Built for the Future - Chasing Light
Arrive (6:01), Radiowave (4:47), Lightchaser (4:55), Speed of the Climb (5:39), Build for the Future (4:53), Burning Daylight (3:07), Walls (4:46), Running Man (7:02), The Siren Will (5:13), Staring at the Sun (6:27), Samsara (5:55), The Great Escape (12:38)
Though at times it is apparent that this is not the work of a full band, Farrell does an excellent job of hiding that fact. A significantly talented musician, there seems to be no discrepancy between his ability to play the drums, bass and keyboards. Musically, this is quite the showcase for him and he certainly proves to be up to the challenge. That is no slight on Everett, as his vocals are the glue here. When a band is touting the influences noted above, the vocals need to measure up, and thankfully Everett's do.
Though the 80s era of prog alienates some fans, I have never been one of them. The meshing of classic prog with a more accessible sound and structure can be very appealing. Built for the Future utilises that template and does so quite well. The catchy choruses are here and the duo often packs a lot of progressive punch into four to seven minutes.
For good measure, the album closer, The Great Escape is a twelve-minute epic that justifies its length appropriately. Though Farrell and Everett aren't necessarily turning over many new stones on Chasing Light, it doesn't deflect from the listener's enjoyment. The album displays a reflection of the past, that is sentimental and still sounds mostly fresh. Overall, this is a really fun listen from beginning to end.
There are definite highlight tracks, such as the album opener, the well-titled, Arrive, the Yes influenced Running Man, the majestic and fun Samsara, and the previously mentioned, The Great Escape.
After knowing each other for many years, Farrell and Everett only recently began making music together. This album is indeed a good start. The band's name speaks to forging forward, and that is exciting. As the duo finds a larger audience, it would be great to see their own distinct musical voices become a bit more pronounced. Chasing Light is an entertaining and respectful nod to the past, but it seems that there is enough talent here to make a bit more of their own musical statement moving forward. All things considered though, this release stands as an impressive debut for this new progressive rock duo.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Happy55 - A Magic Word
Kotofey (6:51), En Garde! (5:00), Sharp to the Left (8:03), Loads of Children (5:58), Eight (7:33), Whatever Happened? (6:51), Generous Fernando (8:47), A Magical Word (6:06)
Drummer Aleksandr Bitutskikh claims an unconventional musical tutelage. Having no formal training, he was instead tutored by a now dead alcoholic who swapped drum lessons for bottles of vodka! Aleksandr's musical partner and co-founder is Iaroslav Borisovhas, a pianist who took a more traditional route, partaking of piano lessons since the tender age of seven. These two are now joined in an expanded line-up that includes subtle electronics, double bass, and a clarinet.
Without a PR sheet or any info to go on other than the short biography on the Russian music website Far From Moscow (see Info link) I have found it rather difficult to get a handle on this album. Such is the shortage of information that I cannot even ascertain whether the album is called A Magical Word (Soundcloud) or A Magic Word (Bandcamp)!
This is not "prog" in the traditional sense, or even "rock", but instead is coming from a place where jazz and chamber music meet, all executed energetically. The only comparison I can summon with any confidence, and this is more in spirit than musically, is to British jazz-punkers The Bad Plus. The tune Generous Fernando stands out as being the most "rock"-oriented, with a driving bass line providing the backbone for the piano and clarinet embellishments that serve to make this the most notable track on the record. The concluding title track keeps up the more rock direction, and makes for an enjoyable end to the album.
Probably outside the remit of the vast majority of you out there in readerland, A Magic Word, while not being as deliberately provocative as some avant garde music can be, is nonetheless only for those of you who like to dip their toes into unknown waters.
Roger Trenwith: 6 out of 10
Renaud Louis-Servais Group - Epic Circus
Carry'n (6:50), Freedom (6:06), Zaku Patatu (6:21), Long Breath (5:48), Epic Circus (6:32), Techno City (6:20), When You've Got Nothing (3:59), All Minor Blues (4:50), The Beauty of Life (4:25)
The music is of uniformly high quality. This is not surprising, given the quality and experience of the musicians. Throughout, the playing, while falling unequivocally into the jazz-fusion genre, is inventive. Louis-Servais' guitar influences appear to be Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Allan Holdsworth. Accordingly, fireworks and flash abound. But they are not for show; rather the playing is goal-oriented and faithful to the boundaries of the compositions.
Overall, the production quality is adequate but not exceptional. The strength is that the guitar is clear and appropriately high in the mix. On the downside, the drums can sound wooden.
All of the songs, which are entirely instrumental (although a vocoder is used on Zaku Patatu), are worthy listens. The title track, Epic Circus, is on the heavy side but is fairly emblematic of the musical style here, with the players full-on from the outset, and the piece advancing forcefully with solos frequently traded. The keyboards on this tune, including the use of classic 1970s sounds, are stellar.
Holdsworth himself would appreciate the fast-paced note-bending on When You've Got Nothing, perhaps the most striking and catchy of the songs. On Techno City, the playing is particularly tight and frenzied, but the edgy, somewhat repetitive rhythm distracts, and thus detracts. The odd-man out is The Beauty of Life, a solo acoustic-guitar piece that is more classical than jazz. But it nevertheless fits as a gentle, calming farewell to a high-energy CD that is likely to call-back fusion fans for another round.
Joel Atlas: 7.5 out of 10
Marquette - Human Reparation
Mystery Train (4:56), Awaken in a New World (5:15), Adam und Eva (3:02), The Mirror (9:27), Syncope of Obscure Nature (4:03), Mass Hysteria (6:05), Cancer (8:21), My Green Garden (4:06), The Last Kiss (7:11), La Grande Vallée (3:41), Lost at Sea (18:04), Grandma's Musicbox (4:27)
Marquette is the moniker of the German musician Markus Roth. Though he has already passed his 50th birthday, this is his first album. All tracks are written, produced and mainly played by Markus, but it is not a pure solo work. He joined forces with guitarist Achim Wierschem (aka Mindmovie), with whom he had already worked on the recent release Der gefallene Stern by German art rock legend Flaming Bess. There are also some guest musicians who contribute vocals or piano.
A plus of the album is its variety. There are "proggy" instrumental tracks (Mystery Train, The Mirror, Cancer), soft piano or symphonic pieces (Adam und Eva, La Grande Vallée), electronic soundscapes (Syncope Of Obscure Nature), rocking (Mass Hysteria) and smooth vocal-based songs (My Green Garden, The Last Kiss, Grandma's Musicbox). We also have the obligatory long-song, Lost at Sea. Thus the style of Marquette is quite difficult to compare. To some extent Unitopia, Moongarden or Shamall might give some hints. There's also a slight 70s Krautrock vibe in the music.
In the booklet Markus says his music may not be perfect, but with that statement he is underselling himself. Considering that he did almost everything alone, there are not many flaws. The production is very good for a self-released album. The drums seem to be programmed, but in a very natural way and in some passages you might not even realise it.
The biggest downside for me are the vocal parts, which often sound either strained or boring. Sometimes I'm reminded of Roger Waters, but this is far from his ability of expression. Especially the long track Lost At Sea suffers from the weak vocals, while some of the instrumental sections are great. The best of the three featured singers is Karsten Frohn in The Last Kiss, a bluesy Pink Floyd-style ballad in 6/8 meter.
Human Reparation is a fine and versatile melodic prog album, but the mediocre vocals and the only half-convincing long track holds me back from a higher rating. When the music focusses on the instrumental side, which luckily is nearly half of the show, the album is quite strong. I'd like to encourage everyone to check out the video of the opening track to get an impression of this.
Robert Zimmer: 6.5 out of 10
Mats/Morgan - Schack Tati
Rubber Sky (2:58), Walk Here (3:16), The Swedes (3:29), Mr. Piccand (6:18), Rappel (2:13), Dracul of Nancy (2:39), Tati Bake (3:41), DJ Fetisov (5:22), Vinyls & Pusherman (2:38), The Curse of Knowledge (2:20), Russian Tourists Not in Line (2:59), Schack Tati (3:45)
The album starts off with Rubber Sky and Walk Here. Rubber Sky is a short piece with some great piano and Mellotron work from Mats Oberg, played over a droning guitar riff. About halfway through the song, Morgan Agren's son, Alvin, makes an appearance on vocals. I was a little thrown by this at first, because his voice wouldn't be out of place on a children's television show. Walk Here follows along in the same direction. What I like about it, is that there is again a simple guitar riff, but with a lot of melodies and interesting rhythmical phrases built around it.
Next is where things take a turn for the more experimental. If I could sum it up concisely, it reminds me of music from older 8-bit Nintendo games, but played by extremely talented musicians. The Swedes is the only track on the remainder of the album that has vocals. Morgan Agren runs his voice through a processor and it really reminds me of something you would hear on an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Musically, the track is complex, but the vocals ruin it for me.
Mr. Piccand is a slower piece written by Mats Oberg. It's very dreamy and orchestral, but has a few occasional darker moments for contrast. This one took a few listens to really sink in and there is more going on than a first listen would suggest.
When you get used to the rhythmic and harmonic onslaught, there is a lot of inspired and interesting ideas on display here. This just requires a great deal of work by the listener to decipher. Of particular note is Rappel, which has a great keyboard solo, and Tati Bake.
I can say without hesitation that this is not an album for everyone. You'll notice in my review that there is a distinct lack of references to, with the exception of Frank Zappa, other bands and artists. I really don't think I have heard much else like this before. If you like your fusion on the extremely experimental side (with occasional screams and weird vocals thrown in) then you may enjoy this. Otherwise, there are safer alternatives.
Chris Jackson: 6.5 out of 10
Orion - La Face Visible
La Face Visible (9:34), Quelque Part en 1989 (6:39), La Dernière Danse in Berlin (3:37), De l'autre Côté du Rideau de Rer (5:15), Puis un Jour on m'a Dit (6:57), Resistance, Nous Sommes Charlie (3:57), Stele Blanche (3:28), Le Singe de la Vie (5:12)
The band compares itself to French bands Mona Lisa and Atoll, as well as to better-known proggers Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Yes, and Gentle Giant. As a die-hard lover of symphonic prog, I certainly had my interest piqued. In the end however, the references to these prog giants are faint at best. Orion does plays progressive music that evokes 1970s prog (shades of Camel can be heard), but the music lacks the grandiosity, edge or intricate songwriting that makes the classics of that era so special.
Nevertheless, this is credible, engaging music. Vintage sounds abound, and the playing is consistently strong. The tunes can be bombastic or mellow, quick-paced or ballad-like, and sonic variety abounds.
Some individual tunes stand out. The successful title track, La Face Visible well-displays the hybrid of progressive styles that is to come. The crunchy and appealing jazz-rock guitar licks on Puis un Jour on m'a Dit really shine, even though the vocals and disappointing fade-out drag down the tune. Likewise, the guitar leads that close out Le Singe de la Vie leave a great last impression. The heady, old-style keyboards (evoking Caravan) and brief guitar solo on De l'autre Côté du Rideau de Rer are also memorable.
On the downside, Quelque part en 1989 and Stele Blanche are too uneventful and mellow to hold one's interest tightly.
La Face Visible is surely a pleasant listen, even though bands have travelled similar roads before with greater exuberance. Peaks and valleys are few here, so for fans of instrumental progressive rock, it's a nice CD to play straight through to sustain a mood or atmosphere.
Joel Atlas: 6.5 out of 10
Sintonia Distorta - Frammenti d'Incanto
Anthemyiees (9:04), Il Cantastorie (5:34), Menta e Fragole (5.22), Il Suono dei False Dei (6:07), Il Canto della Fenice (8:07), No Need a Show (6:11), Pioggia di Vetra (6:58), I Ponti di Budapest (6:25), Clochard (5:45), I Vento dei Pensieri (8:20)
The line-up on this album consists of Simone Pesatori (vocals), Simone Prestini (electric and acoustic guitars – although the band does not rely on the latter to a very large extent), Giampiero Manenti (keyboards, backing vocals), Fabio Tavazzi (bass), and Matteo Sabbioni (drums – having been replaced by Luca Nava in the meantime).
The band's website, which understandably, but unfortunately for me is only in Italian, contains lots of information, including preferred artists and songs of each of the band's members. Influencing bands mentioned include Iron Maiden, Metallica, Deep Purple, Rush, Journey. I would add some others such as Uriah Heep, Europe and Zucchero, indicating that Sintonia Distorta can be pigeon-holed amongst the melodic hard rock genre with prog leanings.
The album opens with waves and seagulls and a female voice humming a little tune which is taken over by synthesiser and Mellotron before punchy, hard rock guitars kick in. It is a nice opening for a melodic hard prog track, and of an album of accessible music.
Overall, the song structures are not overly complex and there is a good balance between guitar and keyboards. Whilst the former provides the hard rock elements, the latter accounts for the prog aspects of Sintonia Distorta's sound. I especially liked the frequent use of organ.
Most of the songs are on the harder edge, with only a couple which come close to ballads: Menta e Fragole and I Ponti di Budapest. Both show very strong melodies, the chorus of the former having true earworm character, and a broader spectrum of Simone Pesatori's voice – sometimes aggressive, sometimes mellow. If only he was that varied in all the other songs.
That leads me to a bit of a downer concerning this album. Whilst the music is melodic, catchy and well-produced, slight feelings of monotony creep in upon repetitive listening, a sort of acoustic déjà-vu. Rhythmically, the guitar riffing is quite uniform, with all the songs in four-four-time, and the sequence of chords showing similarities across the various songs. I also believe that there is more potential in Simone Pesatori's singing than is displayed on this album. Don't get me wrong, the musicianship is flawless, but I would appreciate a bit more of variety concerning the song structures and the melodies, even more so as this album has over 68 minutes of running time. The exceptions are the two ballads mentioned above. I also enjoyed the catchy and slightly more prog metal-like Pioggia di Vetro. Played and heard live, their music probably would be somewhat more appealing to me.
Sintonia Distorta have released a solid album of melodic hard rock with some prog elements. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that and it shows that not every band hailing from Italy is in the typical symphonic Rock Progressivo Italiano and PFM and Banco vein. I hope that their album-releasing frequency will be accelerated a bit and I look forward to checking out what a successor album will sound like.
Thomas Otten: 6.5 out of 10
Subsignal - The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime
The Calm (1:39), Tempest (6:57), A Time out of Joint (6:37), And the Rain Will Wash It All Away (7:25), Ashes of Summer (6:18), A Myth Written on Water (5:01), Everything Is Lost (8:36), The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime (23:19) (Part I: Maelstrom (5:04), Part II: The Path (7:08), Part III: In This Blinding Light (5:03), Part IV: A Canopy of Stars (6:04)); Special Edition bonus track: Swansong (2:19)
More of that later. First a few provisos.
I have been a big fan for everything that singer Arno Menses and guitarist Markus Steffen have done since the I first laid ears on their then new partnership with Sieges Even and the album, The Art of Navigating by the Stars - a genuine classic of the genre. The final Sieges Even album, Paramount, and the pair's first three releases under the Subsignal banner, all get regular rotation Chez Read. The two times I have seen them play live, have been equally impressive.
Across these discs Menses has firmly established himself as one of the leading prog front men of this generation, whilst Steffen seems to be able to dip into a limitless pot of inventive riffs and gorgeous solos. My expectation for this, the fourth Subsignal album was high - maybe too high.
Studio reports showed that the band had been somewhere for sometime preparing this album in some detail. Sadly that attention to detail has not filtered through to the media promotion for this release. All I have on which to base this review is a low quality (192kbps) mp3 file. Please judge my observations on that basis. However I have burnt a CD and given numerous spins on my full system, and I don't think a better file would make a big enough difference to over come the issues I have.
I also have no lyric sheet, no artwork (apart from the cover image), the background information is in German only and no credits, so I can not shed any light on those (important) aspects. There is a bonus track available with some editions, but I can not tell you whether it is worth the extra effort to get it, as it is not included in the file I received. A piss poor way to promote a new album.
So onto the music. This is by far the heaviest of the Subsignal albums. There is an almost down-tuned tone and thrash crunch to the guitar in most songs - it even appears in the balladic A Myth Written on Water. The overall thrust of the music is still a very accessible, melodic-focused style of progressive rock, with a strong mid-period Yes influence, especially in the vocal harmonies and pacing of the 11 tracks.
And within the hour-or-so of listening, there is much to appreciate. The jazzy progression to the second half of A Time out of Joint works a treat and the hook to this song is truly memorable. The problem is that the good aspects never last the entirety of a track, and as a whole are significantly outweighed by the minus points.
The polyphonic compositional style of Subsignal is to put the guitar and rhythm department together, often in counterpoint to the rhythm and melody of the vocals. The lead guitars and keys/piano add splashes of colour, (extended soling is rare), whilst frequent calmer passages bring moments of calm transition. Until now that has brought a thing of beauty, as all the conflict was in balance. Opposites attract.
That is still the compositional style here, but the pieces do not always fit together. And where they could fit, with the use of heavier, deeper guitar, a lot of bass drum, and a very low bass, and all of this to the fore of the mix, the vocal lines are strangled. When all this is going at a full pace, the songs end up dazed and confused. At times, such as at the end of Ashes of Summer, it is as if the band is playing two different songs.
There are frequent piano sections, but the keyboards which brought so much warmth to the previous albums seems to have been largely abandoned on this disc. The vocal harmonies are impressive but the trick is heavily over-played. Almost every chorus and bridge features heavily multi-layered harmonies, often echoing each other - so you get overdone harmonies twice! As I said, Arno Menses is one of the leading progressive singers of this generation. When you strip away everything and just let Arno sing, as on In This Blinding Light, it is great music. So why do you have to constantly drown the subtleties of his performance with the Backing Choir of Angels?
For most of this album I find the drumming either massively over-played or cumbersome. There is such a thing as subtlety. For example on Everything Is Lost we have heavy kick drumming, more suited to a death metal band. The fierce barrage of drums towards the end of the song could be comic, if it wasn't so disappointing.
I had to remove the headphones at an early stage, as the deep, deep bass and drums on the opening two tracks were making by ears bleed. I don't think I've ever heard such a prominent, deep bass on an album before. That alone kills this as a pleasurable listen for me.
After the long-song perfection that was The Art of Navigating ..., the news that the new album would feature a 23-minute opus in the shape of the four-part title track had also raised my expectations. In reality it is a shadow of what went before. Rather like this album in miniature, it does have some wonderful moments but they are ruined by a lack of natural development of the song as a whole. It is a collection of ideas rather than a coherent piece, while some bits are just weird. The spoken-word part around the four-minute mark of Maelstrom is painfully out of place and incomprehensible. It's as if the microphone was left on in the studio by mistake, and no one noticed.
So yes, this is an album unlikely to be returning to my play list.
Existing fans of the band will undoubtedly give Beacons ... a go anyway. Those who may have found Subsignal too lightweight before, may find my minuses are positives. However those yet to discover the band should start with any of the previous five albums that bare the Menses:Steffen name, and leave this one at the bottom of the pile.
Andy Read: 5.5 out of 10
Tohpati - Tribal Dance
Rahwana (7:47), Spirit of Java (5:21), Tribal Dance (7:00), Red Mask (5:12), Savana (1:56), Run (4:26), Supernatural (6:41), Midnight Rain (4:29)
The style of the music is along the same lines as Tribal Tech, reminding me in many ways of their early 1990's output, not only in terms of the playing and composition, but the ethnic influence as well.
Rahwana opens with a clip of what sounds like a chant, but quickly goes into the main part of the song. It has a very syncopated and atonal feel to it, especially in the middle section. One thing worth pointing out now, is that a lot of the songs seem to open with what I assume are sound bites of traditional Indonesian songs and dances (hence the title of the album). I don't think it really adds anything to the music itself. It would have been more interesting if he had incorporated this into an actual song structure itself.
Spirit of Java starts slow and dreamy before settling on a tempo similar to the previous track. There's definitely some Allan Holdsworth influence here. The next two tracks Tribal Dance and Red Mask follow along the same lines. This is one issue I have with the album. While most of the songs have some unique and interesting parts, I have trouble differentiating between them. Not that this is a big deal, but it does make it difficult to digest the whole album in one sitting.
There are two slower tracks. The first is Savana, a short chordal piece that acts as a transition into Run. Midnight Rain is a down-tempo guitar solo that makes me think of some of the work Steve Lukather has done on Derek Sherinian's solo albums.
Overall, I think this album will definitely appeal to anyone who likes fast-paced, guitar-driven fusion. Anyone that is not already a fan probably won't find anything new, but if you're tired of waiting around for new Tribal Tech and Uncle Moe's Space Ranch albums to come out, this may scratch your itch.
Chris Jackson: 7 out of 10
Unified Past - Shifting the Equilibrium
Erasure Principle (7:52), Smile (In the Face of Adversity) (9:23), Etched in Stone (11:06), Peace Remains in This World (7:45), Deviation from a Theme (Of Harmonic Origin) (8:18), Today Is the Day (11:51)
Erasure Principle is as solid an opener as I've heard all year, with razor-sharp musicianship and soaring vocals that instantly bring-to-mind the slick-prog-meets-AOR sound favoured by Yes and Starcastle (amongst others).
Previous album reviews have not been in favour of the band's vocals but few can fault Naro's poised performance here, which slots comfortably between the higher register of Geddy Lee and Dennis DeYoung, and the more neutral timbre of Billy Sherwood and Trevor Rabin.
Although continuing in a similar vein, Smile (In the Face of Adversity), with its driving riffs and shredding guitar breaks, brings Rush to the table. Speelman also throws in the occasional noodly synth solo for good measure.
The lengthy Etched in Stone offers more tonal variety, including acoustic guitar and symphonic keys, with a vaguely Middle Eastern theme around the midway point. Naro sounds curiously like Freddie Mercury (or could it be Patrik Lundström?) at times, before concluding with a choral hook that's as catchy as they come.
Peace Remains in This World belies its title with a bold, punchy sound where Speelman's impressive exchanges of stop–start guitar and keys are matched by a powerhouse performance from the bass and drums partnership of Mickelson and Tassone.
In terms of showy, ridiculously-fast playing, the lively instrumental Deviation from a Theme attempts to outperform everything that's gone before and pretty much succeeds in bringing Dream Theater at their bombastic-best to mind.
The concluding Today Is the Day features sophisticated, multi-part harmonies reminiscent of the excellent Moon Safari, all supporting a memorable choral hook which rounds-off the album on a note of unrestrained, Yes-style optimism.
I have to confess this is not the kind of music I'm inclined to listen to that much these days but Unified Past does it with such style that it is hard not to like this disc. True, with each song averaging just under 10 minutes, a little trimming in places would have not gone amiss but that's a minor criticism, particularly as the song-writing and musicianship is of such a high standard, and it is all complemented by Ed Unitsky's striking artwork. If you like your prog loud and proud, with a definite American twist, then this is for you.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10