La Suspension Ethéréenne (10:34), Pas A Pas (6:42), Induction Magnétique (9:08), La Danse Du Pantin (7:43), Escamotage (12:17), Judith Coupeuse de Tête (9:08)
Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to witness National Health on stage as a support band to UK. I was already a huge fan of their brand of Canterbury prog, and watching their live interpretation of many of the tunes from Of Queues and Cures was truly compelling. To my amazement, I experienced a similar feeling of excitement and bewitchment when listening to the 2015 debut album of French duo Alco Frisbass.
Alco Frisbass is made up of Fabrice Chfab Chouette, who provides keys, guitars, voice, percussions and whistles, and Patrick Paskinel Dufour on Fender Rhodes, keys and drum programming. The album also features three notable guests. Archimede De Martin provides impressive violin parts in La Suspension Ethéréenne, Pas A Pas and Escamotage. White Willow and Opium Cartel guitarist Jacob Holm Lupo contributes to La Suspension Ethéréenne and Judith Coupeuse de Tête, on which track Minimum Vital's Thierry Payssan also provides Sigma solos and Mellotron.
This is an album that is littered with stylistic references to bands such as Hatfield and The North, Gilgamesh, and Seven-era Soft Machine. Many of the musical nuances that made the music of these bands so beguiling and rewarding, are contained in this album's rich compositions. At times, Alco Frisbass is simply stunning. It should appeal to those who have any affinity with Canterbury-styled bands. This is not a mere imitation of bands such as National Health, but is uniquely creative, fresh and intensely rewarding in its own right.
The album contains six wonderfully complex tunes. These are full of surprises as the band intricately weaves an appealing soundscape across a full dynamic range, amid shifting tempos and impressive musicianship. Keyboards feature heavily throughout, and many of the pieces are highly melodic, containing symphonic, as well as jazz intonations.
The topography of the music has many diamond-encrusted peaks. These sparkle intensely with opulent splendour. The duo manages to not only convey their undoubted technical expertise but also able to display an emotional feel for their craft. The emotion which lies at the heart of this release is invigorating. The passion demonstrated, makes it easier for the listener to appreciate the virtuosity of the duo, as each musical summit is negotiated and successfully achieved.
In contrast, the album is also scattered with shaded valleys where spacious and gracious interludes abound, as the pace slackens and the intensity wanes. Splendidly reflective, languid moments are a feature of the band's compositions.
This is fully illustrated in the appealing opening track La Suspension Ethéréenne. Strewn throughout this track are energised rhythmic parts of varying complexity. These are thrillingly embellished by some fine violin and synth solos. Animated episodes of frantic playing, harmoniously contrast with the quieter passages. The reflective segments drip with creativity, and are satisfyingly saturated with beauty and elegance.
Pas A Pas introduces itself with a warm, clasping handshake of synthesisers. Their enticing grip reaches out to the listener and invites them to stay. The comforting warmth of the introduction reminded me of Alan Gowen's work with Gilgamesh. A pulsating bass line takes over, as the piece briefly gathers momentum before settling into a contemplative mode. The violin part in Pas A Pas is plaintive, understated, and wistfully adds to the overall ethereal atmosphere of the track. This is probably the least predictable of all the pieces on the album and is a composition that I like, but have yet to fully appreciate, or come to terms with.
Induction Magnetique is much more accessible. The mood lightens and the tempo increases as the piece breezes into life. It is an excellent track which mines the rich seams once explored by National Health. The insistent melody is elaborated by some magnificent keyboard work. It also features wordless vocal accompaniments, similar in some respect to Richard Sinclair's work in Alan Gowen's Black Hat, from National Health's sometimes overlooked DS Al Coda album. The inclusion of the voice as an instrument in Induction Magnetique gives the piece an additional and welcome expressive dimension.
La Danse Du Pantin is also impressive. The samba-based rhythm which dominates much of its seven-and-a-half minutes is supported by a quaking groove. The expertly applied bottom-end energises the whole piece to great effect. I watched in fascination as my brimming coffee pulsated to the tremors created, to enact its own puppet dance of the imagination. La Danse Du Pantin also firmly captures the essence of National Health but also, has some occasional references in style to the much underrated Soft Machine Seven album.
The longest track of the album Escamotage is also the album's highlight. In this track the excellence hinted at in the previous two tracks comes to fruition in a masterclass of progressive instrumental music. Discordant violins scream and soar; guitars wail and howl; pulsing bass notes vibrate and drive. These outstanding contributions expertly embellish the piece's ear-friendly and hugely accessible recurring motif. I loved the distant sounding trumpet effect which momentarily slowed the piece down. Equally enjoyable was the unexpected whistling and accordion accompaniment that emerged at around the eight-minute mark. This created a haunting atmosphere to elegantly accompany the piece, as it bubbled towards its conclusion and reprise of the main theme.
All of the pieces of Alco Frisbass have numerous hidden qualities that unexpectedly reveal themselves fully over time. My colourful excitement on experiencing Alco Frisbass for the first time has faded to grey, but the overall excellence of the album continues to provide many hours of listening pleasure. I am confident that readers who enjoy progressive music will find much to appreciate in this release.
Tidal Wave (1:41), Redemption (8:40), Back To Nature (6:34), Flying High (8:31), Circle Of Dead Eyes (8:10), Touching The Earth (4:15), Release From Duality (11:27), Undertow (1:52), Far From Here (9:50), Spring Disease (8:17)
Spain isn't a country particularly well-known for producing interesting prog rock. So it's nice to hear that there are some bands trying to let us know that they can make such music. At this moment the female fronted Harvest is probably the prog band that most of us will know. A few months ago I had the pleasure to review Albatros and that wasn't too bad as well! So there is hope for prog in Spain. Eric Baule is a new band from Barcelona (just like Harvest) and they consist of four musicians. The band name is derived from founder member Eric Baulenas (guitars, vocals) and the other musicians are: Eric Rovira (drums, backing vocals), Isam Alegre (keyboards, backing vocals) and Dani Soto (bass).
The band name might suggest that it's all about Baulenas but that's not the case because the other musicians also have a large contribution in the music on this album. Drummer Rovira is responsible for the recording and producing of this album and the keyboards are playing an important role on every track. The band performed onstage with Harvest in their home city quite recently, and I must admit this band contains some talented musicians.
The music on Revelation Adrift varies from neo prog to prog metal but always sounds very melodic. The first tracks on the album reminded me of Dutch proggers Knight Area and I also can hear a bit of Jadis. You can hear some great riffs and soloing on guitar, and nice keyboards. On the instrumental track Flying High the tempo changes to prog metal. So the inevitable comparison with Dream Theater is there.
On the track Release From Duality neo prog and prog metal are combined together to make this one of the better tracks of this album, with some excellent guitar work by Baulenas. My personal favourite song is the final track, Spring Disease, which has a nice build-up and ensures the listener ends this album with a good feeling.
This is a fine album made by musicians who really know how to play their instruments with passion. I wouldn't be distracted too much by the Spanish accent of the singer, because the music makes up for that more than enough. Maybe almost 70 minutes is just a bit too long, but ending with such a great closing track makes you forget that easily.
The Knowledge of Being (4:23), Ribbon Tied Swing (4:07), When the Flood Begins (3:24), Romper Stomper (1:45), Stroking Leather (4:00), Release My Body (4:40), Madame De Salm (3:59), Orange Blossom City Girl (3:45), Melvin's Cooler-coup (6:25), A Quarter Dozen in Ounces (4:23), New York Foxy (4:48), Anthem of Glory (4:43)
Madeleine Effect is the second studio album from German band Cryptex. Though they are often labeled as prog and have a sound rooted in the 70s, I am not sure I would categorize them as a prog band in the classic sense of the word. Sure, they are quirky and somewhat adventurous, but their sound is occasionally more similar to bands like Queen or Sweet. On the other hand, they do at times remind me of fellow prog rockers, A.C.T. Both bands have a similar lyrical style and wit. There are conceptual lyrics around memory that run throughout the album, and their sound is far from conventional.
In addition to the 70s rock influence, there are touches of everything from folk to ragtime added to the mix. It all results in an eclectic and enjoyable listening experience. Regardless of how they are categorised, Cryptex is a talented and fun band.
The 12 tracks on the album flow by quite efficiently, with only a single song breaking the six-minute mark. That said, the band fits a lot of diversity into a three to four minute song. Though they steer away from anything excessively flashy instrumentally, the musical performances on the album are all strong. There is a definite focus on keeping the songs tight and they avoid long solos of any kind. Many of the choruses are memorable and the vocals are especially impressive.
Along with keyboards, bass and a number of other instruments, Simon Moskon handles the lead vocals, and his charismatic style helps to give Cryptex its edge and distinction. His band mates are Marc Andrejkovits and André Jean Henri Mertens on lead, rhythm and bass guitars, as well as Simon Schröder on drums and percussion. Great work is done by all, and as a testament to their talents, it takes several listens to truly recognise the complexity of their performances.
The strength of Moskon's vocals is noticeable right from the start, with The Knowledge of Being opening up the album in grand fashion. The song excels with its excellent harmony vocals and an orchestral anthem-like chorus. The previously mentioned Sweet comparisons are especially evident on Ribbon Tied Swing, a good old fashioned rocker.
When The Flood Begins slows things down, with its beautiful piano-led melody that builds to a strong, chanting chorus. It is one of the most compelling songs on the album.
Interestingly, there is a cinematic style to many of the tracks as they twist and turn in a dramatic movie score fashion. Each song tells a story and the mood of each is creatively set by the diverse and creative instrumentation. Other highlights include the excellent Release My Body, the exuberant Madame De Salm and the longest and most adventurous track, Melvins Coolercoup. The album closes with the very unique and entertaining, Anthem of Glory. With its mix of anthem rock and gospel choir, I can't say that I have previously heard any song quite like it.
Cryptex is a tough band to place in any specific category, which is admirable and may in itself make them a prog band. It hardly matters, as ultimately this is one of the best rock records that I have heard in quite some time. The album is respectful of some of the great rock bands of the past, but it stands as a notable work very much on its own.
This is the first that I have heard of Cryptex and I love these kinds of discoveries. I am excited to spread the word of this band to people who are not yet aware of them. Dramatic, diverse, yet entertainingly accessible, Madeleine Effect is a great rock album and a definitive statement by a band deserving of notice.
Stolen Wings (9:18), Metamorph (5:06), Seeker's Prayer (9:35), The Last Orbit (5:51), Dead Reckoning (5:21), Daylight (Silent Key) (8:30)
Whilst checking out the various infomation related to Exovex there's a big fuss with whom he has collaborated to make this debut album Radio Silence. In truth though, it appears that "man of the match" (to quote soccer parlance) is multi-instrumentalist Dale Simmons and three top class drummers and some guy who used to be in Japan.
Richard Barbieri is credited with keyboards on Stolen Wings and Gavin Harrison on final track daylight (silent key). Of course, they both have a Porcupine Tree connection, which is probably where this album sort of fits in musically. It's also interesting to note how various "levels" of instrumentation can also determine a genre, and if the subtle blend of the keyboards were higher in the mix, then this could almost be what Pink Floyd did next, albeit with a better singer. The lead guitar playing is very Gilmouresq and is a joy to behold.
A sort of concept based on the life of a reclusive Frenchman, Sibond Alleman, who lived in a chateau in the 14th century, the various tracks tell the tale of his isolation and how that detachment affects modern man.
There are six tracks of radio friendly rock, well produced, and with fine playing from Mr Simmons and his guests. Keith Carlock's drums certainly add a jazzier swing to the first two tacks especially on Metamorph, which is a terrifically powerful slice of rock cake, with the lead being supplemented by a generous topping of power chords.
The next three numbers have Josh Freeze drumming on them who plays with Devo (amoungst others), and now a slightly looser mic'd kit further enhances the Floydness. With it's atmospheric and acoustic guitar opening, Seekers Prayer is a stand out song. Having said that the strong vocal and heavier guitar almost imbue it with a touch of Foo Fighters plus I also love that strummed acoustic that Peter Townsend uses to such good effect.
Being (I now realise) a little obsessed with the drumming on a record - for there really is so much tosh out there - Dead Reckoning's drums could have been by Steve Gadd, very good indeed, but being let loose in a rock band with Dale Simmons' muscular singing raising the bench mark yet again.
Afore mentioned Daylight_ has Gavin Harrison playing more restrained than usual, with that extended guitar solo towards the end wrestling with some mid paced metal before final invitee, Nicole Neely, multitracks the violin family to bring a string quartet conclusion to a literal radio silence.
I don't know whether I'd call this prog rock, the musicianship is certainly from that camp, but the overall feel is of a modern day rock album with embellishments. It has been, however, a very enjoyable blast and it is highly recommended to add to your collection to file under "e" or "e over x = play loudly".
Disc 1: Move as One (3:22), Redemption (5:55), Journey to Discovery (4:32), Trance (5:10), Morning (8:37), Collision (5:39), Fade to Grey (9:05), New World Suite (7:16)
Disc 2: Insomnia (9:43), Red Smoke (6:09), The Rising (7:23), Body and Soul (7:04), Colours (4:52), Follow (4:39), Dreams (5:49), New World (8:58)
Since the release of their previous album, the DPRP recommended Moments, there have been a few personnel changes to IO Earth's line-up. The core members of Dave Cureton (lead and acoustic guitar, vocals), Adam Gough (keyboards, guitar, theremin), Luke Shingler (soprano and tenor saxophone, flute, EWI) and Christian Nokes (bass) are joined by new additions, singer Linda Odinsen, drummer Christian Jerromes and Jez King on violin and guitar. They have also made use of the talents of Frank Zappa alumnus Ed Mann on percussion, as well as enlisting guest cello and trumpet players.
These changes have inspired the band's writers, Dave Cureton and Adam Gough, as well as the musicians, to new heights. This album sees them consolidating the sound they have developed over their previous two studio releases, whilst growing that sound with new colours and textures. Bolstered by pin-sharp production, IO Earth has given us a truly forward-thinking progressive album in New World.
It shows the confidence IO Earth have as a unit, that they can open the album with a ballad. It allows Linda Odinsen to display her range and power, before the guitars crash in on Redemption.
It is an album that isn't afraid of fusing influences and genres as diverse as world and ethnic music, classical music, dance music's skittering rhythms, indie-rock, post-punk art rock, classic rock flourishes and symphonic prog. These are seamlessly brought together in a master class of song-writing, arrangement and music-making.
Over these two CDs there is never a dull moment. The tracks are full of subtleties and intricacies that slowly reveal themselves through the powerful and emotional melodies, whilst never being afraid of bringing-the-noise, with chunky chords and heavy riffs amongst the hypnotically-weaving grooves.
I feel I must mention some of the absolute highlights on New World. There is the circular drum pattern on Journey To Discovery that gains momentum like a whirling dervish. There is the mix of flute, EWI, piano and one of Dave Cureton's most controlled and fluent guitar solos on Morning, before Cureton lets rip at the climax. The cinematic, IMAX bright The Rising is a Steve Hackett-on-steroids instrumental, which has a true ear-worm guitar melody.
Then, adding further texture is Dave Cureton's singing on Follow. His winningly deep baritone will float around in your head for a while after listening. Finally, Insomnia, has a mad-as-a-box-of-frogs, Sister of Mercy-like gothic choir chant for a chorus. Who said prog couldn't be fun?
Is there a downside? Not that I've found. IO Earth's New World is a compelling, complex but accessible, contemporary release by a band at the top of their game and, deservedly, gets my very first 10 out of 10 rating.
Come in to the New World of IO Earth, or as Linda Odinsen sings on Colours, "Won't you follow me through the open door?"
Overflow Part 1 (2:15), Overflow Part 2 (5:41), In My Arms (4:11), Twice (5:52), Bright Side (5:11), On My Knees (4:36), Choni (The Children of Bhutan) (5:11), Break the Deal (3:44), Endless Journey (5:45), Lack of Humanity (4:51), The World Inside (4:39)
I hope it's not too politically incorrect to say that Isgaard is a very attractive woman. This artist is new to me but not, it appears, to lots of this planet especially her native Germany. Naked is her sixth album and is a collaboration with her long time musical partner Jens Lueck who contributes to all the tracks on this CD and it's a rather beautiful collection of eleven floaty, new age, ethereal, soft pieces all featuring that classically trained higher register voice. Shades of Kate Bush and Harriet Wheeler (from The Sundays) mixed with a pop opera vibrato when it wants.
Musically it's string based, real and keyboard, with laid back drumming, often with the "attack" subdued so that nothing gets in the way of the voice frequencies. The subtle tuned percussion on Overflow 2 is also (literally) a pleasant touch. Twice has Isgaard lowering her tone, which reminds me of Annie Haslam's newer work whilst Bright Side slightly ups the rock side with the slide guitar and anthemic chorus.
On My Knees starts with some sound effects (as does the album with Overflow 1) and gets me reading the lyrics of Jens Lueck: "Down on the ground wrapped up with a moisty tatter, A pauper unknown, just a lonely beggar" who needs moving pictures, with eloquent descriptions as good as that!
Flute and what sounds like Tibetan Bowls add to the mysticism of Choni (The Children of Bhutan) but my favourite track is Endless Journey which codas out like a time travelled Borodin, with some fine drum work from Mr. Lueck (who is also responsible for the keyboards too). Lack of Humanity turns up the volume before final The World Inside sends us into slumber land with it's piano with string quartet backing and finishes what has been a truly enchanting evening.
Isgaard has had chart success with "Ein schöner Tag" and "Dream of You" with the dance project Schiller plus a brush with the European Song Contest with the very respectable Golden Key (look that up on YouTube - singing live) and there is also a video of her singing Michael Jackson's Earth Song, surely the Wacko's proggist moment?! But it's her own output that the world should hear. This is an album that you will play again and again. It's like turning over the pillow and smiling through sleep at the recognisable comfort of its embrace.
Jelly Fish (3:54), Breakdown (4:35), Pyre (4:43), Funfair (4:20), Bed of Stones (5:04), No Need (4:15), Vuoto (3:11), Dream of Black Dust (5:22), Funny Games (4:30), Black Dust (3:31)
Set for a July 1 2015 release, O.R.k.'s debut album Inflamed Rides delivers (mostly) serious, dark prog with confident and accomplished compositions. Front man and keyboardist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Obake), guitarist Carmelo Pipitone (Marta sui Tubi), bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), and drummer Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson) bring a ton of Progressive experience and styles that compliment each other very well.
You won't find any epic songs on this album, the longest coming in at just over 5 minutes and most averaging about 4 minutes. This isn't to say there's an absence of variety between and within the songs, or that they needed to be longer in duration. Quite the opposite is true - these are great examples of how to write complex, varying and terse music with a minimal amount of pretension and 'wankery'.
Jelly Fish sets the album's overall dissonant, Tool inspired tone. That perfect place where hard rock, metal, and progressive rock overlap. Mastelotto's energetic drumming elevates this track to being one of the best on the album. LEF's vocals are haunting and emotive, further drawing the Tool comparison. Likely the catchiest and commercial song on the album. Pyre is a very well executed track with a wide variety of instrumentation and styles, seemingly following the procession of someone being burned alive. There's an ebb and flow on this track, sung with impeccable rasp. Roger Waters would be proud.
Funfair lives up to its name. It somehow manages to be simultaneously menacing and hip. The lyrics are at times difficult to make out (this is true for many of the songs). Bed of Stones starts as one of the stranger songs and eventually gets its bearings near the end. It's a valiant attempt to make something originally odd, but I never connected with it. Had the song spent more time rocking out like it does at the end I'd find it more enjoyable. No Need is an intentionally low fi, punk inspired track that works as a straight forward change of pace. Mastelotto's drumming once again takes center stage and carries sections of this song.
Heavier tracks are Vuoto with obvious stoner and hard rock influences, while Breakdown leans towards prog metal and has some interesting darker musical moments.
Dream of Black Dust features a classy Colin bass line. It's an atmospheric track, with a subtle '80s vibe. Funny Games opens with a jarring piano ballad, featuring some of Mastelotto's classic drum triggered noises and effects, before finally resolving into its groove. Were it not for the strange opening ballad, I would see this as another song with strong commercial potential. Black Dust continues where Dream of Black Dust left off. It's a successful, moody closer.
As a debut album this is a phenomenal achievement, its success due to the depth of the lineup and willingness to wander stylistically. But not so far we can't/won't follow. I'm looking forward to seeing what becomes of this (side?) project.
It should be noted my promo copy of the album did not include lyrics or the eleventh track which is a contest winning remix of The Insignificant. Not having lyrics makes it very difficult to fully engage the music, especially since the vocals are often heavily effected or intentionally buried in the mix.
Disc 1: Wind – Tales (1:03), Which Way the Wind Blows (5:52), Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times (i. Fanfare, ii. Lutes' Chorus, iii. Misty Battlements, iv. Lutes' Chorus Reprise, v. Henry Goes To War, vi. Death Of A Knight, vii. Triumphant Return) (14:03), God If I Saw Her Now (4:14), Chinese Mushroom Cloud (0:46), The Geese and the Ghost (Part i & ii) (15:51), Collections (3:07), Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West (4:35)
Disc 2: Master of Time [demo] (7:38), Title Inspiration (0:33), The Geese and the Ghost - Part One (basic track) (7:48), Collections Link (0:42), Which Way the Wind Blows (basic track) (6:27), Silver Song (basic track) (4:24), Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times (basic track) (i. Fanfare, ii. Lute's Chorus, iii. Lute's Chorus Reprise, iv. Misty Battlements) (5:40), Collections (demo) (4:17), The Geese and the Ghost - Part Two (basic track) (7:32), God If I Saw Her Now (basic track) (4:19), Sleepfall (basic track) (4:25), Silver Song (unreleased single version, 1973) (4:13), Only Your Love (previously unreleased, 1973) (3:08)
DVD: 5.1 Surround Sound Mix and Stereo Album of original album
This new Esoteric Recordings release of Ant Phillips début masterpiece The Geese and the Ghost is essentially, as far as the CDs go, the same as the 2008 double CD reissue by Voiceprint Records which I comprehensively reviewed and recommended at the time (2008 DPRP review). The opinions I expressed in that review have not changed and I still consider it a superlative album and probably the best release by any ex member of Genesis, including anything in the Peter Gabriel catalogue!
This new issue arrives in a nice clam box with a new booklet including some added information form Ant himself and a previously unreleased track and the main selling point of the album, an audio DVD of a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album. This new mix effectively celebrates the album's 40th anniversary as it was nearly completed in 1975 but a hesitant Charisma Records passed on its release, other labels also expressed a distict lack of interest with Virgin's A&R stating that it sounded like a "mixture of Vaughan Williams and Mike Oldfield", which although sounding rather delicious to me did not tie in with the pre-punk days of the seventies. With Mike Rutherford tied up with the Lamb tour and then finding a replacement for the departing Gabriel a vital ingredient that could have applied some leverage to record company execs was lot to Phillips. It wasn't until Passport Records in the US expressed a desire to release the album that Phillips could complete the album and get his manager, Tony Smith, to double his efforts in securing eventually giving up with the major labels and forming his own label Hit and Run Records. To this day, The Geese and the Ghost is the only release on the label with the name being famous for its Management offshoot.
The surround sound remix was undertaken by Andy Miles and the original album's co-producer, Simon Heyworth. The results are indeed pretty stunning, adding a new dimension to the music and, as Ant states in his own sleeve notes, makes the whole album "more coherent and homogeneous than before".
The extra track on CD2 is also quite tantalising for Genesis completists as it is the b-side to Silver Song, the previously unreleased Only Your Love. Silver Song was, of course, Phil Collins' first lead vocal performance and a single that never was. Originally written in 1969 and demo'd in 1973 while Genesis were working on Selling England by the Pound, Charisma were impressed and gave the go ahead for the recording during the first free day in the busy Genesis touring schedule in November 1973. Only Your Love, based on an idea that Phillips and Rutherford had been playing around with the previous year was developed further by duo with the assistance of Collins and also recorded during the same session. Scheduled for release in the summer of 1974, a tape of the final mix received an airing on BBC Radio One during an interview with Collins who discussed its origins and recording. However, the single never appeared, indeed, didn't even reach a test pressing stage and, after a gap of 40 years no one can remember why! Only Your Love is a nice accompaniment to Silver Song based on the twelve strings of Phillips, who also plays keyboards, and Rutherford, who also plays bass, with a typical Collins vocals and drumming. A very pleasant song and welcome addition to the release.
If you have not yet got a copy of this album then I recommend you do so as soon as possible. As for people who have already purchased previous releases, is it worth getting again? Well, that all depends on your opinion of surround sound mixes or if you are an ardent Genesis completist. For me, it was a bit of a no brainer, personally I would have purchased it just for the unreleased Only Your Love, but then that is just me!
Parasite (5:46), Gagging Order (5:51), Backfire (5:50), The Puppeteer (6:43), Foreign Body (4:53), The Blind Lead the Blind (5:51), Painted Rust (6:23), Noose (5:31), War (5:59), Under the Same Sky (2:18)
Melancholic vocal post-rock concept album, anyone? Sleeping Pulse is a collaboration between Antimatter singer/songwriter Mick Moss, and Portuguese guitarist and keyboardist Luis Fazendeiro, from Painted Black. Moss supplies only vocals and lyrics, but to say that's the limit of his contribution would be doing him a great disservice such is the passion and strength his voice brings to the project.
Each of the songs starts quietly, with the vocals sounding not dissimilar to David Sylvian. And, of course, comparisons to the vocal style of Eddie Vedder are inevitable. However, when each song takes off, some more energetically and aggressively than others, Moss' vocals take on a different dimension. Comparisons to Antimatter because of the vocals are obvious. There's also a similarity or two with Anathema, both the older, heavier style and the more ambient, song-oriented band Anathema has evolved into. The song Painted Rust, on the other hand, has a Depeche ModeSongs of Faith and Devotion feel to it, at least initially. There are also hints, at least overall in terms of the atmosphere created, of Steven Wilson's solo concept works.
The Anathema connection is a tangible one, as this was mixed and mastered by none other than Anathema member Daniel Cardoso.
If happy is the mood you're looking for, set this one aside until you need something a little deeper. Background music this isn't. And how's this for a concept: the album explores sociopathic manipulation and the relationship between sociopath and victim.
The music is superb. The guitars drift in and out of the mix, happy to bubble brightly in the background or soar creatively once the song takes off. The drumming is inventive, powerful and tasteful. Violin is used sparingly to add to the overall effect, as on the mournfully beautiful middle section of Backfire. The lyrics and vocals are equally stunning and captivating. This is music to immerse yourself in. Post-rock hardly seems to be an appropriate category for something so alive as this. It has elements of post-rock, but also laps over into so many other territories from prog to rock and electronic, that it transcends classification.
Switching bands and collaborating with other artists seems to be de rigueur these days, with mixed results. No such concern here, this is a brilliant partnership and cohesive collection of soulful songs that, for once, is greater than the sum of the parts. No pressure for the follow up, then, gentlemen...
Teodora (20:44), Alchemico flammingo (12:59), I cancelli del tempo (9:02), Lo specchio di mogano (18:46)
Ubi Maior hail from Milan. I can only speculate where the band's name comes from. Possibly, it is the first half of the Latin proverb Ubi maior minor cessat (Where there is the major, the minor is neglected). According to the band's website (which is quite informative), Ubi Maior were formed in 1999. Incanti Bio Meccanici is their third release (the first to be reviewed by DPRP) and follows Senza Tempo (2009) and Nostos (2005). Thus, the band apparently takes some time releasing an album, something which has definitely been to the benefit of quality.
The current line-up consists of Gabriele Manzini (keyboards – mainly vintage-sounding ones such as Hammond, Mellotron, grand piano and mini Moog), Mario Moi (lead vocals, violin and trumpet), Marcella Arganese (electric and acoustic guitars and sitar), Walter Gualtiero Gorreri (bass and backing vocals) and Alessandro Di Caprio (drums). This line-up seems to have been quite stable over the past decade, with three of the founding members still being there (former guitarist Stefano Mancarella left the band in 2011 and was replaced by female guitarist Marcella Arganese.
All of the band members have a long-lasting experience in the Italian progressive rock scene, having worked with other Italian bands and musicians or in solo projects. Gabriele Manzini, whose keyboards clearly influence Ubi Maior's music and whose ideas three of the four songs on this album are based upon, has worked with Italian progsters The Watch for a number of years.
Can you expect another Genesis-clone, therefore? Clearly not! Is this symphonic rock inspired by the Italian masters of the 70s and along the lines of Rock progressivo italiano (RPI)? It surely is, though with its own distinctive features.
The album consists of only four tracks and clocks in at over an hour. All the songs take the form of suites, but only by following the lyrics in the booklet does one realise which part of each song one is actually listening to.
It starts with the epic Teodora. I believe it is ambitious to open an album with a long track, because there is no possibility for the listener to cautiously approach the band's music. One is encouraged to get into it, right from the beginning. In the case of Teodora, this works!
Teodora is one of the hidden cities described in Italo Calvino's novel Le Città Invisibli. Right after opening with a few guitar arpeggios, a distinctive feature of Ubi Maior's sound becomes apparent: the use of Mario Moi's violin as the lead instrument, playing a beautiful melodic theme that is repeated later during the song.
Mario Moi's voice varies from theatrical to gentle, depending on the atmosphere the song displays. Lush keyboards (Mellotron, piano, Hammond, mini Moog) dominate the music, but they alternate nicely with the guitar and violin. The song reminds me a bit of what CAP has done in Il Bianco Regno di Dooah.
Alchemico flammingo gets its literary inspiration from Marguerite Yourcenar's L'Oeuvre au Noir. The song is a bit less complex than the previous one and puts the violin in the foreground, especially in the first half. Starting as a gentle interplay with the acoustic guitar, the violin playing and the accompanying strings get more and more intense, developing into something hymn-like. The second half of the song has slight jazz rock influences, with fluid bass lines, lively rhythms played by the Hammond and a nice Moog solo towards the end. Mario Moi's voice comes across clear and warm. References that come to my mind are PFM, CAP (again) and Il Castello di Atlante.
I cancelli del tempo is probably the most symphonic song of the album. It opens (and ends) with a melodic theme played on the mini Moog, and has a somewhat spacey middle section, comprised of a Pink Floyd-like guitar solo. It is the song where reminiscences to La Maschera di Cera and Mangala Vallis are the most obvious of the entire album. Strong melodies, Hammond and Mellotron dominate this song.
Lo specchio di mogano is the other epic of this album. The song is based on Bertold Brecht's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which also served as a libretto for Kurt Weil's opera. It is a strong closing song. The opening consists of new age choir-like Mellotron and violin, before the Hammond heavily kicks in, accompanying Mario Moi, who is singing rather dramatically, a bit comparable to Calliope. The roaring Hammond sound is present on various occasions during the song. The last third is more quiet and mellow, with a short trumpet theme played by Mario Moi and dreamy piano lines. The song fades out with a Moog and a guitar solo.
In producing this review, I have listened to this album more often frequently, over a relatively short period of time, than I do with most of my other CDs. It was a very enjoyable exercise. Ubi Maior's music is accessible, but not too polished so that one quickly gets bored with it.
It is symphonic and melodic, but with a couple of rough edges here and there. It is varied, but not unduly complex, and a blend of various styles – rock, jazz, folk - but still quite cohesive. It is keyboard-oriented, but with enough space for the other instruments, especially the violin. The production is flawless.
It is amazing what has come out from Italy in terms of prog over the past years. RPI is strong and lives on! This one will appeal to the fans of PFM, CAP, Il Castello di Atlante, La Coscienza di Zeno, La Maschera di Cera and Calliope. But also listeners just wishing to test the waters concerning RPI, should definitely give this album a try.