Uno (3:07), Due (3:14), Tre (3:38), Quattro (6:56), Cinque (3:15), Sei (5:49), Sette (4:15), Otto (3:05), Nove (3:46)
What does Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick and The Bad Mexican's Due album have in common?
Does Due contain flute? No
Is it a great prog album? No
Has it been remixed by Steven Wilson? Not yet!
Does Due's packaging contain a join-the-dot activity just like TAAB? Yes of course it does!
As a teenager I found great delight in locating the St Cleves Chronicles family fun pages. I took even greater delight in finding the children's corner. I remember excitedly and impatiently joining the dots to reveal who Fluffy the duck was talking to.
Fluffy gained my father's disapproval and moral indignation and with thunder ringing in my ears I temporarily lost TAAB.
Since then I have had a justifiable phobia about dot-to-dot activities. Understandably, I have yet to bring myself to reveal the image contained in the centre panel of Duo's gatefold packaging. I suspect that it shows a person with a large hat and a greased moustache. I could well be mistaken though. Whatever the mystery image might contain, I doubt if it will have the same impact that Fluffy's friend had on my rousing teenage sensibilities all those years ago.
The Bad Mexican are from Montepulciano in Italy. Their music might be described as avant prog. Due lives up to that billing and is a courageously different release. It contains a mixture of styles and is seldom bland or uninteresting. It strides confidently and creatively into unexpected musical territories. It presents an unusual and seldom-seen-together mix of styles in the album's ten pieces. These include electronic effect-driven soundscapes, krautrock, jazz, psychedelic-rock, and hard core punk-like workouts, as in the title track. It is at times boldly unconventional.
The spirit of adventure and willingness to experiment that is prevalent throughout is occasionally rewarding but is often much less so. This is illustrated in the title track where avant-garde free jazz moments battle for ascendency with hard core punk.
On the whole, this release lacks cohesion and an identifiable sound or style. The most successful tracks, such as Quattro, Cinque and Sei are striking in their intriguing unorthodoxy. They are strangely appealing and in the case of Quattro and Sei have become more enjoyable with repeated listens. Quattro is a melancholic tune that has a definite John Lennon / Beatles vibe. It also has several interesting changes of direction within its gloriously unconventional song structure. Sei begins with an evocative introduction that might have been composed by Ennio Morricone. The rest of the piece is more upbeat and has a hint of Jefferson Aeroplane and West Coast psychedelia.
The least enjoyable pieces, such as Uno, Tre, Otto and Nove, do not fully succeed in their attempts to be attractively different, or their aim to entice. In the opening track Uno, The Bad Mexican sounds like a super energised version of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Dead Kennedy's combined. The piece improves significantly in its middle section when a pleasingly attractive instrumental break emerges. The monotonous experimentation of Tre however was totally unappealing. It is laced with soundbites taken from mission control in Houston. These are set against an electronic soundscape and percussion effects. The uneasy juxtaposition of styles within pieces such as Uno and Due creates the impression that the album lacks an obvious direction.
The closing pieces, Otto and Nove, both bravely fail in their attempts to be unusual and satisfying. These pieces are certainly unorthodox, but lack charm and coherence. Otto begins as a pretty acoustic piece and then uses repetitive spoken soundbites to build and create an intense rhythm. Nove involves two-and-a-half minutes of heavy breathing. I struggled to understand the artistic premise which lay behind this pointless and monotonous track.
Apart from their obvious and interesting eccentricity, both pieces are not particularly memorable. Collectively, they are a disappointing way to end the album.
I found much to enjoy and to reflect upon in Due. The band's courage to pursue their artistic vision should be commended. If you enjoy music that does not fit readily into categories and is difficult to pigeonhole Due is certainly worth seeking out. Overall though, I found the album too inconsistent and unappealing in parts.
I doubt that even the most enjoyable aspects of Due_ will persuade me to return to it frequently. I may however, be tempted, to complete the centre panel of the albums gatefold sleeve and excitedly join the dots.
Circles (8:24), Paradise (3:35), Überall (8:22), Call (8:15), To the highest Gods we know (11:52), Last call (1:32)
The German trio Colour Haze has been around for a long time. To The Highest Gods We Know is the third album marking their 20th anniversary. They regard themselves as representatives of a musical style that should attract fans of Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. Such an ambition is to be valued, but it gets slightly different when it turns out that their music doesn't even come close to these classics, let alone sound as if they are inspired by them. That is because of a simple lack of compositional talent on this album.
As usual when releasing a new album, the band regards it as their best to date. If that's true, then their former albums must have been really poor. To my ears four of these five tracks (there's a sixth hidden bonus track) sound pretty much the same, with very slow, almost hypnotising rhythms, little variation in the melodies, simple song structures, low-stemmed, slightly distorted guitars, pumping drums and vocals that sound quite low in the mix. Close your eyes and you'll get the impression that you are listening to a bootleg or jam-session of early Doors, but without any attractive melodies or unexpected hooks.
The opening track Circles is a slow song that is a good introduction to what is to come. The repetitive Paradise has a multi-vocal chorus and is the most accessible song because of a concise build-up and a bit faster tempo. Überall and Call sound more like demos than finished songs, with long, dull intros consisting primarily of extremely simple, single guitar notes and muddy sounding vocals.
The title track is a different story because here the band includes some acoustic guitar, a string quartet, horns and flutes. That should be enough to make a nice, complex instrumental song. Instead you get a long, dull intro of almost four minutes in which nothing happens except for suggesting that you're somewhere in Spain, after which violins and violas come in, as well as some drums. Colour Haze tries to sound different here, they even dare to make the string quartet sound a bit out of tune which works out fine. But the lack of composition makes this another well-meant failure. The song ends by means of a fade-out, after which more than a minute of silence can be enjoyed before the superfluous bonus track starts. Last call is a short edit of Call and as uninteresting as the original version.
I'm sure that Manfred Merwald (drums), Philipp Rasthofer (bass, Hammond) and Stefan Koglek (guitars and vocals) can play their instruments. I'm also sure that it was fun to record this album. But it has too little musical quality to make a difference, at least within progressive music.
The King's Shadow (6:46), Fatal Chronic Damage (11:28), The Abyss (13:25), Legacy of War (6:27), The King's Shadow (Reprise) (5:09), Selfishness - Part II (16:07)
Named after a Rush song, Different Strings is a band put together by Maltese multi-instrumentalist Chris Mallia. Originally planned as a double CD, this is part two of the set.
While the name might be Rush, the music is an intelligent mix of heavy yet modern rock, neo-prog and classical influences. At times they evoke sounds of Pink Floyd and sometimes, in the heavier sections, Dream Theater or Queensryche.
There are quieter passages, often quite peaceful and tender, sometimes with spoken word recordings (including Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy) and often they are disturbed by pounding drums and heavy guitar riffs breaking the serenity.
While the vocals are adequate, it's the more brooding and confident instrumental passages that stand out. When the heavy almost prog-metal passages subside, there are some nice themes and good, confident and smooth playing, a bit like the heavier Pendragon albums. It's the neo-prog bits that seem to work best, even though they are of a heavier nature. However, often they head into more metal territory, before bouncing back again to more standard prog. Fatal Chronic Damage, for example, is the heaviest track on the album, but has a more crossover prog chorus that seems juxtaposed to the rest of the song.
Of course, sometimes the heavier sounds work. There's a great heavy part of The Abyss that flows extremely well, and a passage that reminds me of Arena, although it's all too fleeting.
That said, it's in these longer, more thoughtful instrumental passages that the truly worthwhile moments of the album lie. The closing track, and the album's longest, Selfishness, Part II, starts out beautifully. Its lush keyboard/Mellotron sound gives way - eventually - to a tasty guitar solo, but then those chunky chords and fast snare drum come in abruptly, soon to turn into a vocal section that is followed by another that sounds like - vocals aside - early Marillion. Again, it's gone in a flash. It's as if the band wants to showcase its many talents both musically and compositionally, and throw everything into the mix. The 'big ending' falls tantalisingly close to being special.
Currently, the formula seems to be that each song has a quiet introduction that gives way to a metal prog section. However, prog-metal fans will probably find the overall sound not heavy enough. Fans of a more traditional prog or neo-prog will maybe think there's too much of the heavy stuff to really appreciate it. Different Strings absolutely have bags of potential, they just need to decide which camp they fit into. Dipping into both is fine, but currently the balance seems to be just a bit off.
Season Changes (4:21), Ideology (4:17), Ignalina (8:24), Taken (4:25), Green Light (5:43), Grip! (12:27), Random Hearts (6:23)
Discordia is obviously a good name for a band. There was a band of the same name in Australia, there's another one in San Francisco. However, this Discordia, formed in 2001, is firmly based in Finland, and is crossover prog with a heavier edge to it. This is the band's fourth release, two of which were EPs.
The opener, and title track, is a crossover pop song, with some heavier overtones, and even a bit of a folk influence. In the good old days, this would have been the 'single.' The second track, Ideology, certainly grabs the attention. It opens with a lengthy instrumental passage punctuated by some interesting and somewhat dissonant harmonies, which to the end of the track sound almost like classical choral music. While dominated by a female voice, that of Riikka Hänninen, both Gentle Giant and Echolyn spring to mind.
Ignalina again has the somewhat challenging semi-classical vocals over the top of an at-times medieval-sounding piece. Toward the end, with female vocal at the fore, it reminds me more of Mostly Autumn or a more challenging Karnataka. Taken, on the other hand, sounds a bit like Robert Fripp around the time of the album Exposure, with Kate Bush singing wildly.
The lengthy Grip! returns to the occasional dissonant choral harmonies, laid down over a challenging and meandering piece of music that encompasses a variety of prog genres.
The closer, Random Hearts, features both male and female vocals, and is much more conventional. It's a wonderful piece, with great vocals and wonderful harmonies, and a delicious guitar solo which Steve Rothery would be proud of to cap it all off.
Season Changes is at times an uneasy listen, but there's enough going on to make it, at times, pleasant and interesting. Having both male and female vocalists is positive, the music, at times heavy, sometimes quiet, and straddling many genres, is technically superb.
A First Encounter (13:00), Discovery of the Lost Civilization (13:38), The Temple on the Sacred Mountain (13:20), Return of the Warrior (11:18), Exploration Flights Over Forbidden Area's (18:47), Departure 6AM (7:48)
Outland is Gert Emmens' 17th solo album since his debut in 1995, and that fantastic output doesn't include his collaborative work, including that with Ruud Heij, who also appears on this album. Emmens is a keyboard/synth player in the vein of all the classic artists in what has been dubbed the Berlin School within the electronic genre.
That is to say that his work will almost certainly appeal to fans of Klaus Schulze, early to mid-period Tangerine Dream and many more recent electronic/space artists such as Ian Boddy or Jonn Serrie, along with others that Emmens sits alongside on the Dutch Groove Unlimited label.
The concept of the album revolves around space, and the airy, light synth sounds reflect that perfectly on the album's opener, where relaxing, ethereal swathes underpin a bubbling melody that eventually gives way to something more mysterious and deep. This slow passage exits once more into a Jean Michel JarreOxygene like phase.
While at times more urgent and fast moving than some of the albums that inhabit the same genre, Outland is both beautiful and mysterious. Emmens' use of sound and different layers of synths give a rich, deep quality to the music, and it's one to totally experience through its evocative soundscapes of alien civilisations. Each piece beautifully depicts its intended subject matter, something that doesn't always happen in the genre. Each piece is varied, creating an electronic space album of rare depth and interest.
Emmens beautifully captures different moods; the music is at times eerie, urgent, majestic, deep and joyous. The album's longest track, Exploration Flights Over Forbidden Area's is a delightful piece of space music, changing, evolving and evoking images through sound. While it clocks in at a long 78 minutes, clearly Emmens is also able to bend time, as it feels like a much shorter journey, such is the tendency to get lost in it.
Outland is a superb electronic album that belongs in the highest echelons of Emmens' already large volume of work, and confidently stands alongside those of Emmens' peers in the entire genre.
No Room - But A View (3:41), Val Suite 11 (Working Title) (8:01), All That Glitters (3:52), Hallelujah Anyway (7:19), Koblenz (instrumental) (5:28), Blues In The Night (4:44), Time To Make Hay (4:55), Eco-Blue (5:10), Talking Point (instrumental) (3:37)
First a bit of history for those who don't know. Dave Greenslade is a keyboard player who was a founder member of the band Colosseum, and he had his own eponymous band that was mainly active in the 70s. These original tracks, written between 1979 and the mid-90s have never been released before, and feature his own vocals as well as him playing all the instruments (bar tenor sax played by the late Colosseum member Dick Heckstall-Smith). I have been a Dave Greenslade fan since the early 1970s when, for my third ever gig, saw the superb Greenslade live at Birmingham's Town Hall. From then on I was a fan for life.
The Finnish have a word for how I feel about this album. That word is myötähäpeä and it means the embarrassment one feels on behalf of another. That's how I feel about this album of barrel-scraping remastered demos. Embarrassed. The music, as you would expect is expertly played, if dragged down a little by the drum machine percussion. It is the material that is the problem.
There are two mind-numbing songs (Hallelujah Anyway and Time To Make Hay) that were written with the artist Patrick Woodroffe, intended for a follow up to 1979's The Pentateuch of the Cosmogeny. Improving slightly you get some lightweight jazz-pop songs and a couple of blues songs, of which Blues In The Night has a winning electric piano solo on it. The best of a poor bunch are three pieces that were intended for the reformed Colosseum (Val Suite 11 (Working Title) and the two instrumentals). These were never used by Colosseum but have some interest in their prog jazziness.
Altogether this is, at best, a pedestrian set topped out by Dave Greenslade's frankly weedy vocals. It may just be that he needs other musician's to spark off, after all, the man is talented (I rest my case on the first three Greenslade albums, your honour!). This is another reason why I am so disappointed with this release. This album is only for the most ardent completist.
Sea of Pain (4:35), Grace & Infinity (4:10), Defying My World (3:13), Schizo-Psycho-Phernia (3:47), Beneath The Sin (4:26), Everything's Broken (3:58), Shattered Trust (4:23), Transience (4:36), Sleepless In Secrecy (4:29), Face To Face (4:33), Black Over Gold (6:15)
Matria is a four-piece rock band from Portugal, founded by Rudy Martins (vocals/guitar) and David Casenave (guitar) in 2000. The band has had a hiatus and changing members during it's existence, but since 2010 Matria has enjoyed a steady line-up with fellow members Nuno Alves (bass) and André Fernandes on drums. Defying My World is their second album.
In their press kit they reveal as their biggest influence Pink Floyd and they are also influenced by Anathema, Placebo, Muse and Metallica. Honestly I must say I did not hear this, especially the Pink Floyd influence. The sound of Matria is too much standard rock to be compared with Pink Floyd or any other progressive band.
Sea Of Pain is a very standard rock song. Grace and Infinity starts with a nice bass riff but that is the only thing out of the ordinary from standard rock. Bass player Nuno Alves has some nice parts on this album. The drummer is also very solid, so Matria has a nice rhythm section. The guitars are too much standard heavy metal chords to classify the music of Matria as progressive metal, very much
grunge-like and too predictable.
Just like the guitars, the vocals are very predictable and they are not very nicely mixed in the sound. At the start of Everything's Broken they use some voice distortion, which does not work. Also the female vocals on Sleepless In Secrecy are very nice, very small part of the song. The instrumental Black Over Gold is a nice song.
Defying My World is not an album that I really enjoyed listening to. It is not a completely bad album, it sure has some moments but far too few to satisfy. I can hear Matria is an OK band and that they can play their instruments very well. Sadly this did not result in a very interesting album.
L'erba Di Prima (2:55), Prairies (4:23), White Sands (3:03), Viadotti (3:44), Tempo Sospeso (3:55), Canon (3:25), Confronto (2:14), Moonlight Drive (3:12), A Mind Level (4:07), Electric Maneges (4:00), Space Team (1:39), Gypsy Manou (5:08)
Library music is defined, by those in the know, as "music especially created for films, television, radio, publicity and industrial use". The kind of music you would find on the soundtracks of corporate promotional films, travelogues and so on. Consequently, the music selected for this CD has, in its original releases, become collector's items. Especially as this music was "not intended for public distribution."
Montreal-based Frank Rideau, who plays all the instruments here, has selected these obscure instrumental pieces from various composers working in this field in the 1970s. Whilst this is prog in concept, his reworking of the tunes are only lightly dusted with prog touches.
There is nothing here much above medium pace, but one's interest is held by consistently good melodies and nice instrumental colours, even though some songs are mired in the popular styles of the 1970s. So, you get some pre-disco funky guitar mixed with organ and flute on Viadotti, then with strings on Prairies. Other tunes feature harpsichord, gothic organ and insistent piano amongst touches of space-rock and Italian style 70s prog.
A couple of tracks written in the later 70s tackle electronic pop. You can imagine the original producers saying "we could do with something modern, you know, like that Jean Michel Jarre or Kraftwerk." Hence you get the Oxygène-lite space-age disco of Electric Maneges and the pulsing electronics of Space Team complete with Autobahn style synth swooshes.
All in all then, this is an easy-going, melodically pleasant, collection of soundtrack music. Occasionally the melodies and arrangements raise enough interest for you to wonder just what kind of a film they might have been used on. However, it does head towards the middle-of-the-road on a few of the pieces. I think that Frank Rideau respects this music a little too much, and he should have let rip on a few of these tunes. If you are going to drag obscure music, designed specifically for the background, into the limelight then it needs a bit more passion.
Laughing With Such Abandon (4:48), Where Every Word Spoken, Speaks (3:00), And Every Glance Given Has Only One Meaning (4:35), Spirit (3:53), Stars In The Ocean (7:06), The Pace Of Glaciers (10:10), Diminishment (3:41), Permanance (6:03), Achievement (3:30)
Having never heard Outrun the Sunlight before, I came into this album with a neutral view, unsure of what to expect; only knowing that they were classed as progressive metal.
The album starts off with a typical, twiddly lead riff that has become so typical of many bands that go down the progressive/djent/instrumental route, such as the likes of Periphery, and this sets the general tone for the rest of the album. The pace is generally kept up, with a few breaks (I would assume to give the drummer's feet a rest from the double bass), but the riffs do not really get any more exciting. The songs flow nicely together, almost seeming to form one entire track, rather than nine different ones. However because of this, the album lacks a certain flare, with every track sounding similar in tone, pace, riffage and atmosphere. Even the solo on Where Every Word Spoken, Speaks doesn't help as it tries to cram a sense of place on the album into itself and sadly ends up sounding a bit haphazard, in almost a sense of "quick, we need a solo that fits, play some notes on these frets" kind of way.
The rest of the album follows suit, with the same atmospheric tone, with the riffs generally being played on the higher strings, giving it an almost ethereal sound, and with lots of weaving lead riffs jumping about as the drums provide the rhythm. It may just be my speakers, but it appears to me that even though there is a bassist, there is little bass on the album.
While the musicianship is good, with the double bass on the drums being used to good effect to set the tempo for the album, that is unfortunately about as good as it gets. As mentioned earlier, the lead riff through the intro (which is featured throughout the rest of the opening track Laughing With Such Abandon) is rather common in this particular genre, as is the tone of guitars, pace of the music, and the riffs themselves. Very little, if anything, is original, and this is a fact that is painfully obvious with this album. The songs, even though they are "progressive" still have the usual generic fast-slow-fast-mellow sections to break them up. The guitars are used to produce an often copied, but never improved upon atmosphere. Following this, there are situations where the standard "djent breakdown" comes in, where the guitarists sporadically switch between an open E-String note, then the same string with an added bend. While this sounded fresh back when Meshuggah popularised it, the "djent breakdown" has become very overplayed and overdone and lacks the punch it used to have. Thankfully though, they are not as widespread on this album as they could have been, instead catchy breaks have been put in place. Personally though, I find the lack of lyrics to be a slight flaw with the album as it means there is more focus on constantly changing the songs and keeping them interesting. This, for me, is a drawback as currently the band does not seem to possess the knowledge to do so effectively.
However it is not all bad, the band are still young and the song writing does show potential, as does their skill with the instruments. The album has a good tempo and isn't too long. The stand-out track is Stars In The Ocean where this tempo and their tendency to go from slow to fast is utilised to great effect. Stars In The Ocean is a well-crafted piece, and clocking in at just over seven minutes it is the second longest track on the album. The riffs on this particular track are generally more thought-out than the rest, with slightly more frets being used by the guitarists to give a more balanced and constructed sound and content.
If you are a fan of this kind of progressive metal/djent, then I would guess the album would be an enjoyable one. If you are a fan of Periphery or You Already Know, then you will likely enjoy Outrun the Sunlight. For myself, my journey into the realms of "djent" will likely end here.
Wheat In The Field (5:18), Ethereal Soldier Part 1 (2:16), Darkest Night (3:13), Waiting At Airports (6:08), Ethereal Soldier Part 2 (1:08), All The Way (9:09), Ethereal Soldier Part 3 (2:55), This Fragile Peace (3:00), The Unknown Unknowns (6:49)
Paradox One is the project of Scottish multi-instrumentalist Phil Jackson, and This Fragile Peace is the fifth album released under this moniker. This time he is joined by Tim Jones, Paddi, John Simms and Maxine Marten of Census of Hallucinations. The main idea behind the album was to build the music from the rhythm up, with the creation of each track starting with just bass and drums. That framework is definitely evident on the final product. The songs tend to begin in sparse tones and grow in layers from there. This is a band with a lot of musical ideas which works for, and perhaps against them at times.
There is a spacey, atmospheric quality to most of the album with even the vocals falling into that category. These vocal moments are somewhat rare. The overall album concept, around factors that threaten humanity, is equally driven by what sounds like film and news soundbytes. It is rare for any song on This Fragile Peace to maintain a steady course, with some twists and turns being rather dramatic. An interesting mood or melody will often be presented briefly, only to be changed quite drastically. This works well in places, but at other moments the songs feel more like a series of ideas rather than cohesive compositions. That may have been the goal, but I often found myself wishing that they would have built more on a particular theme, rather then moving away from it so quickly.
The album is abundant with different musical styles, and the feel of things can be quite adventurous and intriguing from that perspective. There is a free-form jazzy feel to the proceedings which lends to the loose and improvisational structure of the songs. The focus on mood is significant and the final results often sound ethereal and experimental.
All of the performances are admirable, with John's Simms guitar and Phil Jackson's keyboard work being of particular note. The Ethereal Soldier 1-3 series that runs throughout, showcases in particular the fine work that Simms brings to the band. The last track, The Unknown Unknowns strikes a cohesiveness that is missing from much of the rest of the album. Enough so, that the song sounds somewhat out of place. Nonetheless, it is easily the most memorable track and regrettably made me wish that the band had followed a similar path more often. Yes, it is perhaps a bit more traditional in structure, but it works, and truly shows what great musicians are to be found in Paradox One.
If you like your prog spacey, somewhat unstructured and heavy in mood, there are rewards to be found here. The musicianship can't be denied and there are some truly stand out moments. It is definitely an album that bears repeated listens, which in itself is a testament to the range contained within. That said, the band too often moves abruptly away from ideas that could have blossomed into more effective pieces of music.
The Unknown Unknows indicated to me that there is a great album in Paradox One, but that is perhaps to come. In the meantime, they have created an interesting and diverse, yet occasionally uneven work in This Fragile Peace.
Die Story der Final Legacy (10:37), Sax Delight (5:14), Big Joe (8:00), Just a Love Song (4:25), Quick Shot (3:16), GalacticFloor (4:55), The Beat (3:27), The Sound (4:08), Polarisation (6:16), Diamond Stars (4:36), The Final Legacy Theme (9:35), Sounds and Noises (4:42)
Few artists have a discography as lengthy as German synth-meister Robert Schroeder. Since his first release in 1979, he has become a stalwart of the electronic genre, releasing more than 30 albums that vary from ambient, to space, to almost trip hop. However, Schroeder definitely fits into the Berlin School that includes Klaus Schulze, to whom Schroeder's work will always be most compared.
Flavour of the Past is something of a departure for Schroeder, in that it's a compilation of work he's done for other markets, such as computer games, commercials, compilation CDs and synthesiser product demos. As such, it's the kind of mixed bag you'd expect, but fortunately, none of the tracks are as short as many soundtrack album compositions seem to be.
Some of the tracks on offer here are the typical electronic music one would expect from Schroeder. The warm and melodic Die Story der Final Legacy is one of those pieces that showcase Schroeder at his inventive and creative best. Others, such as the beautiful Just a Love Song are more sparse, ambient pieces. The Beat, on the other hand, has a definite 80s feel to it, which may or not be a good thing, depending on perspective. The floating Polarisation is probably the stand-out track; ambient, moving, beautiful, immersive and inventive.
The album succeeds because Schroeder writes compelling music, and is capable of creating pieces in many varying styles. The downside to this album is that, like many compilations of work for other sources, they are taken slightly out of context when put together in one package, and bounce around from one genre to another. As such, for the most part it's well-created if not always outstanding music, while at other times it's more background music, making for not a completely compelling and cohesive whole.
Pocket Size Sun (4:25), White Rain (3:24), Eclipse (4:48), Get Up (4:28), Surrender (4:19), Perfect Day (4:39), Prisoner (5:58), Cold (4:10), Light on the Other Side (4:15), Paradise (3:45), Son of the Road (4:15)
The name may sound like a pop boy-band (or a boy pop-band), but Polish trio Ufly is big in eastern Europe, and spreading west at an alarming rate. They've opened for Slade, Alicia Keys and others, and have played hundreds of concerts since their inception in 2004. Their music is definitely crossover, as the nearest comparisons are certainly to be found in the pop realm. Intelligent, alternative pop with some nice passages, it's easy to hear influences from Coldplay, U2, Keane, and at times Depeche Mode or even under-rated band Guillemots.
Ufly is definitely a modern band, guitars and synths combining to create a lively pop feel. And while they fit into pop quite neatly, there's a confidence and melody to the music that means this is a band perfectly suited for stadium rock in the way that Muse is. Some of the songs may be more delicate, but the construction is such that it would be easy to imagine throngs of fans bouncing up and down and singing along - some of them in tune.
The ballads, such as Eclipse, soar, with shimmering guitars supporting the vibrant, confident vocals. It's a beautiful, should-be hit. With a lot of bands, there's a sense of sameness to the songs, but not with Ufly, perhaps because of the variety of influences on show. Get Up has a Depeche Mode/T-Rex feel to it, albeit brought right up to date, as the ending of the song certainly veers towards current progressive music. Surrender is another one that starts out with a catchy riff, and the hummable melodies just keep right on coming.
The songs are well written, and most are quality anthem-pop/rock. While not direct copies of the aforementioned bands, there are certainly similarities and clear comparisons, more so in some songs than others. Fans of these bands might feel it's a bit too close at times, but then, it's also possible that they are looking for 'similar' bands to enjoy. After all, Oasis didn't do too badly out of making music inspired by The Beatles.
There's nothing offensive or substandard about Ufly. They are certainly deserving of a tonne of pop airplay and a great deal more recognition. There is definitely a fine line between being influenced by bands and sounding like them. As such, to really shake off the comparisons, they're going to need to make an album this catchy that doesn't immediately bring to mind other bands. That's the hard part.
German musician Weyhing's debut album was recorded live, which is incredible, considering the many layers of sound involved. Using guitars, loops, electronics, delays and effects, he is able to create an intricate web of sound that straddles electronic, ambient and drone in a fascinating way.
The three long tracks all contain passages that move slowly, sometimes a drone that sounds like Bass Communion or Igneous Flame. Then, slowly, the pieces evolve with different sounds to electronic music, more in a Robert Rich vein, or perhaps at its most rhythmic and fluid, Klaus Schulze. When the guitar sounds are front and centre, there are similarities to the vastly underrated Michael Brook, or some of Robert Fripp's soundscapes or 'Frippertronics.'
However, that sense of comparison rarely lasts long, as just when Frippertronics come to the fore, there's an electronic synth sequence over the top to change things again, and to make things sound a bit like a chilled-out version of Kraftwerk, such as on Mutilated Serenity. But then, of course, the changes keep coming, so that this segment then changes to another eerie, creepy drone-like piece that again reminds of Bass Communion, only more harsh.
The final track, Dubh Artach, starts very slowly. Ambient swathes of swirling clouds punctuated by electronic raindrops that are gradually lost in a haze of pulsating guitar fuzz and electronic loops. It's definitely similar to some of the more experimental Fripp & Eno* music. The last five minutes feels like 'warming down,' as the drone returns, gradually quieter, to fade into the ether.
It's absorbing, at times starkly beautiful music that changes genres smoothly and effortlessly. It is made even more remarkable by having to constantly consider that it's recorded live by one person.
CD 1: Forbidden Tracks (32:29), Cryptomeria (31:01)
CD 2: Das Reich des Schwarzen Fisches (21:24), Landscape and Memory (23:47), The Melism of A. (27:36)
Gerd Weyhing's second album is a lengthy double disc, again recorded live in his native Germany. The only slight difference is that, this time, one of the tracks has extra live guitar recorded onto it at a later date. However, this is the same genre as the first; ambience, drone, soundscapes and electronic music.
Forbidden Tracks starts off with a repetitive rhythm that evokes South America at times, and when the bell sounds are at the fore, Indonesian gamelan music. It certainly has similarities to the ambient or tribal-ambient work of Robert Rich or Steve Roach, although when the clear guitar work enters the fray over the top of the loops and electronics, it does take it into the Frippertronics realm. However, these guitar phases pass quickly, allowing the music to flow effortlessly as it changes, grows, and meanders like a rainforest river.
Cryptomeria is a much more straightforward electronic-sounding piece, driving along with a pulsating rhythm in a Tangerine Dream vein, although the changes here appear much more minimal and, as such, it doesn't hold the attention as well as the first half of the disc. The distorted voices that bubble into the background of the mix half way through the piece, are a welcome diversion, pushing it towards some of the soundscapes on the landmark Brian Eno and David Byrne album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. But whereas Eno & Byrne's pieces are short and punchy, the effect is somewhat lost here given the length of time the voices are used in the lengthy track. Toward the end of the piece, the sound is again reminiscent of Robert Fripp's soundscapes, or Fripp's collaborations with Eno.
At times, the first track on the second disc, Das Reich des Schwarzen Fisches, has a bit of Mike Oldfield slant to the guitar work, although the duration of the similarity is quite short, as the electronic sound returns quickly to take over proceedings, placing it back in the Berlin School vein, or even a minimalist, background-like Kraftwerk. After that, it all gets a bit laboured, and while the remaining 50 minutes has its moments, there's a feeling that this could have made a seriously good single CD.
At over two-and-a-quarter hours, this is a seriously long album, which in the good old days would have been a boxed set. At times better than its predecessor, at times very similar, and at times a little too static, this is nonetheless a worthwhile listen, especially for the first track and for some of the other interesting snippets that make Weyhing's music a unique crossover between ambient, drone, electronic and guitar soundscape.