in Tellurian, where the guitars are loud but play a minor role. Platbardzis is a great guitarist, but his part is more or less a supporting one, being the metal in the heavy parts and a guide in the background for the vocal layers in the sorrowful moments. He has not even one solo on the entire album.

Steve DiGiorgio has been replaced by unknown Stefan Stenberg on bass, which is a pity as we're missing the beauty of a fretless bass. Stenberg does a great job though. He has a lot of notes to contribute and he grooves really hard. His groove lines are often apart from the drums, which results in intricate, dual-groove moments, never heard before. That lifts the Lopez/Stenberg duo up quite some steps in the ranking of "rhythm sections".

Calling Martin Lopez "a part in a rhythm section" is of course something you can only say when talking about his interaction with his band mates. Lopez is one of the main guys in the band and it's obvious that he has set no limits to his playing anywhere on this album. He gives it his all. He punches the heavy parts like there's no tomorrow and runs through the groove segments as if the cops were after him. The way he cuts down time into little odd pieces and re-assembles it, is really dizzying and one wonders how he does that physically with only two arms and legs.

Lopez still finds enough spaces to drum masterly in the quieter parts, but keeps it sparse enough to leave some well-deserved space for Ekelöf's vocals. Ekelöf benefits vastly from the band holding back when it's his turn to sing. His often quiet, almost whispering vocal and his harmonic layers have very much the beauty of Devon Graves' work, but he exceeds brilliantly in harmonic theory. These parts are so beautiful and thrilling that even after a couple of listens, I shed a tear or two.

Tellurian is an incredible album, with a couple of dynamic songs. It has a great dynamic arc, where each song leads perfectly into the next. It offers a wonderful variety of styles, blended together seamlessly. All the bands and musicians I mentioned should be seen as a reference, needed to describe the music only. This album is unique from the first to the very last note. It should not be missing in any prog metal collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

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Published Sunday 7 December 2014

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