The Aristocrats - Culture Clash Live
CD: Sweaty Knockers (8:49), Ohhhh Noooo (7:44), Get it like That (9:44), Culture Clash (7:58), Gaping Head Wound (6:29), Louisville Stomp (5:20), Desert Tornado (5:42), Living the Dream (8:22)
DVD: Furtive Jack (10:09), Ohhhh Noooo (10:03), Louisville Stomp (8:06), Get it like That (14:04), Culture Clash (11:43), Blues Fuckers (17:16), Gaping Head Wound (8:53), Desert Tornado (7:28), Living the Dream (13:48) DVD Extra's: behind the scenes at Tokyo venue, drum solo, song demos from Culture Clash
DVD: Furtive Jack (10:09), Ohhhh Noooo (10:03), Louisville Stomp (8:06), Get it like That (14:04), Culture Clash (11:43), Blues Fuckers (17:16), Gaping Head Wound (8:53), Desert Tornado (7:28), Living the Dream (13:48) DVD Extra's: behind the scenes at Tokyo venue, drum solo, song demos from Culture Clash
For those of you who love the guitar stylings of the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani this will be seventh heaven for you, as Guthrie Govan can play all those scales and more. In fact he is a very articulate player who can use his dexterity, not only to dazzle, but also to evolve a piece with a subtle use of dynamics.
In addition, in Marco Minneman we have a versatile drummer whose styles incorporate elements of jazz and fusion, as well as heavy rock pyrotechnics. Again, bombast and overkill are employed sparingly but when they are deployed, the man is a powerhouse, laying down a groove, so tight that it's waterproof. Bass player Bryan Bellar is no slouch either, having to square-up to those two formidable talents. He is indeed a fluid and dexterous player, with techniques to die for.
But here is the rub: these three, despite being jaw-droppingly astoundingly-talented and good, make their class music for fun. They're not there with an attitude of "Look at me!" and it is this very aspect that makes this release so engrossingly appealing and worthy. Some severely complex, challenging stuff is being laid down here, live in various cities on the Culture Clash World Tour. Rather than take a standard show, they have taken pieces from different shows (due to technical reasons they didn't get a complete show down properly). So we have a myriad of venues, each for a different song.
In fact, on the CD version, five songs were recorded at different venues when compared to the DVD cut. That gives a different perspective on many of the songs played. The CD is a fascinating selection and very worthy in itself, but the real gem is the live DVD and the outtakes that make this set so fabulous. For starters they employed 20 cameras, including guitar and bass-mounted ones to capture the action. That makes for a compelling watch, as you get to see what each member is actually playing.
In addition there is a commentary track by Marco Minneman to the unreleased Car Salesman in Hell song, and demo versions of several songs from the Culture Clash album, plus a multi-cam drum solo from Tokyo and a live camera shot of how it was all filmed. Yet despite that entire technicality, it is the music that is the star here. This may be complex, challenging and fusion-rooted but it is very, very good! It has subtlety, bombast, intelligence and humour, woven together in such a manner that it is a joyous experience to hear these pieces.
I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow track account. Yet I would say everything here is excellent and worth hearing. This goes especially if you love instrumental jazz/rock fusion type stuff. If you are a musician, you can watch in awe at the ease with these guys operate in the live arena.
I recommend this highly. I find it's outstandingly good. In fact it is one that I will play to all and sundry, and say 'watch this bit here', 'this bit there' and so forth.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8.5 out of 10
Grand Tour - Heavy on the Beach
It's Come to This (4:59), The Grand Tour (part 1) (8:29), Time Runs Out (9:37), The Horn of Plenty (5:52), Little Boy and the Fat Man (7:46), On the Radio (11:31), Heavy on the Beach (11:18), The Grand Tour (part 2) (14:26)
Stanley Kramer's film On The Beach has been the seminal inspiration behind the sonorous music, with Joe Cairney's apposite and bleakly portent lyrics painting a vision of a nuclear apocalypse that threatens the very existence of mankind. Like the film's story, this album is about the ineluctable outcome, as radioactive fallout is carried by the winds to faraway places where people are filled with dread and sadness, but try to be stoic about their pending demise.
The name Grand Tour is taken from an American concept as to how bomber pilots might react to Russian nuclear strikes on the USA. It's a doomsday scenario that leads to global radiation poisoning, regardless of the destruction of life. As to the music, well the album certainly crackles and fizzes with some sublime musicianship. There is certainly no parsimony in the keyboard department, as Huw Montgomery dishes up some great sounds, from big cathedral organ crescendos in It's Come to This, beguiling melodic synth solos in The Grand Tour and Time Runs Out, and rhythmic stabs of organ in Little Boy and the Fat Man.
The album is also replete with soaring, spine-tingling guitar solos from the very talented Mark Spalding. From Floyd-ian moments in It's Come to This, to flamboyant virtuosity in The Grand Tour (parts 1 and 2), and onto some fine legato runs and catchy motifs in Little Boy and the Fat Man.
The mellifluous and lissom vocals of Joe Cairney throughout the album are delivered with such aplomb and youthfulness that you could be forgiven for thinking this was a voice of someone who is in his twenties, although occasionally you do get hints of Pendragon's Nick Barrett.
Last but not least, everyone is tied to the rhythmic beats by Grand Tour's Time Lord Bruce Levick, who ensures there are no rifts in the fabric of time. Purposeful, solid, responsive and sympathetic to the musical themes and odd time signatures, he delivers the necessary drum grooves that drive the music forward.
The stand-out track is the sizzling Little Boy and the Fat Man (references to the bombs that were dropped on Japan at the end of the second world war). The band's fine musicianship is firing on all cylinders here, from cracking keyboard sounds and solos, to pulsating, driving drums and bass, with superb supporting melodic and aggressive guitar solos. It's a track worth checking out.
One small criticism is that I think that the album misses a trick, given the weighty subject matter in the lyrics. At some point towards the end, the music could have been stripped back to, say a discordant piano and solo vocal to portray a sense of bleakness, isolation and hopelessness of the remaining survivor who waits to die. It seemed to me, that the music was almost triumphal towards the end of Heavy on the Beach (part 2) while the lyrics cry: "Now there's no one left alive, on the beach...". That didn't work for me.
At the point of writing this review it's only February 2015, but already we have a classic prog album for the year under our belts. A truly wonderful piece of music that many people will enjoy, time and again. Hope it's not too long before Hew follows this up with a second album.
Alan Weston: 8.5 out of 10
Andy Jackson - Signal To Noise
CD: The Boy In The Forest (7:09), One More Push (4:21), Invisible Colours (4:48), Spray Paint (3:32), Herman At The Fountain (9:54), It All Came Crashing Down (3:49), Brownian Motion (7:18)
DVD: Quad surround mix of album (lossless 96 KHz/24-bit)
DVD: Quad surround mix of album (lossless 96 KHz/24-bit)
Outside of the Floyd camp he has also engineered recordings by several other bands, most notably The Boomtown Rats, including their number one single I Don't Like Mondays and produced the proggy goth band The Fields of the Nephilim. It was this latter association which led to Jackson being asked to play guitar with The Eden House, the group formed by vocalist Tony Pettitt following the disbanding of the Nephilim. Signal to Noise is Jackson's fourth solo album, following On the Surface(2000), Obvious (2001) and Mythical Burrowing Animals, an album about which I have been able to find nothing.
There is no doubt that Signal to Noise does feature many sonic qualities that are associated with his long term paymasters, which is not to say that the album sounds anything like Pink Floyd, far from it. The overall ambience is far more contemporary, and clearly influenced by music from a whole host of other genres. The results are actually pretty unique. There are inflections that the listener may associate with something that Floyd or Gilmour would adopt in their recordings, but overall the compositions are far removed from these artists. Indeed, it would be fair to say that any Floydisms are limited to a certain amount of Syd Barrett influence, such as on Spray Paint, although again, this is just a very general impression.
As one would expect, the production and engineering are of the highest order. Sonically the album is quite flawless, an attribute that comes into its own on the quad-surround mix on the second disc. But, the million dollar question remains, is the album any good?
The answer is an absolute yes. As I mentioned, the overall style is quite unique and so makes any music comparisons very difficult. Most of the tracks are of a moderate tempo, which suits Jackson's voice which is less likely to stand up to delivering a fast-paced number. The tempo allows the development of a greater depth to the soundscapes created by the composer. Despite Jackson's main instrument being the guitar, he is no slouch on a range of other instruments, and he plays everything on the album himself. Solos are minimal but very tastefully done and they are intricately woven into the song structure. The best example is on album closer Brownian Motion, one of my favourites and one that has a certain early Cure-like quality.
The more one plays Signal To Noise, the more one discovers, which has the effect of continually drawing one back to listen to the album. The originality of the style also makes each listen a very fresh experience. There is no doubt that Jackson's associations with Pink Floyd will generate attention from the curious, and hopefully their curiosity will be well satisfied by what is on offer, even if it is a totally different style of music. Jackson may be a genius behind a sound deck but his abilities on generating the signals that feed into the deck are worthy of attention too.
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Kaipa - Sattyg
A Map of your Secret World (15:04), World of the Void (7:51), Screwed-Upness (13:09), Sattyg (3:15), A Sky Full of Painters (14:44), Unique when we Fall (5:18), Without Time – Beyond Time (9:49)
Kaipa is still a six-piece band with Hans Lundin on keyboards and vocals, long-time friend Per Nilsson on electric and acoustic guitars, Morgan Ågren on drums, Flower King Jonas Reingold on bass and Patrik Lundström and Aleena Gibson on vocals. This album features two special guests, Fredrik Lindqvist on recorders and whistles and Elin Rubinsztein on violin.
You know what to expect when a new Kaipa albums arrives. Yet I was again surprised by the beauty of Satygg. On first hearing I didn't expect at all that I would like it, for within 20 seconds you'll hear Aleena Gibson give a screaming, Indian-like, high pitched vocal line that made me think of some foul witch. It's original and creative but far from appetising.
That's soon forgotten when Per Nilsson picks up the main theme of the song on guitar after which this first epic meanders its way through a wide array of variations on that theme. After some three minutes the vocal lines start, very subtly changing the theme with every verse that is sung, interspersed with nice flute and spinet-like keys. On five minutes Aleena Gibson comes in to sing the chorus lines, after which the vocals float on a rich bed of guitar, flute and keys. The main theme regularly shines through, mainly played on guitar but in ever changing variations. The band relies on the strength and attractiveness of this recurring theme and rightly so.
World of the Void opens softly with keys but soon the full band comes in, after which Gibson displays her Tyler-like vocals. Again the vocals and the music take on a very attractive, recurring guitar-riff theme, around which the song is built up. The drum and bass playing is extremely good in this song, leading the way to the fast and the slow parts. Yet this song is slightly less recognisable because of a more complex structure and more variation in pace.
With Screwed-Upness (nice title) the pace is lowered again as the keyboards open the quiet intro, leading into ballad-like vocals by Lundström. Then Nilsson starts playing some awesome guitar solos, to be followed by a short, folksy flute section and then more awesome guitar soloing and riffing. The last section is a jazzy-sounding improvisation of the main theme, lead by Nilsson's guitar.
With so many things happening in the preceding songs, it was a wise choice to put the folky title track in the middle of this album. It is a medieval-sounding recorder, flute, violin and keyboard instrumental song with a beautiful melody. The end section is a dance part that is almost irresistible. It is a painting of feasting hobbits and elves, celebrating the definitive defeat of evil, and a welcome resting point in between the complex epics.
A sky full of Painters opens strongly with Lundström's vocals and sparse instrumentation with bass, drums, violin and few keys. At 1:30 the guitar comes in and the song is built up around, again, a very attractive main theme played by guitar and violin. Extended jazzy improvisations of the main theme played on guitar, and good harmony singing in the choruses, are the trademarks of this excellent song.
Unique when we fall opens with a romantic recorder introducing a fluid vocal line by Lundström and Gibson, but evolves into a rather heavy rock song with both singers delivering great harmony vocals.
The last epic Without Time – Beyond Time starts with Gibson and Lundström singing over a rather quiet keyboard line. Reingold's bass then introduces Agren's drums and some guitar parts but it is only after some three minutes that the song really takes off, with Gibson singing the first full verse backed by Lundin's keyboards. After another three minutes the song takes a different direction again. Therefore this epic is less fluid than the other three on this album, it is more a collection of scattered musical pieces than a coherent entity. Yet all these small pieces are nice in their own right.
With Satygg, Kaipa has again proven to be able to sustain their leading position in symphonic prog. The album is filled with complex songs, with easy to digest themes that you get to know and appreciate after just a couple of spins. To my ears Satygg is a more accessible album than its predecessors. Fans of Flower Kings, 'old' Genesis, IQ or Magenta can buy it without hesitation.
If there's a weak thing to be mentioned, then it's Aleena Gibson's vocals. She has a rather thin voice, with a limited reach and a sometimes rasping sound, reminding me (and others) of Bonnie Tyler. In her solo singing she tends to reach just too far in the higher regions, making her singing restrained and sounding more like yelling than singing. But surprisingly her harmony vocals with Patrik Lundström and Hans Ludin work extremely well. Their voices merge beautifully and add to a very pleasant vocal sound. Fortunately the harmony singing is dominant over their solo achievements on this album.
The art work also deserves to be mentioned. Kaipa has used the colour blue extensively on their last two albums and continues to do so on Satygg. Yet the image of flying goosanders and pelicans set against a beautiful valley is by far the most attractive. It's a very tasteful painting that does justice to the great music on this highly recommended album.
Theo Verstrael: 9 out of 10
Magic Bus - Transmission From Sogmore's Garden
Sunflower (3:52), Ballad Of Lord Sogmore (5:16), Cosmic Rays Of Dawn (3:49), Three Days (I Departure), Jupiter 3am (I) Round Table (II) Secret Ship (III) The Rings Of Tananda, (IV) New World (8:37), Seven Wonders (I) White Lane Mountain Pass (5:34), Morning Mantra (6:58), Earthpod (4:46)
DJ: "Joe I understand that you are a fanatical admirer of Steve Wilson, but you must answer all questions correctly for the prize. Your questions start now. Question1: Which UK band successfully covered Deep Purple's Hush?"
Joe: "Porcupine Tree"
DJ: "Question 2: Which of the following artists appeared on BBC 1's The Voice during January 2015? Bob Dylan, Billy Bottle, Ian Anderson or Santiago Kodela"
Joe: "I don't know, but Steven Wilson probably produced it."
DJ: "Question 3: From which county in the UK do Magic Bus and Billy Bottle and The Multiple come?"
Joe: "England, the same county as Steven Wilson."
DJ: "Question 4: Which musician played on each of the following albums? Peasants Pigs and Astronauts by Kuala Shaker; Heathen Chemistry by Oasis; Magic Bus by Magic Bus, and Unrecorded Beam by Billy Bottle and the Multiple?"
Joe: "I don't know, but was his first name Steven?"
DJ: "Question 5: Which Oasis keyboard player was nicknamed the Shroud?"
Joe: "The one with the beard and long hair."
DJ: "Question 6: Explain why the latest release by Magic Bus is highly recommended?"
Joe: "Because Steven Wilson is going to remix it in 20 years from now."
DJ: "Sorry Joe, you have scored zero. Unfortunately, you have not won today's prize. Here are the correct answers in reverse order. First up, the answer to question 6."
In their sophomore release that is intriguingly entitled Transmission From Sogmore's Garden, Magic Bus has delivered a sunlit album with a delicately persuasive pull. The bountiful melodies that emanate from this idyllic garden have the panache to radiantly dance in daytime dreams. They also have the resonance to infiltrate night-time thoughts. Sunflower-stained and beautifully cultivated, the music wears a smile that never lowers its gaze or hangs its head. Time spent listening to this herbaceous gem passes very quickly.
Sogmore's Garden has an enviable capacity to gently scent the listener with its verdant and often inspired Canterbury-influenced fronds. The album is thoroughly satisfying and should appeal to those who enjoy bands such as early Soft Machine, Caravan, Schnauser and Hatfield and the North. At its closing, the good-natured aroma of the music lingers on, beckoning the listener to experience it all over again.
Three of the album's eight tracks were composed by vocalist and guitarist Paul Evans. The remaining tracks were co-written by Evans and keyboard player Jay Darlington. The responsibility of arranging the music is credited to all band members. In this respect, the lush instrumentation and instrumental sections amply showcases the combined talents.
This is an album that does not take itself too seriously. It is bright, spacious and cheerful. Most importantly, it offers a near perfect combination of whimsical song-writing, jazz-stained arrangements, earthy and organic vocal stylings, fuzzed Hammond organ, and more than a hint of psychedelia. Often the music is skilfully embellished by the excellent work of flautist Viv Goodwin–Darke. This gives much of what is on offer a very distinctive feel, within what is at times, a reassuringly familiar and highly satisfying Canterbury-tinged soundscape.
The opening track, Sunflower, has an immediately engaging vibe. It is an uplifting and quirky tune incorporating elements associated with the hook-laden, yet quintessential Canterbury essence of The Land of Grey and Pink-era Caravan, and the cleverly arranged prog-pop sensibilities of Schnauser. This tune thrives and fully delivers when the first of many great Hammond solos on this album emerges at just under the three minute mark.
In the Ballad of Lord Sogmore, a strident instrumental passage of immeasurable quality begins proceedings. Evans delivers a soft-edged vocal, that is reminiscent of both Steve Hillage and Richard Sinclair. This ensures that an authentic vocal delivery, often associated with this type of music, is produced. The strength of this illusion, and the musical spell woven, is powerful. If the listener closes their eyes, it might even be possible to take in the pungent aroma of Kentish hops growing happily in Lord Sogmore's south-facing Devon garden.
A multi-cultural musical amalgam successfully develops the piece further. Sitar effects ripple and lurk in the background. This compliments the haunting, pastoral tones of Darke's flute. Majestic keyboards follow, and the piece climaxes in a flurry of guitar and flute.
Cosmic Rays of Dawn has an understated elegance. The glorious flute parts are a highlight. These slowly and melodically twirl, then radiate with increasing vitality as the piece concludes.
The positive attributes and qualities that are on offer in this album are openly displayed in Three Days. The first part of the composition is song-based and is reminiscent of Caravan at their most accessible. Juxtaposed within a seemingly conventional song structure, are eccentric and unpredictable vocal detours. The instrumental passage that develops at the half way stage of this piece is sublime, and has all of the ingredients that might be considered to be the hallmarks of quality progressive music. Complex shifts of tempo, amble, jog and sprint. The guitar is triumphantly unsheathed, and the result is a solo that jostles with the organ and the flute to justifiably win (by a photo finish) a gold medal for the most exciting solo contained within the piece.
In the longest composition, Jupiter 3am, the band achieves even greater heights. This piece is divided into four seamlessly-linked parts and none of them disappoint. Taken as a whole, the piece contains succulent servings of exciting flute prog rock. Tull-like flute moments detonate explosively. Flute and organ rhythms, conjuring images of Focus, dance freely, whilst symphonic moments subtly reminiscent of Camel bubble-up to the fore. It is a compositional tour-de-force that utilises a variety of styles, and pays no heed to falsely-imposed genre boundaries. Within the unlimited boundaries of Sogmore's Garden, it works superbly well.
Seven Wonders impresses in all respects and contains yet another gold medal moment. In this piece, keyboard player Jay Darlington is awarded that accolade for his tantalising solo, which brings the composition to a close.
Morning Mantra is lyrically twee, but this only adds to its psychedelic and charming mystique. It begins surreally, before its happy tune takes a firm hold. It is bursting with positive energy. Morning Mantra's whimsical nature and cheerful disposition is guaranteed to raise a smile on the daily commute. Constructed in the green fields of Devon, this is a tongue in cheek, thoughtful reflection on life.
Earthpod completes the album in a suitably relaxed and languid manner. It is the perfect closure of a very impressive album.
There are other facets though, that also make Magic Bus' latest offering a highly recommended release.
The packaging is excellent. The CD is housed in a robust cardboard gatefold sleeve. Included amongst the thanks and acknowledgements are such illustrious players as Dave Stewart, Mick Ratledge and Alan Gowan. That alone, for some people, might make this release worthy of some detailed attention. The production and sound of the CD is crisp and clear. The full dynamic range of the music in Sogmore's Garden has been captured perfectly. It quietly buds and readily bursts into life, to blossom in a wide variety of listening environments.
A truly magical charabanc ride through Sogmore's Garden awaits you. With just a modicum of husbandry, you are likely to experience how this horticultural delight can flourish and engulf the senses, to become an indispensable part of your musical landscape.
DJ: "And here are the remaining answers: Question 5 - Jay Darlington; Question 4 - Jay Darlington; Question 3 – Devon; Question 2 - Billy Bottle; Question 1- Kuala Shaker."
Connection lost. Silence.
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10
Pallas - Wearewhoweare - Duo Review
Shadow Of The Sun (7:39), New Life (4:51), Harvest Moon (7:19), And I Wonder Why (7:04), Dominion (9:09), Wake Up Call (6:33), In Cold Blood (3:52), Winter Is Coming (7:59)
Peter Swanson's ReviewPallas has been one of my favourite prog bands for many years. Although I lost some interest in the band after the departure of singer Alan Reed, they were never far out of sight. I did buy XXV, their first album with new vocalist Paul Mackie and it was a great sounding album with lots of dynamics in the typical, bombastic, orchestral Pallas-style. Getting used to the voice of Mackie was my biggest challenge. The music on that album was brilliant at times and after listening, I also accepted the vocals of Mackie. In my opinion Alan Reed still is the better vocalist, but the vocals of Mackie adapted well to the new, more powerful, agressive music of Pallas.
On their new studio album Wearewhoweare released at the end of the year 2014, he seems to be completely at ease with the music, being in charge of the vocal department for some years now. Again you can hear the band has paid a lot of attention to producing a great sounding product.
The opening track Shadow Of The Sun has the Pallas signature written all over it. Pumping bass, nice keyboard sounds and a very catchy tune. A certain favourite when performed live on stage. The two shortest songs can be considered as ballads and it's here that Mackie proves to be the perfect singer for these Scottish proggers. The second of the short songs, In Cold Blood has Ronnie Brown in a leading role, playing the Rhodes piano.
Dominion is the longest track of the album and spoils us with some excellent layers of keyboard sounds by Brown, and Niall Mathewson playing some awesome riffs. Again it is very bombastic and orchestral, so typical of Pallas.
Harvest Moon is another track where Brown excels, again producing some brilliant keyboard sounds. He really has become one of the better keyboard players in the genre, and a vital link for producing the typical Pallas sound.
In Wake Up Call it's time for Graeme Murray to be at the centre of attention, dominating this track with his pumping bass, whilst the song also has a nice sing-along chorus.
With Colin Fraser in charge of the drum kit, we are assured of a solid rhythm section. So the conclusion is, that this is another great album by the leading Scottish prog band. Together with the beautiful artwork by Russian artist Anton Semenov, this is an album that a lot of prog lovers will surely enjoy.
The album sounds very refreshing, like they have made a new start. After all these years they are saying: "Pallas isn't dead, but very much alive!"
Alison Henderson's ReviewAfter the release of the stunning XXV in 2011, Scottish band Pallas have given themselves something of a hard act to follow. That highly charged and dramatic concept disc introduced new singer Paul Mackie to the fold. Nearly four years down the road, there's a new fire in the band's belly and the only concept for wearewhoweare is the band declaring, in no uncertain terms, that they will not conform, or be cowed into doing anything which is not to their liking.
wearewhoweare has been made possible through crowd-funding and Pallas acknowledge their benefactors by publishing both their names and photographs in the album's booklet, interspersed with Anton Semenov's slightly unnerving artwork, featuring strange creatures such as a nightmare clown and a cloaked alien figure.
As well as being something of a mission statement for the band, wearewhoweare draws on their characteristic light and shade dynamics and hallmark instrumentation, in the form of Graeme Murray's volcanic bass, Niall Mathewson's spine-tingling guitar breaks, Ronnie Brown's ethereal keyboards and Colin Fraser's thunderous drums.
Their brand of prog has a real muscular feel to it, and this sees the dark and brooding Pallas back on the top of their game, with Mackie helping to open up a whole world of new possibilities, especially in the way the full-on lyrics are expressed and interpreted.
Opener Shadow Of The Sun is a roistering curtain-raiser, full of power and attack which hits all the right (sun)spots, with Mackie's voice soaring loud and proud over the chorus line.
An overarching air of loneliness and despondency colours New Life which is further heightened by a penetrating guitar solo by Mathewson, which seems to channel both David Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix through its emotional intensity.
An all-pervading shadow of darkness stalks Harvest Moon, a particularly creepy song whose lyrics read like a last will and testament, before succumbing to the Grim Reaper. Mackie's vocals are low-key but have a real biting edge to them, especially a semi-spoken section with sirens going off in the background, set over a spooky wash of sound.
Mathewson's beautiful, piercing guitar starts And I Wonder Why, a cleverly constructed song with a solid beat, over which Mackie delivers a vibrant, soaring vocal that makes the most of a strong and strident melody line. There's an awful lot happening on this track, but somehow they make it sound relatively understated and laid-back.
The longest track Dominion follows, and it is an interesting beastie because there is a huge Muse vibe about it. Mackie channels Matt Bellamy's somewhat strangulated delivery against a background of controlled bombast. It's an utterly compelling song which plays to all their strengths. Brown's spectral keyboards and Mathewson's guitar flurries come to the fore, with a few hints of Hendrix in there once again.
Wake Up Call is the band at its most visceral and hard-hitting, focusing on the inequalities of life. The lyrics run along the lines of: "We're all in this together or that's how their story goes: Now shut your face and crawl back in your hole."
Again, it's the blackness of the musical canvas on which they paint, which is most striking here.
In Cold Blood is more of a ballad, slower and starker, with Mackie's voice and Brown's piano leading over a sweep of symphonica. It's cold and once again, rather creepy. Pallas get their groove again for Winter Is Coming, a big powerful rocker of a song, conveying once again a bleakness across the sonic landscape, and its instrumental break giving each band member a chance to shine.
XXV was something of a watershed for Pallas, but wearewhoweare reveals a band in bullish mood, not pulling any punches nor afraid to say what they feel.
As befits a band from Aberdeen, the 'Granite City', wearewhoweare is tough, uncompromising and gritty with only a few unexpected chinks of light in the darkness. But let those songs sink their hooks into you and after a few plays, resistance really is futile.
Quantum Jump - Quantum Jump
Captain Boogaloo (4:20), Over Rio (4:25), The Lone Ranger (2:56), No American Starship (Looking For The Next World) (4:55), Alta Loma Road (4:46), Cocabana Havana (5:10), Constant Forest (2:19), Something At The Bottom Of The Sea: 1. Stepping Stones 2. The Roving Finger 3. Stepping Rocks 4. Part IV (8:10) *Bonus Tracks* Drift (3:10), Captain Boogaloo (remix) (4:18), The Lone Ranger (remix) (3:19), Over Rio (remix) (4:21), No American Starship (Looking For The Next World) (remix) (5:51)
The erstwhile leader was vocalist and keyboard player Rupert Hine who, following a couple of solo albums on Deep Purple's Purple vanity label, was making a name for himself as an up and coming producer. Joined by drummer Trevor Morais, ex Caravan bassist John G Perry, and the extraordinarily gifted guitarist Mark Warner, they set about producing an album of egalitarian scope, based on improvisational jams and improvisational lyrics (courtesy of David Maclver). The results were quirky and amusing but all underpinned by some quite fluid and high quality performances, particularly by the aforementioned Warner (who apparently could flawlessly reproduce all of John McLauglin's parts on the Mahavishnu Orchestra albums, a task that most guitarists would never even attempt).
The band are most widely known for said The Lone Ranger single which climbed its way into the top 30 in 1976, before being banned by Auntie Beeb for its homosexual and drug overtones. It fared somewhat better, when a remixed version was issued in 1979 reaching number 5, when it was championed by DJ Kenny Everett, who used the memorable but unrepeatable introduction as a running gag on his TV show. The introduction, rather than being the much-assumed random gibberish, is actually the longest place name in the world, belonging to a small settlement on St John's Island off New Zealand. For the curious amongst you, or those who want to sing along with the YouTube clip, it is 'Taumata-whaka-tangi-hanga-kuayuwo, tamate-aturi-pukaku-piki-maunga, horonuku-pokaiawhen-uaka-tana-tahu, mataku-atanganu-akawa-miki-tora'.
Anyway, both this track and the similarly-jokey opening number Captain Boogaloo have a certain Godley & Creme air, with humorous lyrics, quirky rhythms and harmony vocals, and are natural extensions to the type of hits that 10cc became famous for.
Elsewhere things get a bit funky on Over Rio, and they take on the search for extra-terrestrials on No American Starship, with its startling guitar runs and a solo that has become something of a guitar player cult favourite. We dip into sentimentality on Alta Loma Road, probably the least idiosyncratic track on the album, there is the very jolly and enjoyable Cocabana Havana, the brief Camel-esque instrumental Constant Forest, and the jazz-prog four-part Something At The Bottom Of The Sea. On the latter, all four musicians put in some great performances, sounding at times like a cross between Hatfield And The North and Gong.
As normal with Esoteric releases, there are a host of bonus tracks. We've three 1979 remixes of tracks from the album, including the reconstructed hit single version of The Lone Ranger and the frantic rhythms of b-side track Drift, a jam which originally must have gone on for a lot longer. The remixes have imposed quite a different character to the songs, with the solo on No American Starship given a greater prominence.
There is a certain amount of Englishness to the album that may not translate well outside of the UK, plus the style of music, does set it firmly within the 70s era. To that extent, this album will be somewhat of an acquired taste and will probably not be appreciated or understood by a lot of prog fans. However, the quality of the playing marks out the album as something special of the type. Warner is an exceptional guitarist, whose stock should be increased by the reissue of this and its follow-up album Barracuda.
Mark Hughes: 6.5 out of 10
Syncromind Project - Second
Strong Principle (7:36), Somebody's Hero (8:21), Time Counselor (7:38), Mata Hari (6:43), Clarke's Laws (7:31), Under Water (6:45), On A Giant's Shoulder (10:01), Journey (7:11)
Syncromind Project produces instrumental, guitar-led prog-rock, that has a lot of prog-metal influences in its wall-of-sound production. The songs are full of energy and have some heft to them, although at times the dominance of the guitar can be relentless.
The more interesting tracks are those that allow more light and shade into them and show a touch more invention in their arrangements. Thus, Somebody's Hero, and the last three tracks, Under Water, On A Giant's Shoulder and Journey have a more multi-faceted approach to them. Here, the keyboards play more than a supporting role. There is a mixture of fusion-influenced bass lines and jazzy keyboards, which produces darker, more subtle colours. A better use of dynamics also adds interest. The music has more space and it breathes better for me.
The heavier, more prog-metal character of the other songs, such as Strong Principle and Clarke's Laws, show the influence of John Petrucci and his side project Liquid Tension Experiment, but these are of less interest to me. I admire the playing and the melodies, but I find it difficult to love the overall effect.
Therefore, for me this is a half-successful set of instrumental prog-rock and metal workouts. In order for a wholly instrumental album to work, as far as I'm concerned, each piece needs to be differentiated in some way. Only four of the eight tracks do this, as the others sound a little monolithic. However it is a good, melodic collection of music nonetheless and probably better for those who like a more prog-metal approach.
This album is available for free download from the band's website.
Martin Burns: 5.5 out of 10