Argos - A Seasonal Affair
Vanishing (3:39), Divergence (4:04), Silent Corner (6:32), Silver and Gold (4:26), Lifeboats (6:02), Not in this Picture (12:33), A Seasonal Affair (4:18), Forbidden City (5:21), Stormland (6:21)
The opening of Vanishing reminded me of a David Bowie song that I can't quite think of. It has an awkward, haunting melody and includes some lovely solo guitar work. Silent Corner has an eerie opening flute sound, and when the vocals enter I'm reminded of Anekdoten but without the edgy guitars and Mellotron. This track also includes some nice soprano sax.
Silver and Gold has a Talking Heads vibe with it's infectious, funky guitar rhythm work. Once again there's a David Bowie feel about the lyrical delivery and it is a song that grows on you and possibly a stand-out track. Lifeboats has that Peter Hammill eccentricity about it and includes a synth solo that might be performed by The Tangent's Andy Tillison, who actually guests on this album.
The album includes the multi-part twelve-and-a-half minute song Not in This Picture which is the closest Argos get to being a symphonic prog band. I am definitely reminded here of Camel, Genesis, The Tangent and the Canterbury feel of Caravan. It is thre most complex and longest track on the album and includes some great keyboard work (I guess Andy Tillison features here). It is my favourite track on the album.
A Seasonal Affair opens and closes with simple, sombre piano and flute work before the rest of the band enters. We have another awkward sort of melodic vocal line that works within the context of the song. This track contains some pleasant and clever keyboard and guitar work that doesn't quite get the blood racing.
Forbidden City has a jazz-fusion quality to it, probably due to the style and funky sound of the electric piano and synths used within this instrumental song. We have some great drumming, bass and flute work that reinforces the jazz-tinged feel that makes this an excellent track. My second favourite on the album.
The last track, Stormland, is a slow, haunting song that has a very unearthly feel to it, that includes probably the best guitar solo supported by a Mellotron accompaniment. The short opening guitar work is the closest this album comes to sounding like Dave Gilmour.
Alan Weston: 7.5 out of 10
Bleeding - Behind Transparent Walls
Behind Transparent Walls (4:48), Fading World (4:26), Humanoluminiscene (5:45), Symbol Of the Sun (6:08), Madness (5:27), Inifinite Jest (4:58), Solitude Pt. 1 (2:50) Solitude Pt. 2 (10:02)
So this band could be seen as a new star in Germany's prog metal heaven. The album is stunningly good and, instrumental-wise, it won't let you get away from it once you started listening.
But many will have a problem with he vocals. It appears to me that Graf has no technique, other than being as loud as possible. His vocal range is quite limited and, in the way he is trying to be so loud, fails a couple of times to hit the proper frequency, or to hold it over the longer notes. Where the instrumentation continually spans good arcs over heavy and sinister moods, the vocals always sit atop of that, not being a part of it and thus are often distracting.
It is to hope that Graf does what he does best as a keyboardist in the future and hands over the job as a vocalist to someone who's better educated in it. Then the band will surely be celebrated as the next big thing in Germany's prog metal scene.
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10
Mabel Greer's Toyshop - New Way of Life
Electric Funeral (6:46), Get Yourself Together (4:26), New Way Of Life (4:28), Beyond and Before (6:18), Sweetness (4:14), Images of You and Me (4:48), My Only Light (3:18), King and Country (3:18), Oceans (7:07), Singing to Your Heart (4:20), Jeanetta (4:33)
Though he played no part in the creation of Mabel Greer's Toyshop's New Way Of Life, Squire's hand-picked successor in Yes, Billy Sherwood, provides the bass guitar and keyboards on it.
The album also raises the question of who can claim credit for the founding of the band which went on to become Yes. Here, Clive Bayley stakes his claim, having started Mabel Greer's Toyshop in 1966, and for having later recruited Squire, Jon Anderson and Peter Banks into its ranks.
The last appearance by MGT was in May 1968, with the line-up being original members Bayley and Robert Hagger, together with Squire, Anderson and Banks.
This album came about when Bayley and Hagger reunited in France in July 2013 after a gap of 45 years, and for the sheer hell of it decided to go back into the studio to see how Mabel was sounding after such a long hiatus. All the songs being played purely from memory. Sherwood, along with Yes's original keyboard player Tony Kaye, plus bass player Hugo Barré were also invited to contribute to New Way Of Life.
Comprising six songs, dating from the 1967-68 era (including two from the first Yes album), and five brand new ones, there is certainly plenty of variety in the musical goods now available in the updated Toyshop. Influences of the band are drawn from a wide cultural canvas including Claude Debussy, Marc Bolan, Pink Floyd and Alice In Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll.
Opener Electric Funeral, written by Bayley and Squire, is by far the strongest and most appealing track, with many familiar musical motifs interwoven, including some deliciously familiar guitar riffs, a rumbling bass and some splendid harmonising and scat singing passages. Oh, if only this could have been rolled out another 10 times. Get Yourself Together, which Bayley also co-wrote with Squire, is a nice enough song, while another co-production, Beyond And Before, which appeared on the first Yes album, really crackles into life after a mystic Eastern intro through Banks' chunky organ and a solid steady rhythm.
Without detracting for the time and effort that Bayley and Hagger have put into reviving some fascinating source material, what it lacks is another distinct texture such as the ethereal beauty of Anderson's voice. Bayley makes a real effort of tackling Sweetness from Yes's first album but his deeper, more masculine voice does detract from the naivety of the original recording. The instrumental Oceans, which Bayley co-wrote with Barré and Hagger, is a bit of a sprawling maelstrom that features occasional vocal interludes and intermittent guitar riffs. The sounds of the ocean morph into Singing To Your Heart, which has one of those chorus lines which starts to grate after a few, or in this case, many listens.
It's the final track Jeanetta which redeems the album, its riff being an early work-out of the Squire classic The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) on Fragile.
New Way Of Life is one of those albums which I have tried so hard to love because of the Squire provenance. But the fact remains that the new songs lack the lustre and appeal of the older, more familiar songs, and in the end what we have is a shop full of curiosities rather than delights.
Alison Henderson: 6.5 out of 10
Merry Go Round - Merry Go Round
Dora's Dreams (5:17), After (6:02), Autumn Days (4:20), Poison Ivy (4:14), Free Ride (4:19), Changeling (5:36), To Die Of Fear (5:02), Indian Rope Man (3:23), In Search Of Lost Time (4:42), Mesmerized Worlds (5:40), Friday The 13th (9:13)
The band describe itself as a psychedelic progressive rock band with wild rhythm and blues touches. The prominent elements of their music are the vintage keyboards (Moog, Mellotron and Hammond organ) played by Michele Profeti, and the battle between the two guitarists Sandro Vitolo and Renzo Belli.
It's an album that will certainly please 70s hard rock fans and lovers of vintage keyboard sounds. Names of bands that spring to mind are Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. Vocalist Vivaldi at times sounds like a female version of Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and also has been described as the Janis Joplin of prog. Due to the dominance of heavy guitars and keyboards, a wall of sound is created, and though I like the vintage sounds, almost one hour of this music is too much for me. More variety in volume probably would have made the music more appreciable. This band really rocks but I don't think it will appeal to all proggers. However if you like the hard rock of the 70s and mentioned bands it's worth taking some time to listen to this effort. If the band would have released this album 40-45 years ago, I expect this album would be high up in the album charts but I still think there will be enough nostalgic music lovers that will enjoy this.
Peter Swanson: 6.5 out of 10
Thieves' Kitchen - The Clockwork Universe
Library Song (6:48), Railway Time (7:39), Astrolabe (3:18), Prodigy (9:07), The Scientist's Wife (19:59), Orrery (4:42)
In today's overcrowded prog scene, Thieves' Kitchen are one of a kind. While they may be easily tagged as 'retro', with their often long compositions, 'brainy' subject matter, intricate arrangements and liberal use of iconic prog instruments such as the organ and the mellotron, they have also managed to achieve a very individual sound, unlike many modern bands who seem to make a point of immediately reminding the listener of some other act. The jazzy inflections that underlie Johan Brand and Paul Mallyon's angular, Crimsonesque rhythm patterns suggest the Canterbury sound on more than one occasion, and tantalising hints of dissonance flash through the music's pervasive sense of melody.
Due to the involvement of two current members of Änglagård, as well as a past one (keyboardist Thomas Johnson), it would be all too easy to label Thieves' Kitchen as a British version of the Swedish outfit. However, Änglagård's austere, almost gothic strain of Scandinavian gloom is softened by a vein of gentle, nostalgic melancholia that devotees of English folk will not fail to recognise. Indeed, Amy Darby's exquisitely melodic, yet never mawkish voice brings to mind the great folk-rock singers of the '70s, such as Jacqui McShee, Maddy Prior and Sandy Denny, as well as Joni Mitchell - a major inspiration for both her and guitarist Phil Mercy.
Though The Clockwork Universe is not exactly a concept album, its six songs are connected by a subtle fil rouge - human experience reflected through the theme of science and learning. What sets it apart from its predecessor is its structure, revolving around an almost 20-minute centrepiece - "The Scientist's Wife" - and the presence of two shorter instrumental pieces (whose titles reference ancient measuring instruments used by astronomers). The four songs with vocals contrast Darby's emotional yet discreet narration with instrumental textures that blend complexity and effortless fluidity. In opener "Library Song", Mercy's expressive guitar provides a foil for Darby's wistful vocals, while the jazzy, slightly asymmetrical rhythms are strongly redolent of Canterbury.
The catchier (albeit deceptively so) Railway Time is underpinned by organ and electric piano, and surges in pace offset by quieter moments, while the almost plaintive vocals mourn the passing of an era, disrupted by progress and technology. The delicate, lullaby-like piano interlude of Astrolabe introduces the album's second-longest song, Prodigy, a more energetic offering that showcases Brand's growling bass, while flute and Mellotron complement Darby's often impassioned delivery.
The Scientist's Wife should be held as an example of how to write an epic-length number that does not outstay its welcome. Mostly instrumental, the song lets the music - as much as Darby's poignant vocal performance - convey the tale of a woman neglected by her husband for the sake of scientific research, through exhilarating instrumental passages and subdued moments full of dignified sadness. The elegiac ending of gently chiming guitar, mournful flute and Mellotron washes leads directly to Orrery, the album's closing track and second instrumental - an exquisite piece with an almost classical flavour, with the music surging like a wave in a burst of emotion before subsiding again at the very end.
One of those rare albums that have the potential to appeal to both the retro-minded and the forward-thinking factions of the current prog scenes, The Clockwork Universe is a slice of intelligent, finely-crafted progressive rock that eschews any pretentiousness in favour of a tight musical texture and poignant, yet never overly sentimental, vocals. Though maybe not as immediate in its impact as One for Sorrow, One for Joy, its charms will unfold with each successive listen. A welcome comeback for one of the few outfits whose music truly feels timeless.
Raffaella Berry: 8.5 out of 10
Vly - I/[Time]
Circles (6:11), Time (6:40), Time Elapsed (1:02), Headache (4:19), Out of the Maze (5:13), Hypnotic (6:04), Time Remembered (1:54), Silver Beaches (5:53), Message In Water (5:55), Dark Days (5:55), Perfect Place (8:38), Time Forgotten (2:48)
While the overall sound easily resonates as progressive, there are many rock genres represented. At times you can draw similarities ranging from The Moody Blues classic 70s-flavoured 'prog light' to modern melting-pot bands like Riverside, and everything inbetween. There's also a 90s college radio rock influence that had me thinking back to bands like The Afghan Whigs (Gentlemen), music that is clever and thoughtful without a hint of pretension. Adding to the alternative rock undercurrent are the very capable, raspy vocals reminiscent of Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum). They're far from derivative, it's just hard to pin any label on them as they're constantly varying styles.
Opener Circles is a brooding Masters of Reality stoner rock ballad (in particular reminiscent of 100 Years (Of Tears on the Wind)) punctuated by somewhat sludgier moments. The accomplished minimalist lead guitar, moody synths/piano, and vocal harmonies work well. It's a good example of the hodgepodge manner in which various musical pieces fit to form the complete picture, as this will be a template from which most of the other songs will be cut.
Vly are not hard rockers. Most of the songs have a degree of melancholy to them. Musically they rarely get anywhere near the energetic spectrum and, as such, I found myself daydreaming from time to time. Usually I got snapped out of it by one of the standout tracks like Time, Out of the Maze, and Perfect Place. These songs share a few qualities between them, like dramatic tempo/energy changes between sections and/or standout performances. Perfect Place, in particular, features some tasty organ blended with modern synth patches, solid lead guitar, and a great chorus. Out of the Maze is the closest they get to 'hard' on the album. It's dark and executed flawlessly, with some great tom filled drumming, before kicking into another strong and catchy chorus. The shorter instrumental pieces fit musically, but I fail to see how they contribute to any overall theme.
If you're looking for reflective music with a palatable, inoffensive message and generally safe performances, then a band like Vly is exactly what you seek. The moments where they shine it's blinding, but with the remaining intensity more like the moon than the sun it does take some attention to detail to appreciate the entire picture. They get a strong endorsement review based on the overall strength of the material and the three standout tracks, which by themselves would justify buying the album. There's free streaming on their bandcamp page and a high-res download option.
Kevin Heckeler: 8.5 out of 10