Vote 1: Anything Else (4:30), Fake Escape (4:59), Disengage (6:07), Set to Fail (4:30), Drifting into Insecure (1:35), One Day We'll Go (6:54), This Is Anywhere (7:38), An Hour a Lifetime, a Decade an Instant (5:30)
About 12 months ago, we reviewed the debut album by The Ben Cameron Project, granting it a recommended tag. Cameron, a native Australian, had relocated to London and, in the process, had left behind Aronora, the band he had fronted back in Australia. However, the separation did not herald the end of the group that had formed in 2008 and had self-released two CDs of demo home recordings and a seven-track EP, as well as playing national support tours to bands such as sleepmakeswaves and The Eternal.
Although it had been several years since the release of the debut EP, strangely enough it took Cameron's emigration to spur the band on to recording their debut album. Describing their sound as an exciting brand of progressive rock, with a focus on fusing heavy rock elements with melodic, ambient soundscapes, Escapology is an interesting mixture with great variety.
The core line up is Ben Cameron on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Chris Cameron on drums and percussion, Ben Croxford on bass and Netanel Koles on guitars with flourishes added by Asha Henfry (flute), Greg Sher (clarinet) and Oscar Neyland (double bass). There is a definite lean to the heavier side of things with opening instrumental Vote 1: Anything Else taking in a range of styles from melodic progressive to sonorous post-rock. The added flute is perfect and the crisp tones throughout are a delight - it would be hard to imagine a more perfect opening number. Fake Escape introduces vocals and there is a slight Dave Gahan feel to the deep baritone, the juxtaposition of the more languid vocals with the double speed drumming engenders a vibrancy to the piece. Disengage continues along similar lines but with a bit more emphasis on a strong riff permeating through. The band are certainly tight and I liked the almost guttural sound of some of the guitar work.
With no breaks between songs the album has a smooth flow providing a narrative continuity in fitting with the album's description of being An Observation by Aronora. Set To Fail is the first song that fails to engage although the switch to a more Eastern ambience, firstly through the brief Drifting Into Insecure, and then the more substantive One Day We'll Go, is a nice move. From here on in there is no stopping the band, with both This Is Anywhere and An Hour A Lifetime. A Decade An Instant providing quality in abundance. The flute and clarinet add depth with the mixture of acoustic and electric guitars providing a classic prog feel.
Aronora may have taken their time before releasing this, their debut album, but they have certainly got it right!
If instrumental, heavy post-rock with the occasional quiet section is your current genre of choice, Spanish band Audiolepsia fit the bill very nicely.
It's guitar-driven, at times quiet but for the most part churning out heavy riffs a la Explosions in the Sky; and every once in a while it has certainly got a decidedly heavy metal 'chug' to it. And there are also moments when some of the more melodic King Crimson instrumentals come to mind. Sometimes, heavy metal influences can put off the 'middle of the road' post-rock fan, and be an unwanted distraction, however, here it's used sparingly and it never pigeonholes the album, nor does it overwhelm proceedings. And, generally, as on Estimgma, which starts heavy, there are redeemingly quiet passages to dilute any pretensions of pompousness.
Pieces like Cenizas remind a little of Maybeshewill, which is meant as a massive compliment.
The playing is impeccably confident throughout, and the entire CD is atmospheric, melodic and flowing, as the heavier sections transform to quieter passages seamlessly.
The album title translates to English as 'The Uncertainty Principle' and, it has to be said, it's a misnomer, as there's nothing uncertain about this superb and mature instrumental post-rock/prog album, which should catapult Audiolepsia firmly to the top of the genre.
Intro (3:06), RubyRed (21:13), Sequence A (11:42), Six-Eight Time (15:49), Darkshift (22:27), Outro (3:04)
One of the most prolific artists on the contemporary electronic scene, Mario Schönwälder has teamed up with Frank Rothe to produce this atmospheric and ambient album that is performed entirely on real and virtual analog synthesisers, harking back in sound to the traditional 70s vibe typical of Tangerine Dream, Neu! or Kraftwerk.
The album, another homage to the early german synth pioneers, splits the music into an A-side and B-side. The sound also echoes those early sonic soundscapes as the tracks build up from keyboard riffs as they pulse and dart across the speakers, from the incessant heartbeat that runs through RubyRed whilst synth waves drift across the background like tides hitting a beach.
With nods to psychedelia throughout RubyRed, and a hint of the cacophonous and tumultuous finale from Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets to the metronomic drive of Kraftwerk's Autobahn, this covers over 40 years of electronic music in one sitting.
Sequence A is more akin to the early work of Tangerine Dream, with passages reminiscent of the eerie and at times sinister Zeit, as ominous chords and discordant passages give way to choral effects as the track reaches its climax.
The tracks on here are given plenty of space and room to breathe and evolve, and as is always the way with the best electronic music, these aren't just songs, they are symphonies in sound, flirting with the less-is-more ethos of ambient music, whilst the analogue sounds bring out the warmth that, in the wrong hands, could be cold and processed.
As the closing waves of Outro follow on from the shimmering darkness of Darkshift, you don't realise how immersed you've been in the music until it ends with a sonic pulse rather than an almighty bang.
The immense power and beauty in music of this nature is often hinted at, but some artists are never quite able to realise the potential, here on Filter-Kaffee, both Schönwälder and Rothe show why they are at the forefront of the contemporary German electronic scene.
Dawn Forest Bridge (3:23), Into Glance Turning (3:17), No Light, but Rather (3:11), Present Red and Vanishing (8:00), Hiemal (3:21), In Stillness Defined (8:03), Autumn Movement Speculation (2:46), Drifting Thread and Wonder (2:08), Lingua Ignota (2:44), Arc Rotation Shadow (5:13), Whisper Garden (3:07), Veiled Silent Overturn (4:17), A Lingered Chamber to Wake (2:49), Aspect Form Vortex (5:34), No Abstraction of Perhaps (5:22), Corridors Therefrom Within (2:45)
The thing that is most striking about this album is that the instruments range from a 30-string contra-alto guitar through to a 12-string soprano guitar. Not only is Kevin Kastning a gifted musician, he also invents and builds some of his instruments! He is originally from Kansas in the US.
This album, Otherworld, is for those prog connoisseurs who like to listen to something more avant-garde, different and out of the ordinary. All the tracks are instrumental and only feature acoustic guitars. There are 16 short tracks that vary from peaceful and soothing to eerie and discordant, and all are, to some degree, experimental music that you would have to be in the mood for. There's nothing flashy about the gentle, thoughtful and strange ambient style compositions. The tracks are similar in style.
A short review, but it is difficult to really say anything else about the music. I like it and will play this again in the future when the mood takes me. However, this type of music will be alien to many progsters who won't like to be outwith their listening comfort zone.
CD 1: Liebe (12:44), Kosmiche Rituale (9:06), Only Fools Rush In (20:40), Schwebung (6:55)
CD 2: Superkraut 1 (11:17), Superkraut II (11:01), Spiritual Retreat (parts 1 & 2) (43:40)
Formed in 2011, the German progressive trance Krautrock collective Krautzone have released two full-length albums, Kosmiche Rituale (2011) and Spiritual Retreat (2015), on limited edition vinyl, and here they are compiled onto a double disc set including the two sides of a split vinyl release with Lamp of the Universe Superkraut I and Superkraut II, along with the bonus track Schwebung to give a complete archive of these cosmic riders' career to date.
The collective is made up of highly regarded musicians from across the cosmic rock genre, all of whom came together at free-form jams to create the atmospheric music here; artists like the Zone Six players Sula Bassana (synths/organs), Komet Lulu (drums), Modulfix (synths), Rainer Neef (guitars), joined by Onkel Kaktus on bass and Baba Lali, who provides cosmic atmosphere producing and dancing, which doesn't quite come across on record, sadly.
Working from the traditional band line up and then throwing the book away, Krautzone take you on a journey through both space and time, with their sounds harking back to the 24-hour technicolour dreams and the freeform jams that bands like Pink Floyd used to get away with. Kosmische Rituale in particular sounds like the ominous and foreboding soundscapes that Pink Floyd were throwing together for their soundtracks like More or Zabriskie Point, as the tribal drumming backpins the intense guitar and synth work that goes off into the aether.
All three tracks from the Kosmische Rituale album sound like someone compiled a CD of early Pink Floyd improvised psychedelic workouts and then crossed them with In Search of Space-era Hawkwind. This brings about a musical hybrid that pulses, coalesces and grows hypnotically as the band groove and drive deeper and deeper into inner space, cosmic sounds fluttering by on keyboards, as guitar riffs are almost slowed down and deconstructed, all the while the heavy and ominous tribal drumming continues to pound away, like some insane, intense musical countdown.
And we all know what happens when the drums stop, that's when the bass solo starts.
The second disc, which has the three tracks, and the more exciting music on here, starts with Superkraut I. It's all synths bubbling and wailing guitar, a sonic storm out of which flows a powerful and driving riff and the band start to come into their own, following their illustrious musical predecessors like Can whilst the Hammond sound is pure Richard Wright circa 1968. The power builds up as that intense drumming and guitar riff almost turns into some metal psych hybrid whilst the synths go crazy in the background.
Superkraut II is again very synth dominated, which is no bad thing as it builds on what went before, and the mellow guitar vibe that flows through the track is a nice counterpoint to what went before.
However it is the 43-minute plus intensity of Spiritual Retreat, previously split into two parts for the vinyl and now presented here as one complete psychedlic concerto, where the band really fly. This is the sort of music that you would listen to as dawn rose round the campfire at the festivals, the acid from last night lingering in the system, and the incessant beat pulling you on to dance to the rhythm of the track, as the guitar and bass pull you on, whilst the track ebbs and flows, musically adventurous and sonically out there, the band pushing out into sonic hyperspace, as the energy within it pulls and flows. At times it sounds like the band are trying to contain a sonic monster that is fighting to get out there and into the atmosphere.
As an introduction to the band Krautzone these two CDs work well, showcasing their style, but for my money its the second disc, and the Spiritual Retreat epic monster where they stop recreating their influences and start to become themselves.
If I could award marks out of 10 for individual tracks then Spiritual Retreat would ace a nine, however as it is for the package then the first disc, for me, is nothing I haven't heard before. If you were to investigate them I would recomemnd downloading Spiritual Retreat from bandcamp first and seeing if you wanted to work backwards.
Skeleton Sangria (2:50), Impermanence (4:26), Black River (5:08), The Wheelbarrow (7:53), A Cabin in the Sky (3:46), Heart Machine (5:54), Beaks of Benevola (4:28), Twilight Cinema (5:44)
It's an odd one, this. The cover artwork suggests dark, gothic, heavy and intense prog. The music, however, couldn't be quirkier. It's a mash of several styles, firmly in the progressive arena simply because it hardly fits anywhere else.
The instrumental parts are melodic and interesting, sometimes doffing a cap to the 1960s, and at other times comfortably at home in current alt rock or prog with its guitar-driven oddball yet interesting riffs. There are moments of folk, pop, classical, and theatrical, even freakshow fairground, prog, even with a few electronic Kraftwerk-like bits thrown in. The vocals vary from almost primal screams to sounding like Leonard Cohen or even, dare one say it, Lee Marvin's Wand'rin' Star., as on Impermanence. Not that it lasts long, the next piece, a female vocal, is as far away from gruff as is humanly possible, and the melodic riff that kicks in before the gravelly male vocals kick in again is unmissable. It's musically wonderfully over-the-top, and strange. There are moments of madness, showing a clear sense of humour, and others of scintillating innovation.
Overall, the variation makes it sound a bit haphazard, but there's no doubt it's a remarkably listenable and compelling album. There's folky accordion thrown in, and what sounds like Greek folk music, on The Wheelbarrow, and it's not out of place. For the Genesis fans out there, it's like an entire album of Harold the Barrel oddities, or perhaps evoking the proggier side of Klaatu. But that's not to trivialise the quality of playing or melodies.
In spite of it being a totally mixed bag, it's a very accomplished work, mixing prog and vaudeville. A new genre? Perhaps, but in spite of its oddity, it's rather good. It definitely grabs the attention, and what's more, keeps it. And once it's firmly settled into the psyche, it certainly rewards repeat listens, too. Compelling.
Mysterious Island (8:40), Mighty Orinoco (3:57), Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (6:50), All Around the Moon (9:08), Southern Star Mystery (5:20), A Drama in the Air (7:10), Off on a Comet (7:26), The Ice Sphinx Adventure (9:50), Jules Verne Forever (10:16), Five Weeks in a Balloon (9:31)
Electronic music isn't, I know, everyone's cup of tea and it has the tendency in lesser hands to become background music or, worse still, new age muzak.
Stephen Kaske, a German by origin, is obviously well versed in this particular genre and, as such, neatly manages to sidestep and hence avoid all the pitfalls into which electronic music can easily fall. This is done by the always essential use of melody, tone and timbre.
Kaske is Mythos, and he creates everything from his own studio in Berlin. His history, however, goes right back to 1972 and he has released numerous albums under the Mythos name, working primarily on his own since 1980.
If I were to align this to other albums of this ilk, I would be saying it sounds like a cross between early Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre. It reminds quite strongly of the latter's Waiting for Cousteau. That said, it is still bears its own character and is in no manner a carbon copy. There are, of course, lots of growling and rumbling synthesisers and choral voices at play, but this effect is used sparingly and it sounds really good and spatial, especially on headphones.
What Mythos have done here is to musically recreate images that are presented within the written works of Jules Verne, which leaves plenty of room for artistic licence and impression. What is clear from this music is that Verne's literary works are very highly regarded by Kaske, who has sought to create music that is sympathetic with, and in keeping with, the written words.
The choice of titles for these pieces are in themselves works of art in much the same way as Edgar Froese titles showed great imagination, such as Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, and it is this attention to detail that, combined with the music itself, makes this such a worthy release.
As I always seem to say and will undoubtedly continue so to do, this is an album that grows the more you hear it and I would recommend that you listen on headphones for the full subtlety and nuances that are present in each track. The highlights are the opener, Mysterious Island, and Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, which is simply gorgeous, understated and yet has a majesty that elevates it significantly.
In reality there isn't a duff track on here whatsoever and so I recommend it especially if you do like early 70s Tangerine Dream, Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre as this will be right up your street.
The Ocean: The Quiet Observer (12:43), Mono: Death In Reverse (11:00)
A brief slab of post-rock in the form of a split EP featuring Germany's The Ocean and Japan's Mono. Being somewhat of a fan of post-rock, I was previously well aware of Mono, one of the leading bands in the genre, but confess to having been in the dark as far as The Ocean were concerned. The Quiet Observer does not make me feel that I have missed out, as it is far heavier than I favour with vocals that are occasionally growled and screamed with a relentless onslaught that attempts to bash one into submission.
In contrast, Death In Reverse is everything one would come to expect from Mono and provides a pointer to the new album due early next year. The undercurrent of guitars, militaristic drums, the ebb and flow of musical motifs and the inherent tension is exactly what I find delightful in this kind of music.
So a rather disjointed effort and I suppose a valid promotional tool for the bands and the label, particularly as the sleeve illustration is quite delightful!
Wide Open Range (11:59), Nighttrain (6:18), Magellanic Clouds (6:00), Distance (9:58), Runaway (7:58), Thangka (11:41), Circle Of Enlightenment (9:52)
Pyramaxx is a project of the Leverkusen-based band Pyramid Peak (Axel Stupplich and Andreas Morsch) and guitar player Max Schiefele. It was founded in February 2015 as a logical consequence of the collaboration of three good friends who used to perform together regularly over the past 10 years. Finally, it has led to the release of their debut album, Distance. The music on the album can be described as powerful, melodic and occasionally experimental electronic rock. All group members take care of programming and playing synths but Schiefele spices up the album with some brilliant guitar work as well. All tracks on the album have a playing time between six and 12 minutes.
It's an instrumental album, but the lack of vocals is not a problem. If you know and like the previous work from those musicians you surely will love this album. For some of us proggers it might be a hard nut to crack and I'm quite sure it won't appeal to everyone. The album is very much dominated by synths that create mystic atmospheres, sparkling sequences and dynamic beats on every track. Before you think that could easily get boring after some tracks, the beautiful lush guitar landscapes by Schiefele appear and take the song to a fantastic climax. His guitar work is always melodic and sometimes sounds proggy but also can be more heavy towards metal. I think any self-respecting prog band would like to welcome such a guitarist to its ranks!
This is normally not the kind of music that I listen to but the combination of the sometimes dreamy synth sounds and the magnificent guitar work really works for me. I'm still wondering if these guys ever employed a singer how it might sound...
Not everybody's cup of tea this release I suppose but I suggest you listen to the entire album, which might surprise you in a positive way. Best tracks for me are: Wide Open Range, Magellanic Clouds and the title track.
CD1: Candle Book And Bell (3:58), FFwd To The Freeze Frame (4:49), Make It So (4:19), Slingshot Grin (6:05), Tyrekickers (5:17), Burn Before Reading (4:27), Just Above Midtown (3:43), Chasing Horses (2:40), Longstreth (5:57), We Just Did What Happened And Nobody Came (5:26), Coloma Blues (5:21)
CD2: Grove Ponies (14:42), Everclear (demo) (3:46), Insurgentes (Sweet Billy Pilgrim remix) (5:33)
Sweet Billy Pilgrim are a band that have, in their relatively short career, caused quite a stir in music circles. Not only have their albums been critically lauded but they were also nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, something that not many, if any, bands featured in DPRP can claim.
The interest is, no doubt, in part due to their somewhat genre-defying style that has been described as various mixtures of rock, folk rock, folktronica, Americana, alternative, art rock, pop and even prog; the band themselves have confused things even further by coining the phrase thrash pastel for their music!
The core band consists of Anthony Bishop (bass, guitar, banjo, backing vocals), Jana Carpenter (acoustic guitar, keyboards, samples, lead vocals), Tim Elsenburg (guitar, keyboards, lead vocals) and Alistair Hamer (drums, percussion, backing vocals), although they are augmented live by various other musicians and frequently feature a multitude of guests on their studio recordings. Motorcade Amnesiacs is the band's fourth album and their first for KScope. The release was financed by a very successful crowdfunding campaign.
The album is a bit of an enigma really, some parts reach exalted highs, others are somewhat mediocre and, in at least one case (Just Above Midtown) it's lightweight pop with a horrid electronic beat. Elsenberg is the main composer of the band and takes the majority of the lead vocals, which is somewhat of a pity as he has a rather weak and reedy voice that pales into insignificance when compared with the rather lush tones of Carpenter. One only has to listen to the two ballads Tyrekickers, sung by Carpenter, and Chasing Horses, sung by Elsenburg, to be acutely aware of the differences.
The variety of the album is the strength, displaying a plethora of melodies and decent tunes. Longstreth is replete with harmonies in its glorious chorus, Candle Book and Bell has a more alternative rock vibe, Colma Blues goes all over the place, and back, getting closest to prog territory in the process. We Just Did What Happened And Nobody Came, incidentally almost the title of the band's first album, is more art rock than anything. I suppose the proof is that although Sweet Billy Pilgrim would not have been a band I would have actively sought out to spend hard cash on, I do actually enjoy listening to the album. Time will tell as to if I will venture into exploring their back catalogue or be tempted by future releases but, at the moment, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to hear the album.
As is the way these days, the album has been released as a deluxe edition with a second CD with enhanced packaging. The stand-out track on this second disc, and probably of the whole album, is the lengthy Grove Ponies, which does fall more into the progressive arena. With the extended playing time (and please note I never define prog purely by the length of the song!) there is more scope for the development of the piece, which includes some very nice understated saxophone (by Phil Chamberlain) and a general menacing undercurrent brought about by an extended section of feedback guitars. One really has to hear the piece through headphones to get the complete effect, but it is not a song that would generally find favour with people who may rave over the material on the first CD. This is definitely a more challenging and progressive experience.
Everclear may be a demo but it certainly doesn't sound that way as it has a freshness about it with both Elsenburg and Carpenter blending well in the chorus. It is a bonus track that is worth having. The final track on the bonus disc is the band's remix of Insurgentes, yes the Steven Wilson song! I don't go for a whole lot of remixes, as it brings back terrible memories of the 1980s when every single was remixed to death - including those by prog bands! So my view on this one is rather unsympathetic. Quite frankly, I don't see the point of it and it is out of kilter with the rest of the package. Still, as Meatloaf once sang, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad, although he wasn't singing about a Sweet Billy Pilgrim bonus disc at the time!